An unfriendly look, a mocking remark that ridicules the co-worker’s appearance or concealed, non-provided information needed for work, gossips – all of it can indicate the modern organization’s ulcer – mobbing. Mobbing is described as a long-term, systematic psychological terror that a group usually inflicts on one person.
The term was originally used by researchers of animal behaviour. The term mobbing was first used in 1958 by K. Z. Lorenz, an Austrian scientist who studied the behaviour of animals. For example, he called mobbing a situation where a flock of geese would attack and drive away a fox that has attacked them. It has been observed that the herd sometimes unites against one of the insiders, which stands out from the others, usually the weaker one. Systematic attacks end with the victim being chased away from the herd.
This term was later used by P. P. Heinemann, who in 1960, contrasted aggressive behaviour of animals with children’s cruel behaviour towards other children. This research is continued to this day and is important in that former children transfer their social behaviour habits into interrelationships at work.
As to employee relationships, Professor H. Leymann was the first to use the concept of mobbing to describe relationships in the workplace. The researcher’s first research has shown that, for example, many working-age Swedes were forced to quit their jobs due to mobbing. Thus, this social phenomenon determines negative economic consequences too.
Describing mobbing attacks, 45 behavioural acts identified by H. Leymann are followed: unfounded criticism of work, the person, his/her views, gossips, giving tasks above the victim’s capabilities; work harmful to health; concealment of work information; ignoring; bullying; offensive remarks, and etc. In other words, an extremely wide range of actions degrading and insulting human dignity is used while attacking the victim. However, not every attack can be referred to as mobbing. Usually H. Leymann’s definition is followed that mobbing is characterized by attacks recurring at least once a week and lasting at least six months.
Mobbing causes emotional pain, tension and unpleasant experiences for the victim. The victim may feel inferior and eventually he or she quits the job. That is the purpose of persons using mobbing. Very often, a high-class professional who is fighting for a job or higher salary can also become the victim of mobbing.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Conception of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
Such words as “oppress”, “put in place”, and “sack” can be often heard in co-workers’ speeches. Typically, such descriptions are applied to the co-worker who distinguishes himself/herself by something and is unlike other members of the team. It can be a younger, new employee, a person with an outstanding talent and diligence, who has won the management’s favor.
At the individual level, mobbing arises from a host of personal problems and tensions in interpersonal relationships: danger, competition, jealousy, revenge, hatred, disappointment, antipathy, fear, and etc. Not all individuals perceive the causes of jealousy, that is why internal tension can become one of the causes of mobbing. An envious person finds it difficult to come to terms with personal shortcomings and projects them onto the person who is actually/supposedly successful. The failure of this person is gratifying, and personal failures become more bearable. If the person in the organization cannot achieve what he or she desires, mobbing can manifest itself as frustration related to organizational decisions.
Although it is said that nobody is protected from mobbing, nevertheless, it is less of a threat to the “little grey mouse” than to striking personalities distinguishing themselves by their achievements, appearance, views, which do not accept the clique’s approaches or honestly inform their management about negative phenomena occurring in the workplace.
Mobbing is most often (but not always) undertaken against more gifted employees with higher professional competence, of different social status, different gender, different sexual orientation, and the like. People with exceptional racial, ethnic, social characteristics (such as a person who has come from a rural area or small town) “can also expect” mobbing. In other words, any feature that the organizer of the mobbing process presents as doing harm to the informal clique that has formed in the organization or to the unit can become a pretext to attack and this way unite other co-workers for a “common goal”.
It is stated that attackers distinguish themselves by micropolitically oriented behaviour (i.e., motivation to behave in a way that benefits only themselves). However, the real reasons for “putting in place” or mobbing remain not named aloud, although the most common are jealousy and competition.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Causes of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
Leymann studied, described, and grouped mobbing acts. Terrorism existing in the work environment can be judged by the actions and their duration. The scholar distinguished 45 mobbing acts, which were classified into five groups: of impact on self-expression and communication; of attacks in the social relationships field; of attacks against reputation, authority; of encroachment on professional and life quality; of direct attacks in the health field. Actors may be a manager alone, co-workers alone or all together.
