THE PERCEPTION OF MOBBING AND RELATED
SERVICES IN HUNGARY
Report for Daphne Project Mobbing II
Written by Róza Vajda
Mona Foundation Hungary
Overview: Awareness and perception of mobbing in Hungary.........................................p.6
Combating Mobbing: Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.....................................p.12
Report on the workshops dedicated to the topic
of “The Perception of Mobbing and Related Services in Hungary”
Written by Emese Süvecz...................................................................................................p.29
THE PERCEPTION OF MOBBING AND RELATED SERVICES IN HUNGARY
Mobbing is an unknown category in Hungary though there is evidence that the phenomenon
exists. Only a very few experts are familiar with the concept: a couple of researchers, some
HR managers, human policy counselors and providers of psychological services at selected
enterprises, and one or two government officials. So far one book has been published on this
issue (M. Csepelyi 2000) and about two or three articles in professional journals and
institutional newsletters (P. Simon 1996, L. Virág 2000) accessible for a closed circle of
people. Besides these publications, mobbing has been discussed at conferences1, and the
concept was introduced in the selected companies and institutions where the management has
recognized its importance.
The investigation of the mobbing situation in Hungary started back in 1996 (Gy. Kaucsek – P.
Simon 1996) when the expert personnel of several public institutions joined in an extensive
effort to uncover and analyze mobbing-related insults. However, this initial impulse that led to
the so far only reliable account of the workplace mobbing situation in Hungary faded soon.
There is a vast disinterest in facing the problem and dealing with its consequences. Neither
public institutions, nor private companies are willing to invest in research and remedies
concerning harassment in general. It is a common observation that whenever the “peace at the
workplace” is clearly disrupted, responsible persons try to evade tackling the true source of
the problem, often because they are involved. Instead of finding a solution, they have recourse
to the old tactic of blaming the victim. Unfortunately, they can get away with it since the
threat of being held accountable is still minimal.2
As a consequence, there are no specifically mobbing-related service providers in Hungary.
Associations and organizations that are in a position to undertake such tasks are either
We know only about one occasion where the problem of mobbing was presented in Hungary: the 7th European
Congress of Work and Organizational Psychology. Gyor, 19-25 April 1995. An upcoming conference to be held
on 3 November 2005, hosted by the department of Work Hygiene and Employment Healthcare of the National
Center of Public Health (OKK-OMFI) is going to discuss mobbing, a most likely new concept for the audience.
It has been also proposed that workplace forums administering justice would rather believe the superior’s claim
than take the stand of the victim. At the same time, superiors may be aware of their misgivings. However,
instead of restraining themselves, they would play games with their victim, threaten them, or try to get rid of
uninformed themselves in this regard, or assume that, because mobbing is an unknown
category, nobody would be interested in them. Nevertheless, there are a few notable
exceptions, especially in the fields of human resources management and institutional
psychology where the term mobbing—or its Hungarian equivalent psycho-terror—is being
actively used, and efforts are being made to prevent it or mitigate its consequences.
Given that both the acknowledgement of the problem of workplace mobbing and related
institutional responses are rather scarce in Hungary, it is impossible to provide a detailed
account of the experiences and activities of service providers. The service providers and
counseling agencies we have been able to identify as being concerned with mobbing-related
insults are not specialized in this field but deal with a larger set of issues. While recognizing
mobbing as a major problem, they rarely name it or treat it in its specificity. At the same time,
the same people seem to be open to learn more about mobbing and help its victims.
In an effort to present an extensive picture, containing all kinds of initiatives that may be
relevant from our point of view, we decided to interview service providers and counselors as
well as civil servants, trade union representatives and experts whose activities are at least
partly related to mobbing. We also reviewed relevant documents like pieces of legislation,
professional protocols, and research papers. In this way, we have been able to create an
overall picture about the social awareness of mobbing and the institutional possibilities of
actions against it, as well as identify the actual and potential agents that an anti-mobbing
campaign could rely on.
We have proceeded in the following way:
- First of all, we circulated a short description and questionnaire on several Internet
forums explaining our project and asking all the people who are interested or feel
concerned to send us their contact information (APPENDIX 1). The results of this first
attempt to target informants were meager.3
It is telling that only a very few people responded to this letter, and only one among them identified herself as a
victim. (At further inquiry, she turned out not to be one for she has suffered other kinds of insult as a person with
defective hearing.) This shows that mobbing is an unknown category and this problem is altogether repressed in
- Second, we conducted Internet and library research to identify publications, experts
and existing initiatives in this field. In this way, we were able to select 4 of our 6 key
interviewees4 (APPENDIX 2): researchers as well as service providers and counselors
whose concerns include mobbing, whether or not they name it so. The interviews
made with these people provided the material for most case studies included in the
second part of this paper.
- Third, we contacted all state institutions, civil and trade union organizations that we
thought may—or should—be familiar with the concept, or at least the phenomenon.
The resulting generally shorter interviews made with these people (APPENDIX 3) are
used in the description of the legal and political framework, and have been especially
helpful in understanding some of the major obstacles in the way of combating
It should be noted here that we are not in the position to provide a quantitative analysis of the
kinds of needs of, and services provided to, mobbing victims. Although individual cases are
usually registered by civil organizations and other professional service providers we have
contacted, these are not exclusively about mobbing, and even those that may be characterized
as such are not categorized by this term. As a result, it is impossible to obtain exact
information as to the number of mobbing cases, the type of complaints and complainers, and
their specific needs. Instead, we had to rely on the rough estimations and memories of our
As a consequence, our research has a predominantly qualitative character. We have been
drawing on the relevant parts of the common set of questions used in Mobbing II, and also
added a few more queries regarding the opinion of our interviewees as to the status of this
problem in Hungary and the available means to deal with it (APPENDIX).
As MONA did not participate in the previous project MOBBING I, it seems useful to provide
first of all an overall picture of the mobbing situation in Hungary, including its magnitude,
perceptions, and the level of awareness. The following overview intends to explain the typical
In selecting our interviewees, we also made use of the snow-ball method relying on the advice of our
informants for information on further possible contacts.
We decided to include 2 of our informants contacted in this way among the case studies since they appear to
provide some professional service for mobbing victims. We also identified 3 moderator agencies that we thought
might be concerned with mobbing but none of them turned out to work with such type of conflicts. Apparently,
this type of services are totally lacking in Hungary.
attitudes and responses regarding mobbing in the contexts of social and economic
transformation and legal reform during the 1990s and early 2000s. The second part of the
paper is less analytical: it includes the description of available remedies and services, with
reference to the legal and institutional framework. The concluding part is an excursion into
some issues regarded as crucial in our project: the consequences of mobbing as to the future
employment of victims, its impact on family relations, and its gender aspect.
Overview: Awareness and perception of mobbing in Hungary
Usually 5-6 percent of Hungarian workers are estimated to have been subject to mobbing.
This data is based on informed guessing, backed by the results of a few surveys (Kaucsek-
Simon, Virag), and it cannot be considered representative as there has been only limited
research in this field in selected areas of employment.6
It is interesting that mobbing appears to have the same frequency in Hungary as in western
Europe: first, because some factors potentially causing mobbing have greater influence in
Hungary (economic transformation, social insecurity, crisis of values); second, because
institutional remedies are totally lacking.
In Hungary, disruptions of a healthy work environment are mainly dealt with under the
category of stress. No institutional remedies exist for other types of ills, or specific causes of
stress that can be related to mobbing. This bias or deficiency of interest is obviously reflected
in research that is predominantly about workplace stress (Juhasz 2002). Stress-inducing
factors include, first of all, the psychological burden represented by the kind of employment
Peter Simon, who has conducted the only extensive research on mobbing together with Gyorgy Kaucsek
(Kaucsek-Simon 1996), claims that the rate of mobbing in Hungary is 8 percent, being 2 or 3 times more than
the west European avarage. However, their research results support more the estimation at 5-6 percents, since it
was the extremely high occurrence of mobbing in one of their samples (12 percent among the employees of the
Hungarian railway company) that augmented this figure to 8 percent.
or position, and only secondly the interpersonal conflicts among employees. Mobbing, if
mentioned at all, is understood as one subcategory of the latter set of problems.
