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How to Handle the Workplace Bully: What Is Mobbing?

I have been working in the human services field since 1996, primarily working with people with developmental disabilities.

Workplace mobbing

Workplace mobbing

How to Deal With Mobbing at Work

Something has been bothering you at work for some time. It's gotten under your skin, but it's hard to figure out what it is. It's like they are always watching you, always critical of you and for some reason, your workload is heavier and more difficult than it seems it should be. When you enter the room, everyone is suddenly silent. Everyone either ignores you or blatantly disrespects you.

Well, it feels like everyone, but really it's likely a specific group. It's a group of employees, and possibly the boss is in on it, that have decided you're the target for abuse and harassment. They've made life incredibly difficult for you. You've called in sick more often. You're having stomach problems, and your blood pressure has skyrocketed.

This is a description, from the victim's viewpoint, of someone subjected to workplace bullying and something called mobbing.

What Is Mobbing?

In very simple terms, mobbing is emotional abuse committed by a group on a targeted individual. I mean, this is nothing new. It happens at home, it happens at school, and, of course, it happens at work. A group of people decide to team up and bully, harass and intimidate one person that they are jealous of or who they consider weak and vulnerable.

The term itself has been mostly applied to emotional abuse in the workplace that is not related to racial or sexual harassment. It refers to the use of rumor, intimidation, innuendo, humiliation, discrediting and isolation to force someone out of their job. It can be used by the boss, co-workers or subordinates.

In the research on this subject, it has been noted that the abuse occurs over an extended period of time and happens often. This is why it is so detrimental and can cause problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

What causes mobbing to occur? Let's explore.

The Environment That Creates Mobbing

I guess this is where I get personal. I have been subjected to mobbing and I know the environment that produces it. However, my experience is backed up by others and research.

I would break it down into three elements that create an environment in which mobbing takes place.

  1. Competition is encouraged. People in this environment are encouraged to compete and go against each other. Naturally, this creates a hostile environment and inspires people's unfortunate aggressive tendencies.
  2. Divisions are emphasized. At the job where I was harassed ruthlessly, the boss herself used to emphasize "differences" between men and women. She'd even make derogatory statements about men. There was definitely a hostile environment there at the job. A group of us were well aware of it that we, as a group, had been singled out for discrimination and harassment. This is fertile ground for abuse and hate.
  3. The job itself is made difficult. In other words, everyone is under extraordinary stress. This is because the management is inept and lays a lot of work on their employees. It creates an atmosphere in which everyone is at each other's throats.

Who Is The Target?

You are shy, sensitive, considered weak and vulnerable, isolated with no friends. It might also be the case that you are very competent and skilled.

The bully does not like to attack those who are formidable or who have allies. Bullies are cowards; I think we all know that by now. When they sense weakness, and because of their own weakness or jealousy, they choose to attack you as an "easy" target.

Bullying occurs in all settings among all sorts of people.

Bullying occurs in all settings among all sorts of people.

What Do the Bullies Do?

Suddenly you are the subject of scrutiny. Your every action is questioned, and your co-workers are telling you, unnecessarily, how to do your job. They are critical and not even slightly respectful about it. You get sneers and the silent treatment. You can't enter the room without weird looks or total silence.

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It's not your imagination, it's a concerted effort to make you feel alienated, alone and unwelcome. To top it off, your workload is unusually heavy and difficult. Even the boss likes to make your life particularly difficult. Others take credit for what you do, and no one acknowledges what you do. Files are missing from your work folder. Things you've scheduled somehow got "unscheduled." You think you've lost your mind. It's called gaslighting. And it's related to gangstalking and other forms of abuse that occur in groups.

They openly imply things about you. They have spread rumors that discredit you. Your work suffers, you suffer, and you start calling in sick because you can't bear to face another day at work. What they are doing to you is working. You are about ready to quit altogether.

What Can You Do About Mobbing?

It should be understood that, in all likelihood, the bullies will make it look like you are the problem. That it's all about how you can't get along, how you are incompetent or that there is just some "personality conflict." Of course they do that. They are liars.

