June 7th, 2010
Workplace Bullying Academics Meet-Up in Cardiff
The premier academic workplace bullying group ended its biannual 3-day conference in sunny (as rare as that was) Cardiff, Wales in the UK with 230 attendees from 30 countries. The conference was hosted by Prof. Duncan Lewis from the University of Glamorgan who treated us visitors to some real Welsh culture, humor and warmth. It was a unique gathering of like-minded people, mostly academics working in universities and a growing number of practitioners — therapists and consultants. WBI was there.
This event marks the international movement’s 14 years of existence. The group providing direction for the movement is the International Association of Workplace Bullying and Harassment (IAWBH). For the worldwide phenomenon that workplace bullying is, the number of individuals intimately involved in studying, preventing and correcting it is a relatively small. But the movement grows. An even larger and more diverse group is expected in 2012 in Copenhagen when the 8th conference convenes.
Here are my brief observations about conference themes and outcomes.
The Science Mounts
141 papers summarizing countless studies and solutions from social and management science academics added to the growing body of literature in the field. There are three primary customer groups that need the information.
First, bullied individuals will benefit. The users of this website’s Research Library know that the newest information can often be personally useful to alleviate the pain. Family members and doubters also can read the studies for themselves to gain validation about the seriousness of bullying’s impact on the target and those who love him or her. We will be adding to the online Library in coming months thanks to the conference.
Second, for the few who mount a lawsuit, scientific findings can be used by your attorney and expert witnesses to bolster your case, countering the employer defense that you lie about your experiences.
Third, lawmakers at the state and federal level need convincing that bullying is a serious public health threat. Out of this conference comes even more evidence that worker health and safety are compromised by bullying. And co-worker witnesses don’t do so well either. Science should trump political nitpicking or scaremongering. But I realize we are in America.
Brit Unions Still Lead
UNISON, the largest UK public employees’ union, conducted a study of bullying within its membership a decade ago and repeated the survey recently. A paper by the union and Prof. Charlotte Rayner found that bullying rates had doubled in that decade. UNISON plans to use the findings to work within the ranks and with partnering employers to curb bullying. I like the union commitment, even though 20% of the bullying is member-on-member. A keynote address by Rachael Maskell from UNITE, a UK union affiliated with USW in the U.S., was inspiring. Again, there was an unequivocal commitment to eliminating bullying by organizing workers around the topic (an activity AFGE officer emeritus Carol Fehner suggests in our Union section), compelling employers to ensure their duty of care to protect worker health and safety, and being involved in all aspects of bullying in the workplace. In 2012, I hope there are U.S. union success stories to present.
Euro Legislation Sets the Standard
Of particular relevance to the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) Legislative Campaign were several sessions reviewing laws in Quebec, France, Brazil, and Italy. Prof. David Yamada, author of the U.S. HWB, put our bill into the context of worldwide progress. Remarkably, most applicable laws in other nations are fraught with ambiguity and imprecision. What has changes is the courts’ (judges’) interpretations of them. In France, lower courts have slowly raised the standard for plaintiffs as originally written in the laws. So, the highest court has admonished lower courts and restored employee rights. For this reason and many others, the U.S. still lags far behind by not having any comparable laws. The reports led me to redouble our efforts to enact the HWB here in the U.S.
Americans on Board
David Yamada delivered an informative keynote (download it here) on international laws regarding workplace bullying. I’m proud to have literally joined the Board at the Cardiff conference. My keynote address was completely non-scientific. It was about “Re-Framing the Message” for the necessary America revolution ahead. You can download it here. Make no mistake, we Americans are late-comers to the IAWBH party that began humbly in 1998 in Staffordshire, England.
New Grad Students
The leaders of this movement, like yours truly, are getting long in the tooth. A transfusion is coming thanks to a new generation of graduate students – both young and older people – pursuing doctoral degrees in the field. And no single lab produces more doctorates than the Bergen (Norway) Bullying Research Group, led by Prof. Stale Einarsen. Of the 33 students who attended the pre-conference program for doctoral students, four were Americans! They are “in the pipeline” and will make their mark as young academics in U.S. universities, reversing years of biases faced by the pioneering students of years past. WBI will assist these aspiring American scholars in any way it can. Contact us. Remember, for me to be a “recovering academic,” I had to have been one in the past. I know what you are going through. I can support you.
HR Must Change
The IAWBH conference is not an HR conference. But HR is increasingly asked to join us at the table. Frankly, the empirical findings do not currently paint a positive portrait of HR’s ability to stop bullying. The HR problem may be less a matter of willingness than a lack of internal political clout to effect requisite changes. CEOs would have to trust HR more to allow them to stop bullying. Nevertheless, in the face of lots of criticism of the HR function, a few brave individuals did present research from an HR perspective. Those people, like Gabriele Murry (from Germany) deserve our support because they are truly appalled that bullying is done with impunity. We welcome HR professionals who “get it” and do not blame targets for their fate.
Dr. Gary Namie, WBI, June 7
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