The few experts in employment policy (P. Simon 1996), psychology (L. Virág 2000) and
human resources management (M. Csepelyi 2000) who have studied the problem in its
specificity agree that it should be analyzed autonomously as an aspect or crisis of group
dynamics. It is clear from their account that, in their view, the characteristics as well as the
causes and consequences of mobbing are different from those of other interpersonal conflicts
at the workplace. As for its definition, the model developed by Leyman has been adopted by
all of our informed experts.
The only major investigation of workplace psycho-terror in Hungary occurred 10 years ago.
The project, inspired by, and modeled after, Leyman’s research, used the survey method.7
Data were collected from altogether 844 persons of 5 samples: armed forces, banking
administrators, banking supervisors, civil servants at a self government office, employees of
the Hungarian railway company. This selection of research matter reflects the interest of these
particular companies and institutions, and not the hypothesis of the researchers as to the
relative rate of occurrence of mobbing. As a matter of fact, these workplaces at that time had a
progressive management and/or a professional staff of psychologists and HR experts who
were willing to cooperate. After this project, in the absence of similar requests and support,
Kaucsek and Simon stopped studying mobbing.
Simon cannot recall whether any of their results were subsequently applied by the companies
and institutions who commissioned the research in 1996.8 It is worth though to note one of
their important findings here so as to underline the hollowness of the prevailing attitude
towards mobbing in Hungary. The fact that the number of victims is not higher in institutions
where a relatively large number of people is exposed to frequent or continuous stress indicates
that mobbing has nothing to do with the kind of psychological burden represented by the type
of employment. Therefore the laws regulating employees’ rights to enjoy, and employers’
The so-called L.I.P.T. questionnaire, elaborated by Leyman and his colleagues, was applied to elicit responses
as to the types of mobbing insults, the modes of development of mobbing situations, its causes and its
consequences, and remedies available in the workplace.
Some of the outcomes of this research are as follows: the instigators of mobbing were usually
supervisors/bosses; victims complained mostly to colleagues (as opposed to friends and relatives); age, gender,
type of employment, degree of education did not prove to be decisive factors; the rate of occurrence and type of
mobbing insults are group specific.
obligation to secure, safe work environment are mostly inapplicable for cases of mobbing (see
later in the section about the opportunities of legal redress).
Other studies on mobbing were prepared in the same vein, extensively drawing on the
methods and outcomes of Kaucsek and Simon’s study. Thus the university thesis of the head
of the professional psychological services department of border guards (Virág 2000) applies
the same definitions and research methods.9 Magda Csepelyi, a counselor of human
management and the author of the only book on mobbing published in Hungary (Csepelyi
2000), did not conduce research on her own but used the results of others in order to make a
point about the usefulness of graphology in the service of human politics.
It has already been emphasized that workplace mobbing or psycho-terror is largely unknown
in Hungary. The concept was introduced probably by Kaucsek and Simon, and popularized by
a few research studies and articles. Given its origin in scholarly literature, more specifically in
Leyman’s formulation, Hungarian authors cite the same definition. At the same time, because
of the bias of institutional responses characterized by an excessive interest in other stress-
inducing factors, the understanding of mobbing becomes distorted in popular literature: it
refers to interpersonal conflicts without acknowledging the institutional and organizational
As opposed to uninformed views that present mobbing as the outburst of irrational, sadistic
impulses, the “pin-pricks” among colleagues, or an almost innocent practice similar to
gossiping (see some of the titles included in the bibliography)10, our interviewees regard
mobbing as a symptom of the crisis of the work environment. More specifically, it is seen as
the systematic torment of one employee, usually motivated by some particular interest of the
perpetrator, leading to her/his isolation in the workplace. One among our interviewees holding
feminist views defined mobbing as a manifestation of violence against women. This approach
is very unique since feminism—and the idea of promoting women’s rights as such—is
unwelcome in Hungary. It is probably because of the strong patriarchal norms and
Laszlo Virag, too, used the L.I.P.T. questionnaire, and also made some interviews that served as the bases of
cases studies. He claims to have arrived to similar conclusions compared with other Hungarian research.
Misinterpretations usually diminish the significance of mobbing. One article asks whether it is only “much ado
about nothing”, another strange view associates it mobbing with “work mania.”
conservative cultural values in the field of gender relations that the gender aspect of mobbing
is generally refuted.11
There is a consensus among our informants about the extremely low awareness of mobbing in
Hungary. It has been observed that victims and even persecutors are ignorant about it,
employers do not realize their stake in stopping it, and the state is unaware of its responsibility
and the extra costs involved. This is largely due to the fact that the phenomenon is not named
and therefore appears to be nonexistent. Very few people are familiar with the term
“mobbing” or its Hungarian equivalent ‘psycho-terror”, even among state officials in relevant
positions. However, after describing the problem, the same people suddenly knew what we
were talking about. The same has been observed by well-informed human policy counselors,
psychologists and social workers we have interviewed: as soon as they explained what
mobbing was, their clients immediately understood it, and recognized themselves as a target,
onlooker, or, to a lesser degree, as a perpetrator.
Many of our interviewees connected mobbing with harassment. This term has recently
become familiar in Hungary, since the introduction of the Act on Equal Treatment and the
Promotion of Equal Opportunities. The relationship between mobbing and harassment
remains unclear: some of our interviewees regard mobbing as a subtype of harassment, while
others take it as the broader concept.
In accordance with west European experiences, 3 sets of causes were emphasized by our
principal interviewees, mainly together, with regard to mobbing: the personal, the group-
specific, and the social. The three groups will be analyzed here with a view to the practical
consequences of what was said about each, so as to develop a background to the case studies
in the second part of this paper.
To be fair, Kaucsek and Simon has inquired into the gender aspect of mobbing, though only to a small extent,
and found that it was insignificant (Kaucsek – Simon, 1996)
All of our expert interviewees recognize mobbing as a result of disruptive mechanisms at the
workplace and of bad management, thus stressing the role of the leadership. It is only in the
media—to the small extent that this issue is covered—that negative behavioral patterns are
overly stressed as if mobbing was nothing else than the expression of jealousy or irrational
hatred among co-workers. Obviously, this view goes along with the general attitude of
employers who refuse responsibility in such situations blaming instead the victim.
Among personal factors, our informants, in turn, would rather point out the responsibility of
the leadership: its inclination, or opposition, to develop a modern managerial style in general,
and face the problem of mobbing in particular. Obviously, they also make reference to
“interpersonal conflicts’, taking into account the personality of employees as the potential
participants of mobbing situations, and admitting that some people are more aggressive, while
others are more readily hurt. However, they identify the attitude of people in decision making
as being the crucial element causing mobbing at the level of personal factors.
Thus far goes theory. Practice is somewhat different. While departing from drawbacks of the
institutional setting and the organization of work to expose the sources of mobbing situations,
the personal factor is exalted regarding the actual activities of our interviewees. This is not
surprising when it comes to rehabilitation. However, prevention, and even intervention should
obviously take into account a broader set of causes.
It is probably due to the rudimentary institutional responses to mobbing that the few existing
initiatives in this field are mostly centered on the personality of employees as the origin of the
problem: prevention and intervention targets mainly the psychological make-up of workers.12
In this way, assistance is provided for employers, rather than employees, and complies with
their interests. For instance, prevention is largely realized by filtering out problematic people.
Thus when future employees are submitted to a psychological examination, their responses to
adversities and their ability to manage conflicts are tested. Unfortunately, not only potential
perpetrators but also potential victims are singled out this way, and, as a consequence, often
not hired. Therefore, to the extent that the possibility of the development of mobbing
According to our interviewees, it is rare that the management of a company request their service in preparation
for conflicts and proposing tools to resolve them. The overall negative attitude of decision makers is attributed to
their inaptness as leaders as well as their actual involvement in mobbing situations.
situations is screened at some workplaces, the results of such innovation are rather
Most experts agree that mobbing is the result of corrupted group dynamics. The crudity of
workplace culture and communication among employees is also considered an important
factor. The make-up of the institution and specific organizational problems are mentioned in
the first place as the reason of this problem, along with references to competition, jealousy
and distrustfulness among co-workers.
