Workplace bullying 2.0: Psychology and mental health
I suppose it makes sense that, in assessing whether workplace bullying has become a mainstream topic in America, I should start with psychology and mental health.
After all, most researchers concur that the pioneering work of the late Swedish psychologist Heinz Leymann during the 1980s constituted the starting point for conceptualizing and understanding the phenomenon of workplace bullying. He used the term “mobbing” to describe the kinds of abusive, hostile behaviors that were being directed at workers.
And here in the U.S., Gary and Ruth Namie – both with Ph.Ds in psychology — would begin introducing “workplace bullying” into the vocabulary of American employment relations during the late 1990s. After discovering the works of Leymann and other European writers and scholars, they decided that an American campaign of research and education was necessary to expose this widespread form of mistreatment at work.
Industrial/organizational psychology & occupational health psychology
Of all the major disciplines relevant to studying, preventing, responding to workplace bullying, the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and its emerging sibling, occupational health psychology, rank first in terms of research and practice.
These fields pass the “blank stare test.” In other words, if you mention “workplace bullying” to the average organizational psychology researcher or practitioner, you are much less likely to get a blank stare in response.
- The biennial Work, Stress, and Health conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology, now hosts multiple panels on bullying and incivility at work.
- The APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program regularly promotes programs, publications, and blogs addressing workplace bullying and related topics.
- There’s a growing body of work on workplace bullying, mobbing, and incivility in I/O psychology journals. For example, in 2009, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research published a special issue on workplace mobbing and bullying, edited by Len Sperry and containing contributions from Sperry, Patricia Ferris, the Namies, Suzy Fox & Lamont Stallworth, Maureen Duffy, Laura Crawshaw, and Richard Kilburg.
- Workplace bullying appears with increasing frequency in the latest editions of treatises and textbooks on I/O psychology. For example, Frank J. Landy and Jeffrey M. Conte devote three information-packed pages to workplace bullying in their 3rd edition of Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2010).
In sum, those who seek an organizational psychology perspective on workplace bullying will find a growing abundance of resources in the U.S.
Mental health counseling and therapy
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those seeking information on counseling and therapy for bullying targets.
This is not to say that helpful resources do not exist. The Namies’ The Bully at Work (rev. ed. 2009) has been a self-help staple for years, and Duffy & Sperry’s new Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions (2012) is a welcomed addition to the literature as well.
But compared to I/O psychology and OHP, you won’t find a similar body of literature and programs on counseling and coaching targets of workplace bullying. For example, when I recently scoured the rich website of the Psychotherapy Networker for commentary and programs about workplace bullying, I came up empty. I’m a fan of this publication — it does an excellent job of linking mental health concerns to broader issues of social responsibility — which makes the absence of information on helping bullying targets all the more glaring.
This isn’t particularly shocking. Although some therapists are familiar with workplace bullying, over the years I’ve had many exchanges with bullying targets who have told me that mental health counseling yielded extremely disappointing results. At times, therapists were downright dismissive or insensitive toward their plight.
Despite the significant psychological impacts of workplace bullying, it’s apparent that the topic hasn’t crossed squarely onto the radar screen of the mental health community. Fortunately, with the right push, it shouldn’t be too hard to bridge this gap. Counselors are trained to deal with related forms of abuse and their consequences, such as child abuse and sexual harassment. The toolkit, so to speak, already is in place.
This is one of a series of blog posts under the “workplace bullying 2.0″ rubric, exploring the degree to which workplace bullying has become a mainstream topic in American employment relations. Psychology and mental health, the law, human resources and organizational management, and labor studies are among the fields I’ll be examining.