Psychological harassment or mobbing, a definition

Psychological harassment or mobbing is an unethical or destructive way of reacting to a situation or behaving towards a person.

Psychological harassment is defined as negative or hostile behavior by one or more persons, directly or indirectly targeting a third person. This is behavior that occurs repeatedly and systematically over an extended period of time, and is intended to attack or demean a person, to isolate or exclude them and to gradually force them out of their workplace or educational program. It refers to a combination of events which, when considered individually may appear harmless, but which through their repetition have a destructive effect on the targeted person.

Actions that amount to psychological harassment can take different forms:

Acts that are intended to infringe upon a person’s ability to communicate For example, preventing a person from expressing themselves such as by constantly interrupting or shouting at them. Social interaction that is intended to harm a person For example, refusing any contact with a person, not greeting them, ignoring them or acting in a way that excludes or isolates them. Attacks on a person’s reputation For example, ridiculing a person, spreading rumors about them, mocking or humiliating them or making insulting remarks. Acts that are intended to harm a person’s quality of life and professional performance or career For example, a person is assigned inappropriate, unsuitable or offensive tasks, is subjected to gratuitous criticism or is not assigned important tasks. Acts that are intended to harm a person’s health For example, giving a person an excessive workload, threatening a person or carrying out acts of physical violence.

Is it psychological harassment or not?

Not all unpleasant experiences can be defined as psychological harassment. However, situations that do not formally constitute psychological harassment may nevertheless generate mental or emotional strain and suffering. Try to gain a clear understanding of the situation, talk to the people around you and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

The following examples are not considered to be psychological harassment:

  • Expressing strong criticism
  • Unintentionally giving instructions in an untoward manner
  • Having a verbal argument or a harsh disagreement
  • Being in a bad mood from time to time
  • Requiring an improvement in a person’s performance

Further information – Switzerland

Further information

  • Responding to Hostile Behaviors, Science Education Resource Center (CERC), Carleton College, last modified: December, 2018.
  • Sexual Harassment of Women, Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Consensus Study Report, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018.
  • Changing the culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students, 2016.