There is no consensus as to what kinds of institutions are specially prone to develop mobbing
situations. Some of our informants regard the competitive sphere as their hotbed, while others
think that big state companies and public institutions, where both the fluctuation of workers
and their chances to get promoted are lower, are more affected. Some hold that hierarchical
structure is in itself a negative factor, others argue that it is irrelevant (maybe causing stress
but not necessarily mobbing), while still others say that well-functioning hierarchies are rather
handy in combating mobbing. Although suggesting such rules, lying in the institutional
structure, our expert interviewees underline the fact that a lot depends on the individual
setting, which must be acknowledged and analyzed when designing institutional responses.
Our inquiries so far support the hypothesis that, in spite of its stated importance, the
structural/organizational type of the workplace is hardly targeted by service providers. At the
level of prevention, it is the characteristics of group dynamics, in general, that comes up in
training sessions; when actual conflicts are managed, in turn, the personal aspect of the
situation prevails, and a solution is sought for a particularized conflict.
Some personal traits, such as frustration and a sense of insecurity, as well as the general ills of
workplace culture are associated with, or explained by, the social background. All of our
informants have stressed the significance of the vast social and economic transformation
Hungary has been going through since the early 1990s. From this point of view, the
consequences of the system change are deemed negative: economic threat leading to senseless
competition, the increase of the stress-load, the break of personal relations at the workplace,
and the excessive vulnerability of individuals. Democratization and the transformation of the
legal system and the consolidation of the rule of law, reinforcing personal rights, are regarded
secondary or highly deficient.
Two aspects of this decline are particularly stressed: the loss of solidarity among employees,
and the disbelief in the rule of law. The latter has some objective grounding in the deficiencies
of the protection of employees, both in legislation and in law enforcement. The increase of
discrimination and prejudice against disadvantaged social groups is usually regarded less
important, though gendered power differences are acknowledged as a factor. However, as
opposed to such politicized concepts, criticisms are characteristically launched by reference to
a general crisis of values.
Obviously, our informants are not in the position to make interventions at the social level. At
the same time, they may indirectly influence social relations and attitudes. The only agents
that strive to make some change in society seem to be identical with those that are concerned
with women’s situation and women’s rights. Evidently, the gender issue is the most—or
only—politically sensitive aspect of the problem of mobbing.13 Other service providers active
in this area, however, refute the validity of theorizing mobbing in the gender context.
Combating Mobbing: Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation
We cannot provide quantitative information here as there is no statistics about mobbing
victims, caused harms, or requested services. At the same time, we asked our interviewees to
make guesses as to the rate of mobbing victims in their clientele and their typical complaints
and needs. Before giving an account of the available remedies and the activities of some
Our most radical interviewee, Julia Spronz, goes as far as to argue that it is only patriarchal norms and anti-
women prejudices that should be taken into account when explaining the origins of mobbing: neither the type of
the workplace or the employment, nor the age, behavior or the looks of the victim matters.
important institutions and organizations that may or should be helpful in securing them, let us
first describe mobbing victims as characterized by our informants.
It is a commonplace that anybody can fall victim of mobbing. At the same time, there are
factors that increase the probability of incurring such a quandary.
Personal characteristics are highlighted on both the perpetrator’s and the victim’s side as
significant especially by experts in human politics and psychologists—specialists who
intervene in conflict situations. Thus victims are said to be relatively inapt in managing
personal conflicts. By presenting them as essentially despondent and sensitive, sometimes to
the extent of paranoia, service providers may, in fact, work against their interests.14
Nevertheless, all of our informants agree that, alongside organizational problems,
discrimination is a major factor. Thus selective social, ethnic, occupational and age groups are
deemed to be more exposed to risk than others: women (particularly single and divorced
women, women with young children, and those approaching retirement age), the Roma, the
poor, members of the middle class (who have lost social grounding), public employees,
workers in educational institutions, people in armed forces, members of civil organizations.
Insults against workers that fall in the category of mobbing may, in theory, be restrained at 3
levels: the legal, the political, and the individual. At all 3 levels the problem of mobbing ought
to be circumvented since it is rarely defined as such. Subsequent paragraphs describe some
important agents that have some bearing on this issue, as well as the present state of affairs
with regard to the possibility to keep mobbing in check.
See the part above explaining how individuals increasing the probability of the development of mobbing
situations are singled out in hiring procedures.
Current law does not regulate cases of mobbing specifically. At the same time, there are
several articles in the amended Labor Code prohibiting discrimination and prescribing the
norms of establishing work relations as well as the appropriate conditions at work. The Act on
Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities may be even more helpful since it
includes the regulation of harassment,15 which is found to be applicable by most of our
interviewees for cases of mobbing. This piece of legislation also includes the definition of the
concepts of equal treatment, direct and indirect discrimination, and groups of vulnerable
The Labor Code specifies the right of individuals to have recourse to legal redress, and an
important amendment, urged by Hungary’s obligation to implement the directives set by the
European Commission, reverses the burden of proof. This instrument is reinforced by the Act
on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities, which enhances individual
litigation by the introduction of some other crucial legal institutions like actio popularis. The
establishment of an independent authority with the powers of investigation and sanctioning in
February 2oo5, prescribed by the same Act, may indicate a new era in jurisdiction.
The possibilities and forums of legal redress are the following: In the case of labor law, the
so-called labor courts may administer justice, while a specialized authority has been appointed
to secure the enforcement of the equal treatment legislation. In addition, the Public Defender
of Civil Rights (or ombudsperson) and the National Office of Work Inspection may be
mentioned here as instrumental in investigating cases and suggesting new legislation. Among
service providers, civil organizations defending human and employment rights and certain
trade union organizations are active in the field, mainly as legal counselors. (These will be
covered in the next section.)
While most of our informers are positive about the possibility to cite already existing law
(especially the articles on harassment and the rights of the employer for a healthy work
environment) to combat mobbing, it does not follow that victims enjoy sufficient legal
protection. In spite of the theoretic possibility of legal remedy, harassment and discrimination
cases hardly ever reach the courts. This is due to several factors. First, lawyers (attorneys,
prosecutors, judges) are uninformed about new opportunities and withdraw from applying
Unfortunately, the scope of the act is limited to public institutions only, leaving private enterprises free from
abiding any such regulations.
new legislation. Second, potential plaintiffs are not encouraged to—or are explicitly
discouraged from—submitting their case to court. Complainants are ignorant about their
rights and they, too, lack information about possibilities of legal redress and relevant
legislation. Furthermore, they refrain from court proceedings and even from reporting their
problem. This can be explained by a general indifference and negligence interiorized during
socialization as well as fear from consequences and the absence of adequate legal guarantees
and protections. Unfortunately, employees reporting on or suing their superiors run the risk of
dismissal from the workplace. Even those who decide to stand up for their rights and submit
their case to court face the dilemma of whether striving for financial compensation (made
available by the labor law), or the punishment of the wrongdoer (possible in discrimination
If lawsuits concerning discrimination and harassment are extremely scarce, so far there have
been absolutely no cases of mobbing that reached the courts, or were investigated either by
the Authority of Equal Treatment, the Ombudsperson, or the central office of work inspection.
The main reason is that current legislation is insufficient to tackle related conflicts: in the
absence of legal measures, institutions of enforcement are impotent as regards mobbing. The
other reason is, again, ignorance surrounding this problem: neither lawyers, nor victims are
aware of it, and thus they are not making efforts to try and make use existing legislation and
apply them for cases of mobbing.
The head of the Authority of Equal Treatment, for instance, claims that they are unable to
investigate such cases even though they feel the need to do so: the new anti-discrimination
legislation is impotent concerning insults where it is impossible to prove that the harm can be
linked to some essential characteristic of the plaintiff16—which is obviously very difficult if
not impossible in mobbing situations. Nevertheless, our informant suggested that since the 20
personal traits enumerated in the act cover almost everybody, it would be possible to submit
cases of mobbing for investigation with reference to other articles. However, she also thinks
that such cases should rather constitute the subject matter of civil court procedures concerning
These characteristics are enlisted in article 8 of the act.
