Boston Globe editorial sees impact of workplace bullying, hedges on Healthy Workplace Bill

This is one where you could say the glass is half full: A Sunday Boston Globe editorial recognizes the serious impact of workplace bullying on individuals and organizations, but sits on the fence as to whether the Healthy Workplace Bill — which provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to take bullying at work seriously — should be enacted into law.

It’s a lengthy editorial covering a lot of familiar ground on the pros and cons of enacting the Healthy Workplace Bill, so I’m not going to excerpt portions here. Rather, I encourage you to read the full editorial and to add a comment or write a letter to the editor. In addition, let me summarize a few points from my perspective:

  • The primary reason why employers are incorporating concerns about workplace bullying into their employee relations practices is the real possibility of the Healthy Workplace Bill becoming law. Without the threat of liability, in the near future or currently, many employers will handle allegations of bullying by ignoring them or siding with the aggressors.
  • Current harassment and discrimination laws do not provide adequate protections. They apply only when the mistreatment is motivated by protected class status such as sex, race, disability, and age.
  • The substance of the Healthy Workplace Bill draws heavily from the Supreme Court’s definition of hostile work environment for sexual harassment and from tort (personal injury) theories concerning severe emotional distress. Thus, it is situated comfortably in familiar American legal doctrine.

I mentioned that the glass is half full concerning the Globe editorial. A decade ago, the prospects of a major newspaper editorial board weighing in on the Healthy Workplace Bill were slim to none. We’ve come a long way toward mainstreaming workplace bullying as an employee relations priority, and we’re continuing to make progress on creating legal protections for American workers.

 

“Reinventing” higher education: The troubling standard-brand approach

In an era of rising tuition and a very challenging entry-level job market for graduates, buzzwords such as reinvention and change are all the rage on college and university campuses right now. Job training, “assessments” (often via modes that mimic standardized testing), online learning, and calls for “let’s run it more like a business” are very dominant pieces of this reinvention mantra.

The discussion has crossed into the popular press. For example, recently The Economist weighed in with a cover piece on the need for “creative destruction” in higher education, suggesting that “(a) cost crisis, changing labour markets and new technology will turn an old institution on its head.” Earlier this spring, the Boston Globe, serving a region with one of the nation’s heaviest concentrations of colleges and universities, published a package of opinion articles (“The New U.“) covering similar ground.

To be sure, higher ed has been tempest tossed by the latest effects of the global economic crisis. In 2009, I wrote that the public and non-profit sectors would be next on the post-meltdown “hit list.” Historically, colleges and universities have been among the most resilient of institutions, but now they, too, are caught in the ongoing sweep, and some of the injuries are self-inflicted. As I posited earlier this year:

Suffice it to say that American higher education, as a general proposition, is embracing the values of the New Gilded Age. A growing number of American colleges and universities are degenerating into career training centers, touting unpaid internships while charging sky-high tuition, neglecting the liberal arts, and loading up on well-paid administrators and exploited adjunct faculty while shedding full-time professors.

I’m all for career preparation and assessment of student learning being part of a virtually any program of higher learning. I also recognize the usefulness of online education, especially for those unable to attend a brick-and mortar school. It’s just that this particular push in higher ed is largely about creating worker bees for white collar assembly lines, rather than growing thoughtful, caring, and smart individuals who succeed in their vocations, enjoy fulfilling personal lives, and contribute to their families and communities.

Two-tier model

Especially at the bachelor’s degree level, we’re rapidly moving toward an even more stratified two-tier model of higher education reflecting significant social class divisions.

One approach is the full-time, residential “college experience” for those who have family resources or scholarship funding, or who are willing to take on large amounts of student debt. Dorm living, exposure to the liberal arts, immersion in student activities, and maybe even study abroad are typical parts of this experience.

Not too long ago, this was the upwardly mobile middle-class ideal. The costs of pursuing a college education were much more within the reach of America’s middle class, and even a modest family contribution toward tuition and living expenses could go a long way.

The other approach is a part-time one, with plenty of vocationally oriented classes sandwiched in between jobs that may have little connection to one’s career goals. The classes are provided at a commuter campus or delivered online. Student life is limited; many students live at home, and few have the time or flexibility to engage in the kind of enriching extracurricular activities that are a part of a residential college experience.

Students who complete college in this way deserve all the credit in the world. Their juggling acts are often much more challenging than those of peers at residential colleges. But their experiences are unlikely to be as full and immersed as those who spend four years on a college campus. It also may lead to a degree that is less valued by many employers, however unfairly.