Impact on self-expression and communication. Every individual feels the need to make sense of himself in the social environment; that is why, in the first group of methods of influence are actions that aggravate the opportunity to actualize oneself as a social being and maintain relationships with people around. Eleven modes of impact are distinguished in this group: the manager restricts the victim from expressing his or her opinion; the person is constantly interrupted when speaking; the opportunity to express one’s opinion is restricted by co-workers; communication takes place in a raised tone, shouting at the victim, loudly scolding him/her; the work of the victim is the target of constant criticism; the victim’s private life is constantly criticized; the victim is being terrorized by telephone; the victim is threatened orally; the victim is threatened in writing; contact with the victim is avoided, co-workers dissociate themselves from the victim by contemptuous looks and gestures; contact is avoided by speaking in hints and not saying anything directly.
These actions are aimed at encroaching on personal and work-related self-expression, terminating social contacts – the victim is socially excluded and intimidated.
Attacks in the social relationships field. Discussing the goals of discrimination, we accentuated psychological pain caused by social exclusion. Five ways in which the victim’s social isolation is created are distinguished: communication relationships with the victim of mobbing are terminated: there is no talking, communication; if the victim tries to start a conversation, co-workers do not react to that; the workplace of the victim of mobbing is moved to another room, further away from co-workers; it is forbidden for co-workers to speak to the victim; the person is viewed as an empty space.
Thus, relationships with the victim are discontinued both at the verbal and non-verbal levels, and the physical distance between the victim and the group is emphasized.
Attacks against reputation, authority. It would be difficult to find a person who would not care about public opinion, recognition of the person’s importance and favourable evaluation. Authority, reputation gives a certain status. Fifteen ways to degrade the victim’s reputation and convince the victim of his or her inferiority are distinguished: there is constant negative feedback about the attacked person; the victim of mobbing becomes the object of constant gossips; the person is ridiculed, constantly sneered at; opinion and suspicions are expressed that the person may be mentally ill; it is sought that the victim of mobbing is forced to have mental health check-up; there are jokes about a disability; the victim’s gait, voice or gestures are sneered at, ridiculed. The latter can be mimicked in order to sneer at; the victim’s political or religious views are attacked; private life is laughed at; nationality becomes the object of ridicule; the mobbed person is forced to do jobs that adversely affect his subconsciousness; the job contribution is assessed negatively, morbidly; all decisions of the victim are doubted; swear words or other negative words are addressed to the victim; sexual type hints or verbal sexual suggestions are directed to the victim of mobbing.
As it can be seen, the victim’s authority and reputation are attacked through non-formal channels of communication, using negative preconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. This is painful and aggravates defense because stereotypical information is not debated and is not grounded on objective evidence.
Encroachment on professional and life quality. Getting a job, having a job and losing it cover many aspects of social life. This is associated not only with the quality of life but also with the social status in the society, which is provided by the profession, workplace or rank held in it, making the threat of unemployment a strong stressor. In addition, the employee seeks to be professionally significant.
The fourth group of attack actions is directed specifically to the importance given to the individual’s work and quality of life: the victim is not assigned any work tasks; the victim of mobbing loses any occupation in the workplace, not even being able to think up any task for himself; meaningless work tasks are assigned; tasks assigned are above the victim’s abilities when it is known in advance that they will not be performed or will be performed not without reproach; new tasks are constantly assigned; insulting work tasks are assigned; work tasks that are above the level of qualification are given in order to denounce; i.e., to show that the victim is unable to work.
It is clear from the provided list of actions that they pertain to the institutional power of managers of various ranks, in other words, are to be classified as “bossing”. As in the above situations, at least two goals are pursued: to degrade the victim’s importance in the organization and to intimidate. Actions are closely interrelated. For example, assigning the task above one’s competence causes stress, a sense of fear to the victim, and the unsatisfactory result as if confirms that the victim is incompetent. The victim is not only afraid of a new, incomprehensible assignment; during the work process, he or she is in advance forced to fear negative reactions when the work is completed. The illusion is created that the victim is not needed for the organization and will be dismissed; along with that, the victim’s emotional state reduces work capacity, distracts attention and affects the quality and efficiency of activities. In other words, a vicious circle is formed, destroying the victim internally and externally.
Ordinary co-workers may also encroach on professional activities. There are a host of assignments in organizations, which cannot be performed without direct interaction of employees, delegations among employees of the same level, which is particularly relevant when it comes to the teamwork method. The testimonies of mobbing victims reveal malicious actions of co-workers; for example, false accusation of unprofessional behaviour. The attacker forms the opinion that he/she is unable to perform his/her assignments properly due to the victim’s unprofessionalism and unfitness to work. This is especially relevant when working relationships are not documented due to their specificity.