The deputy ombudsman of human rights, responsible for issues related to employment, also
claims to be incompetent in any issues concerning discrimination and harassment at the
workplace, and says that they forward such cases to the ministry responsible for equal
opportunities, the Authority of Equal Treatment, or the Supreme Court. However, given that
ministries have no powers of investigation, the Authority in question has no registered cases
regarding discrimination, harassment, or sexual harassment against women, and the Supreme
Court has never dealt with mobbing, the situation is obviously unresolved.
The level of the political is also complex: On the one hand, it includes government bodies
(ministries of labor, of healthcare, and the compound Ministry of Youth, Family, Social
affairs and equal opportunities; supervisory bodies like (OKK-OMFI)17 and their measures.
On the other, the employment and human policies of the few concerned workplaces could also
come here (but will be treated, instead, in the next section). Note that besides HR counseling,
employers may also take advantage of institutional psychological services to design and
implement these policies, which invests these agents with a political character, even though
their contribution in policy making is only indirect18. In addition, the appeal of certain civil
and trade union organizations active in lobbying is also partly of a political nature. (These,
too, will be portrayed in the next section.) At the same time, it must be remembered that
neither trade unions, nor civil organizations are strong enough to effectuate significant
changes in employment politics.19
Apparently, few if any, state officials are familiar with the concept of mobbing, including
those involved in projects where mobbing is at issue. The department called the National
Institute of Work Hygiene and Employment Healthcare of the National Center of Public
Health (OKK-OMFI), for instance, is just about to organize a one-day conference on the
National Institute of Work Hygiene and Employment Healthcare of the National Center of Public Health.
As for HR management and counseling, this is a relatively new concept in Hungary. The equivalent of HR
person during state socialism was the so-called chief of staff or staff manager in state-owned companies, whose
work had a totally administrative character.
While the old trade unions were largely discredited after 1989, new ones have not achieved much influence so
far. One reason of their lack of power is that the so-called “confidential agent” of unions, having a distinguished
position in state-owned enterprises, paid lip-service to the regime and therefore was not trusted by the workers at
all. As for the newly developed civil sphere, it is disintegrated and largely dependent on state funds, for which
reason it lacks autonomy. Very few civil organizations strive to exercise pressure on governance at all, and those
that do face the problems of lack of solidarity and the immaturity of democratic practices.
psychological aspects of health protection at the workplace, in the framework of a European
Union project, which will take place on 3 November 2005. One workshop is planned to
discuss mobbing. However, state officials, including those who have actively participated in
the implementation of European law and / or are members of the advisory committee of the
Authority of Equal Opportunities, are totally ignorant in this problem area.
It was already described in connection with legal redress in the previous section how state
bodies kept referring to one another when responding to our inquiry. Apparently, mobbing
does not constitute an issue on its own right. Characteristically, it is deemed to pertain to the
ministry responsible for equal opportunities or the Ministry of Healthcare, rather than to the
Ministry of Labor and Employment. When trying to track down these directions, we were
running, again, to a dead end.
The head of the Department of International and EU Affairs at the Ministry of Healthcare said
they are not concerned with mobbing for it is not included in legislation. The regulation of
healthcare of employees only refers to “areas of employment involving increased
psychological strain” (such as the manufacture of explosives, nursing at psychiatric wards, or
monotonous activities). As opposed to mobbing, this regulation is obviously grounded in the
concept of stress, which is the central concern in Hungary, as already described in the first
section of this paper.
Our contact at the National Office of Work Inspection operating within the Ministry of Labor
and Employment, who is the head of the Directorate of Human Policies, says, though, that he
is familiar with the phenomenon, and open for proposals to solve the problem. At the same
time, he has no idea how to deal with it,20 and his office is also incompetent since regulation
of mobbing does not constitute part of labor law. He recommends that “terrorized” persons
should have a means to “reverse the ascription” (i.e. as a nuisance) by, for instance,
prescribing the preparation of evaluation of the work environment, including its mobbing
potential, as part of the new program of equal opportunities. If submitted, this may be a good
initiative: the recent introduction of the concept of equal opportunities to conform with EU
directives has the potential to revolutionize the norms of employment and workplace culture
in general. Unfortunately, though, the relevant piece of legislation (the already cited Act on
He holds that neither legal prohibition, nor mediation would do.
Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities) has a limited scope of validity as
it covers only the public sphere. Thus private companies are not obliged to prepare programs
of equal opportunities, or adopt any other related measures.
Representatives of the Ministry of Youth, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities are
unsure about what to do with mobbing. Our contact at the Department of Equal Opportunities
recommended we talk to the deputy state secretary of EU Strategies. This gesture indicates
that the issue of mobbing, including its aspect related to discrimination, is supplanted in
current politics. 21 At the same time, it also suggests that mobbing is deemed to be a potential
subject of the future agenda, as an adoption from the EU.
Advice and service providers
In Hungary, there are no specialized institutions dealing with victims of mobbing. The only
civil organization active in protecting women against violence (NANE) has only started to
deal with the phenomenon.22 A couple of other civil organizations provide self-assertive
training and individual counseling, however, they are mostly helpless when facing an actual
mobbing situation: given the lack of means of legal redress and guarantees of fair procedures,
they are at a loss as to what to recommend to their clients. Thus victims, at best, turn to a
general psychologist. They virtually never decide to report their case or go to court for fear of
the consequences or because they think it is useless. There are no fora outside the workplace
to discuss the problem, either, while group discussions within the workplace are supposed to
be impossible, given the general distrust and lack of solidarity among employees. In some
cases, victims may talk to the trade union representative or the HR manager, however,
research (Kaucsek-Simon 1996, Virag 2000) has shown that such instances are relatively rare.
Neither trade union representatives, nor HR managers would be willing to risk their position
by speaking up for an employee who has, most of the time, hostile relations with her/his
superior. According to our informants, victims usually shy away from sharing their problem
We have tried to gather information from the so-called “Houses of Opportunities”, a network recently
established by the state as prescribed in the Act on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities to
provide assistance for victims of discrimination. However, nobody have responded to our query, and we have
also learned from other sources that the personnel of these offices are rather inept and uninformed. So far they
have barely forwarded any cases to the Authority of Equal Treatment for investigation.
NANE is cooperating with MONA in translating the booklet summarizing the findings of the first phase of our
research: Mobbing I.
with friends and family members, too. Harms caused by mobbing are suppressed, as a rule,
poisoning the life of the individual and her/his surroundings.
Given the lack of specialized services, we had to enlarge our scope of attention to include
organizations and enterprises that aim to deal with at least some aspect of mobbing. Among
the specialists/experts we have interviewed because their work relates to mobbing in one way
or another, only a few would actually name this issue. Others who are familiar with mobbing
build the concept into their activities without referring to it specifically. Still others deal with
victims of mobbing without being aware of the specificity of the problem. Since remedies are
not requested or established institutionally, the intervention of specialists often occurs in an
So far it seems that the few institutions / enterprises that have ever—and occasionally
regularly—seek such assistance are of 3 types: 1. multinational companies, 2. public
institutions and large state-run companies and 3. small-size enterprises. The motivations
appear to be as follows:
1. Multinational companies are more informed about this phenomenon and its potential
harms to the company, especially from the point of view of productivity. At the same
time, it is also commonly held that the east European branches of such companies
“loosen up” in terms of their responsibility for the employees and they no longer
adhere to the same norms as in west Europe.
2. The extensive survey on mobbing in 1995, as well as a minor one in 2000 (see above
in the section on research), was conducted in some of the public institutions and large
state-run companies, which suggests that their management was interested in this
issue, or at least was not opposed to such inquiry. The researchers involved in the
projects support the view that it was due to the modernization of the leadership that
such investigation could take place. However, they interpret this an accidental
development that was revoked later. Thus we no longer know of similar interest in
dealing with mobbing among state institutions and companies.
