Are You Experiencing Workplace Mobbing? Here's How To Navigate It

Updated January 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people assume that when they leave school, the days of bullying or mobbing will be over. However, this is not always the case. 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 mobbing (also called bullying) and take action to address its potential impacts.

Learn Strategies To Handle Mobbing.

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.” This mobbing tends to be 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 mobbing in the workplace include workplace bullying, group bullying, and aggression. 

How Common Is Mobbing In The Workplace?

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 can enable them to recruit others to join in mob behavior and continue a pattern of workplace aggression and abuse.

Some 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, with 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. The stages of mobbing typically mirror the stages of grief:

  1. Disagreement

The first stage in workplace mobbing is disagreement. 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 attack. Mobbing often begins with some form of disagreement regarding the individual being mobbed—for instance, claiming that an employee has a pattern of tardiness after a single late arrival to work.

  1. Anger And Aggression

The second stage is when mobbing aggression becomes more overt and patterned. The target might respond in anger, 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.

  1. Bargaining

At the bargaining stage, the perpetrator of the mobbing begins to involve the management team. Often, management is 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 may create a need in the victim to defend themselves and speak to the management team about bullying at work. At this stage, workplace mobbing has likely already made the victim feel misunderstood and alone; however, 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. 

  1. Depression

People who experience workplace mobbing can experience symptoms of depression. For some, it occurs during their time at work; others experience these symptoms 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 sadness, low energy, and sometimes suicidal ideation.

If you are thinking about suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988) for support and help immediately.

Workplace mobbing may create a negative cycle that can seem difficult to get out of. The target of workplace bullying may become less productive at work. It can be debilitating, especially if the effects expand beyond the workplace into one’s broader social or professional network. Aside from depression, stress disorders and psychosomatic diseases can occur. 

  1. Acceptance

Eventually, the situation tends to 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 can be 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 are, such as depression and anxiety.

How To Handle Mobbing

If you face a conflict at work, you might consider trying to resolve it as quickly, calmly, and respectfully as possible. Workplace mobbing may be easier to stop when it is caught early on in the process. You can 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, you might wait until you can approach a problematic colleague in a calm manner. Emotional responses can harm an employee’s credibility, as a mobber might take the opportunity to refer to them as rash, irritable, or too sensitive. Others may go along with what another coworker says out of fear, embarrassment, or disinterest, which may work in favor of workplace mobbing.

Also, you might consider only talking about your experiences at work with someone trustworthy. It may be best to avoid talking about potential mobbing with other coworkers. If you formulate any formal responses, you might try to make them non-threatening, brief, and entirely based in fact. Should you feel anger, try to take a break outside of your workspace to calm down. Also, it’s recommended that you avoid retaliation. If you are considering legal action, keep those potential actions to yourself.

If you are experiencing depression associated with workplace mobbing, you have options. You may want to speak with someone outside work, such as an online counselor at BetterHelp.com. BetterHelp has licensed counselors and therapists available to speak with clients remotely at their convenience. 

Also, you might try to build your support system. If your support group was previously within the workplace, you may find it helpful to build a new one, perhaps through family, a community organization, or new friends.

Who Are Targets Of This?

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 may also be common in fields that were predominantly occupied by one gender but has people of other genders beginning to enter more steadily, such as the military or nursing.

This means that if you are the target of mobbing, it may say more about the employers or environment 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 mob exhibits.

Psychological And Physical Effects

People who experience mobbing may experience many psychological and physical effects. Among the most common are sleep disorders, anger, stress, loss of concentration, digestive system disorders, alcohol and drug use, depression, panic attacks, and violent tendencies. It may help to get professional help if you are experiencing any of these issues. BetterHelp may be a good place to start.

Having your reputation attacked can be painful, but it is possible to work through it. With the right support, you can come out stronger and more resilient.

BetterHelp Supports You Advocating For Yourself

Learn Strategies To Handle Mobbing.

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% 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 may be able to provide you with tools and strategies to strengthen your communication skills, confidence, and assertiveness. Talking with a mental health professional about your feelings about 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. Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy. With BetterHelp, you can work with a qualified mental health professional on a schedule that works for you via video chat, phone calls, emails, and even text messages. 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. 

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“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!!!”

Takeaway

If you are experiencing workplace mobbing, you don’t have to face it alone. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. An online therapist can support you in learning to advocate for your feelings. Even in the midst of a challenge as difficult as workplace mobbing, you can take the first step toward a more resilient, happier life with fulfilling relationships both in and out of work. Contact BetterHelp Today.

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