January 15th, 2018
Many are hoping that 2017 represented a turning point in the fight against workplace harassment, as the #MeToo moment put a spotlight on sexual misconduct. Now some labor advocates are hoping that the momentum of #MeToo helps to fuel an additional campaign against a different and overlapping type of harassment: workplace bullying.
While there’s been increased attention paid to the bullying of children in recent years, there hasn’t been the same kind of focus on bullying among adults, but statistics indicate that it’s a major problem. According to one 2008 study, nearly 75 percent of participants have witnessed workplace bullying at their job and 47 percent have been bullied at some point in their career. Another 27 percent said they had been bullied within the last 12 months. In a 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 72 percent of the respondents said that their employer either condones or encourages the behavior.
There’s no universal definition of it, but the WBI defines it as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:
– Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
– Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
– Verbal abuse.
WBI sprang from a campaign that was started by Ruth and Gary Namie, a husband-and-wife team of psychologists. In the late 1990s, Ruth worked in a psychiatric clinic and was bullied by her supervisor. To their surprise, the Namies discovered there was very little Ruth could do about the situation. Employment discrimination laws existed, but they didn’t cover things like your boss screaming at you daily or a co-worker trying to sabotage your imminent promotion. If you hadn’t been targeted for abuse because of your race, sex or national origin, or because you blew the whistle on something related to the company, there wasn’t a legal avenue for you to pursue.
The Namies also discovered that there were no organizations working on the issue in the United States, so they started the Work Doctor at the WBI website, where they wrote about the issue, drawing heavily on existing research from countries where it was taken seriously (such as Sweden, Belgium and France). They also created a toll-free hotline for workers to call, counseled thousands of people on the issue, and hosted the first US conference dedicated to the subject of workplace bullying.
At the end of 2001, the campaign moved from California to the state of Washington. At Western Washington University, Gary Namie taught the first US college course on workplace bullying, and the campaign evolved into WBI after a group of research students volunteered to do more survey research.
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