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How "Group Think" Leads to Workplace Mobbing

Updated on November 18, 2015

Disorder in the Workplace

Workplace bullying has reached epidemic levels. One of the best authorities on the topic is the Workplace Bullying Institute, which reports that one-third of American employees have dealt with this problem.

Of course, even without this official figure, we already know that something is terribly wrong. Many of our friends, neighbors and family members are having a difficult time at work. Talking with them, they tell us of horrific conditions and mentally abusive behavior.

They are psychologically threatened and socially isolated. They also live in fear this will lead to loss of employment and income, which it often does. According to the WBI, about 75 percent of the targets do lose their jobs eventually. They either quit, on their own, because the stress is literally killing them. Or, the bully sets them up for failure, and they are fired.

Dovetailing with the high incidence of workplace bullying is another disturbing trend. This is workplace mobbing, in which multiple people participate in driving one person out of a job.

What is Workplace Mobbing?

In the United States, workplace mobbing means any actions by a group of individuals designed to humiliate and intimate a coworker, with the ultimate intent of making them leave the organization.

This typically unfolds through a series of small incidents, each of which would probably sound crazy if someone attempted to report them to a supervisor or to the Human Resources Department. At first, because they are so minor, the target may wonder if he or she is imagining these actions, or, perhaps, is being "too sensitive."

Oftentimes, the mobbing is started by a chief instigator. Others are then pulled into the bully's hate-filled mission. The bulk of the damage is usually achieved by spreading lies about the target's character or behavior.

These lies are cleverly crafted, with just enough truth added, to make them believable. The fact that some people delight in this gossip, and then act upon it, is a reflection of their lack of morals. Others may have a bit more integrity, but get caught up in "group think."

Unfortunately, mobbing can only ensue if someone in a position of authority allows it to happen. So the supervisor either directs the show, or he or she simply lets the bully abuse the target, without having to worry about any consequences. It's the lack of sanctions that gives the instigator "permission" to continue.


How Group Think Contributes to Mobbing

Group think is a part of the human condition. It' not inherently evil, and, in many instances, it may even be beneficial. Humans are social beings, whom, historically, have lived in groups. Oftentimes, there needs to be a consensus to ensure the common benefit of all members. Going along with the program, even if you slightly disagree, enables the group to operate smoothly.

However,group think becomes destructive when it doesn't serve a moral end. It's also very unhealthy if people are afraid to voice their options, or do anything contrary to what a leader, or a team of leaders, has decided.

This self-appointed chief, or committee, works hard to shape and mold opinions. Sometimes this is done in a very organized and calculated manner. For instance, two or more people are recruited to voice differing "opinions," gradually shifting the discussion around to the predetermined conclusion.

In the workplace, employees can lapse into unhealthy group think if a persuasive leader convinces them to attack a coworker. Oftentimes, the creator of the drama doesn't take center stage. He or she just sits back and enjoys the show.

Your Workplace Experience

Have you ever been mobbed at work.

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Why People Don't Support the Target

The instigator of a workplace mobbing capitalizes on people's need to belong and fit in. Also, the unspoken threat is that they will, somehow, be kicked out of the group, or otherwise punished, if they don't cooperate. This, in turn, could be highly detrimental to their career aspirations.

They're especially terrified they'll become the next victim. Workplace bullies are serial abusers. Once they get their current target fired, or force a voluntary resignation, they quickly find someone else to pick on.

Another reason bystanders allow this abuse to happen is because they believe the stories spread by the bully. These are done to dehumanize the target, in order to erode his or her base of support.

An excellent resource for employees who are being picked on is The Bully at Work, written by two of American's leading advocates for workplace justice.


Some Workplace Bullying Terms

This is the preferred label for someone under attack, as it is preferable to "victim."
In a workplace setting, this is when a group of workers gang up on a target, a highly demoralizing experience.
This is short for "post-traumatic stress syndrome," often experienced by targets of workplace bullying.

Mobbing and Personality Disorders

The chief instigator likely has strong anti-social traits that leave him or her deficient in the empathy department. Malicious people with severe personality disorders also do not feel remorse for their actions. This means the vicious lies they've spread, which can effectively ruin a target's life, won't keep them awake at night.

These high-functioning sociopaths are usually charming and unusually perceptive. This allows them to zero in on a target's weaknesses. It also enables them to assume leadership of a group of workers, and influence their thought patterns and eventual actions. Also extremely cunning, will construct elaborate scenarios that often fall into place just as anticipated.

If you are interested in learning more about malignant narcissism and other personality disorders, there are some excellent books and other resources written by experts in the field. The author of this article is not a mental health professional. Instead, her experience was gained from first-hand experience with an individual who probably suffers from malignant narcissism. (Only professionals are qualified to diagnose.)


How to Tell if You're Being Mobbed

You may not know you're being mobbed until it's pretty late in the program, which prevents you from taking actions, if possible, to counter this sneak attack.

Typically, there is no heads up until people start avoiding you, treating you differently or neglecting to invite you to important staff meetings. By this point, it's even possible that plans are being made to replace you.

Going to work becomes a dreaded experience. You also feel as if you are unable to do your job, as this is a confidence-shattering dynamic. People involved in the mobbing may also prevent you from being productive, by withholding information or communication. At this point, you may be assigned menial and mundane tasks, in hope that you'll quit.

Coping with Workplace Mobbing

Typically, by the time you're clued in that something has gone wrong, the environment has become highly toxic. In this impossible situation, it's no longer a battle between you and one single bully. Instead, a mob has formed, with the express goal of getting rid of you. (The main bully also wants to see you defeated, destroyed and humiliated.)

Trying to stay in this highly charged atmosphere is usually not productive. Getting out fast, holding a glowing letter of recommendation, is the best thing you can do for your career. Severing your ties with this disorderly group of people is the best thing you can do for your health and your peace of mind.

If it's any consolation, you will find plenty of others who've had similar experiences, as all types of workplace bullying incidents seems to have reached record levels.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, based in Bellingham, Washington, is a great resource for anyone who finds themselves staring down an angry mob of coworkers.


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Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    DDE, thanks so much for reading. These behaviors are all too common in the workplace, and other places too.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    That's so interesting that you saw more mob behavior than just the bullying, from your unique vantage point. You could write a book on your experiences. I'd love to read it.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    Hi suzette, you are absolutely correct. Mobbing can and does happen anywhere. Thank you so much for reading.

    Alicia, thank you for reading as well. It is a very sad situation.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    I think some people are born with this tendency, and it's probably fostered by poor parenting. Then, they learn early in life that this socially aggressive behavior gets them certain benefits, so it continues into adulthood. They are nothing more than overgrown school yard bullies.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    Hi Jackie, sorry to hear you've had first-hand experience with this type of terrible behavior. It is hard to believe, unless you've seen a mob in action.

    Amazaving, thank you so much for reading. We do need to raise awareness of this important issue.

    Eric, it is horrible. I wish it didn't happen at all.


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