If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you’ve figured out that workplace bullying and related issues of human dignity at work have become focal points of my career. During the past 15 years, I have witnessed, and closely participated in, the forging of a grassroots U.S. workplace anti-bullying movement. I’ve also become part of a global network of educators, researchers, and practitioners who are responding to workplace bullying and mobbing through research, public education, advocacy, and applied best practices.
These experiences have been defining ones, personally and professionally. They have also taught me a lot about the challenges of organizing a movement and building public support for it. I’d like to step back for a brief moment to share some of those insights and observations, centering on the types of people who have been drawn to be a part of this. Concededly, these are fairly broad generalizations, and I apologize in advance to anyone who believes I’m overstating my points. But here goes:
The workplace anti-bullying movement is mature in its composition. It is comprised disproportionately of individuals who have been around the block, mostly in their 30s and beyond, extending through traditional retirement years. Almost all have experienced, witnessed, or otherwise dealt with workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, and as a result they tend to possess an instinctive level of understanding about the workplace and forms of mistreatment within it.
However, they often lack some of the youthful energies of, say, a group of twentysomethings who are ready to take the world by storm. Life gets busy and more complicated. Folks who are busy with work, families, and other obligations are less likely to be running up the steps of a state capitol building or picketing a bad employer on a regular basis.
Bruises and (sometimes) scars
As I and others have written over and again, severe, sustained workplace abuse can be destructive to personal health, livelihoods, and social relationships. The psychological injuries that sometimes result, such as depression and PTSD, are very real. The damage can spill into one’s home life, and adversely affect the well-being of family and friends.
For some bullying targets, getting involved in anti-bullying advocacy and public education work can be empowering. For others, it hits too close to home; the personal baggage is too raw. There is no reason for anyone in this position to apologize for that. The important thing is for each person to make self-care their highest priority.
Politically (somewhat) varied
On the political spectrum, it appears that the bulk of anti-bullying activists range from the center to the left. But there are plenty who regard themselves as conservatives or libertarians, and many others who do not identify with political labels. The diversity of political views and perspectives makes this, very honestly, a cross-partisan movement.
Many associated with this movement have learned the skills of public education and advocacy by trial and error. A good number of effective advocates had never considered themselves “activist types” before joining this movement.
When it comes to organizational support for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), we see clearer political lines being drawn. Labor unions, worker advocacy groups, and civil rights organizations constitute the overwhelming share of institutional endorsers of the HWB. Management-side trade associations tied to business and conservative interests are most likely to oppose it, sometimes vigorously.
The movement has a grounded, grassroots quality to it. It is not heavily populated by financial, political, or academic elites.
Even the leading North American educational and advocacy organization, the Workplace Bullying Institute, is a small operation led by a handful of core individuals. This is in stark contrast to other causes supported by large, well-funded centers and think tanks.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it is telling that much of the academic research concerning workplace bullying is produced by professors at regional and state colleges and universities, not the Ivy League or its equivalents. Many of these professors have had a fair amount of work experience before becoming full-time academics, and they are producing relevant, accessible research and scholarship. Practitioners in fields such as psychology, business management, and labor relations have brought their practical experience to the table in adding important findings and commentary to our understanding of these workplace dynamics and their effects on individuals.
I say with all fondness that we make for a ragtag bunch! It means, however, that the doors to boardrooms, executive suites, and halls of government do not automatically open for us. Nudging or pushing them open remains the ongoing challenge for this mature, bruised, cross-partisan, and grassroots movement.
Fifteen years ago, a form of workplace mistreatment that affected so many didn’t even have a label, at least here in the U.S. We’ve made a lot of progress since then. Stay tuned, there’s a lot more to come.
This post was slightly revised in January 2018.