Being a boss isn’t just about making more money. You also need to be aware of the needs of your employees and prevent harassment at work.
When mobbing has been identified, it’s already too late. Problems in Gabriel’s start-up business began when he invited his partner to work with him in his office. Although they had different businesses, he began to involve Becca in his project. One day, he appointed her director of talent development and business attraction, but the following week removed her from all positions.
That’s how the couple’s fights always went. The small staff of the small business began to be affected. Becca criticized the activities of executives and did aggressive things such as taking documents, keys, or packages that didn’t belong to her.
Fed up with months of mistreatment and passivity from Gabriel, founder of the company, to correct the situation, the executives resigned. Pending items at the agency piled up and Gabriel wasn’t able to take care of them all. Contractors were also affected by the tense relationship in the office.
“I used to go every two months to maintain the computer equipment. I would go several times a year. But, in the last five years, I’ve only been there twice,” says Ernesto, a contractor who asked that his name be changed.
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Harassment, also known as mobbing, is a type of psychological or verbal abuse that an employee receives from bosses or peers. It can occur in any industry and even in startups. The consequences, as in Gabriel’s case, are the loss of talent. But, it can have other big results.
“Mobbing directly affects companies’ productivity and their form of profitability. People who go through these kinds of situations aren’t being productive. They’re unmotivated because they can’t do their job properly,” says Arleth Leal, associate director of Red Ring, a firm specializing in human resources solutions.
In the case of entrepreneurs, mobbing can inhibit their creativity and their search for funding for projects.
“If an entrepreneur at first was very enthusiastic, creative, and expressive and suddenly begins to become listless and depressed and stops participating, this can be a sign that he or she is being affected by mobbing. It can come from colleagues or potential investors,” explains Olivia Segura, Director of Human Capital Counseling and Organizational Change at KPMG in Mexico.
Workplace harassment can occur in three ways. Katia Villafuerte, professor at Tec de Monterrey and member of the Department of Management and Leadership, identifies them as:
Bottom-up: this occurs from subordinates to leaders. This can happen when a new boss arrives or when a partner, who used to be a peer, becomes a boss.
Horizontal: this is between peers. It can come from within your own team or from other areas.
Top-down: this is from a leader to a subordinate.
Villafuerte points out that in all cases, behaviors involving contempt, humiliation, or unfounded accusations are detected. Sometimes, these go beyond situations of professional envy or jealousy. “Although it sounds bad, the person (the one doing the mobbing) has some mental health problem,” she warns.
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“Few people report it (mobbing) for fear of seeming gossipy or losing their jobs. However, the psychological consequences are brutal,” warns Leal. “Then, it becomes physical harm: they’re unmotivated, they don’t want to go to work, and they have problems with stress and sleep,” she adds. Specialists agree that mobbing victims lose their creativity and don’t attain their goals.
Half of the employees who resign from a position attribute it to mobbing, according to Red Ring data. So, the company or startup loses talent because of a situation that could be corrected.
“The priority is the person who is receiving the mobbing. At that moment, the economic part is the least important thing. (Although) at the legal level, NOM-035 could be applied because there are circumstances in the workplace that are causing the employee to suffer psychosocially,” says Villafuerte.
For the academic, mobbing can have personal consequences such as:
For Diana Gutiérrez, a psychotherapist at the clinical neuroscience unit of Neurométrics, mobbing filters into people’s private lives. “It seeps into the different areas of a person’s life. Not only into the work and social context but also into the personal and family context. The level of impact will depend on the degree of mobbing and the personality structure of each individual,” she explains.
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While Official Mexican Standard 035-STPS-2018 helps identify, analyze, and prevent psychosocial risk factors in workplaces, its application is in the initial stage. Although it’s an effort to improve work environment conditions at companies, it is just beginning to be adopted.
“NOM-035 has only just been established. (…) In the second phase, the idea is to move on to how psychosocial risk identification and analysis should be carried out,” she says.
Although at the moment, companies are also trying to comply in their own way. “Companies are complaining about the paperwork and requirements for complying with the standard. Many of them are doing so just to fulfill the paperwork. While other companies are taking it seriously with actions that they were already working on,” says Leal.
To effectively eliminate mobbing in organizations requires first a culture of complaint. But in general, mobbing victims are silent.
Reporting mobbing doesn’t mean you don’t want feedback. “It must be given in a respectful manner. When it isn’t, consider who it’s coming from,” Segura says. She asks entrepreneurs and employees to work on their self-esteem to try to solve these situations.
If assertive solution measures to mediate with the aggressor do not work, the process continues with the human resources area. “The most important thing is to recognize that someone was a victim of mobbing. Organizations need to promote trust in reporting,” she adds.
She also recommends confronting the aggressor to stop the abuse. Tell people about the assaults and back them up with evidence. “Within the company, depending on structure and size, there may be support helplines where such behavior can be reported,” says Segura.
In the event that the abuse doesn’t stop, the company is destined to lose staff and innovation. “Talent cannot perform optimally in an environment where it feels harassed and assaulted all the time,” she warns.