“How can I make a living doing workplace anti-bullying work?”

Webpage for Workplace Bullying University training program, facilitated by Dr. Gary Namie

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations and exchanges with folks about options for making a living doing workplace anti-bullying work. My upshot? One should first look to incorporate workplace bullying and mobbing projects and initiatives into an existing work portfolio, in a compatible vocation. In some cases, a career transition into a field where one can do this work is a possibility. Otherwise, it is more realistic to be doing anti-bullying work as a meaningful part-time avocation.

In essence, creating work opportunities in this realm requires two major elements: (1) a relevant vocation; and (2) specialized knowledge.

Vocation

The first key piece involves pursuing a vocation relevant to addressing workplace bullying and mobbing. My short list includes:

  • Mental health professionals, including licensed counselors, social workers, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists;
  • Human resources and employee assistance professionals;
  • Labor union leaders and officials; 
  • Personal coaches and organizational consultants;
  • Lawyers (both plaintiff and defense) and dispute/conflict resolution specialists and ombudspersons; and,
  • Higher education faculty in pertinent fields of teaching and research.

My work as a law professor may be somewhat illustrative. For years I have concentrated my teaching in the employment and labor law field, and now I’ve added courses in law & psychology to the mix. I include some coverage of the legal implications of workplace bullying in these courses, but I don’t have time in a given course to make it a primary focal point. However, I’ve also made workplace bullying the leading focus of my scholarship, which, in turn, has led to the drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill and related public education initiatives such as this blog. In this manner, at least part of my living has been made doing anti-bullying work. Other aspects of this work are more of a volunteer nature.

In terms of legal practice, generic workplace bullying unrelated to discriminatory behaviors or retaliation for whistleblowing remains largely legal in the U.S. This obviously limits how much time attorneys can devote to bullying-related cases. Consequently, I don’t know of any attorney who specializes mainly in workplace bullying claims. However, lawyers may pursue cases with elements of bullying behaviors, so long as they can find sufficient legal hooks, such as discrimination on the basis of protected class status (sex, race, disability, etc.) or retaliation for whistleblowing.

By contrast, mental health and psychology currently offer more promise for sustainable work concerning workplace bullying and mobbing. There remains a crying need for mental health professionals who are both familiar with the dynamics of work abuse and trained in treating psychological trauma. Organizational psychologists can also include workplace bullying in their work for employers.

Specialized knowledge

The second key piece is developing a deep well of specialized knowledge about workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. A wealth of research and expert commentary is now available for those who want to teach themselves about these topics. To help folks get started, I’ve compiled an updated recommended book list (link here). And anyone who is even thinking of doing this work on a paid or volunteer basis should do repeated deep dives into the Workplace Bullying Institute’s content-rich website (link here).

In addition, I highly recommend attending an intensive program of training and education about workplace bullying. Workplace Bullying University (link here), a multi-day program facilitated by Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute, offers an immersive, thorough, and interactive training program for professionals who seek graduate-level knowledge and insights. It is a pricey but worthy investment for those who want to devote a significant part of their professional practices to combating workplace bullying. (Go here for my write-up on a special edition of Workplace Bullying University held in 2019. Note also that current sessions are being offered online.)

In Canada, social worker and therapist Linda Crockett offers training programs on workplace bullying through her Canadian Institute of Workplace Bullying Resources (link here), including programs specially developed for mental health providers. I interviewed Linda for this blog in September 2019 (link here), during which she explained more about her work and services.

To this I must add another important note. In terms of gaining a knowledge base, it is not enough to have been a target of workplace abuse. As terrible as that experience was, a person’s own familiarity with it does not provide a sufficient grounding in what workplace bullying and mobbing are all about. Furthermore, a formal training program can help a target gauge whether they are ready to move into a helping or service mode concerning work abuse. If they are not ready, they can do harm to themselves and to others.

Career transitions, with a gentle caution

As I mentioned above, it’s also possible to transition into a career that allows one to do anti-bullying work as part of their job. For example, an individual might pursue a counseling degree in order to become a licensed therapist, thereby opening the door to helping people who are experiencing trauma from bullying or mobbing.

