Harassment at work, also called mobbing, is a subtle form of violence that takes place in working environments. Often, and sometimes for spurious reasons, companies or organizations, aggressors and observers or witnesses use euphemisms to refer to this type of violence.
Thus, words like “labour conflict”, “power struggles”, “fights between colleagues”, “incompatible characters”, etc. are used as if these problems were something isolated between workers or had more to do with the normal dynamics within organisations.
But the truth is that harassment at work goes beyond a mere conflictive relationship between colleagues . Let’s go deeper into the characteristics of this kind of problem.
Characteristics of mobbing
At least three distinctive characteristics can be identified in workplace bullying.
1. Violence is exercised towards a victim who puts up little resistance
Moreover, there are often witnesses of such violence who will look the other way, avoiding interfering in the matter or, if they do, taking the side of the aggressor.
2. It is systematic and repeated violence over time
However, they are usually medium to low intensity episodes. Sometimes they are reduced to just phrases and comments that could be judged unimportant by an outside observer. High-intensity acts of violence are rare.
However, it is precisely this low intensity and repetition that makes the situation more dangerous in the medium term (as a simile we could compare it to the torture of the “Chinese drop”).
3. Violence is intentional and targeted
The victim may not realize or understand these hidden interests . Observers may also not understand them, either because they avoid paying attention to the situation of injustice or because many times the acts of aggression are subtle and are only perceived by the victim.
To achieve this goal, the stalker follows a series of strategies that involve isolation, hostility, discredit and other forms of psychological violence.
Development of harassment at work
These acts of violence exercised in a continuous manner cause significant health damage and other types of economic and social harm . Harassment at work could be understood as a process extended over time in which the victim goes through a series of stages that leave different psychological sequelae.
One possible course could be, for example, the following.
1. Underestimating the damage stage
At the beginning of the harassment at work, the worker thinks that it is a transitory situation resulting from a problem or a misunderstanding that prevents him from being on guard and taking measures to defend himself.
2. Blaming oneself
Later, once he perceives that he understands that the situation is not going to stop, he may ask himself “why me”, which erodes his self-esteem because he attributes the harassment to certain characteristics of his personality, blaming himself for it.
In these early stages it is not uncommon for the victim to wonder, too, if he or she is not being overly sensitive or exaggerated by the situation. The fact that the episodes have a low intensity that is often only perceived by the victim herself has to do with these thoughts. The victim begins to doubt her own perceptions, which can lead to a phenomenon known as “unrealization” (a perception of the outside world as something strange or unreal).
The continuity of the harassment over time provokes processes of anxiety and depressive symptoms, which, in turn, worsens the situation in part because facilitates the impunity of the aggressor who justifies his behaviour on the basis of the problematic situation the victim is going through.
It is also frequent the “somatization” of the experience that, together with the stress it creates, can produce stomach pains, skin irritations, headaches, etc.
In short, harassment at work has much more serious consequences for the victim than a simple “labour conflict”.