According to current research studies, the incidence of mobbing in the workplace has increased. This paper demonstrates the mechanism and strategy of mobbing through the case study of a victim of mobbing. The aim of this paper is to present the issue of mobbing as a social pathology phenomenon occurring in the workplaces of different types and among employees of different levels of education. The important contribution of this paper is a case study (and its analysis) of a person who became a victim of mobbing in the workplace. The case study and its analysis show that the individual has certain possibilities of defence against mobbing in the workplace, but there are some significant limitations. Therefore it is very important to think about questions such as what a person can do to contribute to the reduction of the phenomenon of social pathology. Employees (and future employees) should have a broader awareness of mobbing and how to solve it. The incidence of mobbing in the workplace is a topic that requires foreknowledge and further research. Its mediator is an aggression which is a natural part of human nature. It always depends on whether the aggression is regulated in an appropriate way. It is often perceived negatively when it is used to control, abuse and harm people or to the self-destruction. If it begins to occur in the workplace, then it makes employees and the whole workplace inefficient.
Discussions about work-related environments often include the issue of mental and physical
health. In 1980s a new workplace-related psychosocial issue emerged called mobbing, i.e. bullying in the
workplace. Until then, bullying had been diagnosed mostly among youth or in military environments.
Currently, however, this issue also appears in work-related environments among adults, where this
phenomenon would hardly be expected (Huberová, 1995, Čírtková, 2008).
Explanation and origin of the term
The term mobbing comes from the English word ‘to mob’, which literally means to bother, annoy,
collectively attack, tell somebody off in a vulgar way, assault somebody. It includes psychological terror
in the workplace, systematic intriguing and bullying by colleagues (or colleague) in order to harm or
discredit somebody (Svobodová, 2008). Mobbing means that the victim is attacked systematically for a
longer period of time (at least once a week for six months). Mobbing includes psychological and
sometimes physical attacks. As a result, the victim of mobbing is often mentally and physically ill.
Mobbing means exclusion from a team of workers and subjecting the victim to extreme social stress. The
effects of such strong stress often lead to complete mental and physical exhaustion (Huberová, 1995).
There are more authors dealing with this issue. They include Lorenz, Heynemann and Leymann
(Beňo, 2003). Lorenz focused on the study of animal behaviour. He used the term mobbing in defining
animal territoriality. Many animal species live in their home territories, and when an intruder appears in
their territory, they attack it. These behaviours are especially apparent in animals living in packs, which
use mobbing to attack the intruder in order to expel it from their territory. The author makes an analogous
comparison between animal behaviour and human behaviour and mentions a known situation, when for
example the presence of a human intruder in a village party causes a fight. Another example is fighting
between groups of boys with antagonistic attitudes (e.g. from neighbouring villages).
In the area of human behaviour the term mobbing was introduced by Heynemann in 1960s (Kratz,
The third of the authors mentioned above Leymann focused on patients and clients with
communication and relationship issues in the workplace. The author performed a number of observations
and concluded that company employees often formed an ‘attacking pack’ against their colleague. He
started to call these behaviours mobbing in 1993 in Germany (Beňo, 2003).
Mobbing and its alternatives
As mentioned above, the term mobbing denotes mistreatment of a colleague. Currently, other
forms of systematic bullying are being developed, because mobbers’ fantasy has no limits. Some of them
are mentioned below.
Chairing: this is a form of bullying (mobbing) at the level of top management. It includes a variety
of unfair attacks, but also other methods and tools that top managers have at their disposal.
Shaming: the purpose of this type of bullying (mobbing) is to discredit the reputation of somebody
through gossip and unfounded facts. At the beginning these incidents might not deviate from standard
behaviour but later gain intensity.
Defaming: the aim is to discredit the reputation of a person through the media, such as television,
radio, internet or newspapers (Beňo, 2003).
Staffing: this is a type of bullying in the workplace (mobbing) by employees towards their
superior; The motive for this type of behaviour may be the employees’ effort to achieve various benefits
in the workplace, which are not consistent with the labour code or the working rules (Svobodová, 2007).
Causes and mechanisms of mobbing
The most frequent cause of mobbing is a conflict. However, each conflict does not lead to
mobbing. It always depends on the atmosphere, and whether the colleagues are able to agree. Most staff
believe that the main stressing factor is an unhealthy working environment, which is more serious than for
example time pressure. However, dangerous and irritable mood depends for example on work overload,
poor corporate management, competitive pressure and fear of unemployment, insufficient ability to deal
with a conflict, low level of ethics in the workplace, personality of the mobbed person, envy, etc.
