Mobbing is a form of workplace bullying where multiple employees gang up, literally forming a ‘mob’, to target a particular individual in order to isolate them from the group.
Shallcross, Ramsay, and Barker define mobbing as “a deliberate attempt to force a person out of their workplace by humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse, and terror”.
Clearly, mobbing can lead to a host of negative consequences for the victim and the organizations where they work, including:
Mobbing usually starts with two individuals, a ‘leader’ and a victim. The leader may be a charismatic, popular team member or manager who comes into conflict with the victim in some way, perhaps a disagreement on how to approach a task, or losing out on a promotion.
Victims can often be from a lower socio-economic background, or may be viewed as different in some way, for example their race or gender, or may simply be a high performer of whom others are jealous.
The mob leader will commonly attempt to damage the victim’s reputation, start rumors or spread gossip and then discredit the victim’s complaints or gaslight them. This is designed to plant a seed in the minds of other employees who the leader will strive to get on their side.
This then usually leads to a cycle of bullying and abuse from the mob towards the victim, including harassment, intimidation, even occasionally even physical harm. As the victim is left feeling isolated and ostracized, they often end up leaving the organization, or simply resigning themselves to the abuse, unable to speak out or report the abuse for fear of recrimination.
For those who suspect they are on the receiving end of mobbing, or feel like someone is acting towards them in a way which could potentially develop into bullying or mobbing, they can do a couple of key things.
The first is to establish boundaries with the bully, letting them know that certain behaviors are not acceptable, although this can be tough to do in practice.
The second thing the victim can do is to make a note of instances of mobbing, with the time, date, and names of any witnesses. This gives them something they can present to HR to back up their complaints.
For organizations, there are a range of things they can do to prevent bullying and mobbing from becoming commonplace.
HR departments must have specific policies for addressing bullying and mobbing, not just simply policies that cover harassment.
Managers should look to foster an open, inclusive, and not overly competitive work environment to help prevent people from falling into mobbing or bullying out of fear for their own career chances.
Finally, organizations can implement an anonymous reporting channel such as FaceUp, to give victims, and crucially any witnesses, a means to report mobbing without fear that the mob might turn on them. Such channels also contribute to promoting a culture of transparency and honest feedback.
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