Both routes to a college education are familiar, but now their distinguishing qualities are becoming more hardened. We must continue to offer flexible options for earning degrees, while simultaneously attempting to soften class distinctions that now are being baked into the system. This is a tough balancing act, and I don’t pretend it is easy.

Academic labor

From an academic labor perspective, “reinvention” is about attacking tenure, blaming professors for this crisis, and replacing full-time faculty appointments with low paid part-time positions. Senior full-time professors are being pushed out; new candidates for teaching jobs are competing for handfuls of tenure-track openings. Especially outside of the elite universities, it’s a terrible academic labor market for junior and senior faculty alike.

In the meantime, many universities are adding layers of well compensated administrators, buoyed by pricey consultants who help them figure out how to do their jobs. The massive growth of the administrative class in higher ed has shifted the balance of power in colleges, added multiple levels of micro-management, and generally sucked a lot of life out of the academic enterprise. Much of this is at the behest of board members who want universities to resemble the same authoritarian, top-down structures they direct in their paying jobs.

Change or start anew?

While surely many colleges and universities need fixing, the “solutions” commonly being touted will not inure to the benefit of higher learning or society in general. The question is, can they be fixed in the right ways, or will we have to create new institutions to offer real alternatives? I’ll share more thoughts on this in future posts.

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Related posts

As U.S. universities embrace the New Gilded Age, what institutions will help us to grow a better society? (2014)

College daze: Ideals and realities (2013)

Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts (2012)

What is academic tenure? (2011)

Hard looks at joblessness, retirement funding, and Generation Jones

Many members of “Generation Jones,” that span of late Boomers and early Gen Xers who are in their middle years, face tough times right now. This cohort has been hit especially hard by the ongoing economic crisis, with many losing jobs in mid-career and finding it difficult to obtain new employment and to save for retirement.

Decades ago, many Gen Jonesers confronted a rough economy while launching their work lives. During the late 70s and early 80s, the economy was in severe recession, inflation ran very high, and employers were cutting back or eliminating pension plans. Academic studies indicate that graduating into a recessionary economy can impair earning power for years. So this group has been unlucky in terms of both entry-level and mid-life labor markets.

I concede my bias on this topic. I’m a member of Generation Jones, and these realities are hitting many among my age group. As the following pieces indicate, we’ve got a lot of work to do in order to rebuild both opportunity and a safety net. Here goes:

Ann Brenoff, blogging for the Huffington Post, says that she’s bombarded by advertising appeals from retirement planners, but the real problem is that most people lack sufficient funds to invest for retirement, period:

My inbox is bombarded daily with pitches from retirement planners who claim to hold the secret to my “dream retirement.”

…Here’s the problem I have with them: They ignore the elephant in the room, which is, it’s too late for most boomers to join their party. Spending less and saving more — if even possible — won’t close the gap between what we have and what we will likely need.

…What I don’t understand is why everyone isn’t talking about the crazy awfulness that awaits us — and by us I mean the vast majority of people who are woefully unprepared for retirement.

How much money do we need to save for retirement? Paul B. Brown, writing for the New York Times, discusses a new book by finance professor and investment expert Richard C. Marston, Investing for a Lifetime:

Although Fidelity Investments garnered a lot of attention two years ago when it declared that you would need eight times your current salary to “meet basic income needs in retirement,” Mr. Marston disagrees. “Despite the fact that it is very difficult to save eight times income, the goal the company proposed seemed too low to me,” he says.

If you thought eight times current income was daunting, Mr. Marston’s default position will stun you. He says it can easily come to 15 times what you are earning now.

Okay, so Prof. Marston recommends saving fifteen times one’s current income?! Only the tiniest percentage of U.S. workers have retirement portfolios on track for that. The gap between the realities facing most Americans and the numbers being recommended by personal finance experts is bonkers, simply mind blowing.

Kevin Kusinitz is a 58-year-old writer who has been unemployed for nearly two years. In this piece for Next Avenue, he reflects upon being part of an age group being passed over for jobs but too young (and broke) to retire:

Like a lot of people around my age, I really didn’t pay close attention to the unemployment situation until I was in the thick of it myself. It was only then that I started reading the heartbreaking stories of perfectly good workers in their 50s who, like me, were shown the door by middle managers all apparently sharing the title: Executive Vice President of Keeping My Own Job by Any Means Necessary.

After decades as a right-of-center kind of guy, I was shocked to wake up one day thinking, “Oh my God, now I know what Michael Moore has been talking about all this time.”

…I’m no sociologist but I predict if this trend keeps up (and, frankly, why shouldn’t it?), the next decade is going to see a spike in older people moving in with their adult children, becoming homeless or even committing suicide because they will have no other options.

