Mobbing at work refers to a group of people engaged in different types of harassment and bullying behavior against a fellow co-worker. In other words, it’s group bullying in the workplace.
When coworkers decide to make you a target of collective bullying, mobbing at work can mean anything from spreading rumors about you to deliberately sabotaging your projects.
Mobbing at work is just as it sounds: a group bullying effort.
“Mobbing is bullying by your coworkers to either have the co-worker come into compliance with other workers or in hopes of having the co-worker quit,” explains Courtenay Baber, a licensed professional counselor from Manakin Sabot, Virginia.
Baber explains mobbing was once used to describe animal predatory behavior but now describes a group of coworkers that humiliate, harass, and terrorize one target co-worker.
“Mobbing appears to be different from bullying in that it will affect the top and the lower levels of workers equally,” says Baber. “Mobbing is as likely to happen in the board room as in the same company’s janitor’s closet.”
A 2021 Workplace Bullying Institute survey found that 48.6 million people have experienced bullying firsthand at the workplace.
According to the survey, men are most likely to bully other men, while women are the most likely to bully other women.
Mobbing techniques may include:
- persistent criticism
- blaming without facts
- discriminating behaviors
- being shouted at
- being persistently ignored
- adding challenges and roadblocks to someone’s work
If you’re the target, mobbing and bullying are never your fault. Nothing you are, do, or don’t do justifies mistreatment and abuse.
Conformity is one possible cause of mobbing at work. Maybe you march to the beat of your own drum, and some people want you to move toward what is familiar and comfortable to them.
But often, there are more complex factors at play and it may be a combination of them that leads to group bullying. For example:
- low psychological safety in the company
- high workloads
- competition-based performance
- short deadlines
- unclear or non-existent anti-bullying policies
- group-based commissions or goals
- feeling personally threatened by a top-performing co-worker
- racism, sexism, or other types of group discrimination and prejudice
Another behavioral factor is jealousy. A 2021 review notes that bullies often have low self-esteem which makes them jealous of coworkers who have admirable qualities or seem well-liked by others.
Effects of bullying in the workplace
Experiencing mobbing at work may result in a number of
- neck pain
- muscle pain and stiffness
- cardiovascular symptoms
- sleep disturbances
- symptoms of depression
- symptoms of anxiety
- suicidal ideation
Workplace bullying can also affect your work performance, the office environment, and the company’s productivity. Mobbing may lead to:
- higher workforce turnover
- low team morale
- poor customer service
- low performance of one or more people
- higher chance of making mistakes at work
- increased operational and new hire training costs
- potential for legal action
Bullying can be:
Physical mobbing at work
Physical mobbing can mean getting pushed around in the parking lot or it can mean disrespectful handling, moving, and destruction of your property.
It may come in the form of initiations or hazing, or it might involve sexual harassment.
Verbal mobbing at work
Verbal mobbing can resemble verbal abuse in any other type of environment.
It may involve any hurtful, malicious, or manipulative comments made directly to you or about you.
Vicious workplace gossiping may be considered a type of verbal mobbing at work.
Social mobbing at work
Cyberbullying, isolation, ignoring, making fun, or other mobbing techniques that involve changing people’s perception of you can be considered social mobbing.
This type of mobbing can include:
- leaving you out of group sessions
- not inviting you to group lunches
- warning new employees to steer clear of you
Psychological safety refers to a common belief at work that being yourself is safe and welcome. This, in turn, gives you the peace of mind of knowing you can voice your opinions and concerns without fear of retaliation or humiliation.
At work, psychological safety measures can be monumental in effectively handling mobbing.
In a 2021 workplace bullying survey, the vast majority of people who experienced bullying at work blamed it on:
- toxic work environments
- lack of concern from human resources
- poor management response
- tendency to retaliate against employees
Creating psychologically safe workplaces would mean addressing these challenges directly, which in turn could lower the chance of mobbing at work.
As a manager, you can help reduce the chance of mobbing at work by:
- having a zero-tolerance policy
- promoting a positive work environment through pro-employee policies (vacation, mental health days, sick leave, healthcare)
- hosting educational training on workplace bullying and conflict resolution
- conducting regular group and one-on-one check-ins
- promoting cooperation-based projects as opposed to competitive ones
- making sure all employees have read and signed off on workplace bullying policies
- having a clear protocol for how bullying and mobbing are handled
- offering unbiased mediation for parties in conflict
- respecting confidentiality
- enacting policy-defined disciplinary protocols immediately
- following up on the situation to ensure disciplinary actions have made a difference
Being on the receiving end of mobbing at work can be stressful and painful. What you’re feeling is valid and you deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.
Nothing you’ve done justifies mobbing. In that sense, stopping mobbing isn’t about changing who you are to appease your bullies. However, you could implement a series of practices to protect yourself as much as possible from the effects of mobbing.
If you’re experiencing mobbing at your workplace, consider reporting it directly to the human resources department or management team. These tips may also help you stop group bullying:
Taking the high road
Bullies often get stronger when they have a sense of power over you.
Baber suggests reminding yourself it’s really not about you. “The bullying is not about you,” she says. “So do not let it become about you. Stick to facts and remain calm. Report the incidents while remaining calm.”
Try to document every incident with the place, date, and details of the incident. Even if you think it’s minor compared to other behaviors, try to write down every single incident that makes you feel uncomfortable or not safe.
Whenever possible, try to collect proof as well. This could include witnesses, camera footage, damaged property, data invasion, or anything else you think may help you build your case.
Finding outside support
If you feel you don’t have support at work, having someone outside of the job can be essential.
“You will need to make sure you have support at home that will help you take care of yourself from an emotional and physical standpoint, as this will take a toll on you if it goes on for an extended period,” Baber says.
This support can come in the form of:
- trusted friends and family
- a mental health professional
- counselors and coaches
- support groups
Asking if it’s worth it
Baber recommends asking yourself if you really want to work at this job. Work harassment can impact your mental health and quality of life, particularly if you’re the target of a group effort.
It may not seem fair to you to step away when you’re not at fault, and you’re right, but if the situation isn’t handled by your leadership, there may be little you could do to put a stop to it. Consider thinking about your safety first.
Mobbing at work occurs when a group of your coworkers engages in harassment and bullying tactics. This type of group bullying may include verbal and sexual offenses as well as sabotaging and isolating, among others.
To stop mobbing at work, you can report it to your leadership offering evidence of the transgressions. In the meantime, try asking for the support of your family and friends, and talking with a mental health professional.
If things don’t change, consider finding a new place to work where you feel safe and welcome.