Workplace bullying: Blitzkrieg edition

Image of German Stuka dive bombers from

Like all types of interpersonal mistreatment, workplace bullying and mobbing come in varying degrees of frequency and intensity. All are bad, but some are worse than others, and in some cases, much worse. For a long time I’ve been thinking about the right term to describe a particularly virulent form of all-out, coordinated or semi-coordinated, multi-directional work abuse, and I think I’ve found it: Blitzkrieg bullying or mobbing.

Blitzkrieg is a German term meaning “lightning war.” As defined by historian Raymond Limbach for Encyclopedia Britannica, blitzkrieg is a “military tactic calculated to create psychological shock and resultant disorganization in enemy forces through the employment of surprise, speed, and superiority in matériel or firepower.” He continues:

Germany’s success with the tactic at the beginning of World War II hinged largely on the fact that it was the only country that had effectively linked its combined forces with radio communications. The use of mobility, shock, and locally concentrated firepower in a skillfully coordinated attack paralyzed an adversary’s capacity to organize defenses, rather than attempting to physically overcome them, and then exploited that paralysis by penetrating to the adversary’s rear areas and disrupting its whole system of communications and administration.

I think it is wholly fitting to borrow a concept honed in practice by the Nazi regime to tag this form of intensive, targeted bullying or mobbing. After all, those who engage in this form of work abuse operate at a comparable level of morality: They are out to eliminate someone through aggressive, heartless, disorienting actions.

True, blitzkrieg tactics are historically associated with strategies to achieve fast, decisive victories, with a minimal expenditure of personnel and arms. In that sense, some might understandably respond that by comparison, bullying and mobbing campaigns may endure for months or years. I take the point, but blitzkrieg tactics also can be part of military campaigns that go on for some time.

In thinking about bullying and mobbing situations that merit the blitzkrieg label, I find that various combinations of following actions are often used:

  • Gaslighting behaviors meant to confuse and disorient
  • Eliminationist tactics such as blackballing
  • Electronic surveillance and hacking of electronic accounts
  • Using the legal system to abuse the target
  • Button pushing to trigger or provoke the target into making mistakes
  • Defamation and misrepresentation, often extending into the broader workforce or even community
  • Breaking and entering into a target’s premises
  • Vandalism, theft, and property destruction
  • Anonymous messaging and threats
  • Abusers claiming victim status

Bullying and mobbing motivated by retaliatory instincts can yield especially vicious forms of the above.

By using these tactics, abusers aim to disorient, confuse, frighten, weaken, and ultimately disable the target. As one can guess, it is very, very hard to fight this level of abuse. Sometimes it can be done, but it takes calculation, knowledge, and strategic smarts — qualities often in low supply when someone is being overwhelmed and their cognitive skills are frequently impaired. This is where friends, family members, and allies come in to provide support and assistance, but only if they understand that this form of blitzkrieg abuse is very, very real, even if the story at first sounds “crazy.”

As I see it, we need to understand more about blitzkrieg abuse and how perpetrators get away with it, for it surely captures the worst forms of bullying and mobbing. It also underscores the need for workplace anti-bullying laws that give targets a legal weapon to use in response. Such a law may well open the door to procedural discovery (document requests, depositions, interrogatories, etc.) that will help a target build an evidence trail, which, in turn, traces back to the main ringleaders.

Related posts

Workplace bullying, psychological trauma, and the challenge of storytelling (2016)

Workplace bullying, blackballing, and the eliminationist instinct (2015)

The bullied and the button pushers (2014)

Workplace gossip: From intelligence gathering to targeted bullying (2014)

Understanding the Holocaust (And why I’m writing about it in a blog about workplaces) (2014)

When workplace bullies claim victim status: Avoiding the judo flip (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012; rev.2017)

“Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (2012)

19 responses

  1. Excellent post…… hit it out of the park! I’m glad to see our researchers on this horrific human rights violation have discovered the very roots of this form of evil in the world!! Great work! The cockroaches usually scatter when the light come on! I received an anonymous message one day on my company provided corporate phone, it read…….RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN
    Executive Order 11246, as amended, prohibits job discrimination on the basis
    of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and requires affirmative action to
    ensure equality of opportunity in all aspects of employment.

    • This bullying/shunning/gaslighting (etc.) problem needs to be tested in court. First, I suppose the discrimination laws need to be revised to include this (added to Race, Color, Sex, etc.) Has it been tested?