3. Small-size enterprises are said to be more sensitive due to the owner’s closeness to the
workplace. This involves her/his familiarity with whatever is going on there as well as
a more acute sense of the connection between healthy work environment and
profitability. In terms of a breakthrough as regards the involvement of employers in
the fight against mobbing, it looks that our informants have the most trust in these
kinds of motivations.
In this section, we present some initiatives that aim to prevent mobbing and assist its
victims—apparently, the only ones that presently exist in Hungary. The activities of these
agencies cover a wide spectrum—psychology, human management, social work, law, and
union work.23 As it was already emphasized, concerned organizations and enterprises are not
exclusively targeting mobbing problems and victims but their activities can be considered the
germs of tackling this issue.
Laszlo Virag, psychologist, head of the Professional Psychological Department of Border
The Professional Psychological Department started its operations in 1991 as an S.O.S.
telephone hotline. By today, it has offices at all of the 10 directorates of Border Guard
Services, with 2 psychologists and 1 (also professional) assistant working in each. In addition,
they maintain a laboratory of transport psychology (dealing with problems faced by the
drivers of large military vehicles) with a staff of 5 people. Thus Department works with
altogether 36 psychologists.
The primary aims of the department include the prevention of extraordinary events and the
preservation of the psychological condition and working ability of the human reserve. Thus it
strives to enhance the development of personal capacities and the improvement of the work
organization, regularly revising the actual state of affairs and preparing action plans for the
future. The department performs the following activities: examinations of fitness for service
(at the entrance of new employees as well as at regular intervals and in case of specific
We have made efforts to identify mediator agencies that deal with mobbing. However, the only organization—
Center of Workplace Mediation—that covers issues relating to employment focuses on financial conflicts
between employers and employees, and is not familiar with the problem.
occurrences); the diagnosis of the work organization (regularly as well as at request or in case
of complaint); educational trainings (for superiors as well as for subordinates); individual
counseling; crisis-intervention (e.g. among detained foreigners); clinical psychology (to a
minimal extent: those in need of help are redirected to psychological services outside the
organization). The department is involved in about 100 crisis-interventions and examines
50 000 persons yearly. 10-15 percent of the entire personnel is under continuous treatment.
In nearly all of these activities mobbing is claimed to be a factor: thus the potential
development of mobbing situations is estimated at entrance as well as subsequent
examinations of the workforce, it is considered in case there is a complaint about the work
organization, and it forms part of educational trainings. However, in our contact person’s
view, the department is not prepared to investigate and reveal mobbing situations, nor it is
able to provide treatment for victims. The major factor that restricts their opportunities in
dealing with mobbing more extensively and intensively is the lack of time. In this way, when
individual complainers turn to them with problems that may be related to mobbing, they do
not feel to be in the position to define the problem in question as mobbing. Since there is no
time to examine the entire work environment in each case, the nature of the conflict remains
concealed: after all, how would they distinguish mobbing from sheer paranoia without
thorough investigations, asks our informant.
As a result, the mobbing-related activity of the Department is restricted to prevention24 and
research. Our interviewee is particularly interested in mobbing, which was the subject of his
university thesis as well (Virag 2000), in which he analyzed this problem at the Armed
Forces. In addition, he also investigated small and middle-sized enterprises to detect causes
and forms of mobbing. As a member of the Scientific Committee of the Border Guard
Services, Virag has authored of several studies included in the professional protocol of the
institution. Besides his work at the Department, he is invited by other institutions25 to offer 2-
day trainings, which are often exclusively about mobbing. These training sessions combine
lecture with workshop elements, and make use of the psycho-drama method to help
participants understand mobbing situations at the experiential level.
According to our informant, prevention may aim at holding the rate of mobbing at its present magnitude. He
assumes that it is impossible to go under the current 5 or 6 percent because the “spontaneous” mobbing insults
develop even in case employers are aware of the problem and try to control the situation.
Invitations for such training sessions regularly come from the National Trust of Health Insurance, the Institute
of Training Police Officers, and the Zrinyi Miklos Academy of National Security.
Although not providing services directly to mobbing victims, Virag is quite aware of the
nature of the problem, which he defines as the deterioration of human relations leading to
isolation. As a general rule, he assumes that the roles of victim and perpetrator are
interchangeable, as perpetrators often turn into victims because of their sense of guilt, while
victims may become perpetrators by projecting their internal tension onto co-workers. At the
same time, he maintains that the character of mobbing is always group-specific and should be
analyzed and treated with regard to the actual circumstances.
In Virag’s estimation, about 5-6 percent of the working population—especially women, and
only rarely superiors—has experienced mobbing at least once in their lifetime. What they
need most is individual counseling, i.e. advice to manage their personal crisis. He underlines
the importance of helping victims reintegrate in their personal surroundings since it takes
human relationships to be able to manage stress and get rid of it.26
Magda Csepelyi, human policies counselor, owner of a small company called Grafo-
Csepelyi’s interest in mobbing is proved by her book (Csepelyi 2000) in which she proposes
the use of graphology in dealing with the problem. Thus her mobbing-related activities are
restricted to prevention: as a human policies counselor, she raises awareness to mobbing and
advises HR managers to consider it at entrance examinations.
For the past 5 years, Csepelyi has been hired by several multinational companies dealing with
economic counseling to advise managers and HR representatives. Part of her work is
elaborating methods of internal monitoring and examination of potential employees about to
be hired. In cooperation with a psychologist, she also holds community-building trainings for
employees in order to strengthen group solidarity. Such training programs involve a specific
Virag points out in a research paper (co-authored with Elod Konyves Toth and based on an investigation of
middle-sized enterprises) on the possible connections between mobbing and life style that the improvement of
the quality of life may mitigate, but not eliminate, the consequences of mobbing on the individual’s psyche.
acting exercise, where participants are made to switch roles of the perpetrator and the victim
in mobbing situations.
In performing these activities, Csepelyi and her colleagues have consciously introduced the
concept of mobbing, which she understands mostly as a consequence of innate psychological
inclinations relating to adaptive disorders, reinforced by problems of work organization and
bad leadership. Since Csepelyi’s enterprise does not provide services for individuals, she has
no information either on the relative vulnerability of social and age groups, or on the selective
problems and needs of victims.
Ildiko Toth, human policies counselor, owner of a small company called Humanprofit
Toth’s enterprise works with a staff of 17 persons, including outsiders offering their expertise.
The enterprise provides services for about 20 companies, including training programs (for
both superiors and subordinates); examination of employees entering the company;
counseling in internal career-planning for the employees of a particular enterprise; and
intervention in mobbing and other types of conflicts at the workplace.
Whenever encountering it or analyzing the phenomenon, Toth always refers to mobbing in its
singularity (by the Hungarian term psycho-terror) because she thinks unawareness is a major
causal factor in its development. Thus in teaching techniques of communication, self-
development, leadership, and staff-management, she always includes a chapter on mobbing in
her training programs. What is more, when intervening in workplace conflicts at the request
of employers, she provides the analysis of the cause of the problem and gives advice as to its
In her estimation, mobbing conflicts—i.e. disruptions of the group dynamics in the work
organization whereby the roles of perpetrator, victim, informal leader, trickster, executioners
develop—are quite frequent. Nevertheless, few concerned people would seek solutions:
victims hardly talk about their injury, and since they are reluctant to share it with anybody,
they rarely try to locate institutions offering rehabilitation.
In her work, Toth emphasizes the need to develop the emotional intelligence of both
employers and employees and to detect abnormal processes that indicate latent conflicts in the
workplace. By these means, she claims, the effect of personal givens underlying
psychological types (such as extroverted and introverted, winners and losers) in bringing
about conflicts may be mitigated. Although Toth, just like Csepelyi or Virag, stresses the
responsibility of superiors, who in case of involvement or impotence should be removed from
the work environment, she also makes a point regarding the necessity to filter out problematic
people: potential victims as well as perpetrators. Thus even though the work of these people is
crucial with regard to awareness-raising and the spread of information and understanding
about mobbing, as well as in sensitizing employers and HR managers to this problem, their
involvement in hiring policies makes their contribution somewhat ambiguous.