The course and mechanism of mobbing includes several stages as follows:
the victim becomes the target of attacks, which are sporadic at the beginning but later become systematic,
the victim’s self-confidence and performance decrease, the mental condition and sometimes the health
condition deteriorate. The victim becomes defensive.
incessant problem in the workplace, is often sick, late, makes mistakes. This makes the management take
a closer look at the case. Seemingly it is simple – the problem lies in the personality of the employee, but
nobody sees (or wants to deal with) the fact that the person was driven into the situation.
employee is moved from one department to another, the employee’s competences are restricted, the
employee is subject to constant supervision, everything is getting ready for the employee to leave. To put
it simply, an unwanted employee must be get rid of, and if the victim does not want to leave voluntarily,
there is a variety of means of destroying him/her (Huberová, 1995).
To define typical perpetrators of mobbing is not a straightforward task. They are referred to as
‘masterminds’ if they are the perpetrators of mobbing, and ‘partakers’ if they participate in psychological
terror. A typical feature might be that they usually focus on the same gender (Kratz, 2005). They
constantly search for new and more effective weapons, which they use to systematically destroy the
victim: they even need not be imaginative, for example there might be new gossips emerging from the
victim’s private life. The victim becomes uncertain, less concentrated and restless, and starts to think
about the causes of these attacks. The performance of the victim decreases, the victim makes more
mistakes and is criticized for poor professional competence; there are also gossips from the victim’s
personal life. The victim becomes even more nervous, suffers from psychosomatic problems, and is often
sick; this becomes apparent to the superiors, which causes even more criticism. On a daily basis, the
perpetrator of mobbing searches for new inspiration to torment the victim, and finds other allies who also
want to get rid of the unwanted person. A vicious circle is formed from which there is no escape (Spurný,
It is true that the ingenuity of mobbers has no bounds but their strategies can be defined jointly for
Empirical studies conducted by the research team around Leymann defined more than 45
mobbing strategies (Kratz, 2005). Basic strategies include a large number of behaviours such as
in front of the superior in order to harm the victim and present oneself in a better light);
opinion, withholding or concealing new information);
and damaging documents);
Most frequent victims of mobbing
Those people who differ from others are at a greater risk:for example a woman among men, a man
among women, people with an apparent distinction (e.g. body weight, dialect, different nationality or
ethnicity), or successful people. Victims of mobbing are sometimes people who just started in their job
(and are different from the rest, for example higher academic degree, younger age than the average of the
team, etc.) A newcomer changes the existing environment, which some individuals might feel as a threat
to themselves and their developed positions (Buscotte, 2008). A critical situation might occur when a
superior gives a positive evaluation and prefers a newcomer to those who have been employed for a
longer period of time. This may relate to employees who are somehow special and have an introverted
personality. This also applies to employees who are more intelligent, capable and have a higher academic
degree than the rest of the team (Svobodová, 2007).
Consequences of mobbing
The consequences of mobbing differ; they can be psychological and physical (psychosomatic).
insecurity, helplessness, increased nervousness, anxiety, and psychiatric diagnoses (phobias, obsessions),
suicidal tendencies (statistical data shows that up to 20% of suicides are linked to mobbing) (Svobodová,
breathing, headaches, back pain, digestion disorders, dizziness, skin problems, etc.
The onset of symptoms depends on the type of mobbing various personality factors, and the
victim’s social contacts. Resistance to mobbing also depends on the victim’s frustration tolerance.
Important aspects include supportive family environment and good financial situation. If people are
financially secure, they do not need to stay in a working environment where they are subject to mobbing.
Lonely people are disadvantaged because after coming home from a stressful environment they have
nobody to support them and distract their fears (Comby, 1997).
Defence against mobbing
Psychological terror often catches the victim unprepared, because people do not usually start
employment with the idea of being mobbed. If the victims of psychological terror in the workplace are
women, they have a greater tendency to search for help and confide their problems to colleagues or
superiors. The best way to cope with mobbing is to take the initiative as soon as possible. If the victim
quickly recognized the threats and dangers, he/she is in a good position to avoid psychological stress,
which often leads to long-term (sometimes lifelong) health consequences. Probably the best situation is
when the victim can rely on the superior or has fair colleagues. However, if neither is available, the victim
must help himself/herself (Kratz, 2005; Pugnerová, 2006).
