Mobbing: A Form of Emotional Abuse in the Workplace

Mobbing: A Form of Emotional Abuse in the Workplace
Mobbing: A Form of Emotional Abuse in the Workplace

Workplaces are often a place of friendly competition, where coworkers work against each other to climb to the top of the profession. Workplaces also have a social factor to them as well because employees look for friends and acquaintances to make the workday more enjoyable. The combination of these elements can often lead to groups or individuals at work that are unfriendly with each other, or who see the other person as a competitor to take out. Other factors, such as reward structures, workplace culture, and the involvement of superiors in the day to day life of employees, can influence how employees treat each other. While occasional competition is friendly and even productive at work, when this competition turns into mobbing or bullying, it quickly becomes emotional abuse.

Mobbing Defined:

Most people understand what bullying is from their days on the playground; however, the term mobbing is foreign to most people. Unlike bullying, which is one-on-one harassment, mobbing is when a group of individuals harasses a single person. The group will target the individual and create a workplace for the employee that is unbearable at times using isolation, humiliation, and aggression. While it would be easy to assume that the target is often an underperforming employee, the inverse is usually more accurate. The targets are often employees who are doing well in the company.

Mobbing typically involves a leader and their followers. They target the individual for their own personal reasons and make the workplace a scary place. Targets usually feel that no one in the organization is safe and will often live with the bullying instead of reporting it for fear of retaliation. Management is often involved in the mob strategically, making it even harder for the target to find relief. There is often physical injury, mentally or emotionally, that manifests in the target because of this constant fear.

Mobbing is also not normally based on an innate characteristic such as race, age, gender, nationality, or other social statuses, but will often be based on workplace competition or aggression. Therefore, mobbing can happen to anyone, regardless of status, and must be dealt with accordingly.

Common Mobbing Techniques:

While each leader will use different tactics to make an individual feel unwelcome in the workplace, many mobs share some common characteristics that will make it difficult for the target to work. These tactics include:

  • Exclusion: One of the biggest tactics used by mobs will be to exclude the target from the workplace and the group. This may involve purposefully inviting others to events around the target, refusing to invite them to meetings, or talking about the social events that the group went to.
  • Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when the group rejects the ideas and ignores suggestions from the target.
  • Verbal Aggression: Many times, there will be verbal aggression directed toward the victim. This can be sarcastic remarks or a harsh tone whenever the mob is talking to the victim.
  • Gossip and Slander: Often, mobs will attempt to spread rumors about the target to discredit their abilities or make others shun them socially. This is usually untrue, but if management is involved it can impact the ability to move on and get another job.
  • Physical Aggression: This tactic is less common, but some mobs may decide to take physical actions if they believe there will be no repercussions.

Causes of Mobbing:

Mobbing often starts with conflict. It may be that the target was chosen over another employee for a coveted project or the leader of the mob may feel that the target harmed them. While the causes will differ with each aggressor, common causes are:

  • Lack of Structural Recourse: This is the biggest factor for how aggressive mobbing is. If there is no system of recourse or if management is involved in some way, the person can be mobbed viciously for long periods without help. If the mob knows that there will be recourse, they will be less likely to continue to harm the victim.
  • Absence of Knowledge about Mobbing: Mobbing is not often talked about in human resource training on workplace harassment as something separate from sexual or physical harassment, so it is often not known.
  • Maintenance of Status Quo: If one of the employees consistently excels and causes the other coworkers to fear that they will be held to the same standard, it can cause them to attempt to undermine the target’s work.
  • Underperforming or Difficult Employees: Conversely, if one employee is consistently underperforming or is difficult to work with but continues to be around, the other employees may still and edge them out through mobbing.
  • Whistleblowers: If one employee acts as a whistleblower about others to management or outside sources, there may be retaliation in the form of mobbing.
  • Professional Jealousy: If one employee is consistently doing well and moving up in the company, it is not uncommon for others to harass them out of jealousy, usually on the part of the leader.
  • Personal Reasons: This is often the reason that the other employees join in with the ring leader. If the other employees see similar characteristics to the ring leader, they may join with them. On the opposite end, if they see similar characteristics to the target, they may join to avoid being bullied themselves.

Effects of Mobbing:

Mobbing has effects on the target, on their coworkers, and on the business in which the mobbing is happening. For businesses, mobbing will often result in loss. This cost can come from settlements and rehabilitation, but it may also be seen in decreased productivity in the workplace. If the abuse is tolerated by the company, they may lose some of their best employees and eventually lose their reputation. For coworkers that do not participate in the abuse, they may fear being targeted themselves. This can lead to employees leaving the company to avoid the abuse.

This pales in comparison to the effects on the individuals who are targeted by the abuse. This abuse can lead to long term psychological effects that the victim has to deal with for the rest of their life, such as depression and anxiety. This can also lead to physical symptoms, such as headaches and chronic pain. This can result in a decrease in performance, which can cause the employee to be released from employment. Searching for a new job may be difficult because the decrease in performance will likely affect their job prospects in the future. Their reputation may be permanently damaged as well.

Preventative Steps:

If you are in a position in your company in which you have some influence over the culture, it can be incredibly beneficial for both your employees and your business to put precautions in place to avoid mobbing in the workplace.

  • Add Mobbing to the Harassment Policies: Because many office policies do not include bullying and mobbing, three are very few repercussions for offenders. By adding mobbing to a harassment policy, the company can act when someone violates the policy.
  • Change the Culture: Creating a culture that values hard work and celebrates the achievements of each employee allows all employees to feel that their contributions are valued and appreciated. This will create less resentment between employees. This includes encouraging leadership to be mindful of mobbing and to refuse to engage in it.
  • Conduct Regular Performance Reviews: Mobbing occurs more frequently when employee performance and behavior are not reviewed regularly. By reviewing performance and behavior, it is easier to notice and stop mobbing before it becomes a larger issue.

Considerations for Victims of Mobbing:

If you believe that you are a victim of mobbing, know that you are not alone and that what you are experiencing has a name and is abuse. Your abusers likely targeted you for personal reasons, and it is important to understand that there is likely nothing you could have done to avoid the abuse. You also have options to stop and prevent future abuse. Federal labor laws protect victims that are targeted based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, or nationality. State and local laws may protect against workplace bullying, and some employees may receive unemployment benefits if they quit based on bullying that was not being addressed.

Additionally, it is important to determine a short-term and a long-term plan to help you remove yourself from the abuse. This may involve finding recourse that is not your direct superiors or moving to another job in the company with different coworkers. It is often better to leave a company sooner rather than later before adverse health effects set in and make it difficult to find other work. By planning and taking control of the parts of the situation that can be controlled, you may find an agency that felt unavailable, which will help you to move forward confidently as a survivor.


Mobbing is a threat to offices and employees everywhere. It can have a lot of different approaches but focuses on undermining the target. There are many reasons why a group may mob another coworker, but it is often the result of envy or displeasure. When a group of people attacks a coworker and attempts to undermine them at work, there are disastrous effects on the target, their coworkers, and the business. This is why it is important to understand and prepare for mobbing. It is also important to know the options for victims so that if mobbing happens to you, you can quickly remove yourself from the situation and find help. Mobbing is a vicious tactic that has no place in workplaces, and an understanding moving forward will help prevent it from claiming new victims.

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