So, your options are limited. Especially here in the US, which is way behind Europe and Canada in dealing with workplace bullying, both in terms of legislation and research. In the US, it is illegal to harass someone sexually or racially, but there is no law against good ol' homespun ordinary, but no less psychologically violent, mental abuse.

So, I offer a few possible answers to the problem that might be within your reach.

  1. Get an ally. As stated, the cowardly bully doesn't like to face someone formidable. One way to be formidable against mobbing is to fight fire with fire: Get your own allies. This might or might not be possible. You have to be aware of true friends or even someone going through the same thing you are. You might get lucky and find an old friend has gotten a job at the same place. In some situations, you can actually go to the boss about it. This, of course, depends on the boss and policy.
  2. Call them on it. This can work. Many people into mobbing don't like to be found out. They are always hiding and using tricks. They use their group for backup, they use rumors, and they use sour faces. Exposing them can be effective. I have done it, and I've seen others do it. Sometimes it takes very little effort. Someone gives you the sneer, and you just say, "Wow, that's real nice." I've seen people change their tune from something as simple as that. Even the slightest bit of assertiveness can make them back down. If you confront the ringleader, even better.
  3. Legal help. As I said, legal help in this area is limited. But if there are any hints of racial or sexual discrimination or harassment, you might have legal options. It also causes health issues. This one is a stretch. Our law in the US doesn't yet recognize hostile work environments as a health risk, even though it is. However, if you take time off due to stress and you have medical proof, the boss might not like having to pay out some worker's compensation. Maybe they'll do something about the problem then.
  4. Ultimately, you can quit. It might be the only solution for the sake of your physical and mental health. Ask yourself if you want to work in an environment in which people have no regard for human beings. You can do better than that. Just make sure in the exit interview you tell them why you quit so that it's documented. In line with that, you should keep a record of the abuse for any future legal action you want to take. Keep notes on dates and times you were abused. It could come in handy if there is cause for wrongful termination, or you might decide to file suit against the company.
Bullying can occur at home, at school, at work to anyone regardless of age, sex, race, etc.

Bullying can occur at home, at school, at work to anyone regardless of age, sex, race, etc.

Effects of Mobbing

It is important to realize that this problem is a societal one. If you were bullied at home and bullied at school, you will likely be bullied at work. Unfortunately, bullies gravitate toward those who seem to be a victim. All the more reason for you to not be a victim, specifically, not their victim.

This problem reaches into all aspects of life. Bullies won't let you be safe anywhere, they even catch you while out in public with the current popularity of the Knockout Game.

And they make everything more difficult. At work, they are giving you an ulcer and high blood pressure, you are forced to call in sick; this should be enough to, finally, cause the boss some concern. After all, if you're lucky, they have to pay you sick leave when you're home dealing with acid in your stomach lining or your compromised immune system that has been broken down by months or years of emotional abuse.

So, the effects are far-reaching, physically, emotionally and financially. It costs the boss with higher turnover, paying employees that don't stay or are out sick, and having to retrain new employees that replace you. Of course, your own career could now be sabotaged, and you could be out of a job permanently or for a very long time.

Mostly, we have to make aggression, division and competition unacceptable. These are the things that generate bullying and abuse. The workplace is just one branch of the tree.

We'd be better off cutting out the roots.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


TheWelshMan on June 13, 2018:

Firstly what a great article! Thank you.

I think I'm the victim of Mobbing. I say I think because I'm not sure if I'm being paranoid or not. I live and work in Europe, so I know that work legislation is different, but I think the problem is the same world-wide.

I'm in a slightly difficult situation, in as much as I diagnosed with cancer back in late 2013. I've been operated on several times and have had quite a bit of time off work to recuperate. In fact I've come to the end of the time that the company assures you for. So now when I'm off for treatment I don't get paid.

