As Millennials enter the workforce, many are clinically depressed

Duke University psychiatrist Doris Iarovici, blogging for the New York Times, believes that anti-depressant medications can help her patients, but she also expresses deep concern over an increasing share of young people who are using them:

…(A) growing number of young adults are taking psychiatric medicines for longer and longer periods, at the very age when they are also consolidating their identities, making plans for the future and navigating adult relationships.

This trend is especially significant for people finishing school and entering the workforce:

Indeed, the psychologist Jeffrey Arnett calls the young adult years “the age of instability.” Dr. Arnett coined the term “emerging adulthood” to define a new psychological developmental stage for 18- to 29-year-olds in industrialized countries. But now, growing numbers of young people experience rapidly changing living situations, classes, jobs and relationships only while taking an antidepressant.

Iarovici adds that some of these younger people are arriving at college “so burned out by the pressures of high school that they get to college unable to engage in the work,” and they are “so fragile or overprotected in their formative years that they fall apart at the first stress they encounter.”

In a piece for PsychCentral.com, Dr. John Grohol echoes some of these observations, noting high levels of depression and weak emotional coping skills among many Millennials:

All of this is informed conjecture, of course, as there’s not much research that’s been done in this area. But some of it rings true to me, and from talking with others — both therapists and young adults — I’m not the only who sees more and more young adults who just don’t seem to have the emotional and psychological coping skills as young adults that were once more commonplace.

Implications for workers and workplaces

These trends do not bode well for those individuals and the places that employ them.  Some folks will arrive at work dependent upon anti-depressants to get them through the day. Some will struggle to deal with stressful work situations that inevitably arise. They also may lack the means to build personal resilience toward life’s ups and downs, some of which will be related to work and careers.

Their employers also will pay a price, dealing with a larger share of a workforce pushing the boundaries of psychological well-being and less capable of handling the emotionally challenging aspects of employment.

I can’t say I’m surprised about burnout symptoms appearing as early as college. The competition to get into the “best” schools has become brutal, and the treadmill of activities, prep classes, and AP classes necessary to play that game has become steeper and faster. Young people are being pushed to relentlessly chase their futures before they know what they want those futures to look like.

Let’s not blame the Millennials

These observations should not be taken as a slam on a generation. As an NPR program this week noted:

The “millennial generation” has been getting a bad rap in popular culture in recent years. Millennials, roughly defined as people born in the 1980s and ’90s, frequently see themselves depicted as entitled, coddled and narcissistic.

But many — including millennials themselves — dispute those characterizations. Young adults today are tolerant, civic-minded and entrepreneurial, they note, and are thriving despite entering into a tight job market, often with significant amounts of student loan debt.

Lots of Millennials are being raised a certain way and then pushed into a world that has raised the credential bar for their success and saddled them with other burdens passed on by preceding generations. In terms of weaker coping skills, Grohol points to the “helicopter parent” mentality and overly protective upbringings as likely culprits.

As a university professor for over 20 years, I’ve now taught students spanning three generations — Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. In the aggregate, I do see generational differences, and I can offer generalizations about each, some positive, others less so.

Like any generation, the Millennials bring their strong and weak qualities to the workplace. It is disturbing, in any event, that depression appears to be disproportionately present among them. This reflects most critically not on the Millennials themselves, but rather on the preceding generations that have ushered them into the world.

LOL: Humor as a salve for a lousy workplace

photo-47

If you’re dealing with a less-than-wonderful workplace, then maybe a dose of humor can help to ease the experience.

Recently I posted an article, “Dealing with a bad workplace: Getting to tolerance,” that offered some coping points for those in unpleasant work situations. I’d like to supplement the post by suggesting that some hearty laughter may make a positive difference too.

For some, being able to kick back and enjoy a funny movie, television show, or book may be a healthy way of dealing with a bad workplace. I’ve offered some suggestions in the photo, while conceding that my sense of humor is not exactly, well, refined. For those whose emotional ages have transcended adolescence, some other selections may be more appropriate.

I fully acknowledge that humor is not a cure-all. If you’re experiencing an abusive work situation (as opposed to a “merely” unpleasant or dysfunctional one), then this suggestion probably isn’t for you. Humorous distractions are of limited value if you’re feeling targeted or mistreated. Also, while a good laugh or three may be a salve for a bad workplace, it’s not a fix for the situation itself.

But maybe, just maybe, that LOL movie may be enough to put you in a better mood. It sure does beat the opposite.

Should HR be eliminated?

Lauren Weber and Rachel Feintzeig, in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, examine an emerging trend of employers replacing their human resources departments with outsourced personnel management firms and even software programs that perform basic HR tasks:

Companies seeking flat management structures and more accountability for employees are frequently taking aim at human resources. Executives say the traditional HR department—which claims dominion over everything from hiring and firing to maintaining workplace diversity—stifles innovation and bogs down businesses with inefficient policies and processes. At the same time, a booming HR software industry has made it easier than ever to automate or outsource personnel-related functions such as payroll and benefits administration.