Jessica Bruder, writing for Harper‘s, explores the subculture of older American workers who have lost steadier jobs and who now roam the country in vans and camping vehicles in search of extended part-time work such as seasonal tourist sites and warehouse gigs. You’ll have to get a copy of the August issue or subscribe to access the online edition, but here’s the lede from her story:

On Thanksgiving Day of 2010, Linda May sat alone in a trailer in New River, Arizona. At sixty, the silver-haired grandmother lacked electricity and running water. She couldn’t find work. Her unemployment benefits had run out, and her daughter’s family, with whom she had lived for many years while holding a series of low-wage jobs, had recently downsized to a smaller apartment. There wasn’t enough room to move back in with them.

“I’m going to drink all the booze. I’m going to turn on the propane. I’m going to pass out and that’ll be it,” she told herself. “And if I wake up, I’m going to light a cigarette and blow us all to hell.”

Her two small dogs were staring at her. May hesitated — could she really envision blowing them up as well? That wasn’t an option. So instead she accepted an invitation to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Tom Raum, writing for the Associated Press, examines the flattened “workforce-participation rate”, i.e., the total number of employed + job seekers, and reports that many of the long-term unemployed are simply dropping out of the labor market after efforts to obtain jobs have been repeatedly unsuccessful:

But perhaps the most significant factor is unemployed workers “who just drop out of the job market after one, two or three years of looking for work and not being successful,” said Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University who studies workplace dynamics and employment trends.

Recent surveys suggest more and more long-time unemployed workers are abandoning the search for another job and leaving the nation’s workforce.

“And they are disproportionately older workers,” Van Horn said. “We have a large number of older (unemployed) workers who are not old enough to retire, yet they are facing discrimination in the workplace and have found it nearly impossible to get another job.”

Is the Social Security system about to go under? You might believe so if you listen to hard right pundits who demonize anything to do with a government safety net, but in reality Social Security is doing much better than many private and public pension and savings plans. This article in YES! magazine offers a more sensible look at the situation. In an excellent set of infographics, managing editor Doug Pibel explains that the Social Security Trust Fund has sufficient funds to pay out expected benefits for the next two decades and that relatively manageable tax fixes can ensure its longer term viability:

Social Security will never “go broke.” As long as people are working, Social Security will have money. . . . There is now $2.8 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which will fully cover expenses for about the next two decades. To make it work after that is pretty painless — we just have to decide who pays.

So far, Congress has refused to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, a policy choice that disproportionately affects older individuals who have been experiencing severe difficulties re-entering the workforce. In a piece for FiveThirtyEight.com, Ben Casselman explains that arguments against such an extension aren’t panning out:

The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.

But the evidence doesn’t support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.

The so-called economic recovery isn’t that for millions of Americans. Long-time populist political commentator Jim Hightower takes issue with, among other things, the positive spin being applied to new jobs created since the worst of the meltdown:

So, it’s interesting that the recent news of job market “improvement” doesn’t mention that of the 10 occupation categories projecting the greatest growth in the next eight years, only one pays a middle-class wage. Four pay barely above poverty level and five pay beneath it, including fast-food workers, retail sales staff, health aids and janitors. The job expected to have the highest number of openings is “personal care aide” — taking care of aging baby boomers in their houses or in nursing homes. The median salary of an aid is under $20,000. They enjoy no benefits, and about 40 percent of them must rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, plus many are in the “shadow economy,” vulnerable to being cheated on the already miserly wages.

MIT’s Institute for Career Transitions conducted a pilot project to coach and advise the long-term unemployed, with hopeful results. In order to measure the potential benefits of providing this assistance, the three-month project included a group who received help and a control group who did not. WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey reports:

Long-term unemployment — which, according to [MIT professor and Institute director Ofer] Sharone, disproportionately affects older workers — is at 2.3 percent of the nation’s workforce, a historically high level. More than 38 percent of America’s unemployed job seekers have been out of work six months or more.

. . . “We have a ton of studies showing that once you hit the six-month [jobless] point, by so many indicators it becomes a real crisis,” he says. “It’s a financial crisis. It’s an emotional crisis. And then when you get to this scale of numbers, it’s a social crisis. We’re losing out on a whole cohort of workers.”

. . .Of the group that got support, 30 percent obtained a full-time job or contract work of at least four months. That compares to just 18 percent from the group that received no aid.

“It clearly shows that the job market is very, very tough, even for someone in an ideal situation,” as “most people did not get jobs,” Sharone says. “On the other hand, I think we can say that there’s a meaningful difference to getting support.”

