Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?
Do you feel like you’re being singled out or “ganged up on” at work? Do your co-workers suddenly stop talking when you enter the room? Do you notice co-workers and/your boss rolling their eyes or exchanging glances when you talk in a meeting? Do you feel like people at work are undermining you or out to get you? Do you wonder if you’re just imagining things or being paranoid?
If so, you may be the target of a form of workplace bullying called mobbing. Mobbing isn’t illegal and is a commonplace occurrence in office politics.
What is mobbing?
Mobbing is the impassioned psychological harassment of one individual by a group. The attack is usually instigated and led by one or two people who are typically in a position of authority or a peer leader. The instigator enlists his or her colleagues to engage in a form of group bullying.
The group victimization of a single target has several goals including: demeaning, discrediting, alienating, excluding, humiliating, scapegoating, isolating and, ultimately, eliminating the targeted individual.
These behaviors typically manifest as petty harassment and bureaucratic hassles (Rosen, Katz & Morahan, 2007). Mobbing is a form of emotional abuse, which can negatively impact your health, career, family, and the organization that harbors bullies.
Organizational impact of mobbing.
Companies that condone individual bullying and mobbing are affected by hard and “soft” costs. Hard costs include high employee turnover, high absenteeism, “presenteeism” (employees show up, but they’re on “autopilot”—they exercise discretionary effort), decreased productivity, and a bad reputation in regard to taking care of employees. A bad company reputation reduces the ability to attract talented recruits. Soft costs include decreased job satisfaction, poor communication and information sharing, low morale, and a sense of betrayal by management. Eventually, the poor morale and reduced creativity trickles down to a poor customer experience.
Who is likely to mob?
Mobbing ringleaders are bullies who try to dominate and control others. These behaviors usually aren’t overt. Instead, mobbing employs the surreptitious use of rumor, innuendo, making inappropriate jokes, and public discrediting. One of the most stressful aspects for targets of this abuse is the covert nature of what’s going on and the lack of concrete evidence. It’s a form of gaslighting in which the target begins to doubt his or her experiences and/or sanity.
Namie and Namie (2000) describe individuals who instigate mobbing as, “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people.” They’re generally angry, unpredictable, critical, jealous, and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie, 2000). The emotionally abusive bullies who engage in mobbing revel in the excitement produced by their animosity. It produces a pleasurable buzz or rush in them. Westhues (2002) refers to this as “the euphoria of collective attack.”
Bullying and mobbing in any organization usually isn’t a one time occurrence. All bullies are “repeat offenders;” if they’ve bullied once and gotten away with it, they’ll most definitely bully again. Getting away with it is its own reward as is being able to manipulate and control both the target and management.
A bully always has an “enemy” in the cross hairs. After they force one target out of the system, they’ll move onto the next one within 2 hours to 2 weeks. Abusing others are how they derive a sense of power and control. A bully doesn’t stop bullying until someone with authority makes them stop and/or fires them.
Who is likely to become the target of mobbing?
Mobbing targets have certain characteristics in common. Typical targets include people who are:
- average to high achievers
- extremely competent
They become targets out of jealousy or because they’ve somehow put a co-worker or superior to shame. Creative people are also likely to be mobbed because they present new ideas that challenge others. Other likely targets include people who excel in some area, are different in some way (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity), dissent with certain organizational practices, or have knowledge of wrongdoing or a breach of ethics by someone with authority in the workplace.
If you believe you’re being bullied by a co-worker and/or are the target of mobbing, take the time to research your options. Find out what you can do to protect yourself and come up with a strategy to find away out of this toxic situation. It may require that you to transfer to another department or seek employment elsewhere. If your company condones bullying, you may have no other choice but to leave.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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- How to Avoid Bullying and Mobbing at Work
- Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?
- How to Recognize 7 Personality Types in Office Politics
- 6 More Office Personality Types
Paranoid on Francis-Emporium.
Rosen, S.E., Katz, J.K., & Morahan, P.S. (2007), Avoiding \’mobbing\’ in the workplace–and surviving if you are mobbed. Academic Physician & Scientist, Sept. 2007, pp. 4-6.
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