When it occurs as emotional abuse in the workplace, such as "ganging up" by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, nonracial, general harassment.
Development of the concept
Konrad Lorenz, in his book entitled On Aggression (1966), first described mobbing among birds and animals, attributing it to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to survive (see animal mobbing behavior). In his view, humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control.
In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann applied Lorenz's conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.
In the 1980s, professor and practising psychologist, Heinz Leymann applied the term to ganging up in the workplace. Leymann noted that one of the possible side-effects of mobbing is post-traumatic stress disorder and is frequently misdiagnosed. After making this discovery he successfully treated thousands of victims at his clinic in Sweden.
Among researchers who have since further developed the concept of mobbing are:
- Davenport, Schwartz & Elliott
- Shallcross, Ramsay & Barker
- Zapf & Einarsen
- Francesco Blasi & Claudio Petrella (eds): 2005 "Il lavoro perverso. Il mobbing come paradigma di una psicopatologia del lavoro" Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Napoli, download http://www.iisf.it/pubblicazioni/lav_perv.htm.
In the workplace
In the book MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the authors identify mobbing as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as "...an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others to willingly, or unwillingly, participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace."
The authors say that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organised production and/or working methods and incapable or inattentive management and that mobbing victims are usually "exceptional individuals who demonstrated intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication".
According to the authors of Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, workplace "mobbing" is not generally a familiar term—it is not well-understood in some English speaking countries. Some researchers claim that mobbing is simply another name for bullying. Workplace mobbing can be considered as a "virus" or a "cancer" that spreads throughout the workplace via gossip, rumour and unfounded accusations. It is a deliberate attempt to force a person out of their workplace by humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse and/or terror. Mobbing can be described as being "ganged up on." Mobbing is executed by a leader (who can be a manager, a co-worker, or a subordinate). The leader then rallies others into a systematic and frequent "mob-like" behaviour toward the victim.
Psychological and health effects
Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome), psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
In mobbing targets with PTSD, Leymann notes that the "mental effects were fully comparable with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences. Some patients may develop alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders. Family relationships routinely suffer. Some targets may even develop brief psychotic episodes, generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.
Following on from the work of Heinemann, Elliot identifies mobbing as a common phenomenon in the form of group bullying at school. It involves 'ganging up' on someone using tactics of rumor, innuendo, discrediting, isolating, intimidating, and above all, making it look as if the targeted person is responsible (victim blaming).
Kenneth Westhues' study of mobbing in academia found that vulnerability was increased by personal differences such as being a foreigner or of a different sex; by working in a post-modern field such as music or literature; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior. Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.
- Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz and Gail Pursell Elliott.
- Kenneth Westhues Mobbing
- Davenport NZ, Schwartz RD & Elliott GP Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 3rd Edition 2005, Civil Society Publishing. Ames, IA,
- Hecker TE "Workplace Mobbing: a Discussion for Librarians." Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33:4, pp. 439–445 2007
- Shallcross L, Ramsay S & Barker M "Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation (2008) (blind peer reviewed) Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference (ANZAM)
- Westhues K Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process . Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.
Westhues K The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.]
Westhues K "At the Mercy of the Mob" OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (18:8), pp. 30–36.
- Zapf D & Einarsen S 2005 "Mobbing at Work: Escalated Conflicts in Organizations." Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets. Fox, Suzy & Spector, Paul E. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association vii. p.
- Shallcross, L, Ramsay, S, & Barker M, (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, retrieved 17 May 2010
- Hillard JR Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient? Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45–51
- Elliott GP School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See it - Stop it - Prevent it with Dignity and Respect
- Workplace Bullying in the Academic World?, Higher Education Development Association, 13 May 2007
- Westhues K. Checklist of Mobbing Indicators 2006
- Kohut MR The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work: A Complete Guide for Managers, Supervisors, and Co-Workers
- Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry (2012). Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions. Oxford University Press, USA.