Zsuzsa Simon, social worker, head of a foundation providing human services
As a social worker, Simon deals with mental hygiene. She spent 12 years at a public office
helping families, where 80 percent of the clients are women. Today, she runs a foundation to
provide services mostly for middle-aged women, and she also is on duty to give legal advice
for patients at the largest psychiatric hospital in Budapest. Before starting her own enterprise
3 years ago, she performed similar activities in the Women’s Home—a civil initiative
supported by several civil activists and organizations that was quite short-lived and already
ceased to function.
The personnel of Simon’s foundation has 6 members: 1 psychologist, 2 social workers, 1
medical expert, 1 lawyer, and 1 expert of rehabilitation. They provide services such as
assertive trainings (20-hour courses in groups of 15); conflict management; and positive
communication. In addition, they have office hours once a week and offer supportive psycho-
therapy to help individuals. All of their services are free of charge since they receive funds
from other sources. Currently, they are covering most of their costs from funds they have
successfully obtained from the Human Resources Operative Program of the European Social
Funds, aiming at the rehabilitation of middle-aged women.27 In addition, they employ unpaid
voluntary workers to do translations, interpreting and prepare documentation.28
According to its files, the Foundation was dealing with 114 clients in the past year (2004). In
the estimation of our interviewee, 50-60 percent of them have problems primarily arising
from their personal relations; 20 percent suffers from the consequences of the loss of social
and economic status; and 20 percent complains about conflicts at their workplace. In most of
the cases, their clients come from a middle-class background but has recently lost social
grounding. Our informant stressed that uneducated and poor people (including members of
the Roma community) are either uninformed about opportunities to receive help, cannot
afford it, or are not even interested as far as it is offered in the form of conversation and
While aware of mobbing, the staff of the Foundation has not yet named or treated the problem
in its specificity. However, our interviewee says they plan to introduce this concept in their
work. She has already met many instances of mobbing. In her observation, victims of
mobbing (and of discrimination in general) tend to endure their injuries and try to adapt
themselves to the adverse circumstances, rather than reporting on their problems and locating
available remedies. Obviously, the lack of competent institutions and organizations is crucial
here. In addition, the threat of dismissal and unemployment is also of major influence, given
the lack of legal guarantees and the wrong attitudes and policies of employers. What she finds
as common in mobbing situations is, primarily, their link to discrimination29 and, secondly,
indications of the lack of solidarity among employees, and their inability to recognize their
own interests and promote their rights.
Julia Spronz, lawyer, member of Habeas Corpus Work Group, provider of legal advice
at the telephone hotline maintained by NANE, formerly working as a career consultant
Experts of EU relations—mostly the adult children of the 6-member staff—secure the functioning of the
enterprise as fundraisers participating in EU tenders and helping other organizations to write proposals for
One of the short-term objectives of the Foundation is to make its activities profitable so as they will not
depend on outside sources in the future.
Given that workers over 50 receive the highest salaries, they are the first to be dismissed in case of the
reduction of the personnel. Women are specially exposed to this threat since they lack appropriate means to
promote their interests, and are often more vulnerable psychologically as well.
Habeas Corpus Work Group and NANE (Women Together Against Violence) are the two
civil organizations most actively promoting women’s rights. While NANE is concerned about
female victims of physical violence, Habeas Corpus offers legal assistance, and occasionally
legal representation, for victims of discrimination who have suffered injury of their human
and civil rights.
Spronz is unique among our interviewees in identifying mobbing as one manifestation of
violence against women, and thus as an ill of the patriarchal social order. She has encountered
so far only one case of mobbing as such, and a host of other, more complex, conflicts in
which mobbing represented one element. In her experience, victims of mobbing are virtually
always women, and virtually any women may become its target, independently of position,
age, looks, etc., while perpetrators are characteristically men, whether superiors, or co-
workers. Spronz identifies traditional workplace habits, such the use of female staff by their
male co-workers to serve them as conducive to mobbing, even though these practices do not,
as a rule, lead to open conflicts.
Given the deeply ingrained gender roles in the patriarchal society, Spronz misses, primarily,
the awareness of mobbing and other related problems on the part of women themselves.
Secondly, she refers to the ignorance of employers and the lack of official channeling of
Most of the clients of Habeas Corpus Work Group seeking legal advice need help, first of all,
in formulating their complaint in accordance with current legislation. Where this is
manageable, they want to know whether it is worth in their case to submit a lawsuit, and what
kind of legal assistance they may rely on should they decide going to court. Unfortunately,
given the limited resources of Habeas Corpus, they can provide legal representation only in
strategic cases. Since there is no specific legislation on mobbing, this problem remains outside
of the scope of their attention.
Zsoka Szabo, the founding president of the Women’s Committee of the National
Alliance of Hungarian Trade Unions, president of the Foundation of Women for
Szabo has been active in the field of representing and promoting women’s interests for the
past 10 years, first as the president of the Women’s Committee of the central organization of
trade unions, then, since 1992, within her foundation called Women for Tomorrow. Her
activities include the providing of legal counseling in matters of employment, especially
discrimination; lectures and educational training regarding issues such as the reconciliation of
family and work duties, advising of unemployed people, lobbying at state organizations.
She has been made aware of mobbing only recently. In her estimation, about one third of
workplace problems are related to this phenomenon, and 80 percent of the victims are women.
Especially vulnerable groups include mothers with young children (because they are less able
to adopt and perform extra work); women over fifty (because they do not share the habits of
younger co-workers; because of the general expectation of workers to look good, and because
their critical age in terms of family matters); divorced and single ones and, finally, Roma
women (all of whom are more exposed to injuries due to their relative instability and lack of
social status. In addition to such situational factors, Szabo underlines the excessive burdens of
women, their lack of perspective, and the absence of solidarity among them. Thus mobbing,
in her view, is closely connected with discrimination, and its gender aspect is relatively
So far Szabo has not used the term workplace mobbing or psycho-terror in her work,
however, she intends to do so in the future. She claims that mobbing victims may be
distinguished from victims of other types of discrimination by specific symptoms: their
decisions are made under compulsion and thus their life takes a compulsory course, they are
alienated and isolated in their surroundings, and they feel they have no way out of this critical
condition. In accounting for the lack of perspectives of victims of mobbing in remedying their
situation, Szabo refers both to objective obstacles (such as the absence of competent
institutions and organizations, prejudices and stereotypes surrounding gender roles, and the
threat of losing employment) and subjective factors (the inability of women to see and
understand gender discrimination, their passivity, opportunism and lack of solidarity).
Given their huge plight, Szabo claims that the first and foremost need of victims of mobbing
is to find somebody who would listen to them. Since they are mostly reluctant to talk about it
even at home for fear that their partner may use it against them, they do not need specialized
assistance as much as understanding and someone to take their side30. Szabo underscores the
fact that victims of mobbing fail to seek rehabilitation at healthcare institutions out of shame
or for fear of being stigmatized.
The same point was made by the researcher Peter Simon.
Report on the workshops dedicated to the topic of “The Perception of Mobbing and
Related Services in Hungary”
Written by Emese Süvecz
1. Objectives of the Workshops
MONA Foundation has organised two workshops in connection with the theme of the
perceptions of mobbing in Hungary. The first one was organised on 27th October 2005 before
the Stockholm meeting in order to have the possibility for receiving feedback on the results of
our research paper, and also to be better prepared for the international meeting in Stockholm.
The second one was organised on 1st December 2005. The members of the workshops were
mostly from the network we initiated at the beginning of our research – HR managers,
trainers, trade union representatives and professionals from civil organizations providing legal
protection for women and in employment matters. We managed to involve people coming
from professions which had a low representation in the research period, for instance legal
experts and psychologists. At both of the workshops we used the data collecting technique of
focus group interviews. The workshops’ objective was to generate new data of the perception
of mobbing and related services in Hungary and to represent the current situation of mobbing
with a special focus on the awareness about women victims of mobbing.
