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Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
June 1, 2017

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Video article: why workplace mobbing destroys mental health and job engagement

Workplace mobbing is an unusually toxic form of bullying. It’s viewed as persistent and very pre-meditated bullying by a group of individuals against whom (unsurprisingly) the target feels defenceless.

For those of you who love to delve into a bit of research, in 1972 the Swedish physician, Heinemann, used the term ‘mobbing’ to describe the destructive behaviour of groups of children against a single child. In 1991 the ethologist, Lorenz, used the same term to describe a group of small animals that threatened a single larger animal.

Why workplace mobbing is so destructive – to you and your workplace

A key reason workplace mobbing is so toxic and destructive is because it’s pre-meditated, requires quite a bit of planning and discussion before-hand, and ends up breaking any form of trust between the target and perpetrators (and witnesses or by-standers). It is horrendous for workplace productivity, mainly because no-one trusts anyone. Generally speaking, a workplace mobbing involves a group of individuals who have, over time, been gossiping and back-biting about an individual, and have decided on when and how the mobbing will take place (usually some public forum).

Watch this video and get the 5 secret signals that you’re about to be mobbed.

Why workplace mobbing happens

Research has found that mobbing generally occurs to highly ethical, moral people who tend to deliver outstanding results for their employer and have accidentally dropped themselves into a workplace that views them as a threat to be contained.

It also occurs to employees who, for whatever reason, are viewed as ‘different’ from the group and otherwise stick out from the crowd. For example, in workplaces that value group-think, thinking independently or using your initiative, or being different physically/racially/etc. can be viewed as a threat to be contained or expelled, rather than used as an opportunity.

There are other reasons (obviously), however research has found that integrity, coupled with consistently delivering good results, and sticking out from the crowd, are key ingredients to being mobbed. For whatever reason, these individuals are viewed as a threat to the group.

Why mobbing is often the last straw

I believe a key reason as to why mobbing is often the ‘final straw’ for many, is because most people simply don’t  see it coming. And, frankly, unless you’ve had time to plan and mentally prepare, a workplace mobbing event is (understandably) a complete shock and can be an absolutely terrifying experience!

Walking innocently into a meeting or a function, or a workshop and being aggressively bullied and attacked by the whole group is, for most of us, extremely frightening.

Understandably, workplace mobbing is a highly effective method of killing the target’s trust of their workplace. Generally speaking, witnesses or bystanders are also often shocked by the aggressive group behaviour and become fearful that something similar might befall them. You won’t be surprised to learn that a culture that ignores mobbing (or other forms of bullying) have very risk averse employees who, unless they’re part of the ‘crowd’, are silenced. The impact of mobbing on the targets is significant. Wellbeing and mental health is often affected, and people can walk with their reputation in tatters, all of which significantly impacts job engagement, and productivity (let alone personal happiness).

Preventing a mobbing

Unsurprisingly, research has found that educating people to recognise the signs of an incipient mobbing event can aid in prevention. Education needs to be in addition to developing, promulgating and training people on the policies and regulations stipulating a ‘bully free work zone’, as these initiatives are generally completely ignored by the bullies.

Instead, I advocate that people upskill, and learn how to quickly spot and safely protect themselves from bullies. If you’re a leader or employer, it is vital to learn how to grow respectful work cultures (see my Respectful Work Cultures Blueprint).

5 secrets to spotting an upcoming mobbing

Before I continue, it’s probably a good idea to point out that a key identifier of any form of workplace bullying is disrespect. Disrespect is generally very low on the Occupational Violence Scale, (also known as a Continuum). However, snowballing disrespect from a number sources is a good indicator a mobbing event is about to happen. Another way of looking at it is, if you’re experiencing a form of ongoing, persistent disrespect from a variety of different sources that is excessive and abnormal even for your workplace, then you could be in the firing line for a mobbing event.

NOTE: The behaviours below need to be considered within the context of your workplace, so it’s often best to look for more than just one indicator and be mindful of what is deemed ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ workplace behaviours.

  1. Your boss starts dodging you. While this may be normal behaviour for your boss, especially by time-poor bosses who are distracted by the number of meetings they’re dragged to, this signal becomes a key indicator if your normally accessible boss suddenly and inexplicably pulls meetings at the last minute, avoids sitting next to you in public meetings (where they’d normally sit with you), or ignores your or flicks you off as you pass each other in the corridor.
  2. Your colleagues avoid you. Again, this may be normal behaviour for your workplace, however it should still be unusual for your colleagues to suddenly stop talking, look uncomfortable, and disperse when you walk into the room. Or one of your colleagues turns his or her back on you when you walk over to talk. This is an indicator that you’re persona non grata and they’re either gossiping and/or back-biting you.
  3. You’re rudely talked over at public events. If you’re the boss and are being talked over or argued with and otherwise overtly disrespected by your staff and colleagues (or boss) in the same meeting or function, then the mobbing event is getting close. This behaviour is highly disrespectful and is a strong signal you may be about to be mobbed.
  4. Your colleagues or staff suddenly ignore you. It’s a very bad sign if you walk over to a group of your staff or colleagues to say ‘hi’ and to give a progress update, just to find that you’re being ignored. If people pretend that you’re not there, ignore you and continue talking through you, then you’ve just received a red-light that you’re now on the ‘outer’. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a number of other the signals mentioned in this article, then you may be about to experience mobbing event.
  5. You feel isolated. You increasingly find that you’re less likely to receive the usual information and updates that you need to progress your projects or other tasks, and you will find yourself increasingly left in the dark. You now need to hunt down information, and you’re feeling as though you’ve been placed in quarantine.

If you or someone you care about is suffering workplace bullying, upskill fast right now! Enroll for free HERE or at for my 1 hour eCourse where you get the best skills and tactics to spot & safely stop workplace bullies, fast, and before it impacts your mental health and happiness.

Dr. Felicity (Flis) Lawrence has a PhD in organisational social psychology from the Faculty of Education, QUT (+BA SSc & Dip PM), and 25 years’ experience in private, military and government workplaces. She helps leaders and workers to quickly spot and safely stop toxic behaviours and create respectful cultures so that they can boost (significantly elevate) their mental health, performance and potential faster. You can contact her at [email protected], or follow her on LinkedIn Twitter or Facebook.

Find Dr. Lawrence’s other articles for SHP here.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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6 years ago

This is article is extremely useful, thank you Dr Flis. I read it just after I observed what you described as workplace mobbing. I feel lucky the mobbing wasn’t directed at me personally, because witnessing it was bad enough. Your point about it instantly eroding trust is spot on.

My question is, should I now be worried that some of my own staff and colleagues are showing some of the 5 signs you talk about in this article? Or am I just paranoid?