Direct attacks in the health field: the victim is forced to perform tasks that are harmful for his/her health; the threat with the use of physical violence against the victim; insignificant physical aggression is used against someone in order to teach a lesson; rude behaviour; causing material damage or forcing to incur costs; material damage at home or at the workplace; sexual harassment.
Thus, mobbing encompasses sensitive areas of social and personal life. The work organization is described as a certain artificial system, and mobbing is aimed at breaking the victim’s ties with the system and at forcing the system to remove the object of the attack as a foreign body.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Acts of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
The first to compile the scheme of roles of mobbing participants was the Norwegian scholar D. Olweus (1994) while observing pupil behaviour. This scheme was later modified by C. Goldy (2002). Based on the above-mentioned schemes, Lithuanian scholars R. Povilaitis and J. Valiukevičiūtė (2006) formed desirable restructuring of children’s roles in the bullying situation. The roles of the participants of workplace mobbing do not differ much; therefore, the adapted model can be also applied to identify and analyze the roles of mobbing participants in employees’ interpersonal relationships.
The attacker(s) starts harassing, actively participates in the mobbing process, and promotes it by involving other employees.
The supporter is actively involved but does not start harassing himself (he is considered the attacker’s right hand).
Potential attackers welcome harassment, but openly do not show this.
Passive attackers, or supporters of potential attackers, support harassment but are not actively involved.
Neutral bystanders who see mobbing as discrimination in employee relationships but who do not experience it themselves and do not want to suffer, watch what is happening but do not interfere.
Potential defenders do not support harassment and think that it would be appropriate to help but do nothing (similarly to neutral bystanders who do not want to suffer).
The victim’s defender(s) does not harass himself and helps or attempts to help the victim. They are few or do not occur at all.
The instigator or the double player is involved in both the “white” and “black” side, incites the attacker, comforts the victim.
The attacker’s portrait. The attacker is an authoritarian, manipulative, dominant, aggressive and insensitive person. The prevailing stereotype is that men are more likely to be attackers, while women are more often victims. However, there are no studies unequivocally proving gender dominance in applying mobbing. Only the following trends in attackers’ behaviour are noted: men are more likely to openly show aggressive behaviour, while women use passively aggressive behaviour (gossips, ignoring, intrigues, etc.). Persecutors are often incompetent managers who hold office not for merits or abilities. Such leaders feel anxious and insecure about their authority and future career; therefore, they destroy those who, in their opinion, reasonably or not, pose a threat – are more competent, talented, perfectionists, favored by the team, and the like.
The mobbing victim’s portrait. Most often such employees are mobbed who arouse resentment among people around them due to their exceptional abilities, high professional competence, particular honesty, diligence, perfectionism, and their advantage over others. These are the traits that emphasise other employees’ lower abilities or idling in the workplace most.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Participants of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
H. Leymann (1993) distinguished five stages of the mobbing process. The first stage characterizes the conflict; it is not mobbing yet, but it can turn into it. The second stage is characterized by the psychological attack and aggressive actions that accelerate the mobbing process. The third stage: the manager is involved in the mobbing process (if he was not yet involved in the second stage). The fourth stage is critical – in this stage, the victim is described as difficult to deal with or mentally ill. The fifth stage is the victim’s removal. The trauma caused by the incident can lead to an additional explosion of the post-traumatic stress. After leaving the organization, the victim’s emotional distress and other psychosomatic diseases sometimes end and sometimes intensify.
M. Litzke and H. Schuh (2005) distinguish three stages of mobbing: early, middle, and the latest. The authors grounded on the research of H. Leymann (1993) and B. Zuschlag (1994); i.e., the early stage is characterised by possible latent conflicts: the conflict in the first stage; the beginning of escalation of the first mobbing attack and conflict in the second; in the third stage, the escalation of the conflict, which lasted more than 6 weeks, and the victim’s stigmatization come to light; in the fourth, about 12 months after the start of mobbing, the employer takes disciplinary or labour law measures; and in the fifth phase, the dismissal, legal proceedings take place. C. D. Bultena (2008) also distinguished five stages of the mobbing process: the first is the conflict; the second is the decisive event; the third, growing shame, contempt; the fourth, the manager’s involvement; and the fifth, the victim’s departure from the organization.
