What to Do if You Are Mobbed at Work
Is Society Becoming More Disordered?
It certainly seems that way, as bullying in all sectors of society is in the news lately. The Workplace Bullying Institute is a good resource for embattled targets, and is at the forefront of efforts to introduce laws that would make it illegal for workers to be subject to this type of abuse.
Under this model legislation, employers would be held legally responsible for the negative career and health consequences as a result of mobbing, or any other type of on-the-job abuse.
The Sudden Appearance of "Workplace Mobbing"
The term "workplace mobbing" was first described in the 1980s by a psychologist named Heinz Layman, who practiced in Sweden.
He observed the effects of this behavior. Targets, he noticed, were just as traumatized as if they'd been on the front lines of a combat zone. In a sense, they really had gone into battle. They'd survived an emotional shell game that delivered brutal shocks to their system.
The people Dr. Layman saw suffered from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Following his research, other social scientists have confirmed his findings. They've studied similar dynamics and they've published papers on this unfortunate phenomenon. They've also written books about what happens when a group of people gang up on someone.
Workplace mobbing, unfortunately, has become a term we now hear about all too often, because it seems to be a modern epidemic.
What Happens During a Workplace Mobbing
In the classic book, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, authors Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwarz and Gail Purcell Elliott describe the fallout when one person becomes a target.
A target suffers immense psychological pain. They often quit their jobs. The environment turns so hostile that they'd probably be fired anyway if they attempted to stick it out.
Typically, the goal of the group is to get the target to leave. This tactic ultimately succeeds. But that's only because upper management gave the bully, or bullies, a pass. Nothing would have happened if someone with authority decided to intervene. In every instance of workplace mobbing, a supervisor is either looking the other way or is collaborating with the bully. Sometimes, the supervisor is the one orchestrating the attacks.
Targets are often excluded from important meetings. A common ploy is to deny them access to resources and materials needed to do their job. They may suffer insults and seething criticism. Coworkers may also avoid them, or spread nasty rumors designed to destroy their credibility.
Tell Us About Your Experience
Have You Ever Been Bullied While Trying to Work
Mobbing and Emotional Abuse
What You Can Learn from this Book
The authors of Mobbing lay out suggestions on what to do if you notice certain coworkers ganging up on you.
Readers will also realize they are not alone, and that this problem is not just their imagination. They will learn that coworkers are watching them very closely, and that anything they do or say can and will be held against them.
The book stresses that the abusers, and not the victims, are the ones with the issues. It's them, not you. You will learn that the chief bullies are often disturbed individuals who feel threatened by someone they view as competent. A lot of mobbing is motivated by envy. If a female target is attractive, this, alone, might be enough to bring it on.
How Prevalent is Mobbing?
In the United States, one third of employees report having been bullied, according to the advocacy group named Workplace Bullying Institute. Workplace abuse is particularly common in female dominated professions, such as nursing, teaching and social work.
About 40 percent of the time, the perpetrators are women. But the vast majority of targets are women.
I couldn't find any good figures on the incidence of mobbing, as opposed to bullying. But it's safe to say it's very common. Abusers, who often have personality disorders, are charming and convincing. They are often able to recruit others to bully by proxy.
Females, in particular, employ a tactic known as relational aggression. This involves pitting other people against the unfortunate target.
In the case ofworkplace mobbing, aggression may be broken down into a series of "irrelevant" events. So, if a target talks about one of these in isolation, they'd be considered overly sensitive and labeled a chronic complainer.
What Happens to the Targets?
The effects of workplace mobbing, and dealing with highly toxic coworkers, are devastating to a target. Dr. Layman, the first to formally recognize this phenomenon of adults ganging up on people, believed that 15 percent of all suicides in Sweden, where he lived, were due to mobbing.
He also noticed that marital relations sometimes collapsed under the weight of the stress. Depression was very common, along with increased likelihood of developing a drinking problem, as alcohol was used as a means to deal with the stress.
Tips and Tricks for Mobbing Victims
Stay as calm and as focused as possible. By the time you become aware of workplace mobbing, a lot of damage has already been done. You may not be able to salvage your job. But you can save your career by keeping your emotions in check and walking out with your head held high, clutching a glowing letter of recommendation.
How to Survive an Organized Workplace Attack
Dr. Janice Harper, PhD., an anthropologist, has been a victim of academic mobbing. Her field of expertise also allows her to study this behavior from a professional perspective.
In an article published in Psychology Today, She notes there are two stages of "collective aggression." A victim may not be aware of the hostility during the early phases. This is when it's been secretly decided their skills are no longer needed. During this period, rumor mongering takes on a life of its own.
She said that, when targets realize a mob has formed, it's probably too late to save their position. Instead, she talks about responding maturely and without emotion, in order to salvage your career.
Dr. Harper urges people, at the first sign of storm clouds, to respond "discretely." Anything else, she warns, may set you up for an attack.
Above all, she warns, do not show your anger. This will immediately brand you as a troublemaker, or even as someone who is crazy.
Bringing Attention to Workplace Bullying or Mobbing
Focus on Preserving Your Career
Dr. Harper points out that it's probably futile to negotiate with a hostile manager, who's already planning your exit. Choose your words carefully, so you don't feed a bully boss with information that can be used to discredit you. Bullies are very good at finding weak spots, and trying to exploit them.
Since your job is all but lost, your goal, at this stage, is to secure a good severance package and future employment. You'll want a good letter of reference.
Eventually, you'll have to accept what has happened. Dr. Harper suggests doing this early in the game. It's absolutely necessary, she writes, to pluck yourself out of a toxic environment, so you can start to recover.
Above all, she urges readers not to let the actions of others destroy their lives. She promises life will be even happier than before, once you get away from the mob.
For Additional Reading
- Why Women Can Be So Mean to Each Other and How to Protect Yourself
Women bullies use what's known as relational aggression. Learn how to spot this and what to do when it happens.
Here's Where to Find Help
- Workplace Bullying Institute - WBI - Help, Education, Research
Work Shouldn't Hurt!
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.