The concept of mobbing, originally used referring to animals, according to the extract below, is now applied also to human beings, and is used specifically to refer to subtle aggressive behaviours in the workplace:

  • Konrad Lorenz, in his book entitled On Aggression (1966), first described mobbing among birds and animals, attributing it to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to survive.

  • In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann applied Lorenz's conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.

  • In the 1980s, professor and practising psychologist Heinz Leymann applied the term to ganging up in the workplace. Leymann noted that one of the possible side-effects of mobbing is post-traumatic stress disorder and is frequently misdiagnosed. After making this discovery he successfully treated thousands of victims at his clinic in Sweden.

Mobbing in the workplace:

  • British anti-bully researchers Andrea Adams and Tim Field have used the expression "workplace bullying" instead of what Leymann called "mobbing" in a workplace context. They identify mobbing as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as "an emotional assault". (Wikipedia)

I could not find evidence in any dictionary on the meaning and usage of "mobbing" with the connotation cited above.

The following piece may help understand why, but it refers to the year 2000, psychologicalharassment.com:

  • Strangely, recognition of Leymann’s discovery has been slower in coming to the English-speaking world. Newsweek published a popular summary of research on workplace mobbing in 2000, but only in its European edition. In Britain and America, attention has focussed less on mobbing than on the different but related problem of bullying, and, occasionally, on one of its extremely rare possible results: the outbursts of extreme violence, that from time to time make headlines across the country.


Is "mobbing" used in BrE and AmE to refer to subtle aggressive behaviour aimed at discrediting and causing psychological pressure in the workplace or is it still not used as suggested above ?


2 Answers 2


Wikipedia classifies it as pseudo-anglicism:

Mobbing (German, Norwegian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish) – bullying

According to this answer at Workplace.SE, the term is recognized within German law, and Mobbingberatungsstellen appear to exist across Germany (for example).

That explains why, even if recognized as a term by some psychologists, mobbing need not be understood in its meaning stipulated by psychologists by native speakers of English.

  • I probably should've asked at Worrkplace.SE, I didn't think about it. The question should probably be migrated.
    – user66974
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:10
  • @Josh61 If it is a language issue, it belongs here rather than there, I think. However, the word looks like legalese, following its origin in psychology, so the usage will probably follow from its incorporation in the regulations peraining to workplace. With that, Workplace.SE might help (especially as many users seem to be from the US).
    – anemone
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:18
  • What surprises me is the fact that it is common in Europe and in Italy too. Unluckily mobbing issues are more and more common and TVs and papers often talk about that. I can't believe that the same issues are not common in the UK or the USA, where they are probably referred to differently. But mobbing is different from bullying.
    – user66974
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:22
  • @Josh61 Anyway, if you migrate, please let me know, I'd rather delete this. (Or perhaps the mods will do that for me.)
    – anemone
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:23
  • @Josh61 I am no expert, but I think the issues themselves existed for centuries (as anyone knows who made their way through the schooling process. It is difficult not to notice the pattern). It's just that they are recently perceived as a problem, and classified in detail.
    – anemone
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:26
  1. In the US, Hostile work environment seems to be the equivalent of the phenomenon that is commonly called "mobbing" in Italy, and in different parts of Europe, which the OP refers to in his question.

In United States labor law, a hostile work environment exists when one's behavior within a workplace creates an environment that is difficult for another person to work in. Common complaints in sexual harassment lawsuits include fondling, suggestive remarks, sexually-suggestive photos displayed in the workplace, use of sexual language or off-color jokes. Small issues, annoyances, and isolated incidents typically are not considered to be illegal. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person. An employer can be held liable for failing to prevent these workplace conditions, unless it can prove that it attempted to prevent the harassment and that the employee failed to take advantage of existing harassment counter-measures or tools provided by the employer.

Source: Wikipedia

  1. In the UK, the government uses the following term

Workplace bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:

  • spreading malicious rumours
  • unfair treatment
  • picking on someone
  • regularly undermining a competent worker denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

Bullying and harassment can happen:

  • face-to-face
  • by letter
  • by email
  • by phone

The law
Bullying itself isn’t against the law, but harassment is. This is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:

•age •sex •disability •gender (including gender reassignment) •marriage and civil partnership •pregnancy and maternity •race•religion or belief •sexual orientation


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