Noa Davenport et al., Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace

as posted on amazon in 1999

by Kenneth Westhues

This is one of two excellent new books dedicated to the memory of Heinz Leymann, a Swedish psychologist who died in January 1999, after having spearheaded the greatest advance of the past twenty years in the study of work. The other book, also available from amazon, is entitled Bullyproof Yourself at Work, by Gary Namie and Ruth Namie. The books are alike in honoring Leymann's memory in the best possible way: by extending his research and presenting the results in a way that will be of enormous practical benefit to both employers and employees. Leymann's breakthrough was against the background of current preoccupations on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, and the other officially recognized bases of unfair treatment in the workplace. Some argue now for expanding the list of shibboleths to include employees' criminal records and political beliefs as illegal grounds on which to exclude or punish them. Leymann managed to get beyond this current way of thinking, with its fixation on real or imagined grounds of ill-treatment, and to focus on the fact of ill-treatment, whatever the apparent ground. The phenomenon he conceptualized and studied was the humiliation and destruction of an employee by the employer. He called this process mobbing or bullying: intense aggression against an individual by managers or co-workers, aimed at crushing the individual utterly and eliminating him or her from the workplace. A month before his death, Leymann wrote the preface to this book, recommending it as "the first book in the U.S. that presents the research of the last two decades on mobbing--also known as bullying--in a comprehensive way." He said it "sheds light on great suffering and proposes ideas to reduce this suffering." Marquette University theologian is even more effusive in a quote shown on the cover: "Until evil is named, it cannot be addressed. This book names mobbing, a common and bloodless form of workplace mayhem, and proceeds with brilliance to show its roots and possible cures." While well-researched, comprehensive, and brilliant, this book is also engaging and easy to read, and enlivened on almost every page by first-person comments from people mobbed at work. Like my own students hearing this material in class, readers of this book will recognize, if not themselves, at least co-workers they have known. The accent of this trio of authors is on practicality. After initial chapters on what mobbing is, why it happens, and what effects it has, Davenport et al. describe strategies of personal resistance and survival. In the last third of the book, their focus is on the organization as a whole, and on legal and policy means of preventing the financial and human costs mobbing inflicts. My own research in this field corroborates what these authors report, that probably the worst of the mobbing experience is a lack of mental categories with which to make sense of it. Often, the target feels as if hit by a ton of bricks. With publication of this book, once it is read, the worst should be over, and the rebuilding of a life can begin. For anybody mobbed at work, this book will be a healing gift.