September 30th, 2015
Benicia to Bellingham to Boise — the WBI journey
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), which began as the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying in mid-1997, was born in the kitchen (a tad more comfortable than the garage) of our Benicia, California home. Benicia is in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Ruth had been bullied in the region at a psychiatry clinic in the state’s largest HMO. With the help of volunteers, the scope of our ability to help bullied targets took over our living and dining rooms. Our initial presence on the web was at workdoctor.com, then bullybusters.org. When Oprah called in 1998, we hustled to write our first book — BullyProof Yourself At Work. We published it ourselves and became way too intimate with giant rolls of bubble wrap and shipping envelopes. In 2000, the publisher Sourcebooks in Naperville, IL acquired an expanded version of that book. It became the book The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job.
In 2000, the Georgetown Law Journal published the seminal legal article on workplace bullying by Suffolk Law Professor David Yamada. As an early WBI affiliate-friend-colleague, Yamada wrote draft legislation that we dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill. It fell upon WBI to find ways to get the bill introduced in the states. California was the first to introduce it, in 2003, based on lobbying by WBI starting in 2001 when we were in California.
We left Benicia in 2001 to move to the great Pacific northwest, to Bellingham, Washington, a small town 18 miles south of the Canadian border. Dr. Gary returned to teaching university for two years (back to teaching youngsters and psychology again). There, he created and taught the first college course on bullying in the U.S. — Psychological Violence At Work. With lots of student help, the name WBI was adopted to reflect the expanded commitment to conducting research online. WBI was temporarily academic. After the stint ended, Gary returned to form, as a “recovering academic.”
The years in Bellingham were ones of continuous growth. Volunteers gave way to paid staff funded by speaking and consulting engagements. Calls from bullied targets came in monthly by the hundreds. Free advice was given to callers. Then, WBI hired a licensed counselor to offer fee-based coaching. Jessi still conducts coaching for those seeking her help. Between the Drs. Namie and staff, we have heard tales of bullying directly from over 10,000 individuals. No other entity can claim a comparable level of contact. Thus, we became the unrivaled experts in the bullied targets’ experiences.
In 2008, we designed the only comprehensive training for professionals in all aspects of the workplace bullying phenomenon — Workplace Bullying University®. Physicians, union officials, nurses, counselors, psychologists, attorneys, consultants, trainers and HR reps from around the world attend the quarterly sessions. We wrote the second edition of The Bully At Work in 2009.
On the research front, we conducted three national prevalence surveys that became the gold standard in the field. With help from talented staff, all websites were modernized, online surveys were conducted, and we developed products for the first time.
For employers, we wrote a book to guide their internal steps to eliminate workplace bullying (The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels & Snakes from Killing Your Organization. Wiley, 2011)
Pseudo-academic endeavors included making presentations in research conferences in South Africa, Berlin, Adelaide, and across the U.S. We also were invited to write chapters in academic texts. We published a few peer-reviewed journal articles.
Over the years, WBI, without resources to market its services, relied on media attention. The tally of interviews by print, internet, TV and radio outlets now number over 1,200, making WBI the dominant go-to resource to educate the public about workplace bullying and its consequences for workers and employers.
In 2015, Gary was recognized as one of the most influential organizational psychologists alive today (#5). He is still alive and writing this.
WBI’s third era began the summer of 2015. The Drs. Namie moved to Boise, Idaho. Two WBI staff remain in Washington. Others left to pursue personal goals and we were sad to part.
WBI continues to train professionals at University sessions and to conduct research.
The one-stop resource for bullied individuals remains this WBI portal website. But without employers changing their practices, targets are doomed to fight uphill, fruitless battles costing them their livelihoods and health.
2015 marked a change in emphasis. It is time to bring American employers into the movement. They must voluntarily do something about the plague that eats into their profits and damages workers’ health. Thus we are now focusing on services for employers. Employers will certainly comply when a law addressing health-harming abusive workplace conduct is enacted. We await the day. Until then, actions employers take are necessarily voluntary.
The Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in 29 states and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two states mandate training in abusive conduct (California – for supervisors; Utah – for all state agency employees). The full bill has yet to become law, but a strong network of volunteer lobbyists for the HWB works tirelessly every year in over 30 states. WBI coordinates the State Coordinators.
Thank you for 18 glorious years of support. And thanks to the wonderful folks in Bellingham who got us this far. You remain in our hearts forever — Dave, Jessi, Daniel, David, Noelle, Carly, Noel, and the student volunteers.
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