Are You Suffering From Workplace Mobbing? Here's How To Navigate And Handle It
By: Sarah Fader
Updated August 30, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley
Many of us assume that when we leave school, the days of bullying will be over. Sadly, this is not always the case at work. Workplace mobbing—the intentional targeting of a coworker for isolation, humiliation, or aggression—happens every day, regardless of occupation. While the term is still relatively unknown, it’s important to identify workplace mobbing (also called workplace bullying) and take action to address the potential impacts.
What does mobbing mean? In her book, Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, Linda Shall cross defined bullying at work (termed “mobbing”) as “a deliberate attempt to force a person out of their workplace by humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse, and terror.” Workplace mobbing is executed by a “leader” (who can be a manager, a co-worker, or a subordinate). The leader then rallies others into a systematic and frequent “mob-like” behavior toward the target.
Other terms for workplace mobbing include workplace bullying, group bullying, and collective aggression. Each of these describes bullying at work, though it is important to note that this type of bullying can occur in numerous different social situations, not just paid employment settings.
How Common Is Workplace Mobbing?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, approximately one in three employees is a target of aggression at work. The Institute also found that women are most often the targets of this harassment.
The leaders of workplace mobbing may have personality disorders that lead them to engage in aggression, but they are also often known to be charming and charismatic. This enables them to recruit others to join in mob behavior and continue a pattern of workplace aggression and abuse.
Some abusers, especially female abusers, also use what is referred to as relational aggression. This is when other coworkers are “pitted against” the target of workplace bullying. This type of mobbing can be particularly damaging to face at work, in both personal and professional consequences, and can cause a great deal of financial and psychological distress.
Stages of Mobbing
If you suspect you’re being mobbed at work, or simply want to understand more about the process and symptoms of workplace mobbing, you may want to consider the stages of mobbing. Incidentally, the stages of mobbing typically mirror the stages of grief:
- Denial and Disagreement
The first stage in workplace mobbing is denial. Mobbing usually sparks with a disagreement or some other form of criticism (such as an investigation, rebuke, warning, suspension, termination, evaluation, or report) toward the target of workplace bullying. This allows the target to be caught off guard, and seemingly gives validity to the target being attacked at work. Workplace mobbing almost always begins with some form of denial or disagreement regarding the individual being mobbed—for instance, claiming that an employee has a pattern of tardiness after a single late arrival to work.
- Anger and Aggression
The second stage is when mobbing aggression becomes more overt and patterned. The target might respond in anger, and understandably so, as their reputation, job, and salary may be at stake. However, responding in anger is precisely what the mobbers desire, as it makes the employee appear to be unfit for work. Workplace mobbing is manipulative, and its aim is to discredit the target as thoroughly as possible.
At the bargaining stage, the perpetrator of the mobbing begins to involve the management team. Often, management will be persuaded by the falsehoods portrayed by the mob (if they, themselves, are not already involved in bullying at work.) The bargaining stage of workplace mobbing creates a need in the victim to defend themselves and speak to the management team about bullying at work. Workplace mobbing has already made the victim feel misunderstood and alone; unfortunately appealing to management does not always produce positive outcomes—and can actually make the predicament worse.
This is usually the stage at which the “mob” has converted managers and other co-workers to a belief that the employee is deserving of the treatment, as everyone seems to be partaking in it. This is perhaps one of the most sinister aspects of bullying at work.
People who experience workplace mobbing can experience symptoms of depression. For some, it occurs during their time at work; others experience these feelings only after they have left. After leaving, some victims begin to wonder if the bullying was justified. Other repercussions of workplace mobbing include difficulty with concentration, changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, low energy, and sometimes suicidal ideation.
Workplace mobbing creates a negative cycle that can seem impossible to get out of. It can be debilitating, especially if the effects expandbeyond the workplace, into one’s broader social or professional network.The target of workplace bullying may become less productive at work. The effect of trauma can extend into personal lives, as well.Aside from depression, stress disorders and psychosomatic diseases can occur.
