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Dr Sophie Henshaw is a work stress strategist, author and doctor of psychology with a particular interest in dysfunctional workplace relationships. For the latest articles, please refer to her latest blog site:

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Workplace Mobbing Is On The Rise

Posted by on in Essential Anti-Bullying Tips
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Mobbing is “bullying on steroids”, a horrifying new trend whereby a bully enlists co-workers to collude in a relentless campaign of psychological terror against a hapless target.  It usually starts out with a bully targeting a victim and enlisting the help of others to collude with him in the bullying.  Targets are usually anyone who is “different” from the organizational norm.  Usually victims are competent, educated, resilient, outspoken, challenge the status quo, are more empathic or attractive and tend to be women, aged 32 to 55.  Targets can also be racially different or part of a minority group.

The target receives ridicule, humiliation and eventually, removal from the workplace.  It leaves the victim reeling with no idea what happened or why.  It takes away a person’s safety in the world, dignity, identity and belonging and damages his or her mental and physical health.  The effects also radiate outwards towards the target’s partner, family, friends and even community.

Because an employee is being targeted and criticized, he or she may be seen as a “troublemaker” by others and thus be ignored and isolated by otherwise OK people.  Former allies can thus turn against him and he is left socially isolated.  They think: “well, he’s being criticized by management, there must be something wrong with him and I don’t want to be tarred by the same brush!"

Gossip and innuendo spread behind closed doors before the target is aware of what’s happening, as previously loyal co-workers are enlisted to provide personal information that substantiates damaging rumours.  Often the person instigating the mobbing is emotionally immature and threatened in some way by the target.  People with personality disorders often employed tactics such as “splitting”, which pits members of a team against each other in order to exact revenge against a perceived slight or insult by the target.

At least 30% of bullying is mobbing and this tendency is rising.  In Australia, a government enquiry revealed that calls about workplace bullying had increased by 70% in three years.  Statistics show that bullying affects one in three employees; what is really worrying is that one in two have witnessed bullying but have done nothing about it.  Moreover, the actual incidence of bullying is likely to be much higher:  for every case reported, eight to twenty cases are going unreported (Faur-Brac, 2012).

Mobbing is more likely to occur when a number of workplace factors are present and understanding what they are can help to protect yourself from staying in, or taking a job in a toxic organisation.  For example, certain industries facing increased financial pressure because market demand is on the wane are more mobbing-prone.  These organizations are driven by the dollar and accountable only to shareholders and directors.  This creates toxic environments where managers turn a blind eye to bullying and mobbing and may even encourage it (Duffy & Sperry, 2013).  

Organizations that are driven by bureaucracy, for example government departments, are arguably the most toxic because they appear to have policies and procedures to ensure a safe workplace, but they will redefine bullying as a “personality conflict” and end up offering no real protection, even though they purport to.  In essence, bad behavior is tolerated and left to escalate.  The 2012 film, “Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal” is a fascinating portrayal of the ultimate in toxic workplaces.

In contrast, healthy organizations are accountable to a wider range of shareholders including customers, staff and community.  They also have values that are centered on caring for others (Duffy & Sperry, 2013).  

The best way to deal with workplace mobbing is to increase resilience, practice self-care and get out as soon as possible as it is often impossible to win against organizations that tacitly support mobbing.  Five steps that you must take to ensure recovery are:

  • Document EVERYTHING In Detail.  From the earliest signs of something “not quite right”, even if it’s just a gut feeling, keep a journal of all the incidents you experience.  The more evidence you have, the better your recourse to legal action later.
  • Give Yourself Space and Time To Figure Things Out
  • Seek someone in authority you can trust at work to disclose to
  • Seeking redress from the organisation might NOT be a safe first step for you to take
  • See a doctor for stress leave and a worker’s compensation claim 
  • Get A Recovery Team To Stop The Isolation
  • A Good Clinical Psychologist will help you develop recovery strategies, liaise with your doctor and lawyer, write a psychological injury report and advocate for you
  • A Good Lawyer will help you to initiate legal action
  • A Good Doctor will treat the medical repercussions of bullying
  • Family and Friends who understand, believe and support you
  • Make Self-Care A Priority
  • Focus on what you love
  • Engage in a daily spiritual practice
  • Good diet and exercise
  • Engage in Meaningful Life Activities
  • Set new goals:  new interests and career
  • Undertake creative pursuits
  • Focus on fun and laughter



Duffy, M. & Sperry, L.  (2013).  Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying.  USA:  Oxford University Press

Faure-Brac, J.  (2012).  A Slow Poison:  Behind The Alarming Statistics On Workplace Bullying Are Personal Stories Of Grief And Hardship, Revealed During A Parliamentary Inquiry.  




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Dr Sophie has experienced bullying both personally and professionally.  As a new psychologist starting out in a government organisation that had “a zero tolerance to bullying”, she was the target of a serial bully who was never held to account.  Professionally, Dr Sophie has treated many clients suffering severe and chronic symptoms of depression and traumatic stress as a result of being bullied. She has also conducted numerous interventions in workplaces with organisational cultures vulnerable to bullying.

Dr Sophie graduated from Murdoch University in Perth, WA in 2000.  She initially worked in a variety of settings including maximum-security prisons, private hospitals and with GPs before going onto full-time private practice in 2005. 


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