Challenging Workplace Bullying in the USA: A Communication and Activist Perspective
Introduction The goals of the multi-faceted 12-yearold campaign have been to raise awareness, and to reverse acceptance, of workplace bullying in the United States. In this chapter, we discuss the Workplace Bullying Institute’s (WBI, workplacebullying.org) efforts with three principal constituent groups and report the current state of progress as well as the barriers we continue to face in meeting those goals. The organization has a long history of assistance for bullied workers, legislative advocacy and collaboration with academics (e.g., Lutgen-Sandvik, Namie & Namie, 2009; Neuman, 2000; Yamada, 2008; Yamada, 2002). Prior to detailing the state of U.S. awareness regarding the bullying phenomenon, we outline the central ideas behind communication campaigns that focus on public health issues, such as workplace bullying, and persuasion theories relevant to the work. We then review the current state of this campaign in the United States focusing on efforts directed at three groups: the public [e.g., bullied workers (targets), witnesses, nonbelievers], lawmakers, and employers. We close with work yet to be done and future directions to continue these U.S. endeavors. Public Health Campaigns Communication campaigns focused on reducing threats to public health have four essential elements (Salmon & Atkin, 2003). First, they are intended to generate specific outcomes. In the anti-bullying campaign, these goals are to raise awareness and reverse acceptance of workplace bullying in the United States. Second, campaigns seek to meet their goals with a variety of constitu-
ent groups or stakeholders. The key stakeholders in the anti-bullying campaign are persons suffering because of bullying, organizational decision makers responsible for work environments, and lawmakers who have the power to mandate worker protections against psychological violence at work. Third, public health campaigns meet these goals with stakeholder groups through “an organized set of communication activities” (Salmon & Atkin, p. 450). An important aspect of public health campaigns is segmentation of stakeholder audiences and crafting messages specifically targeting particular audiences. Message efficiency is maximized when the intended audiences are ordered according to importance and effectiveness is maximized when messages are tailored for specific audiences. There are three constituent groups addressed by the U.S. anti-bullying campaign. First, we strive to mentor targeted workers directly through coaching and indirectly through websites, speeches, and the self-help book for bullied workers and their families, The Bully at Work (Namie & Namie, 2009a). Another campaign focus is the national, grassroots-lobbying project to enact anti-bullying legislation (authored by law professor David Yamada, see his chapter in this volume) in the states. The third focus is devising interventions for employers who voluntarily adopt bullying prevention policies and procedures. Applicable Persuasion Theories Two theoretical models of persuasion derived from social psychology are also applicable
to the goals of convincing Americans that workplace bullying is a negative societal phenomenon deserving mitigation and eventual eradication. The first is social judgment theory (SJT) (Sherif & Sherif, 1968). SJT posits cognitive processes that explain attitude change. Opinions tied to one’s self-identity are said to be anchored and resistant to change. So when a message is formulated to change one’s opinion toward bullying, the degree of personal (or ego) involvement initially determines how the person will evaluate the persuasion attempt. In practice, personal...