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This article is about mobbing in relation to human bullying behaviour. For mobbing as an antipredatory animal behaviour, see Mobbing (animal behavior). For mobbing as a crime in Scots law, see Mobbing (Scots law).

Mobbing in the context of human beings means bullying of an individual by a group in any context,[disputed ] such as a family, friends, peers, school, workplace, neighborhood, community, or online.

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.[1]


East German secret police ( Stasi ) used mobbing extensively, in the specific form formally-named Zersetzung.[2][3][4][5]

Development of the concept[edit]

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.[6]

In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann[sv] applied Lorenz's conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.[6]

In the 1980s, professor and practising psychologist Heinz Leymann applied the term to ganging up in the workplace.[6] 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.[citation needed]

In the workplace[edit]

Main article: Workplace bullying

British anti-bully researchers Andrea Adams and Tim Field have used the expression "workplace bullying" instead of what Leymann called "mobbing" in a workplace context. They 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."[7]

Adams and Field believe that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organised production 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".[7]

Shallcross, Ramsay and Barker consider workplace "mobbing" to be a generally unfamiliar term 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.[8]

Mobbing as "downward bullying" by superiors is also known as "bossing" and "upward bullying" by colleagues as "staffing" in some European countries, for instance, in German-speaking regions.[9]

"Going Postal"[edit]

The documentary film Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal presents the possibility that mobbing in the US can be traced back to the USPS environment in the 1980s.

Psychological and health effects[edit]

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.[10]

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.[10]

At school[edit]

See also: School bullying

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).[11]

In academia[edit]

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 fields such as music or literature which have recently come under the sway of less objective and more post-modern scholarship; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior.[12] Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.[12]


Sociologists and authors have created checklists and other tools to identify mobbing behaviour.[11][13][14]

"Reverse Mobbing"[edit]

Reverse mobbing is an act of intimidation done by one subordinate, or subordinates as a group against the superior; as a result of mobbing against themselves, personal conflicts, or politics, with which the subordinate aims to impair the superior’s hierarchical position by purposeful psychological harassment rather than quitting their job. The behaviours included in mobbing, like attacks on reputation and reliability, targeting professional efficiency, are used effectively in reverse mobbing as well. Subordinate behaviour included in reverse mobbing depends on factors like political trickery, changing job position, bilateral relations.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz and Gail Pursell Elliott.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c Kenneth Westhues Mobbing
  7. ^ a b Davenport NZ, Schwartz RD & Elliott GP Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 3rd Edition 2005, Civil Society Publishing. Ames, IA,
  8. ^ Shallcross, L, Ramsay, S, & Barker M, (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, retrieved 17 May 2010
  9. ^ Oberhofer, P Bossing und Staffing, retrieved 25 November 2015
  10. ^ a b Hillard JR Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient? Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45–51
  11. ^ a b Elliott GP School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See it - Stop it - Prevent it with Dignity and Respect
  12. ^ a b Workplace Bullying in the Academic World?, Higher Education Development Association, 13 May 2007 
  13. ^ Westhues K. Checklist of Mobbing Indicators 2006
  14. ^ Kohut MR The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work: A Complete Guide for Managers, Supervisors, and Co-Workers
  15. ^ UYSAL, H.Tezcan & Kemal YAVUZ (2013), “Unseen Face of Mobbing in Organizations: Reverse Mobbing”. Turkish Studies - International Periodical For The Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic.' 8(8), pp.2170.

Further reading[edit]