1.2. Participants of the workshops
Magda Csepelyi Workshop I Human policies counselor, Grafo-training
Dr. Tamás Workshop II ELTE University, Department of Work
Gyulavári Law, Member Advisory Committee of
the Authority of Equal Treatment
Judit Kerek Workshop II Association for the Healthy Workplace,
National Institute for Health
Beáta Nagy Workshop II Corvinus University of Budapest, Centre
for Gender and Cultural Studies
Ördög Jánosné Workshop II Ministry of Employment and Labour,
Department of Human Policy
Dr. Richárd Plette Workshop II National Institute of Work Hygiene and
Employment Healthcare of the National
Center of Public Health
Dr. József Ried Workshop II Safety at Work Foundation
Dr. Péter Simon Workshop I Public Employment Office, researcher
Simon Zsuzsa Workshop I “Uniós Tanoda” Foundation
Dr. Júlia Spronz Workshop I, II Habeas Corpus Working Group
Emese Süvecz Workshop I, II Mona Foundation, program coordinator
Mónika Sváb Workshop I HR manager,
(Works also for NANE Women’s Rights
Szabó Zsóka Workshop II Women of Tomorrow Foundation
Róza Vajda Workshop I, II MONA Foundation, researcher
Judit Wirth Workshop II NANE Women’s Rights Association
2. Key Issues
The main focus of the workshops was reflecting on the research result which shows that very
few experts are familiar with the concept of mobbing in Hungary. At both workshops the
major issue of our discussion was the question what kind of services can be used by victims of
mobbing if there are not any specifically mobbing-related service providers in Hungary.
The general opinion of our interviewees about the status of the problem caused by mobbing in
Hungary was that it is in close connection with the social awareness of working conditions in
general. Hungarians are not critical enough about their working environment. Those
interviewees who come from the field of human rights advocacy miss primarily the awareness
of civil rights on the part of the potential victims themselves. Additionally, most of those
interviewees who were familiar with the issue of mobbing were not familiar with the
consequences of gender-based discrimination. The workshops have made it clear that
workplace discrimination was not perceived as a potential risk factor for mobbing by the very
few service providers who are experts on mobbing situations in Hungary, and who took part
in the focus groups discussions. The social status of the subordinated groups is not recognised
within their concept of mobbing, in fact, some of them claimed it not to be a relevant issue if a
mobbed person belonged to any of the discriminated groups of society. These members of the
group claimed mobbing was a matter of work force management instead. The only
improvement related to addressing groups at risks of mobbing situations is the impact of the
European Union requirements to tackle discrimination and stigma, this awareness was
characteristic of those interviewees who are internationally active. However, all the
interviewees agreed that mobbing is part of our everyday life because legal awareness is low
3. Research findings
There was one major research finding of the workshops, this was the result of the
participation of a new partner who did not take part in the network from the beginning of the
research period. Dr. Richárd Plette works for the National Institute of Work Hygiene and
Employment Healthcare of the National Center of Public Health and he is responsible for
their research project “European Mental Health Implementation Project 2004 – 2006”
The EMIP project was conducted by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
(FIOSH). One of the principal action areas that was accepted by the conference of Ministers
of Health from the European Union, in Helsinki, in January 2005 was the joint action against
discrimination, stigma and unequal treatment, supporting people with mental health disorders
and their families. This direction was also present among the priority areas of the
Implementing Mental Health Promotion Action (IMPHA) which is an action plan of the
European Union supporting local policies on mental health. In Hungary the EMIP project is
represented by the National Institute of Work Hygiene and Employment Healthcare of the
National Center of Public Health. The Institute had to organize a National Workshop and
write a report about its findings.
The Institute conducts research in connection with the psychological risk factors at the
workplace in Hungary. One are of risk factors related to workplace stress is individual stress
factors, the other is the psycho-social risk factors. The phenomenon of mobbing is dealt with
under this category. In January 2006 a new survey by Dr. Plette was completed. The expected
results will provide new data about mobbing at the workplace in Hungary. Dr Plette referred
to additional legal resources in relation to the phenomenon of mobbing. Article XLVII of the
1997 Health Act, which includes a list of occupational health problems that must be reported
to the authorities. The Ministerial Decree 33/1998 VI.24 NM regulates the health check-up
which is the pre-requisite to employment. Within the sectoral policy instructions mobbing is
not defined as a single phenomenon, only as a psycho-social illness factor, and for its
prevention and treatment it prescribes an annual control examination for affected employees.
Although the policy lacks a specific definition of mobbing, this provision may provide a
possible resource for statistical surveys.
4. Current priorities in Hungary
Based on the data generated in the focus group interviews we set out the following priorities
in raising awareness of mobbing and related services in Hungary:
• Train the trainers (those who work in the field of human recources and experts in
health and safety at work);
• Provide training for health workers, social workers and judges on mobbing;
• Provide training on mobbing with a module on the social impacts of discrimination;
• Introduce the topic of mobbing via a specialised website;
• Support prevention practices focusing especially on the issue of workplace health;
• Raise awareness of the state’s role in tackling mobbing.
Nearly all of our interviewees made reference to the traditional patterns of socialization that
make individuals evade problems rather than confronting them. As a result, nothing seems to
be done to hold mobbing situations back before they are fully developed. The responsibility of
employers is not circumscribed in law, while victims contribute to supplanting the problem
given their inability to report it or share it with others. Since most of them are not strong
enough to manage this situation, they suffer long-term psychological problems to the extent of
total disintegration (unemployment, divorce, alcohol, suicide).
Impacts on future employment
It is held by our interviewees that temporary or permanent unemployment are the direct
consequences of mobbing. Given the ignorance and negligence of most employers about
mobbing, they would first try and get rid of the “problematic person”, i.e. the victim. This is
possible in most cases since employees do not enjoy sufficient legal guarantees with regard to
their employment relations, and they are generally passive when facing injustices. It is
probably only in the rare circumstances where the management is modernized enough to face
the problem, and group discussions are regularly organized by experts familiar with mobbing,
that conflicts are revealed in time, and sometimes even reversed, to spare its victim from
However, as a rule, there is nothing to prevent mobbing conflicts from full development,
which more often than not ultimately leads to the victim’s loss of her/his job, often by mutual
agreement with the employer. It has been underlined already that this outcome is made
possible, or likely, by the lack of legal sanctions with preventive force, as well as by the
carelessness of most employers with respect to the peace at the workplace and the
psychological status of employees. The psychological explanation of why events take such
course involves the victim’s inability to manage the tension arising from her/his situation.
Consequences on the family
The same psychological explanation is further elaborated with respect to the consequences of
mobbing on family life: victims are supposed to project their inner tension onto family
members, thus becoming an emotional burden on the family (Csepelyi) and deteriorating
family relations (Virag). An alternative—but not contradictory—interpretation holds that
mobbing impacts family on the longer run: victims generally keeping their grievances inside,
without any outlet, become progressively alienated from their surroundings. The loss of
family ties being generally recognized as an unavoidable consequence of mobbing, some of
our informants argues that single people (especially women) and those living in bad marriages
are especially vulnerable since they have even less opportunity to share their distress and
acquire help informally. Thus the need for specialized services becomes doubly evident:
whether or not having families, victims are seen mostly unable to talk about their problem
Traditional gender roles and attached values represent important factors in the way mobbing
affects family life. In the interpretation of some of our interviewees, this is to the disadvantage
of men: because they are less able to manage conflicts, and have more to lose in terms of their
symbolic authority connected to their role as supporters of the family (Csepelyi). The same
interviewee adds, nevertheless, that women are often victims of dual mobbing: when insults
suffered at the workplace are coupled with domestic violence. Interestingly enough, a causal
relationship between domestic violence and vulnerability to mobbing is assumed by some of
our interviewees who otherwise are outspokenly anti-feminists (Virag).
The gender aspect of mobbing is refuted by most people, or reversed by characterizing
women as typical mobbers. Some magazine articles suggest that women are particularly prone
to taunt one another because of their nature: in this way mobbing becomes associated with
intrigues provoked by envy and competition for the attention of male colleagues. The
understanding of women as an especially vulnerable group does not figure in such accounts.