Misguided cheers?

From those who have had terrible experiences with an HR office, I can practically hear the (understandable) cheering. Eliminate HR, and you’ve taken care of the problem.

But it’s not that easy.

In fact, Weber and Feintzeig go on to examine the functions that may fall through the cracks by closing down the HR office, including ensuring that managers comply with employment laws and resolving interpersonal disputes between employees.

In a post for Workplace Prof, law professor Charles Sullivan (Seton Hall) largely concurs with the assessment of the potential downsides:

While outsourcing many of the mechanical operations of HR is much easier today with technological advances, it remains true that both managing “human resources” and complying with the law requires a more sophisticated understanding of both than a typical outside firm can provide.

The real culprits

Long-time readers know that I can be hard on HR, especially HR offices that are complicit in advancing bad, unfair, or abusive management practices. But when it comes to acknowledging the importance of an in-house office charged with implementing employee relations policies and practices, I see the HR function as essential.

Good HR offices serve a valuable training, compliance, and mediating role in the workplace. They do so with a much better understanding of the organization’s people and culture than any outside firm could provide. And they can troubleshoot issues over pay and benefits better than any software program.

Bad HR offices, by contrast, are often tools (negative connotation intended) of bad executive leadership. HR offices may get the lion’s share of blame for poor handling of employee relations, but in reality they may simply reflect and advance the values of their equally terrible (or worse) bosses. Show me a nasty HR director and I’ll show you the organization’s nasty CEO.

In some workplaces with lousy top leaders, “rogue” HR officers with conscience and heart may serve a mitigating presence by helping to stave off or soften the impact of bad personnel decisions and practices that reduce morale and increase liability risks.

As I’ve suggested before, to get to the core of what makes for a good or bad place to work, we typically need to look higher up on the organizational chart. The character and values of those at the top commonly dictate the kind of HR office that you can expect to encounter.

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Related posts

HR, workplace bullying, and the abandoned target (2013)

Quiet cover-ups (2011)

Can an ethical HR officer survive at a bad company? (2010)

Don’t assume that HR is your buddy (2010)

“HR was useless” (2009)

Visioning law and legal systems through a psychologically healthy lens

One of my periodic “battery rechargers” is the opportunity to reconnect in person with a network of law professors, lawyers, judges, and students associated with a school of legal thought called therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), which examines law, legal procedures, and the legal profession from the standpoint of psychological health. Law professor and TJ co-founder David Wexler (U. Puerto Rico) defines therapeutic jurisprudence this way:

Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) concentrates on the law’s impact on emotional life and psychological well-being. It is a perspective that regards the law (rules of law, legal procedures, and roles of legal actors) itself as a social force that often produces therapeutic or anti-therapeutic consequences. It does not suggest that therapeutic concerns are more important than other consequences or factors, but it does suggest that the law’s role as a potential therapeutic agent should be recognized and systematically studied.

David was among those who came to Boston and Suffolk University Law School for a Friday public symposium, “The Study and Practice of Law in a Therapeutic Key: An Introduction to Therapeutic Jurisprudence,” followed by a smaller Saturday workshop to plan future TJ activities and initiatives.

In addition to thanking David, I’d like to extend my warm appreciation to out-of-town participants Mark Glover (U. Wyoming), Michael Jones (Arizona Summit), Shelley Kierstead (York U., Osgoode Hall), Michael Perlin (New York Law School), Amanda Peters (South Texas), Amy Ronner (St. Thomas U., Florida), and Carol Zeiner (St. Thomas U., Florida), as well as to my Suffolk colleagues Gabriel Teninbaum, Kathleen Vinson, and Patrick Shin, for being a part of the two-day program.

You can view the agenda for the Friday symposium here. My presentation on  employment law drew heavily from this blog to emphasize the significant stress and anguish experienced by workplace bullying targets, the importance of multi-faceted counseling & coaching for those targets (legal, mental health, and career), and the need to reform our legal processes for resolving employment-related disputes.

As a law professor and lawyer, the TJ community has become my intellectual home base. Equally important, it has provided me with a group of dear friends and colleagues. Last night, a group of us went out to a karaoke bar here in Boston, and while we probably shouldn’t count on Plan B careers as performing artists, we had great fun. Tonight we’ll be heading out for a nice Italian dinner in Boston’s North End. Such fellowship with good people confirms that I’m running with the right crowd for me.

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For more on the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence, go to the network website.

You may also join the TJ Facebook page here.

 

Roundup on bullying and mobbing in higher education

On Thursday I’m presenting on workplace bullying in higher education at the annual continuing legal education conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, being held this year in Boston. I’ll be sharing a lot of the knowledge and insights I’ve gained about bullying and mobbing behaviors in academe, and then examining the legal issues they raise for institutions of higher education.