  2. I am the living result of workplace mobbing. Nine years later I still suffer the after effects. Some may call it PTSD- I still feel saddened and hurt when I realize what the worker(s) at my place of employment so heartlessly did to me. 😦 I was definitely mobbed. Days would go by and no one spoke a word to me. The ring leader left awful reviews and never would meet to discuss these evaluations with me. It only got worse so that each morning I entered my room, I felt I was entering a strange place, though I had worked there for nearly five years. 😦 I even got the book on workplace mobbing and sent it as a retirement gift to the mobster leader. 😦 It’s real and it must stop. Lives are altered and forever changed mostly for the worst. 😦

    • I’m sorry you went through this. There were staff members who would never talked to me; those who did would only criticize. Shunning should not be allowed in the workpolace.

      Did your mobster leader thank you for the book? Acknowledge it?

      How did you manage it for five years? Personally, I had to make a choice: stick it out and risk a stroke or heart attack or resign or fight back and risk termination. I was terminated (no reason given).

  3. I suffered the gaslighting (attempts to confuse me by withholding information, etc.), shunning, bullying, etc. for four months. I am only now getting some of my energy back, and it’s been four monts. I expect the experience (which caused high blood pressure) will continue to affect me for a long time to come. There’s some comfort in knowing others have also experienced the harassment, but I won’t stop trying to get this work tactic outlawed and the bullies reprimanded or terminated.

  4. great post! it can happen to anyone who happens not to fit in perfectly with the mob mentality. for those of us suffering in these unpredictable “eggshell”workplaces we really appreciate your awareness!

  5. Good Day David — I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, which I discovered about a year ago. The harassment techniques you describe are classics with the agency I currently work for (USDA Forest Service). I’m glad to finally see names identifying these behaviors.

    I have a question for you. Strategically, how does one fight the federal government, who can out gun and simply out-wait most people? As a fairly new employee (5-years) to this agency, I’ve been hit by on-going retaliation since I filed an EEO complaint in 2015.

    I can retire in July 2018 as a 56-year old with 30 years and that’s what I now want to do to get away from these nasty people. But I’m sensing the agency is trying to get rid of me sooner because right now my supervisor is proposing a 2- week suspension for a situation where, if the law was violated, she did the violating. No matter what I say in my defense, the person who will approve this “suspension” is a member of management at the regional level – and once progressive discipline begins, it’s much easier to fire someone.

    Any advice to out-maneuver this type of behavior? I’m wondering whether I ought to complain to Congressionals. It’s almost impossible to garner sympathy or support as a federal employee; although the public should be aware that it’s an 1) incredible waste of tax-payer money attacking employees for whistleblowing, and 2) the fact that the primary role-model for EEO behavior and non-retaliatory behavior should be the federal government. Suggestions?


    • Please complaint to legislators, state and federal. We need protection from bullies at work. Ask them to propose a bill outlawing bullying in schools and at work. Every state should have such a law on their books.

  6. In my experience, the bullied target becomes so bewildered and ill through this outrageous workplace abuse that she has no idea what is being done to her. The inability to identify and name the abuse as it is happening, (expertly administered through years of practice), and the subsequent and unavoidable breakdown in the target’s physical and mental health, renders it almost impossible to seek legal redress. As a result, employers are able to abuse a succession of staff with near-impunity. Bullies only target decent people with no experience of Blitzkrieging. Bullies, base cowards that they are, don’t foolishly target employees who have similar (almost-psychopathic) personalities as themselves as they intend to succeed.

    Bullies remind me of my cat patting a spider, fascinated by its feeble struggles to escape, and losing interest when it died. My cat, animal that he is, would not have been so foolish as to attempt to torment a spider the same size as himself. So it is with workplace bullies. Whatever sick thrill they experience through destroying employees has to be repeated over and over, honed and perfected, enjoyed through improved technique. Through practice and repetition my cat became a better hunter of spiders: so it is with bullies everywhere.


    • One of the tactics at my former workplace targeted the ward clerk. They would “mis-file: papers in the binders (charts — she was responsible for assuring they were filed in their correct place), so she told the three of them: Don’t worry about it, Ladies. I ‘ll file the papers myself. Just put them in my inbox. I know what’s you’re doing, but I’m not leaving, etc.”

