How to Recognize Workplace Mobbing (and What to Do About It)

How to Recognize Workplace Mobbing (and What to Do About It)

Mobbing, or “group bullying,” creates a hostile work environment that brings down productivity and employee morale.

Picture this: Bruce submits a complaint against his coworker Amanda because she frequently takes personal phone calls at her desk. Amanda resents Bruce for "tattling" and to get back at him, starts a rumor in the office that Bruce thinks their other coworker, Tom, should be fired. This gets Tom in on the action, as well as Amanda and Tom's office friends. Soon, a whole group of bullies has formed, targeting Bruce for simply following the rules.

This is just one example of workplace mobbing. Organizations need to know the signs so they can prevent this unique type of harassment before it seeps into their workplace culture.

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What is Workplace Mobbing?

Workplace mobbing looks the same as bullying, but instead of a single harasser, the victim is targeted by a group. One or two bullies encourage their coworkers to gang up on the victim.

As with other bullying scenarios, a victim might be targeted because they're a racial, religious or gender minority in their workplace or have a disability. However, the mobbing ringleader often has a career-related reason for targeting their victim.

Here are some examples:

Mike was hoping to be promoted to manager, but instead, his company hired extrernally to fill the position. He's jealous of his new manager, Betsy, so he convinces the rest of the team to undermine her to try to drive her out of the company.

Jim was recently hired to his company and has a lot of ideas on how to improve it. Sue fears change and wants to maintain the status quo, so she rallies her coworkers together to exclude Jim from meetings where he could share his ideas.

Troy is always late to work, takes a lot of sick days and consistently underperforms. Brad, who works in the same position for the same salary, hates having to pull Troy's weight on his team. Brad and his coworkers start leaving nasty anonymous notes on Troy's desk, making him miserable enough at work to leave.

Cassie recently submitted a harassment complaint against her coworker Steven. He didn't think his behavior was wrong, so in retaliation, Steven and his buddies spread rumors about Cassie's love life, driving her out of the company.

RELATED: Investigating Workplace Bullying Allegations: 10 Tips for Success

Workplace Mobbing Behaviors

Workplace bullying can be psychological or physical, and mobbing is no different. The behavior depends on what the leader of the mob wants to achieve and what the victim reacts to.

For instance, if the victim is being mobbed because of their race/gender/sexuality/religion/age/etc., the bullies might use verbal or physical aggression against them.

If the mob aims to undermine the victim, they might gossip and spread rumors, exclude the victim from meetings and correspondence, or ignore their ideas and suggestions.

The mob might also exclude the victim socially, leaving them out of post-work drinks, lunch outings or even casual office conversations.

"Often [mobbing] is subtle and possibly unintentional, involving social ostracism and exclusion," according to the Workplace Mental Health Promotion guide created by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. "In fact, each individual incident may seem inconsequential but over a period of time, mobbing erodes the self-confidence and self-esteem of the mobbed employee."

RELATED: How to Investigate Workplace Bullying When You Can't Even Define It

Negative Effects of Mobbing

Mobbing isn't just bad news for the victim. It creates a toxic work environment for all employees.

Obviously the worst effects of mobbing are on the victim. After weeks or months of continued bullying, their self-esteem will suffer. They might experience depression or anxiety and could even manifest physical symptoms (e.g. trouble sleeping, compromised immune system, stomach aches) as a result. The mob's gossip and slander might ruin the victim's professional reputation, too.

When employees who aren't involved witness mobbing, they might live in fear of it happening to them. They'll be distracted, causing their productivity to decline.

Finally, mobbing negatively affects the organization as a whole. Employees won't want to stick around a workplace that lets bullying slide, so you could lose some great workers. Mobbing can also cost you major money. If the victim was targeted due to their protected status, they could sue you for making them work in a discriminatory and hostile work environment.

How to Prevent Mobbing in Your Organization

To reduce these behaviors, focus on prevention. You'll save time and money and protect employees' well-being, plus you'll show your commitment to a safe work environment.

First, ensure managers lead by example. Do they encourage an excessively competitive spirit on their teams? Do they pick on their employees? If the bosses are bullies, lower-level employees might think that's acceptable behavior.

Managers should also evaluate their employees regularly (ideally every six months). Is the person fitting in socially? Are they meeting performance standards and goals? If not, they should work with that employee to help them improve. Being proactive could save the employee from being mobbed later on.

Be sure to include mobbing in your anti-harassment policy. Define it and use clear examples so employees know the types of behavior that won't be tolerated in your organization.

Finally, use strong case management software to handle internal complaints. Choose a system with trend analysis to show you which employees or office locations are hot spots for harassment so you can focus your preventive efforts there.

How are you handling workplace harassment? Read how case management software can help you manage, investigate and prevent incidents in our free eBook.