Workplace mobbing: Understanding the maelstrom

Illustration for Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom," by Harry Clarke (public domain)

Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Descent into the Maelstrom,” by Harry Clarke (public domain)

In the preface to their superb book, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014), Drs. Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry describe mobbing as a “complex phenomenon that happens in workplaces and in other settings and that involves individuals, groups, and the larger organization mutually influencing the behavior of one another.” They aptly distinguish mobbing situations from those of a “single bully or small group of bullies directing their aggression toward a hapless victim.”

In mobbing situations, targeted individuals often feel besieged as they face ongoing, seemingly constant, attacks from multiple sources. I find myself invoking the word maelstrom to characterize their experiences. It’s not a term that I often use, but when I consulted several dictionaries to verify that I was using it correctly, I found myself vigorously nodding my head:

From the MacMillan Dictionary:

a confusing, frightening situation in which there is a lot of activity and strong emotions

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

a situation in which there is great confusion, disagreement, or violence

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

a situation in which there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, etc.

Maelstrom indeed: Gaslightingbutton pushing, and crazy-making behaviors are the norm, designed to confuse, overwhelm, disorient, and instill fear.

Coping with a mobbing experience and assessing one’s options become at least slightly easier once the aggressors’ intentions and modus operandi are understood. That’s why books such as Maureen & Len’s Overcoming Mobbing can be so useful. Surely in this realm, as elsewhere, knowledge is power.

Overcoming-Mobbing-A-Recovery-Guide-for-Workplace-Aggression-and-Bullying-Hardcover-P9780199929559

7 responses

  1. I worked with Dr. Sperry and can vouch for his expertise and the real life experience we both encountered as far as our own organization goes.

    Dr. Steven Moffic

  2. Pingback: Workplace mobbing: Understanding the maelstrom | Substantial Disruption

  3. Thank you for posting on this topic and sharing this excellent resource. As a target of mobbing in a professional setting, I know the confusion, frustration. and desperation a target will experience trying to comprehend how skilled, mature, helping professionals can behave with such malicious cruelty. I have found Kipling Williams work on ostracism interesting, relevant, and very helpful.

  4. I plan to add the book to my arsenal of readings and spreading the knowledge. Mobbing is big in my department at Hunter College where I teach and bullying, especially by the administration, is a serious issue.

    When I started writing about my experiences on the College listserv, sent memos to administrators and eventually blogging frequently, it muted a lot of the attacks but not all. It made me more of a target with the administration (got hit with a bogus Violence in the Workplace complaint), alienated the faculty governing bodies (like the College Senate) but did get a level of support from the CUNY University Faculty Senate. I eventually started volunteering with the NY Healthy Workplace Advocates and started a moveon.org petition [https://goo.gl/uK0cM6] and will be delivering copies of the petition to the Chancellor’s Office and selected members of the Board of Trustees.

    In summary, I decided that fighting back and going public was the best way for me though the strategy has its drawbacks.

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