There are some rules that are generally applicable in dealing with psychological terror in the
workplace. However, before solving an unpleasant situation, the victim must ask himself/herself a
fundamental question of whether there is hope for amicable settlement.If yes, firstly it is necessary to
third step is to
decisions will result in a compromise (what might happen is that the employer does not accept any of the
proposed solutions, which results in further development of the conflict) (Buscotte, 2008, Pugnerová,
The employer is obliged to investigate any employees’ complaints relating to possible mobbing. If
the employer believes that the complaint is well-founded, the whole matter must be resolved.
Mobbing cannot be overlooked and is usually first noticed by the victim’s co-workers. However,
their involvement in the conflict might result in them getting into the role of victims. They can also act as
mediators in settling the conflict, inform other colleagues or subordinates about the conflict and its
development (Čírtková, 2008).
A different situation in addressing mobbing is when the victim sees that it is impossible to stop the
escalation of attacks against himself/herself. In such case the problem cannot be solved amicably and it is
time for self-rescue (Huberová, 1995). In the course of everyday situations it is already clear to the victim
that the superior’s criticism and number of complaints escalate and that everything leads to dismissal. In
these cases the victim should be advised by a competent professional – lawyer specialized in the issues of
mobbing. Recently, a frequent defensive measure against mobbing is legal action. In compliance with the
law, the employer is obliged to provide the employee with adequate working conditions (Barancová,
According to current research studies, the number of cases of mobbing in the workplace is
increasing (Čírtková, 2008). The present paper demonstrates the mechanisms and strategies of mobbing
through an analysis of a case report of an individual who was the victim of mobbing.
Based on the research problem, the following two research questions were formulated:
RQ 1: Is there a possibility for an individual to protect herselfagainst mobbing in the workplace?
RQ 2: Can an individual contribute to reducing the incidence of mobbing in the workplace?
Purpose of the Study
The objective of the present paper is to introduce the issue of mobbing as a socio-pathological
phenomenon in workplaces of various types and among employees of various academic degrees. The
paper is based on an analysis of a case report of an individual who became the victim of mobbing.
Mobbing is a problem in workplaces around the world. Surprisingly, it is spoken about little. An
important aspect is to acknowledge the problem, try to solve the problem, or even better, try to prevent
the problem. As far as mobbing is concerned, prevention is better than cure, because the presence of this
phenomenon in the workplace always leads to economic losses and especially psychological harm to the
victim. Therefore, another objective of the present paper is to raise awareness as one of the preventive
The present paper used the case report method. The case report is a scientific approach applied in
qualitative methodology. It is a specific psychological method including both the description and
interpretation of a particular case. The case report method may relate to an individual, group of people or
an institution. The purpose of the method is to help and compare similar cases (Hartl, Hartlová, 2004;
Kučerová, 2010). The case report (sometimes called case study) is a frequent method in clinical
psychology, but also for example in medicine, psychiatry, social work, law, ethics etc. This approach
focuses on a single case – all facts known about the case are clearly arranged and then analysed. The case
study method identifies some associations that might not be obvious at first sight and thus allows
thorough understanding of the case (Opatřilová 2008, Maroon 2008). The case report is based on the data
from psychological examination, observation, medical history or another educational-psychological
method. Some case reports are based on observation, which might take several years, while others contain
current information (Plevová, 2004).
The present paper uses the so-called personal case report (monitoring of a single person).
Case report: Mobbing in the workplace
workplace in a horizontal level – by her colleagues.
employed as a civil servant, good health, mother (56 years of age), secondary education, employed as a
rehabilitation nurse in the health care sector, good health. The relationships in the family are good.
history of culture), good health, without limitation, hobbies – sport (swimming), reading. Jana’s husband
Jaroslav (35 years of age), university degree, employed as a civil servant. Both live in the same household
and bring up two children (girl 7 years of age, boy 10 years of age).
and soon became pregnant, the second pregnancy came less than three years afterwards. After graduation,
Jana spent six years on maternity leave. Before the end of her maternity leave she found a job as a clerk in
the cultural department of the municipal authority in her place of residence. She was very grateful for the
colleagues and one manager. Jana quickly became familiar with the content of her new job and started
preparing for professional competence examination, which was required by the employer. In addition, she
tried to be a friendly colleague. All was going well. The colleagues were also friendly, the manager had
considerable work-related demands and kept distance, but Jana thought that was all right. After successful
completion of the professional competence examination Jana considered herself an equal member of the
management announced an ‘austerity package’ with possible staffing reductions in all departments. Jana
heard this information with displeasure and concerns, just as her colleagues did. Gradually, she began to
realize that (despite the previous friendly working atmosphere) right after the announcement of possible
staffing reductions she became the subject of gradual, slowly increasing pressure by her colleagues and
later the manager.