I thought this would be a good occasion for me to update my primary (and very popular) post on bullying & mobbing behaviors in academe, as well as summarize several other relevant posts. Here goes:

Revised “Foundational” Post

I just revised my very first post (2009) on bullying in academe, Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?, to include updated information and sources:

Academic life can be a great thing, providing one with the opportunity to engage in teaching and educational activities, scholarly research and writing, and myriad forms of public service.

However, the culture of academe can be petty, mean, exclusionary, competitive, and hierarchical.  Bullying and mobbing behaviors occur with surprising frequency, and sometimes with stunning brutality.  They can transcend the type of institution, academic disciplines, and political beliefs.

Other Relevant Posts

UMass Amherst launches campus-wide workplace anti-bullying initiative (2013)

Yesterday the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the flagship entity of a major public university system, publicly launched a workplace anti-bullying initiative with a campus symposium that attracted over 500 UMass employees. This remarkable turnout, which included staff, faculty, and administrators, was over triple the number of RSVPs for the event.

…I had the privilege of presenting the keynote address, and one of the lasting memories I’ll have is that of standing at the podium and seeing the large auditorium fill with people, with some having to stand even after dozens of extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the overflow.

Illuminating bullying, mobbing and conformity in academe (2012)

First, the value placed on compliance empowers some to bully others who won’t go along. A minor “rebellion” such as declining to follow a suggestion for revising a paper or dissertation, or a major one such as refusing to vote a certain way at a meeting, can trigger retaliatory responses. Graduate students and junior faculty are especially at risk in this regard.

Second, the embrace of authority explains the frequency of “puppet master” bullying and genuine mobbing in academic workplaces. Especially in academic workplaces that cannot tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion, individuals seen as not being with the program may face an onslaught of hostility or isolation. These behaviors may be inflicted on anyone, ranging from a graduate student to a senior tenured professor.

Study on incivility toward graduate students reports effects similar to workplace bullying (2011)

During the past decade, we have learned a lot about incivility, bullying, and other negative behaviors in the workplace. However, we don’t know much about similar forms of mistreatment in academic settings.

That void is what led Susan Stewart (Western Illinois U. — Quad Cities), Nathan Bowling (Wright State U.), and Melissa Gruys (Wright State U.) to develop a study that asked graduate student members of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) about their experiences with anti-social behaviors by faculty members and fellow students.

 

The main objectives of schooling (and how mainstream higher ed is retreating on some of them)

In a 1990 lecture at the Harvard Extension School, renowned educator Mortimer Adler identified what he believed to be the “three main objectives of schooling”:

  • “preparation for earning a living”
  • “preparation for intelligent fulfillment of one’s civic duty, to be a good citizen of the republic” and,
  • “preparation for fulfilling one’s moral obligation to lead a morally good life.”

Each objective, Adler noted, would be “enriched by the continuation of learning after all schooling is terminated.”

Last week, I wrote about how many American colleges and universities are embracing the values of the New Gilded Age and retreating from their obligations to help us create a better society. Adler’s main objectives of schooling offer a useful framework for that critique.

Plenty of schools are emphasizing jobs and careers, and that’s fine. A college education should enhance someone’s employability and facilitate their vocational future. But this shouldn’t occur at the expense of preparing students to become useful, knowledgeable citizens and helping them grow into better human beings.

Indeed, one of the perverse ripple effects of the economic meltdown is how so many standard brand universities are cutting back on instruction that might shed insights on the very political, economic, social, and moral dynamics that led us to the Great Recession in the first place! More concretely, this has manifested itself in the decline of the liberal arts and humanities in the basic college curriculum.

Especially given the runaway costs of higher education, I understand the significance of a college education having some “return on investment” in terms of the job market. But it must be about more than economic gain. A higher ed industry that simply readies the next generation of worker bees is failing our society. We need a world of good workers, good citizens, and good people, with hopefully most of us possessing a healthy mix of all three qualities.

Peter Drucker’s “Managing Oneself”

Managing Oneself

The late Peter F. Drucker’s Managing Oneself (2008), an offering in the Harvard Business Review Classic series, is a smart, thought-provoking little monograph on career development and assessment. He opens this way:

History’s great achievers — a Napoleon, a da Vinci, a Mozart — have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers. But they are rare exceptions, so unusual in both their talents and their accomplishments as to be considered outside the boundaries of ordinary human existence. Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. . . .

In fewer than 60 pages, Drucker asks us to consider the following questions:

  • “What are my strengths?”
  • “How do I perform?”
  • “What are my values?”
  • “Where do I belong?”
  • “What should I contribute?”

He also urges us to think about our “responsibility for relationships” and to develop opportunities for “the second half of your life.”

Drucker was a man of the 20th century, so he references many historical leaders of the era. But even if you’re a 21st century kinda person, his larger points merit consideration. Drucker was one of the most forward looking thinkers in management theory and practice, and his ideas remain very relevant today. This little book provides more questions than answers, but that’s probably the way it should be. The rest is up to us.

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