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What to Do if You Are Mobbed at Work

Updated on May 14, 2016

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 to do if you are mobbed at work.
What to do if you are mobbed at work. | Source

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.

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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.


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  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    If you want to know how this works first hand? Just post some negative things about HP and watch the ladies come and get you but first report you to get you banned and then keep the insults coming when you can no longer respond. And HP condones this. Isn't this a work place for some people?

    We do not commute of get paid a salary but it is the same.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    I don't spend much time on the forums.

  • Maira818 profile image

    Maira818 3 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

    Bullies at the workplace is so common. Sure, I have experienced being bullied at, and it's nothing pleasant. Great hub to read ologsinquito.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks Maira, I'm sorry to hear this has happened to you. I hope things are better now.

  • Adityapullagurla profile image

    Aditya Pullagurla 3 years ago from Sydney

    Nice and detailed hub on confronting office bullies

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks so much for reading and for commenting. This is a huge problem in the American workplace.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Another excellent hub, and your blog is good too! You are spot on with respect to environments becoming so mean that if a target of mobbing does not quit, s/he would probably end up being fired anyway. Having been an HR Investigator for a number of years, I have seen patterns and investigated many such cases. It can include setting people up to fail in the name of poor performance. I could almost write the script I've heard the complaint so often.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    That must have been difficult watching good employees go down that way. It must also be a little tricky to discern because the worker is under so much pressure, and it must show. Any display of anger or emotion will make it look as if they are the ones with the problem, especially if multiple people are involved in the abuse. The personal and monetary cost of this behavior is just astounding. Thank you for reading.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is an excellent hub, ologsinquito. It's filled with important information. Your practical advice for dealing with being mobbed at work is especially useful.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi AliciaC, thank you for reading. It's unfortunate this type of behavior has become so common.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    The book you mention, Mobbing, sounds fascinating. I've never heard this term used before for office bullying. It's really sad that most victims are forced to leave their jobs, but that's better than staying in a hostile environment. Enjoyed and voted up!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Moving on seems to be the only option when the situation deteriorates to this level. Thanks so much for reading.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

    Such an interesting post that covers a topic on the rise in our country. I find that remaining calm in such situations helps to organize your thoughts and prevent harm to one's person.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    People need to remain calm, even if they are provoked. If you are being mobbed, your every move is noticed, and you will be considered crazy if you react with any show of emotion. They need to get out of that situation as quickly as possible, remaining calm.

  • Suzanne Day profile image

    Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    Thank you for a most informative hub. Yes, workplace bullying or mobbing can have devastating consequences for the victims. The more it happens to someone, the more they get PTSD. This can also feed over into symptoms of bipolar (ie, not coping with stress, changing mood too often etc). It seems as though plonking everyone into working environments and expecting them not to get cabin fever or a mob mentality is a bit much anyway, regardless of abuser issues. Wouldn't it be lovely if the world offered newer and more varied ways of working and people could choose? Voted useful.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Suzanne, it sure would. Thank you so much for reading.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    This is an excellent and relevant hub! This does happen all to often in business and teaching. It seems society all over the world is becoming more violent and bullying towards others. It is sad that it has become a more dangerous world. Everyone should be able to go to work and not have to worry about being attacked by bullies in the workforce. You give some good suggestions on how to combat it, but this is abuse and the person it is directed toward can really only resign and move on to another job. Why this mobbing is permitted is beyond me.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Suzette, I don't know why this is permitted either. It costs companies billions in lost productivity, severance packages and worker retraining. Morale also suffers as bystanders, too scared to speak up, worry if they're next.

    It's a very sad reflection upon our society.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

    This looks like a good bit of advice on the topic. I am watching just such a situation develop within a large organization. The woman has worked herself into a position in which she can bully long-standing employees out of their job and hire others who either support her behavior or are intimidated by her, very often young women, many of whom, by the way, stay a short time and leave for unspecified reasons. She is methodically building a support system and one of her tactics is to make false accusations, document the accusations until they build up to a supposed case for her, and then set up an employee to be fired. It's quite incredible to see the shamelessness with which she operates. I wonder if employees in the line of fire would not do well to find out if video footage might be available for some of the encounters with such a person and if lawsuits might change the outcomes for some of the people.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    This is horrible. We really need better laws in the United States that would make employers tremble if they allowed such behavior to gain traction. Someone at the company is not doing his or her job very well, because they must know something is up, if so many people are leaving. Her reign of terror will end eventually, but how many people will she hurt in the meantime?

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas

    Yeah, people suck! The best way to avoid having problems at work is to work at home, which is why I do just that! Voted up, useful and interesting! :D

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi justmesuzanne, this is certainly one way to avoid office bullies. :)

  • Purpose Embraced profile image

    Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

    Thanks for the great information about in the workplace bullying. This is helpful to recognize bullying, and to deal with it in a proactive way where the situation exists.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Purpose Embraced, this problem with workplace bullying is affecting so many people, so I'm happy to do anything I can to get the word out. Thanks so much for reading.

  • Laura335 profile image

    Laura Smith 13 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

    Really interesting. I guess it's not hard to believe that bullying doesn't stop after you get out of school. I just never realized how widespread it is.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 13 months ago from USA

    It's so widespread, unfortunately. Thank you for reading and for commenting.

  • profile image

    Flori-Die from Missouri 12 months ago

    Great article, and a subject that is rarely addressed. When someone is ganged up on, it's easy to assume the target is at fault. Is there a type of personality that tends to attract bullying in general, and mobbing in particular? You can change jobs only so much before you start looking suspect.

  • profile image

    Christy 11 months ago

    I am being mobbed at work and would like to know what I should do.

  • profile image

    Jlee-ca 11 months ago

    Having been through a mobbing (a public sector government), my only suggestion is to get yourself out of that environment. Unless you know that the bully is looking to get out (most likely not, as they are sucking up to management). Your health and welfare is n

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