How do the challenges specially facing this age group connect to other social and economic policy issues? Here’s one article that helps us to grasp the bigger picture: In an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe, writer Neal Gabler predicts how historians of the future will regard the current American era, and his assessment is not a positive one. Here are a few snippets:

Historians will wonder…how the gains of social and economic equality that were a century in the making were reversed, and, above all, how the country actually became less democratic, often with the acquiescence of many ordinary Americans.

The first thing historians are likely to fasten on is the historic economic inequality in America today.

…They will look at the nation’s…reluctance to embrace health reform that would provide insurance to those who cannot otherwise afford it, its willingness to cut benefits, like food stamps, that primarily help the young and the elderly, its grudging extension of unemployment benefits to people afflicted by the economic downturn.

…I suspect that historians will view this as a terribly bleak period — another Gilded Age but worse.

…And they will wonder: Why there was so little resistance?

What to do???

If any of these articles offered clear-cut, comprehensive solutions to the crisis, I would be highlighting them. Unfortunately it appears that we’re flying without radar here. Furthermore, as Neal Gabler’s Boston Globe piece suggests, I don’t think the American public is sufficiently aware of the systemic nature of this crisis to be able to connect the dots in ways that lead to political consensus. Right now, employment and retirement remain individual challenges rather than shared priorities, reflecting the social and political ethos in which Gen Joners have spent their adult lives.

I do think that reorienting our views on community and society is an important, necessary start toward addressing the situation. Last week I wrote about competing visions of the future, one being a “technological, top-down, service society,” the other being a world of “useful work, peace, self-fulfillment, and appropriate technology leading to harmony with the environment.” We need this latter view to take hold if we are to reverse the rampant individualism and selfishness that soon may resemble passengers on a sinking ship fighting over too few spaces on the lifeboats (with a small few already having reserved seats). Either our better natures will rise to the occasion, or history will judge us harshly, and deservedly so.

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Related posts

I’ve been writing about the burgeoning retirement funding crisis since the first year of this blog. Go here to start scrolling through those articles. In addition, here are three pieces especially relevant to this post:

The three-pronged political attack on the very notion of retirement (except for a few) (2013) — “In America, the very notion of a relatively safe and secure retirement is under relentless attack…. This is not by accident. Only when you connect the dots do you see a unifying force, and it’s very, very political. We haven’t been comprehending how the pieces come together….”

My Labor Day 2013 wish: Good, stable, bully-free jobs for Generation Jones (2013) — An extended commentary, echoing many themes raised here, covering topics such as age discrimination, workplace bullying, and mental health impacts relevant to Gen Jonesers, as well as potential public policy responses.

Suicide and the Great Recession: Will we heed the tragic warnings? (2013) — “In this era of the Great Recession, suicide has become a leading cause of death in America, especially among the middle-aged, and it is to our shame as a society that this reality is not an ongoing, dominant focus of our attention.”

Blog subscriptions

Did you know that you can subscribe to either or both of my WordPress blogs for free? That’s right, every time I publish a post, it’ll land in your inbox. Sign up by going to “Follow this blog” at the top right of Minding the Workplace and/or my personal blog, Musings of a Gen Joneser, and enter your e-mail address.

Positive psychology and workplace bullying

What is the relationship between the growing field of positive psychology and the challenging realm of workplace bullying?

Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) spearheaded the development of the field of positive psychology as a way of focusing the discipline on positive human development. Many graduates of the U Penn master’s program in positive psychology are contributors to the Positive Psychology News Daily (PPND), a website and blog that serves as a useful information source and portal to the world of positive psychology.

Shannon Polly, a facilitator, coach, and U Penn program graduate, recently wrote up an excellent PPND summary of a “Work and Well Being” program in May, sponsored by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence. I was among the presenters, giving a talk and Q&A session on workplace bullying.

In framing potential organizational and legal interventions in employee relations, Polly invokes categories articulated by Dr. James O. Pawelski:

  • “red cape interventions . . . stop bad things”
  • “blue cape interventions . . . grow good things”

She goes on to characterize efforts to address workplace bullying as needed “red cape” interventions:

Law professor David Yamada described the need for red cape interventions in addressing workplace bullying. “Allegations of workplace bullying are very threatening to organizations. Bullying targets often feel abandoned by organizational leadership, HR, and their co-workers.”

…Currently there are no laws in the United States that prevent workplace bullying unless it intersects with a protected class based on race, gender, age, and so on. Yamada has been working for over a decade researching the topic and pushing legislative efforts to support those affected by bullying in the workplace. A great red cape intervention.