Thus, the process of mobbing begins with the conflict that may or may not grow into mobbing, and then, the decisive moment occurs, which namely determines the further course of mobbing. Although authors (H. Leymann and C. D. Bultena) name the manager’s involvement at different stages, the result of the mobbing process remains essentially the same.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Process of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
Three degrees of mobbing intensity are distinguished.
The first degree of mobbing intensity. The individual is able to resist, leaves the job still at an early stage or can be fully rehabilitated in the same workplace. At the first degree of mobbing intensity, the victim cries, his/her sleep is disturbed, the victim becomes irritable, concentration is disturbed.
The second degree of mobbing intensity. The individual can neither resist nor escape immediately and suffers from a temporary and/or long-term mental and/or physical disability, finds it difficult to regain the working capacity. At the second degree of mobbing intensity, the victim experiences insomnia, high blood pressure, impaired concentration and upset stomach are observed, mild depression, various fears occur (fear of driving, swimming, loneliness for no apparent reason), alcohol, drugs are used, the victim avoids to be at work: starts being late, is often absent from work.
The third degree of mobbing intensity. Affected individuals are unable to work, and physical and mental trauma is such that rehabilitation would no longer be effective unless highly specialized treatment is applied. At the third degree of mobbing intensity, the victim begins to have heart attacks, panic attacks, develops deep depression, tries to commit suicide, and violent behaviour is directed against third parties.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Degrees of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
“Going to work like to hell” – this is how persons experiencing mobbing describe their condition at work. It is not for nothing that mobbing is also described as a social stressor because emotional discomfort, social isolation, constant psychological pressure, fear, tension cause stress with all consequences it entails: occupational burnout, depression, cardiovascular disorders, and other diseases. Very often the employee who experiences mobbing quits his job (by the way, psychologists also offer such way out) or, in the worst case, commits suicide.
Physical consequences for the person who has experienced mobbing: headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, sickness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, digestive problems, tremor, back pain, problems with the cardiovascular system, breathlessness, increased sweating, tics and other.
Psychological consequences for the person who has experienced mobbing: lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, despair, an increased sense of justice-seeking, insomnia and waking up in the middle of the night, nightmares, constant tiredness, problems with concentration and memory, loss of orientation, increased sensitivity, irritability, aggression, inability to speak occurring due to brain damage (i.e. aphasia), thoughts of only one thing (the person thinks only of experienced bullying and insults in the workplace), suffering from obsessive thoughts, doubts, images, memories, fears, cravings that he cannot get rid of, even though he understands that they are unfounded and meaningless (i.e., obsession), paranoia, depression, suicidal ideation.
Employers who do not pay attention to the symptoms of mobbing or follow the approach that the “strongest” survive in the competition are wrong. Mobbing threatens with higher staff turnover, worsening psychological climate, declining productivity, and worsening quality of work, not to mention the costs of treatment.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Consequences of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/
The organization and the victim have two paths: the victim – to leave the organization and the organization – to lose the employee or change the situation through intervention measures.
Intervention should not only be used to extinguish the outbreaks of conflicts, but also, from a systemic standpoint, to “anticipate events” in time. Even after a successful resolution of the conflict with regard to the victim, the residual phenomena can be still felt for a long time to come. Therefore, the primary task of intervention is to localize the conflict before the decisive incident occurs and, even better, to develop cultural and organizational immunity to bullying, harassment and the most radical form – mobbing.
Two levels of mobbing intervention can be distinguished: individual and organizational. However, none will be maximally efficient if they are not applied in a comprehensive manner. Localization of individual conflicts will only temporarily suppress the problem. For example, some professionals usually offer victims of mobbing the only way – to leave the organization. This is one of the ways out for the victim experiencing attacks but not for the organization, as it does not help to fundamentally solve the problem. Mobbing as a phenomenon that has damaged the organizational climate can intensify and expand; therefore, the problem remains and sharpens. The later the organization spots and takes responsibility, the more effort, energy, and expenses will be needed to improve the psychological climate.
The essential condition for solving mobbing is to recognize, acknowledge and name it in specific conflict incidents. Research on the cause, course and consequences of the phenomenon for the victim and on the damage to the victim’s physical and mental health and professional career presupposes the necessity to develop various prevention programs. Scholars studying mobbing in employee interpersonal relationships propose the following measures of intervention: coaching, supervision, moderation, and mediation.
Vveinhardt, J. (2022). Interventions for prevention of mobbing in the workplace. Available at: https://www.mobingas.lt/en/about-mobbing/