History of the Workplace Bullying Institute

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice." - Robert F. Kennedy

Ruth Namie's pre- and post-doctoral career was spent in clinics treating individuals with chemical dependency problems. She was an effective and sought-after professional, enjoying respect from all supervisors. In 1995, she voluntarily transferred to a clinic that allowed her to return to helping families. Little did she know, her life was about to take a drastic turn. She soon encountered the boss from hell, a clinical psychologist named Sheila. The demise of her happy career followed the predictable stages we have come to document over the years.

Like all targeted individuals and their caring partners, we did not know what to call the irrational thunderbolt that struck Ruth without invitation or reason. Ruth called it harassment as per HR instructions. However, we learned the difficult lesson -- when the source of harassment is a person of the same gender or same race, it is legal and considered not worthy of consideration by HR.

After the family's recovery period, we found that the Brits called it workplace bullying; the Scandinavians called it mobbing. In June 1997, there was no U.S. organization dealing with it. So, we started the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying in Benicia, California.

The modest beginning was on our Work Doctor website. We began writing about every aspect of bullying that we could find. We relied heavily on the European and Canadian research, which had a decade head start on Americans.

The Campaign got its own website on Jan. 3, 1998 (bullybusters.org). It had grown to be rather encyclopedic. After all, Gary was an academic (still teaching in No. California to live) and determined to teach. Ruth saw the need to reach out to people harmed like she had been. We established a toll-free crisis line for those seeking validation and advice. We answered the number day and night, weekdays and weekends. It consumed us, both emotionally and financially. However, before we abandoned the goal of giving advice at our expense, Ruth and Gary had heard over 6,000 stories, most of which were told in one-hour blocks.

The first national press coverage for the Campaign came from the Washington Post, then USA Today as a special 1998 Labor Day feature. Callers flocked to us. We recruited volunteers to help with logistics and helping us respond to the hundreds of e-mail requests for confirmation that the sender was not crazy. Ruth ran a local support group and, under supervision, offered counseling to bullied clients.

Later, we would become known for our empirical quantitative research, but those first eight years, when we lived on the phone with others, we gleaned rich anecdotal information that no survey could yield. We had heard every conceivable and heart-breaking variation of bullying that exists.

Because of a pending Oprah appearance, we hurriedly wrote and published our first book in late 1998 -- BullyProof Yourself At Work. In 2000, the publisher Sourcebooks discovered us and bought the book that became The Bully At Work. The second edition of the book came out in 2009.

Additionally in 2000, in Oakland, CA, the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying hosted the first U.S. conference dedicated to workplace bullying. International colleagues blessed us with their in-person contributions [Charlotte Rayner from the UK, Michael Sheehan from Australia, Ken Westhues from Canada] as well as the only American academics working in the field at the time [Loraleigh Keashly & David Yamada]. A second conference in 2000 was hosted by the Suffolk University Law School exploring gaps in the legal system relevant to bullying.

The Campaign moved from Benicia, California to Bellingham, Washington in late 2001. Gary again taught university, capping a 21-year career. For Western Washington University, he designed and taught the first U.S. college course on bullying -- Psychological Violence At Work.

In Bellingham, the Campaign became the Workplace Bullying Institute because a team of volunteer research students made possible more survey research. WBI considers the production and dissemination of research a most important activity.

The WBI years have been a time of remarkable expansion -- both in scope of services rendered and staffing. First, we conducted major online studies starting in 2003, 2008 and 2009. These surveys of self-selected samples of website visitors (not scientific studies) were the largest samples of bullied targets to describe their experiences. In 2010, we began Instant Polling at the WBI website for snapshot views on bullying-related themes.

The most significant advance was the WBI affiliation with John Zogby, the pollster. In 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2017, WBI commissioned Zogby to conduct the U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Those surveys have become the "gold standard" in measuring bullying's prevalence among all adult Americans. Zogby's sample was a scientific (technically representative of the nation) one. The WBI prevalence stats are the most frequently cited in North America. WBI regularly presents its research papers and participates in symposia at various professional and scientific conferences around the world.

Beginning in 2008, WBI designed and delivered its first 3-day training program for professionals called Workplace Bullying University®. Attendees have included HR, union officers, trainers, consultants, managers, and psychologists. University is offered periodically throughout each year. The first Union-only University was held in Sept. 2011.

WBI began offering low-fee telephone coaching for bullied targets in 2009 by a licensed mental health professional trained by us in workplace bullying dynamics. Jessi Eden Brown, the WBI Coach, has now coached thousands of individuals.

Life took the Namies briefly through Boise Idaho in 2015-16 before an 18-month return to the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall 2016. We are now in eastern Washington state, near our third grandson.

In America, WBI was the first and remains the only organization that integrates all aspects of workplace bullying:  self-help advice for individuals, personal coaching, research, books, public education, union assistance, training for professionals, employer consulting, and legislative advocacy.


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