Home > Abusive relationships, bullying, office politics, Psychology > Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?

Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?


paranoidDo 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
  • devoted
  • loyal
  • organized
  • cooperative
  • experienced

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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Photo credit:

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.

  1. andrea
    June 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I recently lost my job of ten years due to mobbing. I always got to work on time, did my work independently and always was willing to help co-workers if they needed it. My reviews were very good or above, until the last two years I was there. A new grad was hired during this time, and I observed her brown-nosing my boss. Eventually, whenever there was a vacancy at work, one of her classmates would be hired right away, hence the group of people mobbing. The ringleader is extremely adept to bullying my ex-boss into getting her way. A former co-worker and others in the department would pull me aside to tell me what was being said. I was being reprimanded for anything and everything. Boss-lady would then encourage members of the mob to come to her and tell her about anything and everything I would do “wrong”. ( So in other words, I had five supervisors instead of one.) These minions were going to my boss about the most menial things, and, in fact, one of them would make weekly lists of things I would supposedly do wrong. I was so humiliated. Everyone of these things were everyday occurrences that EVERYONE did. I tried to defend myself by explaining to my boss that these were things that all of us did, but either she would blow me off or did nothing to these people. I kept on getting written up for everything. Nothing I did was ever right, and eventually I was fired. Later, I was told, that not an hour went by from the moment I left the department, my ex-boss, in front of everybody, was calling one of the bully’s friends that she got my former full-time position. (Yes, they got me out to get her in.) I would really like to take action, however, I work in a VERY small realm word would get out about me being a “troublemaker”. Getting a job then would be impossible for me.

  2. Charlie
    March 1, 2012 at 10:09 am

    When it comes to any form of workplace aggression, the fish rots from the head down.

    It’s always management’s fault, considering management is usually the source.

  3. November 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/stop-the-bullying-at-the-university-of-memphis/ mobbing and bullying are going on here and it is getting way out of hand——

  4. Aapeli
    September 22, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I was once called by a person who monitors the working hours in the company. She accused me of committing a crime. On the first day in the job I didn’t have my electronic key card yet so my hours from that day could not be in the database. But I tried to get them paid to me any ways of course so I wrote them into a report and thought that would take care of it. No, it didn’t. She called me and told me my report is inaccurate and then when I said no it’s not, she accused me of committing a crime. I became very angry after that. I tried to reason with her any ways and explain to her why the computer database can’t show my hours from the first day, BECAUSE IT CAN’T BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE THE FRIGGIN’ KEY CARD YET, but no, she could not trust me and talked like I was a liar and could not be trusted.

    I have never been that angry at a job. I don’t work there any more! And never will. Thanks to one person whose job is to monitor the worked hours, I will never work for that company any more.

    In fact I may write a letter to the CEO of that company explaining why I will never work for them again.

    I heard from several other people there that the person I had the problem that they have had problems with the same person too. She appears to be a high-conflict person because she seemed to have a lot of enemies at the workplace.

    Now, sorting out some inaccuracies in a hour report is absolutely fine, but don’t tell me I am a criminal if it doesn’t match up when you first have a look at it! That will make me very angry and not want to work there at all.

    I felt that as many other people there had had the same problem too, and I heard one such person discuss it with my boss when I was in the same room right next to them, I concluded that the crazy woman actually has acceptance from the manager to behave like that. I know also that I sent an e-mail about it to the crazy woman and to my manager, my manager replied to me in a tone which suggested that there had not been a problem at all. So I concluded that the crazy woman had been authorised to do that either by verbal or silent acceptance from the manager. Such a workplace is not worth my time at all.

  5. Ms Reason
    March 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/03/29/massachusetts.bullying.suicide/index.html

    I read this sad case of a gentle, beautiful girl who killed herself after RELENTLESS planned bullying by other girls in her school and two men for months. A lot of jealousy there. I’ve long believed (having been bullied myself at home by an N sister & in school & work by mean girls- AND coming out of it stronger and understanding bullies for what they are – losers and covert psychopaths) that the ‘honing of skills’ of abusive women (and men) – especially the Ns,Bs, Hs & As – start early on when the mean girls start bullying the gentler girls at school and in the workplace. They later practice the same tactics on the men. A bully is a bully -sans gender and while our courts are strict towards the men, female bullies get an easy ride and are excused for all the emotional and mental torture they commit. This is inexcusable. This gentle new girl in school couldn’t take it any more and died (she’s not surprisingly very beautiful too.)

    Female bullies try to get the nice girls out from the dating pool so that later they will do their awful cheating, lying, seduction, brainwashing and bullying techniques on the men they will suck dry in their lives. Like male psychopaths, the female psychopath starts her ‘skills’ early. I’m reading a great very scientific (neuroscience & psychology based) book ‘Evil Genes’ by Barbara Oakley (in part inspired by her manipulative BPD sister) that examines that while male NPs became cult leaders, criminals, politicians etc,through history, the female psychopath wreaked the havoc in the relationship-arena and largely went undetected and undiagnosed and exponentially increased through their mating skills. They cause equal and insidious damage to their victims too – and continue being overlooked as they are ‘women.’ A bully is a bully. Regardless of gender. Period.

