Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 45, Issue 1–2, pp 41–50 | Cite as

Downward Workplace Mobbing: A Sign of the Times?

  • Wim Vandekerckhove
  • M.S. Ronald Commers


This paper offers a speculative elaboration on downward workplace mobbing – the intentional and repeated inflictions of physical or psychological harm by superiors on subordinates within an organization. The authors cite research showing that workplace mobbing is not a marginal fact in today's organizations and that downward workplace mobbing is the most prevalent form. The authors also show that causes of and facilitating circumstances for downward workplace mobbing, mentioned by previous research, match current organizational shifts taking place within a context of globalisation. This paper argues that it is not the organizational shifts themselves which are to "blame", but an inadequate transformation of leadership and power in reaction to those shifts. Using Foucault's power-knowledge-rules of right triad, the authors offer an explanation for downward workplace mobbing beyond the organizational changes themselves. More precisely, as the organizational changes can be characterized by a new power/knowledge bond calling forth new rules of right, downward workplace mobbing could be seen as manifestations of power outside of the delineations drawn by these new rules of right. In other words, downward workplace mobbing is pathology of current organizational shifts, resulting from not acting out the full ethical potential of the discourse of excellence, adventure, creativity and responsibility, which characterizes these shifts.

bullying business ethics change management globalisation mobbing organizational ethics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, A.: 1992, Bullying at Work. How to Confront and Overcome It (Virago Press, London).Google Scholar
  2. Bahrami, H.: 1998, 'The Emerging Flexible Organization: Perspectives from Silicon Valley', in C. Mabey, G. Salaman and J. Storey (eds.), Strategic Human Resource Management (SAGE Publications, London), pp. 185–199.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A., D. Cioffi, C. B. Taylor and M. E. Brouillard: 1988, 'Perceived Self–efficacy in Coping with Cognitive Stressors and Opioid Activation', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55, 479–488.Google Scholar
  4. Barker, J. R. and G. Cheney: 1994, 'The Concept and the Practices of Discipline in Contemporary Organizational Life', Communication Monographs 61, 19–43.Google Scholar
  5. Burrell, G.: 1988, 'Modernism, Post Modernism, and Organizational Analysis 2: The Contribution of Michel Foucault', Organization Studies 9, 221–235.Google Scholar
  6. Clegg, S. R.: 1989, Frameworks of Power (Sage Publications, London).Google Scholar
  7. Dahrendorf, R.: 1998, 'A Precarious Balance: Economic Opportunity, Civil Society, and Political Liberty', in A. Etzioni (ed.), The Essential Communitarian Reader (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Oxford), pp. 73–94.Google Scholar
  8. Davenport, N., R. D. Schwarts and G. P. Elliot: 1999, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Civil Society Publishing, Ames, IA).Google Scholar
  9. Du Gay, P. and G. Salaman: 1998, 'The Cult(ure) of the Customer', in C. Mabey, G. Salaman and J. Storey (eds.), Strategic Human Resource Management (SAGE Publications, London), pp. 58–67.Google Scholar
  10. EOA: 1997, Sources and Consequences of Workplace Pressure. Increasing the Risk of Unethical and Illegal Business Practices (Ethics Officer Association, Belmont, MA).Google Scholar
  11. Felice, F.: 2001, 'The Ethical Foundation of the Market Economy: A Reflection on Economic Personalism in the Thought of Luigi Sturzo', Journal of Markets and Morality 4, 217–239.Google Scholar
  12. Ferlie, E. and A. Pettigrew: 1998, 'Managing through Networks', in C. Mabey, G. Salaman and J. Storey (eds.), Strategic Human Resource Management (SAGE Publications, London), pp. 200–222.Google Scholar
  13. Folkman, S., R. Lazarus, Dunkel–Shetteer, A. DeLongis and R. Gruen: 1986, 'Dynamics of a Stressful Encounter: Cognitive Appraisal, Coping, and Encounter Outcomes', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50, 992–1003.Google Scholar
  14. Forrester, V.: 1996, L'horreur économique (Fayard, Paris).Google Scholar
  15. Foucault, M.: 1975, Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison (Gallimard, Paris).Google Scholar
