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.
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.
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.