This week I had the pleasure of spending two stimulating, engaging days participating in the Bullying Research Network‘s annual Think Tank, held this year at Boston University. Based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, BRNET is the brainchild of Drs. Susan Swearer (Nebraska-Lincoln) and Shelley Hymel (University of British Columbia). Its primary focus is to support research concerning child and school bullying:
Designed primarily for researchers, the purpose of this Network is to promote and assist international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers. To facilitate collaboration, we have sponsored an annual bullying research Think Tank and compiled research, news, and resources that are shared online with our members.
Five years ago, Shelley and Sue started the Think Tanks “to discuss emerging research in the areas of bullying/victimization, school climate, peer processes, and effective prevention and intervention efforts for these areas.”
For several years I’ve been a nominal member of BRNET, but not until this local opportunity arose did I have a chance to meet some of these great folks and to get a bit more involved. Throughout the two days, I was a sponge, drinking in a lot of information on school bullying from leading researchers and evidence-based practitioners. On occasion, my expertise in workplace bullying contributed some (hopefully!) useful comparative insights to the exchanges.
Of course, in my head I was constantly comparing school bullying to workplace bullying. As I remarked to a few fellow participants, for someone steeped in workplace bullying, being in a room full of school bullying researchers was like an American’s first visit to England: In many ways the language is the same, but there are sufficient differences to remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Here are some of the takeaway points and insights that I gained from the two-day gathering:
- When it comes to conducting studies, the school bullying researchers have much greater access to educational institutions than workplace bullying researchers have to workplaces. Some are working with significant amounts of survey data drawn from multiple school districts. By contrast, the overwhelming share of American employers want nothing to do with opening themselves to studies of workplace bullying that will be published in research journals.
- Almost every state has enacted some form of school anti-bullying law, and these legal and policy measures vary greatly. Sooner than later, it will be possible to compare the efficacy of these different legal and regulatory approaches. By contrast, only within the last few years have we started to see the enactment of workplace bullying laws.
- In part because of these laws, school districts across the country are developing and adopting anti-bullying policies and intervention strategies. Here, too, there are, or will be, significant opportunities to compare approaches. By contrast, the current lack of direct liability for workplace bullying, at least in the U.S., means that employers are not fully incentivized to engage in effective prevention and response.
I also took note of concepts and ideas very evident in the school bullying discourse that should have greater presence in our discussions of workplace bullying. Chief among them is moral disengagement, a social psychology term that refers to the process of persuading ourselves that specific ethical standards should not apply to us in certain situations. Moral disengagement is frequently inherent in so much worker mistreatment, abuse, and exploitation.
On a personal level, I was very grateful for the welcoming atmosphere of the Think Tank that made it easy for newcomers to blend in and become a part of the group. It’s always a hopeful sign to experience a warm example of good, smart people walking the talk, and I look forward to staying in touch with them.
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