Bullying Becoming a German Occupational Hazard

July 26, 2002
Maulheld. That's the word for "bully" in German, and apparently, there are more of them than ever in the workplace.

The Germans even have a term for a new type of workplace bullying that's rearing its ugly head: "mobbing."

Mobbing is not unique to Germany. Many U.S. workers would define it as an unpleasant work environment, querulous coworkers, a "whispering campaign," or out-and-out harassment. Mobbing is an insidious form of bullying that does not involve direct physical or verbal confrontation. Mobbing usually involves co-workers, subordinates or superiors using gossip, innuendo, isolation, intimidation and other types of psychological warfare to discredit, unnerve or humiliate a worker.

Many German cities have support and self-help groups for workers who are victimized by mobbing. They include the services of therapists and attorneys.

A study sponsored by the German government found that nearly 3 percent of workers, or about 800,000 people, are subjected to mobbing. For the full year of 2000, about 5.5 percent of workers had been mobbed, and at some point in their worklife, 11.3 percent of workers reported they experienced mobbing.

Ulf Imiela, a top official in the German labor union umbrella organization DGB, admitted that mobbing has been a labor union issue for several years, but recently, the problem has gained national attention.

"The general public is very interested in this issue," he told Reuters Health.

Imiela said "bad" managers and supervisors are one of the major causes of mobbing, and he blamed stressful work environments for adding to the problem.

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