• Sibel Dağdeviren Özüağ

Mobbing: Are you a victim?

Mobbing could be defined in so many ways. The way I want to put it is, simply, “all sorts of psychological intimidation and prevention at the workplace”. It is ANYTHING that makes you feel isolated in the office. That is the reason I have started to write down this article: The scope of mobbing is actually wider than we mostly think and you may be a victim, too.

What is mobbing?

Workplace mobbing can be considered as a "virus" that spreads throughout the organization via gossip, rumor and false accusations. It is a deliberate attempt to force a person out of the workplace by humiliation, harassment, emotional abuse and/or terror. As it might be fueled by an individual, mobbing may also come from a group of individuals wishing to force someone out of the organization.

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, first described the act of mobbing among birds and animals, attributing it to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to survive and thrive. It was the Swedish psychologist Heinz Leyman who applied the term “mobbing” to the business context for the first time in 1990s. As a result of the studies he conducted on cases of psychological harassment in offices, he started to use the term mobbing - because he deliberately wanted to separate mobbing from “bullying” as mobbing was a more subtle form of social isolation.

What could be regarded as mobbing?

Mobbing in the workplace could be experienced in numerous ways, and I really doubt whether there is a limit to its scope.

Some “popular” mobbing cases are as follow:

  • Shouting at and diminishing the employee

  • Calling and/or reaching at the employee 24/7  (NO, that has nothing to do with flexible working hours!)

  • Playing little tricks to make the employee feel like a “failure” and surrender (ie. hiding the date of an important meeting, deliberately deleting a file/report, not answering the emails/questions...)

  • Acting like a career blocker and preventing the employee to climb higher on their career ladder

  • Denying the previous statements or approvals (ie. “Oh, I don’t remember that I approved that report to be published” or “No, I didn't say that”)

  • Speaking in an acrid and allusive manner

  • Giving rise to office rumors about the employee

  • Creating a hostile environment towards the employee

The aim is clear: To push the victim out of the organization. Make them surrender. Force them to think that they have failed. Reasons for a mobbing behavior in the workplace, though, could vary:

  • In poorly-managed organizations, exceptional employees with high intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication are mostly subject to mobbing. (Adams & Field)

  • On the other hand, victims of many other mobbing cases could also be under-performing employees, against whom the team gathers up with a hope of pushing the under-performer out. In such cases, the organization (call it the HR, the line managers, or the CEO) may unfortunately ignore the victim’s cry for help in an effort to push the under-performers out of the game and force them to resign.

  • In industries where finding a similar work opportunity is limited, employees may try to force each other out of the organization through mobbing behaviors. (Harper)

  • In organizations where career advancement is difficult/rare or in cases where the leaders are not very much confident about their own capabilities, the senior managers might view the young talents as threats to their own positions, and might gang up against the young talent.

  • In industries populated by a single gender, the initial entrance of the opposite gender might bring up cases of mobbing to the table. (Harper)

  • Mobbing could also result from a person’s individual psychosis.

Studies conducted in multiple countries demonstrate that mobbers are mostly good-performers. It is simple: They get the job done! “How?” is not a question that companies which are obsessed about “performance” ask. Hence, corporate culture play a very big role in feeding the mobbing behaviors. How does the organization define success? Is it OK for leaders to apply psychological pressure to their employees as long as they meet their performance goals? This question goes to the leadership teams all around the world.

How to fight against mobbing?

Give feedback: Studies reveal that in many cases the mobbers may not be consciously aware of their mobbing behaviors. Hence, the first action against mobbing could be to let the mobber know that what they do is mobbing in the workplace.

Gather evidences: The mobber insists on their behaviors despite the feedbacks you have shared. It might be wise at this step to collect as many evidences as possible about the mobbing you are being exposed to (emails, text messages, videos, voice records...).

Get your voice heard: Consult your line managers and/or your HR team to inform them on the mobbing case you are going through. Also remember that many corporate companies today have ethics lines where you may report your case anonymously. Strengthen your statements with the evidences you have collected.

Be aware of your rights: Remember that you can also file a case against the mobber and the unhelpful line managers or the organization. Labor laws and legislation in almost all countries strictly prohibit mobbing in the workplace.

Be bold: Stand up and fight for the decent workplace you deserve. Transferring to a different team or department, or getting a new job in another company... Remember that you have options at any given time. My personal opinion on this is that almost all business problems are mostly people problems. You may come across mobbers in almost any company - corporate ones, global ones, local ones, startups... It is, therefore, very much important to learn how to fight against mobbing rather than focusing only on surviving a single mobbing case.

Remember that if you are trapped by a mobber, you are probably neither the first nor the last victim. The very next victim may not have as much power and courage as you do, so be bold! Each of us are unique, and for that, do not let anyone to make you think as if you were a failure and that you deserved the negative experience.