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This article describes mobbing in relation to human bullying behaviour.

Mobbing in the context of human beings either means bullying of an individual by a group in any context, or specifically any workplace bullying.


Though the English word mob denotes a crowd, often in a destructive or hostile mood, German, Polish, Italian and several other European languages have adopted mobbing as a loanword to describe all forms of bullying including that by single persons. The resultant German verb mobben can also be used for physical attacks, calumny against teachers on the internet and intimidation by superiors, with an emphasis on the victims' continuous fear rather than the perpetrators' will to exclude them. The word may thus be a false friend in translation back into English, where mobbing in its primary sense denotes a disorderly gathering by a crowd and in workplace psychology narrowly refers to "ganging up" by others to harass and intimidate an individual.

Development of the concept

Research into the phenomenon was pioneered in the 1980s by German-born Swedish scientist Heinz Leymann, who borrowed the term from animal behaviour due to it describing perfectly how a group can attack an individual based only on the negative covert communications from the group".[1]

Mobbing is also found in school systems and this too was discovered by Leymann. Although he preferred the term bullying in the context of school children, some have come to regard mobbing as a form of group bullying. As professor and practising psychologist, Leymann also noted one of the side-effects of mobbing is post traumatic stress disorder and is frequently misdiagnosed. After making this discovery he successfully treated thousands of mobbing victims at his clinic in Sweden. Among researchers who have built on Leymann's work are Noa Zanolli Davenport,[2] Thomas E. Hecker,[3] Linda Shallcross,[4] Kenneth Westhues[5] and Dieter Zapf.[6]

UK anti-bully pioneers Andrea Adams and Tim Field used the expression workplace bullying instead of what Leymann called "mobbing" although workplace bullying nearly always involves mobbing in its other meaning of group bullying.

In the book MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, The authors identify mobbing as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as "…an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behaviour. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others to willingly, or unwillingly, participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace."[7]

The authors say that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organized production and/or working methods and incapable or inattentive management and that mobbing victims are usually "exceptional individuals who demonstrated intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication".[7]

According to the authors of 'Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation', workplace 'mobbing' is not generally a familiar term - it is not well understood in some English speaking countries. Some researchers claim that mobbing is simply another name for bullying. Workplace mobbing can be considered as a 'virus' or a 'cancer' that spreads throughout the workplace via gossip, rumor and unfounded accusations. It is a deliberate attempt to force a person out of their workplace by humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse and/or terror. Mobbing can be described as being “ganged up on". Mobbing is executed by a leader (who can be a manager, a co-worker, or a subordinate). The leader then rallies others into a systematic and frequent “mob-like” behaviour toward the victim.[8]

Mobbing in the workplace can also lead to psychological trauma and give rise to posttraumatic stress disorder.[9]

Checklist of mobbing indicators

Sociologists and authors have created checklists and other tools to identify mobbing behavior [10][11][12]

Sociologist Kenneth Westhues devised the following list of mobbing indicators, with indicator number 12 probably being the most important:[10]

  1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
  2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target’s misdeeds: “Did you hear what she did last week?”
  3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
  4. Collective focus on a critical incident that “shows what kind of man he really is”.
  5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, “to be taught a lesson”.
  6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.
  7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
  8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.
  9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
  10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to “speak up for” or defend the target.
  11. The adding up of the target’s real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.
  12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
  13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
  14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
  15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
  16. Mobbers’ fear of violence from target, target’s fear of violence from mobbers, or both.

Psychological and health effects to the victim of mobbing in the workplace

Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, major depression.[9]

In mobbing targets with PTSD, Leymann notes that the “mental effects were fully comparable with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences. Some patients may develop alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders. Family relationships routinely suffer. Some targets may even develop brief psychotic episodes, generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.[9]

Degrees of mobbing

  • First degree: Victim manages to resist, escapes at an early stage, or is fully rehabilitated in the original workplace or elsewhere.
  • Second degree: Victim cannot resist or escape immediately and suffers temporary or prolonged mental and/or physical disability and has difficulty reentering the workforce.
  • Third degree: Victim is unable to reenter the workforce and suffers serious, long-lasting mental or physical disability.[9]

See also


  1. Heinz Leyman's personal website kept live since his death
  2. Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace Davenport, Noa Zanolli, Ruth Distler Schwartz, Gail Pursell Elliott 1999. Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Ames, Iowa: Civil Society Publishing
  3. "Workplace Mobbing: A Discussion for Librarians" Hecker, Thomas E. 2007. "Workplace Mobbing: a Discussion for Librarians." Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33:4, pp.439-445
  4. "Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation Shallcross, L., Ramsay, S., & Barker, M., (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, (blind peer reviewed) Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference (ANZAM)
  5. Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process Westhues,Kenneth. Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.
    The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors Westhues, Kenneth 2004. The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.]
    "At the Mercy of the Mob" Westhues, Kenneth 2002. "At the Mercy of the Mob". OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (18:8), pp.30-36.
  6. Zapf, Dieter and Stale Einarsen 2005 "Mobbing at Work: Escalated Conflicts in Organizations." Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets. Fox, Suzy & Spector, Paul E. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association vii. p.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Davenport, Noa, Distler Schwartz, Ruth, Pursell Elliott, Gail, Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 3rd Edition 2005, Civil Society Publishing. Ames, IA,
  8. Shallcross, L, Ramsay, S, & Barker M, (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, retrieved 17 May 2010,
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hillard JR Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient? Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45-51
  10. 10.0 10.1 Westhues K. Checklist of Mobbing Indicators 2006
  11. School mobbing and emotional abuse: see it, stop it, prevent it, with ... By Gail Pursell Elliott
  12. The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies ... By Margaret R. Kohut

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