What is mobbing behavior?

What is mobbing behavior?

Mobbing is a form of psychological or emotional abuse found in workplaces, schools, or other social settings. It involves systematic persecution, humiliation, isolation, and discrimination of an individual by one or more people. Mobbing is a long-term, escalating action, causing both mental and physical suffering to the affected individuals.

Workplace mobbing is legally prohibited, and every employer is obligated to prevent it.

Identifying mobbers (bullies) and their motivations

Mobbers are individuals who engage in mobbing. Their motivations can vary widely, including:

  • dealing with personal insecurities, fears, or frustrations;
  • using psychological aggression to enhance their self-esteem;
  • diverting attention from their shortcomings;
  • poor emotional regulation;
  • a lack of empathy, often not realizing the harm they cause;
  • replaying their past traumatic experiences or emulating negative behaviors they have witnessed.

These motivations are influenced by factors such as:

  • demographics (gender, age, educational background);
  • personality traits (aggression, impulsivity);
  • professional environment (job tenure, level of training);
  • past violent behavior;
  • mental health issues.

Mobbers are often intimidated by the talents and achievements of others, prompting them to engage in undermining behaviors. They are particularly active in poorly managed environments – where organizational culture and leadership are weak, and policies are not clearly defined.

Mobbers frequently target environments where they can dominate those who are less psychologically resilient. Examples include:

  • areas with rapid social changes: societal impoverishment, lack of oversight over the youth, a decline in educational standards, migration from rural to urban areas, the disappearance of multi-generational family models, an increase in single-parent families, and a rise in the number of immigrants (mainly in wealthier European Union countries);
  • places with major economic changes, such as companies undergoing restructuring, which can lead to tensions within the workforce.

How does mobbing manifest in the workplace?

According to Stanislaw Kozak, mobbing unfolds in four stages:

  1. The conflict begins and escalates, potentially still avoidable at this early phase.
  2. The victim is marginalized and lacks support within the workplace.
  3. Mobbing intensifies; defensive actions by the victim are met with unfair punishment.
  4. The situation deteriorates further, compelling the victim to resign; the mobber typically gains from this outcome.

Mobbers employ various methods to belittle and isolate their targets, including:

  • criticizing them unjustifiably at every possible opportunity;
  • attempting to defame them;
  • mocking their appearance or behavior, making crude jokes or using sarcasm;
  • undermining their skills and questioning their decisions;
  • trying to isolate them from the group;
  • publicly humiliating them by pointing out mistakes or falsely accusing them;
  • intimidating them, for example by threatening job loss or making reports against them;
  • using vulgar language in conversation – not in front of witnesses or in writing, but directly.

In extreme cases, mobbers resort to physical violence.

Mobbing examples

  • Social Mobbing: Where an individual is isolated from a community through neglect or slander.
  • Group Mobbing: Where a collective without a clear leader targets an individual.
  • Mobbing and victimization at Work: Continuous negative feedback, obstruction of professional advancement, and discrimination are common forms.

Impacts of mobbing

Mobbing not only severely burdens the psyche of those who experience it, but it also triggers physical reactions. Symptoms of mobbing include:

  • A sense of helplessness and lack of control;
  • Loss of interest, withdrawal from social life, and avoiding interaction with others;
  • Decreased efficiency and lowered motivation;
  • Feelings of sadness, apathy, and mood declines that can lead to depression;
  • High levels of stress, anxiety, distrust, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • Reduced self-esteem;
  • Problems with concentration and memory;
  • Headaches and gastric issues caused by chronic stress and tension;
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia, lack of appetite or overeating;
  • Constant fatigue and psychosomatic ailments (e.g., globus hystericus syndrome);
  • Elevated blood pressure and palpitations.

An increase in aggression can also be a psychological defense mechanism against mobbing.

Mobbing is a dangerous phenomenon that escalates quickly. It often starts with harmless teasing or gossiping and can tragically end in drug addiction, severe depression, or even suicide.

The family of the victim also faces the consequences of mobbing. As workplace issues accumulate, feelings of helplessness and constant stress can lead to family conflicts, frequently resulting in separation or divorce.

From an employer's perspective, the consequences include reduced work efficiency of the victim and the resultant financial losses for the company (costs of medical leave, the necessity to delegate tasks to other employees, recruitment expenses, etc.).

Handling mobbing in the workplace

The first and crucial step in stopping mobbing is to identify and notice its occurrence. This requires a certain level of organizational maturity, and HR tools that allow for the anonymous reporting of inappropriate behavior can be incredibly supportive. The basic rule is clear – do not trivialize anything! Even if something seems like a minor incident, it is important to remember that mobbing often starts with seemingly insignificant gestures, words, or disputes.

A good practice for HR departments is to clearly communicate which situations may be considered mobbing. Descriptions of these situations should be included in the company's policies, regulations, and training materials, so that employees can be informed.

What does mobbing management involve?

Effective mobbing management within an organization involves various strategic and operational actions that help build a positive organizational culture, including:

  • Developing, implementing, and enforcing clear anti-mobbing policies that define mobbing, list examples of prohibited behaviors, and outline reporting procedures and consequences to reduce incidents of violence;
  • Conducting regular training sessions for all employees, including management, to recognize mobbing and other undesirable behaviors and learn how to respond to them;
  • Establishing counseling and psychological support systems for victims to help them cope with the negative experiences;
  • Monitoring and evaluating the workplace environment and the effectiveness of implemented measures through satisfaction surveys, employee turnover analyses, and regular policy reviews.

Managing mobbing requires engagement at multiple levels of the organization. It starts with basic education about mobbing and ends with training managers to identify and effectively resolve issues. By doing this, a company can create a safe workplace and significantly reduce absenteeism and staff turnover rates.

Summary on mobbing

Mobbing is not only an ethical issue, but also significantly impacts the mental and physical health of individuals. Proper knowledge and preventive actions are essential to reduce its occurrence and alleviate its negative effects.

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