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What is Mobbing?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mobbing is a term used to describe a pattern of behavior characterized by severe mental, verbal, and psychological abuse perpetrated by one person onto another in a work environment. The person performing the abuse will usually enlist the aid of others to do so, and even a small group of co-workers may “group up” together against another employee to commit this kind of abuse. Though the abuse is generally not physical, and often consists of verbal abuse and harassment, the results can still be devastating for the individual suffering the abuse. Mobbing has been seen to result in psychological trauma equivalent to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found in those who have been prisoners of war.

Also called “workplace bullying,” mobbing resembles schoolyard bullying in a number of ways. While the basic behavior could be considered “picking on” one person by another, the person perpetrating the abuse will often turn others against the victim as well. This leads to a mobbing scenario in which one person is the target of perpetual abuse by others in the workplace, and this can be led by a manager, co-workers, or even subordinates of the victim. Such behavior was first recognized and labeled by a Swedish scientist named Heinz Leymann, who studied this type of abusive behavior in the workplace and in schools.

He used the term “mobbing” as a reference to animal behaviors, in which a group of animals will work together to attack another animal. His findings led to a number of cases in which he identified such behavior taking place in a work environment, and he subsequently worked with the victims of such attacks. In many of these cases, he found that the victim suffered real and lasting psychological trauma due to the abuse. These victims often displayed similar symptoms to individuals with PTSD and when treated appropriately were eventually able to recover from the trauma.

Following Dr. Leymann’s work, the behaviors and consequences associated with mobbing became more widely known and understood, especially throughout Europe. In North America, however, mobbing is less commonly recognized and such behaviors may be more easily dismissed as minor grievances. The consequences of mobbing are not culturally dependent, however, and so individuals in the US or Canada are just as likely to suffer severe psychological trauma from such abuse. Efforts have been made, however, to spread knowledge and understanding about this type of abuse in North America so workers and managers can be more aware of the signs and consequences of such malicious behavior.

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