When targets of workplace bullying become advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill

Last Thursday I co-hosted a meeting to start planning advocacy and public education activities on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill for the 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature. This will be the second session in which we have introduced the HWB. Working with co-coordinators Greg Sorozan and Deb Falzoi plus a growing number of fellow supporters, we are optimistic that we will build upon the progress generated during the previous session.

The making of advocates

At this meeting, as we sometimes have done at others, we quickly went around the table and introduced ourselves. Inevitably, we learned that many people in the room had experienced workplace bullying or witnessed friends enduring it. Not surprisingly, some tears were shed during these introductions.

Especially for targets of this abuse, the decision to become an advocate for law reform often requires courage and fortitude. Meaningful social change is often effected by those who have experienced injustice and mistreatment. In this sense, the decision to go from “victim” to advocate can be an empowering one, a personal statement that one will harness a terrible experience to help others.

Not for everyone

When bullying targets come forward to be counted among the voices for change, they lend incredible power to this movement. But the role of advocate is not for everyone. For some, their experiences are too raw, perhaps ongoing. As I told people in the room last Thursday, no one should apologize for realizing that it is too difficult to be involved in a broader cause; healing must come first. There is no shame in acknowledging this is the case.

An ongoing personal lesson, with thanks

I ask my readers’ indulgence in telling a personal story: Many years ago I arrived in Manhattan as a first-year law student at NYU Law School, full of intentions of becoming a public interest lawyer and political activist. Frankly I wore my change-the-world ‘tude on my sleeve — to the likely annoyance of some of my law school friends who didn’t share my worldview.

I suppose on paper, it appears that I stuck to those convictions. After graduating from law school, I worked as a Legal Aid lawyer in New York City, followed by several years as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State. I then entered teaching and continued to be heavily involved in pro bono and public interest activities.

But until I learned about workplace bullying and what it could do to people, I didn’t comprehend the vital link between shared experience, abuse, and the need for change, at least not in the way that one feels and understands something in the gut. When heart and mind connect on something like this, the light bulbs start going off at a furious pace.

So I want to thank those of you who are becoming voices for change because of your experiences with workplace bullying. Whether working in a more public or private manner, you are breathing necessary humanity into this movement and ushering us toward a better day at work for all.

10 responses

  1. Thanks as ever.

    There are several promising actions worth working on. Twitter and othe social media sites (like blogs of course) seem good ways of drawing attention of bullying.

    More spcific: anyone involved in leadership will find ways of speaking on ‘the truth that rarely gets mentioned’.

  2. David, taking the negative experience and using that energy to make a positive difference in the world of work is what keeps me going every day. Sure, I think about those dark days when I was under the shadow of a powerful, wealthy executive. The distance of time and making small gains every day in promoting positive people practices helps me to focus on the good in people.

    The motivation to correct wrongs is a powerful force.

    Thank you for your wonderful work.

    • Kevin, in addition to people becoming advocates for law reform, we need more people like you who are harnessing their experiences to create businesses that embrace the value of treating employees with dignity. The work you are doing in your community to educate business leaders serves as a powerful mainstreaming force for these messages.

  3. Until a Federal No Bullying Law is enacted, and until the crime of bullying is punished, innocent people will continue to suffer at the hands of those that bully with impunity, because they can.

    • Dear Target, I second that! You are absolutely right… “because they can!”

      I kept this issue in my email for reference; today, I was deleting my old emails and came across this one again. Ten months later it is still the truth! I am encouraged! We are moving forward that is listed on the Workplace Bullying Institute Web Site, Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie – In May, 2011, the Namies have a new book listed on their webpage. During this time, I have heard or read that this may be considered under ‘OSHA’ – The Federal No bullying Law, as you mentioned above.

  4. You’re right Target. The topic needs to reach the Federal (Congressional) level for law enactment in Washington. That would seem to be key. It’s my hope that when one state passes a bill, the domino affect will result (as Professor Yamada mentioned last Thursday), and other states follow suit shortly thereafter. Then, I think, and only then, will Washington start to listen…and that should be the ultimate goal.

  5. Thank you David for recognizing Targets’ contribution to the movement for a Healthy Workplace. Not everyone has the ability/resiliency to stand up or speak out against those who are bully bosses. Se of us do it not because we are courageous but because we are driven to speak out about injustice anywhere. In the matter of bully bosses, their acts cause not only temporary financial and psychological harm but often life long damaging effects that encompass the whole family. This amounts to terrorism, albeit psychological terrorism and is criminal. Until organizations admit that internal investigations of employee complaints are self-serving there will be no real change to stop the bully boss. Internal investigations have proven to be used only to further retaliate against the person complaining.

  6. Dear Marilyn, Referencing the time-frame that I am commenting listed above:

    I also second what you had to say! You are absolutely right… even after ten (10) months. Be encouraged; many of our eyes are opening-up and we are speaking-out.

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.. Marting Luter King

    “Dare to Read, Think, Speak, and Write”… John Adams

    “For evil to exist it only takes good men to do nothing”… Edmund Burke

  7. As a mother, I have always taught my kids that bullying is a “no-no” and that it hurts people. In turn, we encourage our kids to stand up for themselves and to report it or talk to us about it. Well, after being the target of a bully boss, the tables had turned and my kids witnessed the effects of bullying at work. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself mommy?” Powerful words coming from a 7 yr old. “I will stand up for myself peanut”. And I did / I am. Encouragement that not only benefits the soul, but valuable teachings in actions. Becoming an advocate for me not only shows our fellow workers these teachings but our kids that adults practice what they preach.
    Cheers, Carole

  8. I am looking to become a workplace bullying advocate. I want to make a difference and help the targets get through this epidemic of workplace bullying. I am currently being bullied in my workplace. It is so bad my health is declining and the bullies are getting away with it and as a reward are getting promoted. I am currently going through Governor Brown who has signed an anti-bullying bill but my workplace has no written policies of this and are allowed to violate policies that are in place anyway. So this bullying policy would just be violated as the other policies, so what is the point. I am so confused as too why no one enforces these policies. I am also going through a senator and assemblyman to get this ant-bullying policy in place and to get more involved with bullied targets. 😏

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