  16. Foucault, M.: 1976a, La volonté de savoir (Gallimard, Paris).Google Scholar
  17. Foucault, M.: 1976b, 'Die Macht und die Norm', in M. Foucault (ed.), Mikrophysik der Macht. Michel Foucault über Strafjustiz, Psychiatrie und Medizin (Merve Verlag, Berlin), pp. 99–107, cited in Lambrechts (1980).Google Scholar
  18. Foucault, M.: 1978, Dispositive der Macht. Michel Foucault über Sexualität, Wissen und Wahrkeit (Merve Verlag, Berlin), cited in Lambrechts (1980).Google Scholar
  19. Greenleaf, R. K.: 1977, Servant Leadership (Paulist Press, New York), cited in Whetstone (2001).Google Scholar
  20. Hardt, M. and A. Negri: 2000, Empire (Harvard University Press, London).Google Scholar
  21. Hammer, M. and J. Champy: 1993, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Harper Business, New York).Google Scholar
  22. Kistner, T.: 1997, Mobbing, wo Andere leiden, hört der Spass auf (Industriegewerkschaft Metall, Frankfurt).Google Scholar
  23. Lambrechts, M.: 1980, De struktuur van de verdrukking. Een onderzoek naar de machtsanalyses van Michel Foucault en enkele besluiten voor het strafrecht, Unpublished doctoral thesis, Hoger Instituut voor Wijsbegeerte, Leuven.Google Scholar
  24. Lazarus, R. S. and S. Folkman: 1984, Stress, Appraisal, and Coping (Springer, New York).Google Scholar
  25. Leymann, H.: 1990, 'Mobbing and Psychological Terror at Workplaces', Violence and Victims 5, 119–126.Google Scholar
  26. Leymann, H.: 1993, Mobbing. Psychoterror am Arbeitsplatz und wie man sich dagegen wehren kann (Rowahlt Taschenbuch, Hamburg).Google Scholar
  27. Leymann, H.: 1996, 'The Content and Development of Mobbing at Work', European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 5, 165–184.Google Scholar
  28. Leymann, H.: 1997, The Mobbing Encyclopaedia ( (cited 2001).Google Scholar
  29. Liden, R. C., S. J. Wayne and M. L. Kraimer: 2001, 'Managing Individual Performance in Work Groups', Human Resource Management 40, 63–72.Google Scholar
  30. Namie, G.: 2000, 'U.S. Hostile Workplace Survey 2000', Labor Day Meeting, Benicie September 2000 ( (cited 2001).Google Scholar
  31. Neuman, J. H.: 2000, 'Injustice, Stress, and Bullying can be Expensive', Workplace Bullying 2000 Conference, Oakland January 28th ( (cited 2001).Google Scholar
  32. Paoli, P. and D. Merllié: 2001, Third European Survey on Working Conditions 2000 (Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg).Google Scholar
  33. Quine, L.: 1999, 'Workplace Bullying in NHS Community Trust: Staff Questionnaire Survey', British Medical Journal 318, 228–232.Google Scholar
  34. Rayner, C.: 1998, Unison Survey on Workplace Bullying ( (cited 2002).Google Scholar
  35. Sennett, R.: 1998, The Corrosion of Character (Norton, New York).Google Scholar
  36. Spears, L.: 1995, Reflection on Leadership: How Robert K. Greenleaf 's Theory of Servant–leadership Influenced Today's Top Management Thinkers (John Wiley and Sons, New York), cited in Whetstone (2002).Google Scholar
  37. Unison: 1997, Bulling Survey (UNISON, London).Google Scholar
  38. Vandekerckhove, W.: 2002, 'Procedure, Charisma and Whistle Blowing', Philosophy Today 16, 2–3.Google Scholar
  39. Vredenburg, D. and Y. Brender: 1998, 'The Hierarchical Abuse of Power in Organizations', Journal of Business Ethics 17, 1337–1347.Google Scholar
  40. Whetstone, J. T.: 2002, 'Personalism and Moral Leadership: The Servant Leader with a Transforming Vision', Business Ethics: A European Review 11, 377–384.Google Scholar
  41. Wiedenfeld, S., A. O'Leary, A. Bandura, S. Brown, S. Levine, and K. Raska: 1990, 'Impact of Perceived Self–efficacy in Coping with Stressors on Components of the Immune System', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59, 1082–1094.Google Scholar
  42. Wornham, D.: 2003, 'A Descriptive Investigation of Morality and Victimisation at Work', Journal of Business Ethics (this issue).Google Scholar
  43. Zapf, D.: 1999, 'Organisational, Work Group Related and Personal Causes of Mobbing/Bullying at Work', International Journal of Manpower 20, 70–85.Google Scholar
  44. Zuschlag, B.: 1994, Mobbing: Shikane am Arbeitsplatz (Verlag für Angewandte Psychologie, Göttingen).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wim Vandekerckhove
    • 1
  • M.S. Ronald Commers
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Ethics and Value Inquiry (CEVI)Gent UniversityGentBelgium

Personalised recommendations