  7. managed to survive attempts to kill me and all the rest of it as described for almost 7 years…actually longer…fell apart…anybody had any success in recovering?

    • Recovery is a long process. Filing a discrimination suit prolongs it but gives some satisfaction. Preventing it: telling prospective employer at interview: “I do not want to ever work in a hostile environment again” might work. But if they have the problem there and won’t address it, they won’t hire you or you might experience the same problem. Targets are kind, hardworking, have high values, are goal-oriented, want to do a good job, etc. just the opposite of the bullies.

  8. This article accurately describes the workplace mobbing I was subjected over a period of several years, and pending EEOC litigation and case. I was also employed by a Federal Agency as an Attorney nearly 30 years. My home was also broken into more than once; home and office computers hacked; the target of vandalism and property destruction, including breaking my electric meter on a cold night in December which left me without power and expensive repair costs; years of stalking, and even terrorizing in wee morning hours; suspected poisoning of numerous trees on my property over a period of several years; and the list goes on and on. Domestic violence is also an underlying theme in my workplace mobbing. When I filed for divorce more than 25 years ago, my ex was hell bent on destroying my job and career, and went to great lengths to do just that. He knew many of my coworkers better than I, and enlisted then by proxy to do any and everything possible to cause me to lose my job. Not only did these coworkers meddle in the divorce where my ex represented himself, but they obstructed it, and I would learn years later, provided legal help and financial assistance to me ex. My ex never worked during the near decade long marriage despite having an advanced degree. We had no children or real property. Yet, because of what my coworkers did on behalf of my ex, my divorce was appealed through the State Supreme Court, and caused me to incur thousands and thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Unbeknown to me, these coworkers defamed my character and reputation throughout the entire chain of command in this Federal Agency. I did not realize this until my pending EEOC case began 4 years ago. This original gang of coworkers also enticed newcomers to shun me through the years lest they would become the next target. Many of these same coworkers with much less Agency specific experience than I were eventually promoted to power positions above me, even though I helped hire and trained several of these individuals. Once they moved into these power positions, I was illegally forced out of my job and career of nearly 3 decades. Thankfully, I am able to claim certain protected statuses under Title VII, particularly disability. I amended my EEOC complaint to add sex discrimination in the context of sex stereotyping and domestic violence in an effort to tie in my exe’s conduct and ability to entice my coworkers to engage in the reprehensible acts they engaged over a period of many years. The “Blitzkrieg” mobbing described in this article the most accurate description of my mobbing and pending EEOC case. Even though my EEOC case began 4 years ago, I have not even seen the EEOC Judge yet. There were numerous attempts to derail my case by EEO Agency employees. Although I am aware criminal investigations were conducted, I have never been privy to the information obtained by investigators, and my Agency quietly published an unannounced Federal Regulation this month to prohibit legal investigatory material from hostile work environment cases from being obtained pursuant to the Privacy Act. Of course, I requested this very information 4 years ago in several court documents. David, your blog has been a lifesaver for me, and I am so thankful I discovered it fairly early on in my case.

  9. Great job portraying the Nazis as the ultimate bullies to illustrate the workplace bullying epidemic. Many of your blog posts are thought-provoking. All are worth reading.

  10. It happened to me. From a detached view of enjoying studying human behavior and dynamics, it was fascinating and bizarre. Mostly it was debilitating. All the planets lined up, playing their part. The incompetent boss who could deal with no level of conflict, the two best friends colleagues in all their narcissistic and sociopath glory, the flying monkeys either being tricked into doing their bidding or participating for safety. Participating meaning being active bystanders, allowing being an endorsement. All of this and more to observe but sheer hell to go through for…. fourteen years. Yet it was a time of discovery for me. I struggled to find my part in all of this, for I was the selected target and I wanted to know why. I found out a lot about myself when I reflected upon what triggered my emotional reactions, as well as addressing my childhood and embedded beliefs I had about myself that were not as healthy as they could be. All in all, I still struggle with the cruelty of what happened in the workplace for it diminished a certain amount of faith I had in human beings, but from what I’ve learned I think that I am better for it.

  11. Very well done. You’re truly gifted in your wisdom and understanding of all this. I would often mention of this type of thing and similarities between it and Nazi Germany. Breaking down wonderfully and perfectly how its all done and the different roles. God bless you dearly and deeply as you write with your heart and passion and absolutely amazing insight.

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