Beating the Bullies at Work | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.05.2002
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Beating the Bullies at Work

Being the victim of cruel bullying at the workplace is not uncommon in Germany. “Mobbing” as the phenomenon is called can be downright vicious in extreme cases. But now there’s help from the first ever mobbing clinic.


Did you know that Barbara had an affair with her former boss? - The ugly face of mobbing.

Barbara Meier is a bundle of nerves.

She dreads going to work every morning and facing her colleagues, who she knows with certainty are going to make the day difficult for her. By deliberately hiding her things, deleting vital data from her computer and saying nasty things about her.

No, Barbara doesn’t suffer from delusions of persecution or a victim complex.

She just experiences what thousands of Germans like her do at the workplace, namely "mobbing" or in other words, "bullying".

It’s systematic harassment targeted at a particular employee by colleagues, subordinates or supervisors, who for some reason don’t like the employee, are jealous of him or her, want him or her to leave the organisation or are just plain mean.

The actions could range from subtle taunting, heckling, back-biting, spreading vicious rumours or even going as far as tampering with the poor colleague’s belongings.

In other words, the aim is to make life miserable for the hapless victim.

Often the employee, unable to cope with the daily emotional blackmailing, ends up on the verge of a nervous breakdown or worse, completely traumatised, deeply depressed or even suicidal.

Mobbing clinic offers ray of hope

Long regarded as an unpleasant aspect of work by many - one that you either suffer silently or quit your job over – there just might be hope for the numerous mobbing victims in the form of the first ever mobbing clinic in Germany.

The Berus clinic near the south-western German state of Saarbrücken offers patients a chance to rediscover their lost self-confidence and get in touch with their feelings again.

Qualified doctors, psychologists and physiotherapists help patients to confront their fears in individual as well as group therapy. Therapists actually play the role of the wicked colleagues and the patients learn to stand up for themselves.

According to a spokesperson from the Berus clinic, several patients are severely ill when they check into the clinic. Many are depressed and have physical symptoms such as headaches and palpitations.

Learning to say no

The aim of therapy is to get the patient to see things from a distance, analyse the situation and try to find out why their colleagues mobbed them.

"Patients learn to make new decisions and learn how to to say no, discuss problems and conflicts in an open manner, to talk over job requirements with their superiors, how to put a stop to rumours. These are all things we can practise, sometimes in an exaggerated form, and prepare them for a return to work", says the spokesperson at the clinic.

The exaggerated role play is important.

Of course in reality, people can’t talk to their bosses the way they do with their therapists in the clinic.

But the idea at the Berus clinic is that if patients know they can just say no, it often suffices in giving them the confidence required and transport that through their body language the next time they have a discussion with their superiors.

Facing the world after the cacoon of the clinic

Therapy at the Berus clinic usually lasts about a couple of weeks, which includes individualised treatment too. Relaxation techniques, sport and stress-busters form part of the general programme.

But at the end of the time spent within the haven of the clinic, it’s time to get back into the real world and face the termagant colleagues again.

That’s the real test – a chance for the patient to find out if he or she has learned how to fight back and confront work without fear again.

The Berus clinic says that more than 75 percent of its patients, who they’d talked to a year later said that they’d either found a new job or applied what they’d learned in their old ones.