At one time, the word ‘mobbing’ brought to mind such blockbuster movies as GoodFellas and The Godfather which gave moviegoers a glimpse into a culture otherwise hidden from most people. Today, though, the word ‘mobbing’ has infiltrated modern culture — specifically workplace culture — and is steadily increasing in offices of all sizes and industries. In short, bullying has graduated from the playground to the boardroom, bringing with it physical and emotional challenges as devastating as those of its precursor. So, What Is Mobbing In The Workplace?
According to Mobbing-U.S.A., mobbing in the workplace is characterized by the following:
- Emotional abuse in the workplace;
- “Ganging up” by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation; and
- Malicious, nonsexual, nonracial, general harassment.
While mobbing in the workplace is on the rise, awareness of the problem is happening at a slower pace in North America. However, it has been described, in legal terms, as status-blind harassment. Often, the individuals targeted are in management positions; their attacks often originate with a peer or subordinate, but is often allowed to continue by upper management. This “sandwich” effect can create a great deal of emotional injury for the target, which can lead to health problems and possibility the loss of their main source of income. But mobbing in the workplace is not reserved for individuals in supervisory positions — nearly anyone within an organization can be unfairly targeted by mobbing.
Common Characteristics of Mobbing Targets
While there may be a tendency to characterize adult mobbing victims who suffer in the workplace in a similar manner to victims of playground bullying, this simply is not accurate. Playground bullying victims tend to be viewed as awkward children who are deemed timid or weak by their more assertive peers. However, victims of mobbing in the workplace have but one common blemish among them — they tend to fall outside of organizational norms. They also generally tend to be women between the ages of 32 and 55 years.
These mobbing targets are typically educated and well-regarded for their competency. Further, they tend to be attractive and often are both outspoken and willing to make strategic organizational changes to benefit or propel the organization. They also tend to be highly accomplished, exceptionally creative and greatly dedicated.
Because of their competence and strong work ethic, it is often very difficult for mobbing victims to comprehend why they suddenly were isolated, humiliated and ridiculed. In fact, former allies can quickly turn against the target — without cause — believing that because the individual is being widely criticized, there must be just cause. The target is often branded as a troublemaker and others who had otherwise good feelings about the person quickly disassociate, creating feelings of isolation and abandonment. The target quickly loses his or her feelings of belonging, identity and dignity.
Common Mobbing Tactics
Mobbing is certainly not confined to North American countries. As such, it is often not well understood by its given name in the United States and Canada, as many in those countries simply think of — and refer to the behaviors — as adult bullying. Mobbing is sometimes thought of as a terrible and unrestrained virus that spreads throughout the organization through the use of such tactics as:
- Baseless accusations;
- Condescending behavior;
- Public discrediting;
- Creating a hostile environment;
- Ridicule; and
- Malicious, relentless emotional abuse.
The reason that this type of overt harassment is referred to as mobbing is because typically one individual assumes the “ringleader” role, rallying many to participate in similar, systematic behavior that is frequently demonstrated by virtually everyone within the organization who interacts with this individual.
Common Breeding Grounds: The Types of Organizations Where Mobbing Happens
As mentioned earlier, mobbing in the workplace can happen in organizations of any size and within any industry. However, common offenders have been identified. Characteristics of these toxic environments are listed below.
Industries / Organizations On The Decline: Industries experiencing a decline in overall demand for their products face a great deal of financial duress. Publicly-held organizations also face increased pressure to satisfy shareholders. Widespread concerns like these leave an organization highly prone to mobbing, as upper level management tend to ignore these types of challenges when faced with improving the bottom line quickly. Some in higher management will, unfortunately, even go as far as lending encouragement to this damaging behavior.
Bureaucratic Organizations: In bureaucratic organizations (such as the government), there are numerous policies put in place to keep the overall organization running smoothly. However, the atmosphere in these environments lends itself to a disconnect among higher level managers who would typically reduce the severity of the challenge to a mere clashing of personalities. What often happens in bureaucratic environments is reported cases of mobbing are not addressed, often with the attitude that the situation will resolve itself. Instead, left unaddressed, mobbing does nothing more than expand further and increase in intensity.
Impact of Mobbing on Health
Part of the reason why awareness and attention for the issue of workplace mobbing is so important is directly related to the challenges victims face in the aftermath. Of course, in the midst of being mobbed, there’s distress, confusion and isolation, but mobbing victims undergo intense and prolonged levels of stress.
The body is equipped to respond to the presence of danger through the stress response system, which is designed to return to normal soon after the short-term threat has passed. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, “long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.” Prolonged stress increases the risk of all types of chronic health challenges, including:
- Heart disease
- Digestive challenges
- Memory impairment
- Inability to concentrate
- Insomnia, and
- Weight gain.
In addition to the likelihood of developing these stress related challenges, mobbing victims, often suffer from the following disorders also:
- Major depression;
- Adjustment disorders;
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS);
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and
- Mental Trauma.
Beginning The Healing Process
It is important to understand that mobbing in the workplace — this intense act of group bullying and harassment — often leaves a person without employment. But whether the situation has progressed to the level of a full dismissal or not, the target still is exposed to grief. Thus, the healing process involves successfully moving through each stage of grief, properly acknowledging the grieving process along the way. Following are the specific stages of grief and identifying factors as it relates to mobbing in the workplace.
Denial. For anyone dealing with grief, the first stage is denial. Generally, there’s simply an overwhelming feeling of disbelief associated to this sudden change in the workplace atmosphere. Early warning signs that a mob may be forming includes the reception of harsh criticism, investigations, verbal or formal warnings. While shocking and disheartening, the best method for dealing with these obstacles is to operate as discreetly as possible. Quietly begin documenting everything in case it is needed later.
Anger. When your career, reputation and income are at stake, it is only natural to become angry about the shifting dynamics. However, efforts to demonstrate anger and retaliation generally backfire, so keep interactions with others as positive and brief as possible. Unload your true feelings with friends or a spouse after work.
Bargaining. Bargaining is that difficult stage that happens when the person facing the possibility of the loss of a loved one would begin a no-win negotiation designed to alter the potential outcome. However, with mobbing in the workplace, the principle still holds true — the individual hopes to rationalize with a higher level manager in hopes of avoiding demotion or termination. It usually backfires, offering the employer insight to the target’s strategy and weaknesses — tools the unscrupulous would use against the target.
Depression. Depression often swoopes in during the mobbing, mainly due to the excessive and intended stress inflicted upon the individual but also attributed to the social isolation factors. After all, human beings are social creatures and that sudden, unexplained loss does not come without a price. Depression usually moves into the severe realm once the individual’s duties have been ended (whether the target resigns under pressure or is terminated).
To combat the depression, mental health treatment or cognitive therapies can be extremely helpful. Support groups can offer both human interaction and empathy, as others who have experienced similar challenges can be a huge source of comfort and advice. Also, participating in regular exercise, volunteering or travel can relieve stress and improve your outlook on life.
Acceptance. When an individual has dedicated themselves and their efforts to an organization, only to have it go severely unrecognized and unrewarded, it can be difficult to move past the injustice. But acceptance is the final stage in the grieving process, and for mobbing victims, it just may be the most important. It is the first step to genuine healing, and it offers immediate distance from the toxic environment and bad attitudes of workplace mobsters.