The Craziness of Workplace Mobbing

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Workplace mobbing can make you feel crazy.

Mobbing, also called bullying by a group, is all too prevalent in dysfunctional workplaces.

It has many negative effects including impeding the productivity and harmony of an organization, causing health problems and PTSD in those who are the targets (scapegoats) and even in those who witness it.

But one of the worst, sometimes hidden, impacts of being mobbed is that the target often starts to feel crazy.

The actions of the mob in ganging up on you sound unbelievable and paranoid; it’s hard to even believe it yourself much less describe it effectively to other people.

I recently realized this aspect more deeply when I sat down and for the first time wrote a completely detailed account of my own experiences of being mobbed as a tenured professor at a community college. Although I have written blog posts on this topic and contributed to a book on workplace bullying, I had never before sat down and written all of it, every egregious action and event. I cried and shook as I typed the twenty-page draft, despite the work I had done to heal my PTSD previously.

When I finished writing and reread it, my first thought was, “No one will believe me; it sounds too crazy.”

But I realized almost immediately, one of the great gifts I give to clients dealing with mobbing is that I believe them. Even friends and loved ones who care deeply about the person who is the target, can’t really understand the hell that they are going through. Unless you have experienced it yourself, it’s hard to believe the level of petty and enormous malice that a mob is capable of in a work situation where they feel threatened or somehow you have become a scapegoat.

Here are some true but crazy-sounding ways mobbing has shown up for my clients and me:

  • Email malice: one of my clients was taken off distribution lists for meetings she needed to be at. And, her email account was hacked and messages sent from her account that she hadn’t authorized or sent.
  • Denial of opportunity: Another of my clients, a young, very competent woman of color, was denied opportunities for assignments and projects, which were given to less qualified people. She was later demoted. Other clients were removed without explanation from projects they’d been assigned. Another client, a biologist, was given secretarial work instead of research and fieldwork assignments.
  • Making people invisible.
    • Leaving someone out of a department group photo, then claiming they refused to be in the picture.
    • Not calling on them in meetings or “forgetting” about their report
    • Praising someone else who proposed the same idea as they had earlier.
    • “Forgetting” their accomplishments and leadership.
  • Lies and more lies:
    • Making up stories that someone is crazy (when they report what happened or have an emotional reaction to being abused).
    • Telling co-workers(falsely) how awful someone is and warning them not to work with him or her.
    • Making false accusations that damage the person’s reputation and require tremendous effort to counter.
    • Direct insults, thinly disguised contempt, jokes at their expense.

This is in no way an exhaustive list; just examples from my own situation and clients I’ve worked with.

What can you do to help yourself or others?

  • If you are yourself being mobbed, acknowledge it and get help! No one can deal with this all alone. You need strategies, loving support, and possibly an exit plan.
  • If you witness mobbing, speak up. Depending on the situation, you can offer support to the target, offer a safe ear and place to vent, intervene and complain about their unfair treatment to management, shut it down.
  • If you are coaching or counseling someone who is being mobbed, they need validation, support, strategies, and trauma work.

As I know from my own experience and that of some of my clients, healing and rebuilding a career or finding a new one are absolutely possible. But keeping it a secret and trying to deal with it alone can be a recipe for disaster and for ongoing psychic damage.


Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal, M.A. is a Conflict Management and Communication Consultant, Coach, and Trainer. Through her own business, Conflict Remedy, Ms. Segal works with corporations and non-profits as well as governmental entities and individuals to promote harmonious and productive workplaces.  She is a consultant and trainer for County of Sonoma. And, at Sonoma… MORE >

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