Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying

 Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry

  1. 225 pp.  Oxford University Press, Oxford.


Mobbing is ‘psychological terror’ (p.56). Regrettable it is on the increase globally in the workplace, but unfortunately many still do not know the difference between mobbing and bullying. Both are forms of severe workplace abuse. This is a much needed book on the topic to inform, correct misunderstandings, debunk myths and reveal how to recover from such abuse for the victim or a loved one who has been impacted by it.

The book provides comprehensive descriptions via the liberal use of case studies throughout. In-depth it tackles how mobbing comes about, it effects and recovery at the individual, work group and organizational dynamic levels, including the impact on victims, families, bystanders and the organisations within which it occurs. Most significantly though and very rare to find in other materials is information on practical strategies for both individuals and organisations so they can recover. That alone makes this book highly valuable.

So let’s reiterate, mobbing is not bullying. “It is often far worse than bullying. Mobbing takes place within organizational or institutional settings and always includes organizational involvement. Key organizational members become involved in mobbing through overt or covert actions against a target or through failure to act to protect organizational members from abuse” (p.8). The key distinction is that mobbing has the presence of organizational involvement whereas bullying does not.

“In mobbing, the effort to strip victims of their respect, stature and influence and to drive them from the organization is a joint activity carried out by multiple perpetrators and utilizes both formal and informal channels within the organisation. The abusive acts are intended to humiliate and discredit a victim and are often focused on the victim’s character, personality and working style as much or more than on his or her job performance. Mobbing victims are routinely characterized as difficult to work with, as troublemakers, as not being team players, as bullies, and even as mentally unstable. Their personal and professional identities are globally attached and maligned” (p.11). Mobbing victims are scapegoats for the larger organizational problems and conflicts.

Those employees who are more likely to be mobbed are those who speak out or challenge organizational dynamics, policies, procedures; those who expose corruptions or wrongdoing or speak out in the public interest; those who work for organizational and other kinds of changes and those who are outsiders, different from the cultural norm of the organization (eg. Gender, race, sexual identity).

The process of ganging up includes: workplace conflict; people taking side; unethical communication and other aggressive and abusive acts; involvement of management; elimination of the target from the workplace; and, post-elimination unethical communication. What is usually overlook in the cause, effect and processes is the role of the organizational dynamics. Most include the individual and perpetrators. All three areas must be a part of the prevention and solution.

The experience of being mobbed is realistically and heartbreakingly shared in chapter 4 and chapter 5 goes to length to illuminate the negative consequences on the victim. “These injuries have an erosive quality on mobbing victims’ lives, infiltrating their social relationships, their beliefs about the world, and just about everything else” (p.91). however, mobbing has multiple secondary victims including family and workplace bystanders. Even organisations which are the “…incubators of workplace mobbing do not escape the negative effects of mobbing and are subject to a range of both direct and indirect costs as a result” (p.95).

As there is not a single best approach to mobbing recovery the authors have done an excellent job in identifying approaches to treatment in chapter 7 but brilliantly in chapter 8 they have shared a range of mobbing recovery tools. Mobbing is so complex, chronic and life altering that the process of recovering their life is also complex, chronic and highly individualized.

This book is unquestionably one you need to read if you have been or are or know of someone who is being mobbed. Don’t go it alone, help is critical to recovery.

Lastly and an issue tackled in chapter 9 is the issue of the organisation’s involvement in mobbing. More effort needs to be directed towards ensuring workplaces are healthy, that is “are respectful and accountable organisations that do not tolerate mobbing or any other form of interpersonal abuse or harassment” (p.163). There is a useful assessment of the health status of the workplace at the end of this chapter as well.

Sobering is the fact that “given the right constellation of individual, group and organizational influences, many if not most people could end up participating in ganging up and workplace mobbing” (p.183). Each one of us needs to be vigilant in this regard of which this book is an excellent resource to expand our awareness and understanding of mobbing.