I find that such impulses are especially common with good people who have been bullying targets and now want to help others in similar situations. Here, though, is my gentle caution for those at this life juncture: Do a thorough self-assessment, perhaps with the help of a mental health professional, to determine whether this is the right move in terms of your own healing and recovery. For some targets, doing anti-bullying work can be empowering. For others, it can be re-traumatizing.

Additional thoughts on coaching and consulting

Coaching is a field in which seemingly anyone can hang out a shingle (nowadays, often in virtual fashion) and claim professional status. Various coach training programs and certification processes are completely optional endeavors. Especially because there are no licensing barriers for entering coaching, this may appeal to some who wish to do coaching work around bullying and mobbing.

Nevertheless, for the sake of one’s future clients, relevant professional training is strongly urged for those who wish to do bullying-related coaching. This may include drawing on a mental health degree. It may also involve taking a coach training program. For example, several years ago I took a year-long leadership coaching course through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (link here). I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to do personal coaching for bullying and mobbing targets. In fact, I cannot imagine referring anyone to a coach who has not completed such a program.

The same goes for consulting. Anyone can set up a website, print up some business cards, and call themselves a consultant. However, good consultants not only have specialized knowledge in their field, but also understand the roles of consultants in professional settings. In this realm, learning about consulting practice through study and, perhaps, advanced training, is a must.

In sum: We need more trained, dedicated, and knowledgeable individuals in fields relevant to employment relations and mental health to help prevent and respond to workplace bullying and mobbing. I hope this information is helpful to those who are contemplating possibilities for doing work in this field.

***

This post revised in April 2022.

3 responses

  1. Hi David, thank you for this excellent post! I am often asked this question and have tried to help many establish their own pathway in this line of work. I am happy to see more and more people becoming interested and ready to put their own skills, training, and learning forward to helping others. Your recommendations are excellent. It is so important that those who have been harmed to complete their healing journey before entering into this line of work. Our focus needs to be on helping others which means, we need to place our own story, needs, and experiences as second, and be fully present for those we are helping. This work can be triggering so when those triggers go off, we need to have our own private strategies and personal support system in place. Though this is the most rewarding work I have ever done, it has also be hard work! We are often working in silos and up against some very negative reactions and attitudes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! 100%! Whether you become a coach, trainer, speaker, policy writer, therapist, lobbyist, investigator, or lawyer, be sure to stay within your scope of practice. Also, be sure to “walk your own talk and practice what you preach”. You will become a role model for many. So, in agreement with David, I say be trained and qualified, experienced, mentored, and supported. When you start your practice, let us know where and what you are doing! People are needed all around the world. Warmly, Linda Crockett

  2. BullyFree.Me, the world’s first, best and only way to easily find, rate and post reviews of bully free schools and workplaces. Better People, Inc. operates our platform (a federally recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization).

    We are currently seeking to partner with anyone who is interested in doing this work. With your help we aim to: (1) celebrate the positive and very successful effort of schools and workplaces that aspire to create bully free spaces, (2) be a resource for families and professionals by helping them to easily find and connect with these amazing schools/workplaces, and (3) educate schools/workplaces that struggle with bullying, by connecting them with resources and experts that can help them to develop a plan to improve the culture of their spaces.

    Our platform is free. This is not a sales pitch.

    BullyFree.Me®
    https://BullyFree.Me

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  3. There’s a company in Hamilton New Zealand called Culturesafe that specializes in workplace bullying – these cases often end up with the employee agreeing in mediation to leave with a payout. Most Culturesafe clients are in the NZ public sector where bullying is horrendous. Because it’s a non-lawyer advocacy Culturesafe is a low cost alternative to an employment lawyer and has a big social media profile which is a forum for clients to share their concerns – it’s also an advertising medium. One of the dangers of this work is that we know of a cartel of sorts, four or five lawyers who have persuaded their publicly funded clients to bring SLAPPs against Culturesafe for alleged breaches of non-disparagement agreements that it was not party to, and disrupt and financially cripple them; we also have evidence of Employment Relations Authority officials trading in influence. If you are looking at undercutting, which you’d have to do to get your business off the ground, be wary of anticompetitive conduct – good luck!
    Tristam, Leighton Associates

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