I was at one point allowed to work from home. This was recently rescinded. It seems that I've not been doing enough and my previous boss (who was made redundant) hadn't been challenging enough in his objective / work setting. It now appears that this is my fault.

I'm sort of managing but recently, I was told that my cancer has become inoperable and is now stage 4. So I'm not really a good candidate for any prospective employers.

My job has changed to the point that most of my responsibilities have been passed to others. I get the impression that my management is trying to get me to leave. Because of my health I'm also not eligible for unemployment payments. So I can't just quit.

I'm now not sleeping at night and feeling really down. Writing this has helped me as It's given me an opportunity to get it off my chest. I have a great supportive family, but try not to burden them with all this BS. Sorry to dump on all of you.

Tired on April 06, 2018:

Was so great to read this article and learn that I am not alone. My situation started 3 years ago when I enquired about a process where only 2 other colleagues benefitted. This seems to have been the trigger and all of a sudden I found myself within sarcastic humor directed at me. Sometimes it was even said to my face. The most horrific about the whole story, I was also diagnosed with HIV around 8 months after the initial incident. I backtracked to all partners, which ALL tested negative. So how did I get this? Besides that, an old cellphone was cunningly obtained and all of a sudden stories of my personal conversations with friends etc were starting to surface. Why don't I leave you may ask? Well, I had clients and customers and business partners also joining in with the rumors and stories. So this closes the whole industry for me where I'm in, making it difficult to go out. I tried though, with no luck. Suicide thoughts came. Anger and even wondered to kill the instigator bully went through my mind.

10 Year Bully Target on September 12, 2017:

I have worked under a bullying HR Director for 10 years now. I have actively been seeking other employment but the competition is great and I make a decent salary. I don't object to a lower paying salary however, the Director can block a lower paying or lateral position and it is widely known through all Departments. I am thoroughly enjoying your articles and anything bullying related, especially coping skills is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Targeted Individual on February 01, 2017:

This article completely describes what happened to me, at a Christian medical facility, no less. I withstood it for about three years, was already looking for jobs, then they 'terminated' me for a scenario that they created, a web I inadvertently fell into. Three years later, I am still suffering from the now chronic acid reflux and added weight that the stress placed upon my delicate body. But it was only three years out of seven of a litany of gang-stalking, mobbing and other activities that I know in my heart were designed to totally destroy me - occupationally, financially, emotionally, and psychologically. But when I need a dose of support, I watch Shawshank Redemption which holds my favorite quote: Andy Dufresne: Know that there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours. So sorry to hear that you too, David, have suffered this. Like you, I'm a very nice person, kind, giving, compassionate and generous. The very fact they do this tells me that the onus is on them and that I am the innocent one. I would never participate in something like this against another. In some respects, they are probably victims of "borg mind" as I notice that there is a certain repetitiveness, a certain aspect of them being spoken and acted through rather than of their own total violition. Which makes it easier to forgive them. I finally made the decision to ignore them, to be amused at their antics and that helps immensely. Hope my words help another in this same situation.

David on April 11, 2015:

What is wrong with these people? Seriously, I feel like I'm some superior Godlike being compared to these simpering, gangstalking, mobbing worm-like, evil scum. Why can't they be more like me, don't they have a conscience at all? I'm more talented and stronger than they are, but I'm also a nice guy and not very good looking. I find that weaker people see strong people with a nice, or sensitive streak as a weakness they can tear down. Weaker people are not a threat and so their weaknesses are ignored.

One wonders how many postal gun sprees are due to mobbing.

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on December 29, 2013:

Yes, tirelesstraveler, it is unfortunate people think they have the right to gang up on someone they decide not to like and single out and dominate and bully them out of jobs. It says a lot about such people who do that and what is acceptable in society.

Judy Specht from California on December 29, 2013:

Have a friend who has and is being mobbed, mostly because of her faith. Her students out perform and she has more credentials than the rest of them, which makes them mad. The American way these days is discouragement; if someone doesn't agree with you they are hate mongers so you must mistreat them. Odd, totally odd in my thinking.

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