About one third of our informants portrayed women as more vulnerable than men. Peter
Simon, for instance, argued that because the vast majority of middle and top managers are
male, women are more exposed to mobbing that, in most cases, involves the active or passive
involvement of superiors. Owing to traditional male solidarity, women are powerless as they
lack the network of relationships their male colleagues can rely on. Even female bosses are
deemed to be biased in the favor of men as a rule.
Some of our interviewees dealing with a specific group of women like those over 50 (Zsuzsa
Simon) explain women’s greater risk by their particular situation including outer factors
(discrimination, exclusion, social insecurity) and inner—or psychological—problems
(transitional state, transformation of family roles). Thus their relative vulnerability can be
compared to that of elder employees, or young apprentices. While acknowledging the
significance of these social factors, Simon holds that mobbing is primarily the result of low-
degree sadism, and so it is a symptom of individual, rather than social, problems.
Other informants, who explicitly deny the validity of a gendered analysis of mobbing—and
oppose the perspective of it becoming a women’s issue— may nevertheless make a point
regarding the connection between mobbing and sexual harassment, and even claim that
women are more vulnerable because they often suffer discrimination at the workplace, and
domestic violence at home (Virag). Other interviewees offering a gender-neutral analysis of
mobbing (Csepelyi, Toth) maintain that there is no difference between women and men in
terms of neither the effects of mobbing, or the needs of the victims. (They also deny its
possible link to sexual harassment.) At the same time, they claim that gender differences exist
in the typical reactions to mobbing: men are supposed to be more vulnerable owing to their
lower tolerance and capacity of managing conflicts, while women are said to be more stable
due to their nature as well as their closer family ties. In such analysis, the fact that women do
the lion’s share of housework only contributes to their relatively stronger resistance against
insults suffered at the workplace.
Our only feminist interviewee, who defined mobbing as a type of violence against women
(and often the antecedent, corollary, or the result, of sexual harassment), underscored the
significance of the hierarchical structure of the patriarchal social order (dominant men and
subordinated women) that may or may not coincide with the hierarchical structure of the
workplace in question. Thus male colleagues become just as easily perpetrators as male
bosses, yet even female co-workers and superiors may be involved, at least as passive
bystanders, in the development of such conflicts because they, too, have assimilated
patriarchal norms. The same worldview dominates, obviously, the victim’s consciousness,
making her more likely to adopt to adversities than raise her voice against malefactors.
We have asked our interviewees to propose solutions as to the most effective ways of
combating mobbing. In particular, we set inquiries regarding treatments and other services for
victims, the ways in which these should be developed, and the conditions they presuppose
(improvement of the legal framework, introduction of social policies, public campaign and
awareness raising, education, research, etc.) In their answers our respondents were obviously
departing from the present state of affairs and institutional possibilities. Thus their replies
reflect not only their personal convictions but also how underdeveloped this area is in
It is not surprising thus that nearly all of our respondents stresses the need of awareness
raising (by education, the media, and public campaigns) as being of primary importance.
Otherwise, the list of priorities tend to vary: for some, legislation comes first (also as a means
of introducing the concept and setting the agenda) (P. Simon), while others assume that the
legal framework is already there and so the institutional guarantees (like the dedication of
employers) should be developed at present (Virag). Still others maintain that employees—i.e.
potential victims—are to be equipped with techniques of self-assertion and a sense of
solidarity as a good start, in the course of collective training sessions (Zs. Simon). Priorities
also include research and the organization of expert workshops (Csepelyi).
The need for complex remedies is stressed by virtually everybody (P. Simon, Virag, Csepelyi,
Spronz, Szabo). Thus legislation, for instance, is found to be insufficient without a public
campaign to introduce and explain the concept, effective means of enforcement (Virag), and
extensive social policies (Csepelyi). At the same time, it is also acknowledged by our
informants that the behavior and human policies of employers will not change unless they
recognize their own interests. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to directly initiate such a
change in the attitude of the management: this progress, rather, is contingent upon the
structural transformation of the economy. Change will start with companies recognizing that
their financial interests are threatened by the mobbing phenomenon (Csepelyi). One
interviewee even entered into a philosophical argument about the change of paradigms
whereby societies determined by existential questions will transform into societies of
knowledge, where the need for communality is greater. Such societies will be forced to secure
cooperation and thus eliminate mobbing (Virag).
While structural determinants may effectively hinder, or support, the eradication of problem,
it is possible—and important—to deliberately improve services and other means of protecting
victims and diminishing the effects of mobbing. Part of the question is: who might be the best
agents? As long as real changes are expected from the preponderance of the logic of the
profit, it is the employers. A contradicting opinion (that of P. Simon) holds that the fight
against mobbing should be grounded in human rights values, as opposed to the logic of profit,
and managed as part of human policies within the enterprise, with active assistance of the
Public Defender of Human Rights, or other outside experts. In addition, the harmful effects of
mobbing are to be mitigated by a host of specialists—like psychologists, social workers. What
appears to be an important divide regarding the opinion of our informants, is whether they
would entrust, first of all, agents inside the workplace (Csepelyi), or outsiders (P. Simon) to
handle the situation.
Potential sources of good practices include other countries that have already accumulated
experience (Csepelyi), small and middle-sized enterprises that have already introduced such
measures, and responsible public institutions such as the ministry dealing with equal
opportunities: the annual prize for family-friendly enterprises may be a good model for a new
initiative (Szabo). Without denying the value of singular initiatives, it is important to highlight
that our informants stressed the need of extensive progress in economic and social policies, as
well as cultural changes, that are indispensable with respect to make the first step towards the
elimination of mobbing.
Csepelyi, Magda: Mobbing - Munkahelyi pszichoterror a grafologia tukreben. /Psycho-Terror
in the Workplace and Graphology/ Budapest: General Press 2000.
Ember, Zoltan: “A munkahelyi pletyka - bolhából elefánt?” /Gossiping at work: much ado
about nothing?/ Nok lapja Café Internet portal.
Hodos, Tibor Dr.: “Pszichoszocialis koroki tenyezok, pszichoszocialis eredetu
megbetegedesek es prevenciojuk a munkahelyen” /Psycho-social pathogenetic factors,
psycho-social illnesses and their prevention in the workplace/
Horvath, Lilla: “A tanari szereprol egy fiktiv konfliktus tukreben” /On the role of the teacher
as reflected by a fictional conflict/
Juhasz, Agnes: Munkahelyi stressz, munkahelyi egeszsegfejlesztes. /Workplace Stress,
Improvement of Health at the Workplace/ Educational material. Budapest, 2002.
Kaucsek, Gyorgy – Simon, Peter: “Pszichoterror a munkahelyen I-II” /Psycho-Terror in the
Workplace/ Munkaügyi Szemle No. 2-3 1996.
Kokai, Rita: no title. Article on Internet portal “csaladinet” 4 August, 2004.
Mihaly, Ildiko: “Az iskolai terror termeszetrajza” /Anatomy of school terror/ Új pedagógiai
szemle. September 2003.
“Mobbing avagy munkamánia?” /Mobbing or work-mania?/ She.hu internet portal.
Molnar, Zsuzsanna: “Modszeres kicsinalas – a mobbing” /Mobbing or systematic torment”/
Index Internet magazine. 5 November 2003. http://www.fn.hu/index.php?id=24&cid=69544
Molnar, Zsuzsanna: “Legyek ura – a munkahelyen” /Lord of the Flies – in the workplace/
MTI /Hungarian Broadcast Agency/: “Sokba kerül a munkahelyi szurkapiszka” /Workplace
pin-pricks cost a lot/. Supplementary of the daily Nepszabadsag 21 July, 2005.
F leg n k
Szanto, Krisztina: „Kikészítenek a kollegáim!” /Are you able to hold out in your workplace?
My colleagues are tormenting me!/ Maxima Internet portal.
“Uj modi a munkahelyi mobbing” /Workplace mobbing: now in fashion”
Virag, Laszlo: “Munkahelyi pszichoterror a hatarorsegnel” Workplace Psycho-terror at the
Border Guard Services/ (thesis) Budapest University of Technologies and Economics, 2000
Name of Organization e-mails
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