for poor work. Her colleagues made indirect as well as direct allusions that her position was redundant
and that she was a junior employee. When she asked her colleagues for help with work assignments, she
was refused under various pretexts. The workplace became hostile towards Jana. In addition to verbal
attacks, she received similar e-mails and text messages. Jana noticed that this behaviour is directed only
to her and that otherwise her colleagues had fair relationships. Everything culminated when she did not
receive important work-related information, which resulted in a failure to fulfil her duties. Soon
afterwards she heard rumour exceeding the scope of her employment. This related to systematic slander
including the style of her social behaviour, private life (stories about extra-marital affairs), and allegedly
disastrous upbringing of her children.
was not helpful at all and did not want to hear about any problems in the workplace. On the contrary, he
showed dissatisfaction with Jana’s performance of her duties (there had been no such complaints before).
When the situation escalated after Jana had not received (once again) the necessary information
which led to a failure to observe her duties, she once again tried to resolve the situation with the manager.
She explained to him briskly that she saw a deliberate action in this, and showed dissatisfaction with
being neglected just because she was a junior employee. At the same time she explained that she
understood the reasons behind the tension at the office (workplace). She also reminded the manager of the
fact that they were not a private company, where such practices would be easier to hide, but in a public
institution. The manager suggested that her behaviour was inadequate and argued that her working
position and university degree should be matched with a higher degree of independence, professionalism
and last but not least detachment and assertiveness. The manager refused to comment on the behaviour of
the colleagues arguing that he had not seen the disputes and that his role was to ensure official
functioning of the department, not a friendly climate in the workplace.
helpless and unable to do anything about the situation. After she heard the slander relating not only to
work, but also to her private life, she realized it was no longer acceptable. She was afraid to leave the
position, mainly because of her concerns about finding a new place. At the same time, however, he
resigned in all aspects. She no longer enjoyed her job, was full of fear, started to suffer from sleeping
disorders, was anxious and felt inferior.
criticism by the manager) continued, and Jana was called to the secretary, who told her without a sign of
interest that the manager’s assessment of her was very negative and that she was in the group of
employees who should consider leaving their positions due to absolutely unsatisfactory results of their
work. For the last time, Jana tried to defend herself. The secretary pointed out the difficult staffing
situation and confirmed his loyalty to the manager.
However, he was not willing to deal with the situation in an official way because he thought it would be
useless, and recommended his wife to hand in her notice and concentrate her energy on searching for
hand she felt incapable and humiliated, on the other hand she resented the practices she believed would
never be possible in a public institution among educated people. But eventually, when she was cut down
on her salary in the last two months and the attacks reached their maximum, she decided to hand in her
notice. She was not surprised that the notice was accepted immediately without any signs of gratitude and
with a commentary by the manager: “This has been the best of your ideas for months.”
Analysis of the case report – employee subject to mobbing in the workplace
The likely causes of mobbing in the workplace described above may be the chronological age and
length of Jana’s employment (probably the youngest member of the working team), and the novelty of the
job. Theory suggests that the usual causes of mobbing are competitive pressure and fear of
unemployment. This was also the situation in our case. The behaviour of the colleagues changed only
after the announcement of staffing reductions. According to theoretical assumptions, the victim of
mobbing is usually an individual who is new to a team of workers or who differs from the rest of the
team. This might include a higher degree, or younger age than the average of the team of co-workers. It is
because a newcomer changes the existing environment, which some individuals might feel as a threat to
themselves and their developed positions (Buscotte, 2008). Such risk was apparently posed by Jana. She
was young, flexible (completed her qualification in a short time), adaptable (she got quickly used to the
new team of colleagues), educated (university degree), and had a functioning family (full functioning
family with children). It is hard to distinguish who was the mastermind of mobbing and who were the
participants, because Jana did not highlight any colleagues in terms of the mobbing strategies applied.
This may be a sign of her generosity. This was probably an equal participation of mobbers, which
confirms the theory that women are very active and inventive in mobbing. This was reflected in the
strategies applied, which were dominated by ‘spreading rumour’ (firstly in the workplace – verbal attacks
and criticism regarding Jana’ poor work, later in her private life – stories about extra-marital affairs,
allegedly disastrous upbringing of her children), and ‘colleague isolation’ (when she requested help in
fulfilling her duties Jana was refused by her colleagues and did not receive the information needed).
