Workplace Bullying: What is Mobbing?

Let’s call it like it is, Mobbing is basically “bullying on steroids,” and it is a kind of mass bullying or group campaign of harassment and cruelty, conscious or unconscious, designed to undermine the confidence, impugn the competence, and undercut the effectiveness of certain employees. Did you know that at least 30 percent of bullying is mobbing? Facts are facts. Research shows that targets are usually anyone who is “different” from the organizational norm. Usually, victims are competent, educated, resilient, outspoken, challenge the status quo, are more empathic or attractive and tend to be women, aged 32 to 55. Targets also can be racially different or part of a minority group.

Where does mobbing come from?

The practice is not new. An old study illustrated workplace mobbing with factories in the 1940s. The group’s top performer was normally called a “rate-buster.” Afraid that their high productivity would cause their unit’s bonus rate to be cut, the workers reached informal consensus to only produce to a certain level. The problem is that top performers refused to be held back by this group norm. While these so-called rate busters were just responding to the individual wage incentives put in place by leaders, they were harassed, threatened and sometimes physically harmed by their co-workers, all because they refused to conform to the peer pressure to underperform.

The results of mobbing can be devastating. Low job satisfaction, reduced employee engagement, high workplace conflict, and high turnover are frequent outcomes. Consequences to the organization can also be severe. The loss of talent, toxic workplace cultures, low employee performance and the potential for costly litigation are all feasible outcomes.

A hidden cost of workplace mobbing is the damage done to diverse individuals and the organization’s efforts toward inclusion. Targets of mobbing tend to be competent high performers, and data shows that women, people of color and individuals seen as “different” are also frequent targets of mobbing.

HR has an extremely important role to play and a responsibility to maintain a workplace free of bullying. Not only is it an obligation for HR, but it makes for a much more productive and enjoyable place to work when these behaviors can be prevented or stopped as soon as they are reported. Employees will feel more valued and respected when they know that their employer is committed to providing a safe and professional environment for their workers. Now, how can you start curing this?

Are people trying to stop it?

Most countries do have laws against workplace bullying. For example, in the United States, there are projects like The Healthy Workplace Bill to try and protect the employees.

Or in Spain, in terms of Workplace Bullying or Mobbing, they have the Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks, emphasizes the principles of preventive action at a general level. In most countries around the world, there are policies that work with the same requirements.

The problem is that even though we have laws protecting against these toxic actions, most times it is not enough. Unfortunately, HR departments too often turn a blind eye to issues like this.

What can you do about mobbing?

Instead of giving you trends that could help, let’s talk about concrete solutions that you can start practicing today. We call them, the four B’s of Bullying.

Be specific

It is essential to adopt formal policies to prohibit workplace mobbing. While HR policies often pertain to individual harassment, they often do not speak to the issue of group or peer harassment in specific ways. Including language with an explicit focus on acts of group bullying or mobbing that target diverse employees is a fundamental step for organizations, in much the same way as how specific laws in some countries are developed to address hate crimes.

Be careful

It is imperative to recognize that workplace mobbing and bullying increase in highly competitive workplaces, especially when resources are limited. Management strategies that pit employees against each other to prove their own value can make peers feel threatened by high performers and cause them to engage in group bullying for their own self-preservation. Diverse high performers stand out in the workplace and can become easy targets of workplace mobbing. Facilitating inclusive workplaces in which there is collaboration, peer mentoring and a balance between group and individual rewards are effective ways to offset and perhaps prevent workplace mobbing, particularly the kind that targets diverse employees.

Be proactive

In order to build inclusive organizations that resist group bullying it is necessary to have engaged and proactive efforts by socially responsible leaders. Examine your own behavior to ensure that you are setting a good example. Leaders must learn, pay attention to and respond to signs that workplace mobbing is taking place — especially behaviors that target women and other minority groups. Leaders must not fall for rumors or hearsay that reframe top diverse talent as a “troublemaker,” “not a team player,” “uncooperative” or “just out for themselves.” Leaders must also not remain silent when they receive frequent complaints of micro-aggressions toward top performers. How a leader responds (or fails to respond) to these incidences and behaviors sends a powerful sign to other employees.

Be a Hero

As cheesy or cliché as this may sound, it’s the hardest one for a lot of people. Do not stay silent if you experience bullying or see it. Remember, when someone exhibits bullying behavior and gets away with it, it reinforces the behavior. Also, designate points of contact or trustworthy helpers, so employees know where to turn for help when the time comes. Remember, you are a role model who can influence others, like it or not. Talk to employees and ask open-ended questions about the work environment, atmosphere and how things are going. Do the same with supervisors. Encourage open communication and a willingness to intervene when needed. Everyone can be a hero.

By the way, if you want to know more strategies for managing bullies out of your business, we recommend the book The Bully-Proof Workplace: Essential Strategies, Tips, and Scripts for Dealing with the Office Sociopath. It’s very recent and it has a lot of helpful information.

Video: Workplace bullying: Mobbing

What’s the verdict?

Basically, all leaders should treat workplace mobbing for what it is: “slow poison” for inclusive organizations. Leaders of inclusive organizations must proactively address the rise of workplace mobbing to retain diverse talent. By the way, the startup phase is a huge opportunity for businesses to build a culture of wellness from the very beginning. In the early phase, employees should still feel that their physical, mental, and emotional health is supported. And remember, workplaces will be workplaces. In most cases, you have a lot of different personalities thrown into one cauldron during working hours. Drama, gossip, power struggles, and office politics are often inevitable, at least to some extent. We may not get bullies to admit that they are wrong, but their harmful behavior can be discouraged by individuals standing up for themselves in a workplace culture designed to support a bully-free work zone.

This post is also available in: Español

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