The quest to enact Healthy Workplace legislation, Part II: From individual targets to advocates for change

In our efforts to advance the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) in the recently concluded Massachusetts legislative session, we started getting feedback from folks inside the State House at levels of frequency and intensity that we hadn’t heard before: Your advocates are making a difference.

In other words, when our outreach coordinator asked HWB supporters to contact legislators at different points in the process,  those supporters responded by getting on the phone, sending e-mails, and scheduling visits. While we fell short of the success we had hoped for, at critical points the HWB made it to next procedural steps and overcame opposition because of the voices of our grassroots advocates.

This is a critically important development, and permit me to explain why.

Many advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill have experienced workplace bullying. In other words, they have been targets, and they know firsthand what this form of interpersonal abuse can do to people. They also understand how being bullied at work can be a lonely, isolating experience, especially when others around you dive for cover or start to keep their distance.

That sense of isolation can create self-protective barriers that may make it difficult for targets to participate in a movement to create legal protections against how they were mistreated.

And yet, we’re now seeing more targets coming out of the woodwork, joining with others to say that the law, among other societal institutions, should step in and draw the line against workplace bullying.

For many, it’s not easy. Sharing one’s story, even self-identifying as a target during, say, a phone call with a legislative staffer, means revisiting very difficult stuff. But those personal stories are helping to drive the forces for change.

Especially for those people, I hope that being a part of a broader response to their own terrible experience is a life-affirming way to make positive change. So many social movements leading to legal reforms — the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT movement, to name a few — have been fueled by people who have experienced injustice and abuse. Why not this one?

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Related post

The quest to enact Healthy Workplace legislation, Part I: Subtle progress in Massachusetts (2014)

 

6 responses

  1. Another reason individuals may hesitate to come forward is that bullying often includes psychological tactics intended to undermine the target’s confidence in his or her own perception of events & self. The more painful the experiences get, the more damaging it can be when a targeted individual tries to speak with someone who then dismisses him or her as overly sensitive, exaggerating, misunderstanding, or dismisses the example as not a big deal. Bullies are often experts at riding that fine line, as though this is a game. Consequently, the first fear to overcome in speaking out about the bullying is often the fear that a trusted other will “confirm” that the bully’s abuse is appropriate treatment for the target. The stronger the groundswell of support for those who have been targeted, the more individuals will likely come forward. Thank you for everything you’ve done to set that safe stage.

    • It usually takes several sessions for a bill like this (creating a significant new legal right) to gain support. Once that support starts to build, the opposition comes out, and that happened this session, especially with a major corporate lobbying group opposing it. Also, the House Speaker, who has tremendous power over what bills go forward, was not inclined to push us ahead in the last-minute rush of legislation that gets passed at the end of a session. I hope that we can do a better job of persuading him next time.

  2. (Corrected copy–sorry)

    Cheers for Laura Gilbert: “The more painful the experiences get, the more damaging it can be when a targeted individual tries to speak with someone who then dismisses him or her as overly sensitive, exaggerating…”. My psychologist friend, after reviewing my history of bullying and mobbing and pain and suffering, talks about my reactions of fear and anger and confusion as being “normal and natural” and that there is no excuse for the “medicalization” or the pathologizing of these normal and natural reactions under the circumstances.

    I wish the Workplace Bullying Institute psychologists would devise a script that could be sent to the American Psychological Association, and that targets could send to every local, county psychological association, as a heads-up about the pain and anger and frustration felt by bullying and mobbing victims. The script should encourage every professional psych group to form a voluntary coalition or committee to encourage targets/victims to send in their stories to this voluntary committee for the purpose of hearing out these workplace bullying victims and working to voluntarily do what they can for increased understanding and caring about not only the individual, but about how local groups can help build safer and more civilized and more viable workplaces in their community.

    David said, “The law, among other societal institutions, should step in and draw the line against workplace bullying.” The “law” is not only words in legislation, it is every lawyer and judge licensed to practice. Lawyer leaders like David should devise a script now that can be sent to the American Bar Association, and that targets could send to every local, county labor and employee bar, as a heads-up about the pain and anger and frustration felt by bullying and mobbing victims. The script should encourage every professional labor and employee bar member to form a voluntary coalition or committee to encourage targets/victims to send in their stories to this voluntary committee for the purpose of hearing these workplace bullying victims and working to voluntarily do what they can for increased understanding and caring about not only the individual, but about how they can help build safer and more civilized workplaces in their community.

    A politician recently reflected one of our most cherished values: “We are an empathetic people in this country and we don’t like seeing people suffer.”

    We need to encourage these professional groups to step up and make workplaces and their community safer, more civil and more just through a little bit of their voluntary efforts.

  3. Good morning,

    Recently I have escaped a very life altering experience involving workplace abuse that began in 2007. Several of the tactics used by individuals committed to professionally and personally destroying co-workers are fairly sophisticated and insidious. The psychological and emotional damage to my sense of self has been far greater than I thought.

    My immediate family wants me to put this behind me and move on. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. I am 54 years old and have spent my entire life in service to others. My professional career has been built on the “golden rule.” I can’t walk away from this experience without doing what I can to ensure that workplace bullying stops. I have no illusions about this being an easy battle but it must be fought.

    Mr. Yamada, I reside in MD and would like to know how I can help? Thank you for giving a voice and a platform for this terrible psychological violence that oftentimes madks itself as leadership.

    With All Good Wishes

    Kim Lee KF

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