According to theoretical assumptions, the consequences of these strategies are dangerous and put the
victim at risk in terms of maintaining the job and health. When rumour is spread, people who are not
directly involved might be hesitant about the truthfulness of such rumour. Moreover, when information is
withheld, the employee makes mistakes, does not fulfil his/her duties and is negatively assessed by the
managements. This happened in the case of Jana, who was told by the manager she was not a dependable
employee. This had a negative effect on Jana’s psyche, she became afraid of going to work, she was
anxious and felt inferior. Therefore, she attempted to resolve the situation. She still believed in an
amicable settlement. This shows that Jana tried to take a proactive approach to resolve the situation. She
spoke to the manager, but he suggested that she was not a trustworthy person (long-term criticism of her
work) and suggested that her behaviour was inappropriate. He showed no willingness to settle the climate
in the workplace and showed dissatisfaction with her presence in the workplace. By taking this negative
(passive) approach he became involved in the mobbing strategy (in his case we can speak about bossing)
of ‘spreading rumour’ by criticizing Jana’s work despite previous satisfaction. The strategy included
complaints to the secretary, who later suggested to Jana that she was not wanted in the workplace. After
the meeting it became clear that Jana can rely neither on the manager or her colleagues. In these
situations, victims must help themselves. According to the theory, important aspects include a sound
family environment and good financial situation. If people are financially secure, they do not need to stay
in a working environment where they are subject to mobbing. Upon consultation with her husband, Jana
handed in her notice, which was probably a wise solution concerning her deteriorating health and good
Before the research questions are answered, it is necessary to compare theoretical knowledge and
If the victims of psychological terror in the workplace are women, they have a greater tendency to
search for help and confide their problems to colleagues or superiors. The best way to cope with mobbing
is to take the initiative as soon as possible. If the victimquickly recognized the threats and dangers,
he/she is in a good position to avoid psychological stress, which often leads to long-term (sometimes
lifelong) health consequences. Probably the best situation is when the victim can rely on the superior or
colleagues. However, if neither is available, the victim must help himself/herself (Huberová, 1995).
According to the case report, the victim actively tried to defend herself against mobbing in the workplace
but faced resistance and disregard. Answer to RQ 1: Is there a possibility for an individual to protect
oneself against mobbing in the workplace? There are strategies to protect oneself against mobbing in the
workplace but very limited. One of the strategies is an assertive effort to resolve the situation although
this may result in failure. However, it is important not to be passive.
As far as mobbing is concerned, prevention is better than cure, because the presence of this
phenomenon in the workplace always leads to economic losses and especially psychological harm to the
victim. One of the prevention strategies is raising awareness about this problem (seminars and trainings)
or appointment of a person to deal with mobbing. These measures contribute to a healthy atmosphere in
the workplace. Psychological terror will hardly appear in a healthy atmosphere. An analysis of the case
report suggests that the victim tried to point out the problem of mobbing in the workplace during an
interview with the manager. However, he did not want to hear anything about the problems and took a
passive and negative attitude to solving the situation. Answer to RQ 2: Can an individual contribute to
reducing the incidence of mobbing in the workplace? An individual can contribute to reducing the
incidence of mobbing in the workplace, but this requires the support of the whole staff including
The analysis of the case report suggests that an individual has certain possibilities to protect
oneself from mobbing and decrease the incidence of mobbing in the workplace but with significant
limitations. Therefore it is very important to consider questions about what can be done to reduce this
socio-pathological phenomenon. It is desirable that staff (and future employees) have general awareness
about mobbing and relevant mobbing-solving strategies.
Mobbing in the workplace is an issue that deserves attention and further research. The vehicle of
mobbing is aggressiveness, which is a natural part of human behaviour. What matters is whether this
behaviour is corrected in an appropriate manner. Aggressiveness is considered negative when used for
controlling, abusing and harming other people or for self-destruction (Spurný, 1996). Mobbing includes
psychological terror in the workplace, systematic intriguing and bullying by colleagues in order to harm
or discredit somebody and cause damage. The analogous term, which describes bullying by a manager, is
bossing. The perpetrators of mobbing are both men and women. The victim of mobbing can be anyone of
any age, position or expertise. However, most frequent victims of mobbing are those who differ. The
consequences of mobbing include mental as well as somatic problems. If mobbing occurs in the
workplace, it makes both the worker and workplace inefficient (Čírtková, 2008). The case report
confirmed that there are defence strategies against mobbing but this requires an active attitude of the
victim. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee of success. All things considered, prevention is better than
cure. Once mobbing occurs, both the employee and the workplace become inefficient.
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Cite this article as:
Pugnerová, M. (2017). The Issue Of Mobbing In The Workplace. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), Political Science, International Relations and Sociology - ic-PSIRS 2017, vol 21. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 55-65). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.02.5