    The school ones bullied an innocent girl to death, the vampire relation partners suck their victims dry to the point of emotional and spiritual death. Same poison, different age.

    Thank you Dr. Tara for all your articles and for making the connection between home, workplace bullies and relationship bullies. Mean girls always remain mean girls.

    Regards.

  6. Ms Reason
    March 25, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Geez! I couldn’t believe this post! Almost made me cry. I’ve been bullied from back in high school (was the ‘high-achieveing’ school geek) and in university too faced it. The bullies were usually vicous girls who’d gang up – I even wrote an article in the Telegraph in UK about female bullying – and got positive reviews. Later, I found that same female ganging-up at a predominantly female office (which had many females who were the non-rational types – you know the ones with that characteristic soap-opera watching and girly-female-bonding type groupy shallow personas.) I feel for you Tara, your experience in the health care profession. I’m an architect & structural engineer and I’ve sworn after that firm to work mostly around straight men and gay men. So less complicated! At least they’re straightforward in their attacks and not that back-stabbing twisted manipulative woman-ganging horror.

    It’s such a catch-22 if one is a well-groomed-geek; Then the frumpy geeks are suspicious and the well-groomed catty girls know you’re a geek-in-disguise. So you end up in some no-man’s land and finally realize you get along much better with geeky intellectual no-nonsense men, which now incites more jealousy from the women. I’m not being anti-women here, simply saying that my sympathies are more towards good men and rational, good-hearted women only and I can’t stand the BP/NP/HP ones. I started my own company at 23, took an academic break and worked for other firms, and now have my own consulting company again. But 10 years in the field has made me wiser to women’s bullying and jealousies. Thank you for also writing the blunt truth about most female therapists (you being the exception.) I always sensed that ‘weirdness’ – around women who grouped and isolated the individualists. Last year I found I was an INTj – it has now given me the confidence to do my own thing, and not give a damn about group politics and have my own firm.

    It’s weird how the bullying mean girls in school are the ones who later become the male abusers too. Thank you again, you brave, wonderful lady!

    • mobbingcruelty
      May 27, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Funny. I’m the same INTJ. I always found that dealing w groups of catty women seems to be a “norm” in society. They always are looked at as the epitome of what “normal females” should be. And frankly I’ve always found them difficult to deal with. They are manipulative nasty and you never know what direction the herd is going to go. yet it is extremely difficult for an INTJ to find work that fits their personality type. Extroverts are valued and usually the catty girls go for health care professions to work in. Why everyone wants to be in healthcare because that’s where all the decent paying jobs are. Our society is rotten. And the crud is all going to the top. Healthcare is a joke too. Big egos.

  7. Recovering Alpha
    December 18, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I’ve experienced this academia, but not that much and it’s usually an institutionalized form of hazing — like when defending your oral examination or PhD dissertation behind closed doors. It’s almost a game – “We went thru this so you will too but we all know we don’t really mean it; so play nice when it’s over.”

    I’ve worked in engineering in manufacturing & development, and in science in research in three different Fortune 50 technical companies. One was awful for its bullying — it was the cultural and reinforced from the top. One was wonderful for its great atmosphere of team work — this was also a cultural thing and stemmed from its founder nearly 100 years earlier (one of the very few manufacturing companies that did NOT go union in the 1930’s because this man was so employee-focused). And I’ve worked for one in-between. So this — at least in technical fields — depends I think on the culture fostered by the top.

  8. harrygambler2009
    October 21, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    At the moent we have a wave of mobbingcases in germany. The meanpoint of all this attacks is the target, to fire the workers over 50 years old.
    http://dieaktuelleantimobbingrundschau.wordpress.com/wp-admin/
    and we have an suizid by the company VW, the greatest producer of germancars. Michael Semenow was memberspeakers of the union for metallworkers. Many people belweave, that a mail a round over 3000 memberspekers of the union (IG-Metall) was the reasen or last push for the suizidattack from Michael Semenow.
    Harry Gambler

    • harrygambler2009
      October 21, 2009 at 11:59 pm

      moment……..beleave …………

  9. October 4, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    thanks for posting this dr t. i just started a blog and literally just wrote a blog today about making injustice visible and i wrote on that subject regarding the workplace. it’s horrible dr t how my manager acts. and i was a victim of emotional abuse and survived it, so it’s pretty clear to me what he’s doing. all the other guys just get frustrated and don’t know how they get stressed around my manager. i’m speaking up to management on tuesday. i can’t take it anymore. i can’t stand seeing how he treats us and our customers. =( i received advice from a psychologist once to lay low so i won’t lose my job. i don’t care for laying low anymore. i don’t want anyone to take his kind of treatment anymore. i hope management is able to do something and hopefully all my documentation would be strong enough for them to believe what is going on.