Eventually, the situation will resolve in one way or another. The mobbing may subside, human resources may intervene, or the employee may quit or be fired. It’s often hard to let go of the feeling of injustice that accompanies being a target of bullying, so the road to acceptance is often a long and challenging one. However, acceptance is usually achieved faster when one seeks distance from the mob. Workplace mobbing requires healing just as much as any other form of trauma or cruelty, and it should be approached with the same degree of self-consideration and self-care as other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
How to Handle Mobbing
If you face a conflict at work, do your best to resolve it as quickly, calmly, and respectfully as possible. Workplace mobbing is easiest to stop when it is caught early on in the process. While having to deal with workplace aggression or mobbing is not ideal, it can be handled effectively.Learn to recognize the signs of mobbing (particularly the first two stages described above) and respond in a non-aggressive and discreet manner.
If you feel emotional, wait until you can approach a problematic colleague in a calm manner. Emotional responses can harm an employee’s credibility, as the mobber might take the opportunity to refer to them as rash, irritable, or sensitive. Some managers or coworkers might recognize harsh words as such, but others will go along with what another coworker says out of fear, embarrassment, or disinterest, which works in favor of workplace mobbing.
Only talk about your experiences at work with someone trustworthy; avoid talking about potential mobbing with other coworkers. Any formal responses you decide to make should be non-threatening, brief, and entirely based in fact. Should you feel anger, try to take a break outside of your workspace to calm down. Do not retaliate. If you are considering legal action, keep those potential actions to yourself.
If you are experiencing depression associated with workplace mobbing, you have options. Exercise, volunteering, travel, cognitive therapy, or hobbies you enjoy can all mitigate acute depression. Confide in your positive support system outside of work; if your support group was previously within the workplace, it is crucial to build a new one, perhaps through family members or a faith-based or community organization. If depressive symptoms continue, talk to a professional. Betterhelp.com has licensed counselors and therapists available to speak with clients remotely at their convenience.
Who Are Targets of Mobbing?
Anyone can be a target of workplace mobbing, but there are some trends. Research suggests that mobbing occurs in work environments with poor organization and management.Other workplaces in which mobbing is common are those with few opportunities for advancement (like universities with tenured faculty or unionized organizations with strong contracts).Mobbing is also common in fields that were predominantly occupied by one gender but has another beginning to enter more steadily, such as the military or nursing.
This means that if you are the target of mobbing, it says more about your employers than it does about you. Experiencing workplace mobbing is not your fault. In fact, targets are sometimes specifically chosen because they are great at their jobs—the opposite of what the mob is trying to portray and, often, the opposite of what the members of the mob exhibit.
Effects of Mobbing
Unfortunately, those who experience mobbing suffer from many psychological and physical effects. Among the most common are sleep disorders, anger, stress, loss of concentration, digestive system disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, panic attacks, and violent tendencies. It’s important to get professional help if you are experiencing any of these issues. BetterHelp may be a good place to start.
Having your reputation attacked is painful, butit is possible to work through it. With the right support, you can come out stronger and more resilient.
BetterHelp Supports You Advocating For Yourself
Workplace mobbing can be frustrating, insulting, infuriating, and depressing. If you are a target, know that many others have experienced similar situations to yours; a leading nonprofit recently estimated that almost 30 percent of American workers have personally experienced workplace bullying. If you’re having trouble advocating for yourself, you might want to consider working with a therapist, such as the counselors available through BetterHelp. A trained therapist can provide you with tools and strategies to strengthen your communication skills, confidence, and assertiveness. Talking with a mental health professional about your feelings surrounding being targeted can also promote your emotional and psychological wellness through a difficult time.
If you think therapy might be a good solution for you, but you are hesitant to arrange in-person therapy, then consider the advantages of online therapy with BetterHelp. You can work with a qualified mental health professional in a discreet format that works for you—video chat, phone calls, emails, even text messages. And thanks to the flexibility of online therapy, you can schedule your sessions around your life, even late at night or first thing in the morning. A therapist can improve your self-esteem, listen with kindness and empathy, and help you return to your work with greater resiliency and peace. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues in the workplace.
“Dr. Forrest was great in helping me deal with my anxiety and depression. She was also very helpful in helping me deal with conflict resolutions within my workplace. I am much happier and better because of her advice!”
“Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and really gaining skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can’t wait to see where I am after working with her a year!!!”
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. You don’t have to tolerate bullying of any kind. An online therapist can support you in learning to advocate for your feelings. Even in the midst of a challenge as painful and difficult as workplace mobbing, you can take the first step toward a more resilient, happier life with fulfilling relationships.
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