  10. April 13, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Hi shrink4men, thanks for your insightful post. I find it true that mobbing instigators are extremely adept at manipulating not only the target, but also management. It’s actually quite astonishing how mobbing instigators manage to develop that level of conniving.

  11. loupsolo
    March 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    P.S. my english is rather rusty (not my mother tongue) so i have been unclear, please tell me and i will try to rephrase :)

    • shrink4men
      March 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm

      P.S. I think your English is very good. I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t your mother tongue if you hadn’t told me.

  12. loupsolo
    March 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    It took me about 9 months to understand that the behaviour of some of my colleagues was completely inappropriate. At the time I was in a pretty weakened (mentally speaking) and the situation worsen during the following 10 months, despite the (punctual) intervention of my manager.

    I know now what I should have done at that moment (better late than never). I consider however that my manager did not knew how to handle the situation appropriately, though i don’t really understand what she could have done. What’s your opinion about a manager’s role in stopping mobbing inside its team?

    Is there a profile victim, except being “very bright, talented, creative people who are passionate about their work”?

    Anyway, I’ve spent more than 4 hours today on your blog. Thanks for your work and I will definetely come back to see your future posts on this topic.

    Kind regards

    • shrink4men
      March 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm

      Actually, mental health professionals and other healthcare workers are some of the worst offenders of workplace aggression. Academics can be really vicious, too. In fact, much of the research on workplace bullying focuses on these behaviors in academia and healthcare.

      You’re right that most managers don’t know how to handle an office bullying problem. Managers are absolutely responsible for acknowledging and addressing workplace bullying, but many of them don’t. Many managers don’t know how, they aren’t aware it’s occurring, they receive contrary information about the target from the bully and the mob, they don’t know how to handle conflict, they’re friends with the bully, the bully is their top earner, they’re afraid of the bully, the manager is also a bully, or some combination of these factors. However, managers are paid to “manage” and workplace bullying is a destructive force in any organization. As such, they should be educated about these behaviors and receive training on how to handle them.

      You raise another good point in that it often takes the target awhile to figure out what is going on. Oftentimes, the target is initially in denial that they’re being bullied or that it’s that bad. The incidents and attacks may seem isolated in the beginning.

      For example, the bully attacks you. He or she pretends like nothing happened or blames you for having done something to merit the attack or reprimand. You just want to get back to work and get along with your colleagues, so dismiss the incident or attribute it to a misunderstanding or the other person was having a bad day or maybe you did do something to upset him or her.

      Things quiet down for awhile and then the next abusive incident occurs. This becomes a pattern that repeats itself, except that the periods of “calm” between attacks and other nasty behaviors become shorter and shorter while the incidents become increasingly nasty. Workplace bullying follows a similar sequence as the cycle of emotional abuse.

      Most organizations have policies for sexual harassment, but nothing on bullying and harassment, generally speaking. So, basically, in the US, unless someone grabs your ass or makes fun of your ethnicity, other forms of psychological torture and abuse are permissible.

      One of my future posts will focus on the profiles of both bullies and targets.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • NoSeRider
        October 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm

        I’ve posted this before, but I’m trying to determine when mobbing stops and discipline begins?

        • NoSeRider
          October 22, 2009 at 3:04 pm

          I’ve been told this style of teaching is based upon military training type discipline. However, I showed this video to a female marine lieutenant with a PHD in engineering, I live near Camp Pendleton, and she looked at this video in amazement. Asked me what he’s teaching. I told her graphic design. Then she said, a marine with a PHD, that artists to stupid shit.

          So, I don’t think you encounter this in the military…not with female cadets anyway.

  13. loupsolo
    March 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Shrink4Men,

    Thanks for this post. It’s actually good to know that a target is not responsible for the mobbing he is enduring and that most oftten this behaviour from the aggressors is jealousy driven.

  14. March 17, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    For solutions to workplace mobbing watch this short video about a remarkable individual working in corporations and organizations around the world addressing issues of bullying (all forms), anger, hate, violence and prejudice:

    • shrink4men
      March 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks for sharing the link, Gary. I watched the vid. It has some good snippets, but it’s basically a promotional vehicle for the public speaker, the Scary Guy. A lot of the archival footage and word montages dragged the clip on for longer than it needed to go. Actually, I stopped watching at about 5 minutes because I was waiting for something useful or a new piece of information. I’d go for a shorter and tighter video next time.

      Best,
      Dr T

Comment pages
  1. November 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm
  2. December 2, 2010 at 10:54 am
  3. November 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm
  4. October 9, 2010 at 3:53 am
  5. September 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm
  6. May 16, 2010 at 8:41 pm

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