Because of positive psychology’s association with the study and advancement of happiness, I sometimes have felt disconnected from it when centering on the so-called dark sides of work. Workplace bullying, after all, is inextricably associated with interpersonal abuse, as well as with inadequate and sometimes unethical organizational responses.

Polly aptly demonstrates, however, that effective interventions concerning workplace bullying can be placed comfortably in a positive psychology paradigm. In doing so, she helps to build a stronger link between advancing worker well-being and addressing forms of workplace mistreatment. This is essential toward understanding the roles of different systems and stakeholders in creating healthier workplaces that embrace employee dignity.

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Note: I’ve added PPND to the Minding the Workplace blogroll. I look forward to keeping up with it and discovering further connections.

Competing visions of the “good life”

These days I find myself thinking about a lot of “big picture” subjects, like the future of society. (Yup, that’s pretty big picture stuff.) I  am deeply concerned about how the coming decades will unfold in terms of economic and environmental sustainability, and I believe that we will have to reassess our relationships with technology, the planet, our workplaces, and each other.

Among those who anticipated this state of affairs many years ago was John Ohliger (1926-2004), an iconoclastic, pioneering adult educator, civic activist, and public intellectual whose work I have mentioned before on this blog. John also was my good friend, and his voluminous writings, many of which were self-published through his independent center, Basic Choices, Inc., have had a strong influence on my thinking.

In essays from the early 1980s, John foresaw the dilemmas over material goods that a modern, “first world” society would face. He drew from the work of other leading adult educators to articulate two competing visions of the future for society. One vision was that of a “technological, top-down, service society” that defined “the ‘good life’ as affluence and leisure with high-tech big technology solving problems which lead to mastery of the environment.” The other vision saw the “good life” as embracing “useful work, peace, self-fulfillment, and appropriate technology leading to harmony with the environment.”

John expounded upon on how that latter vision could unfold:

My picture is of a future where we live more relaxed and more modest lives with an abundance of unmeasurable and infinitely available non-material (or better, trans-material) resources. All the travail and pressure we’re going through right now may be paving the way for that future. This future could be one where we will have a choice of “goodies”; not ones requiring scarce energy, minerals, or dollars; or ones permitting some people to get rich while others go hungry, but choices that we create with our own hearts and heads and hands among people we know and care for.

It’s fair to say that supporters of the “technological, top-down, service society” to which John referred have had their way of things, at least during the past three decades. Against this backdrop, advancing a healthier vision for society is a challenging task, but that shouldn’t dissuade us from pursuing it. In an unpublished autobiographical essay written later in his life, John suggested that a combination of spirituality, personal growth, and social action could be at the core of this transformation. I’d say he was right on target about that.

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For more about John Ohliger’s unique public intellectual role, see my book chapter, David Yamada, “The Adult Educator as Public Intellectual,” in Andre P. Grace, Tonette S. Rocco, and Assocs., Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education: John Ohliger and Contradictions in Modern Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009)

Can neuroscience give us an accurate lie detector for employment disputes?

What if we had the use of a reliable, scientifically trustworthy lie detector test for determining who is telling the truth in employment disputes and litigation?

It’s possible that the field of neuroscience someday will provide a test for doing so.

The fMRI test

Clay Rawlings and Rob Bencini, writing in the current issue of The Futurist magazine published by the World Future Society, explore potential applications of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests for the purpose of detecting lies in legal proceedings:

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—a technique for measuring and mapping brain activity—allows psychologists to observe the brain as it functions in real time. Two companies, No Lie MRI Inc. and Cephos Corporation, claim that they can use fMRI to determine conclusively whether or not an individual is telling the truth.

…This methodology should be foolproof: You either have a real memory, or you do not. If your answer is based in fantasy rather than memory, it is almost certainly a lie.

…At some point, this technology may replace random groups of 12 jurors as the “finders of fact.” We will know with certainty whether someone is telling the truth.

…If technology can tell us with scientific certainty whether a person is telling the truth, why not place a scanner above the witness stand? As witnesses testify, the court will be able to see in real time whether or not the testimony is true.

Applying the fMRI to employment disputes

I’ve written about how the tools of neuroscience can be used to measure post-traumatic stress disorder. For targets of workplace bullying and harassment, someday this test might be utilized to prove damages due to abusive conduct.

Perhaps the fMRI could play a similarly useful role in assessing truth telling in employment disputes, including those that have led to litigation.

Imagine a test that sorts truth from fiction when allegations of bullying, sexual harassment, and other forms of worker misconduct arise. For targets of these behaviors who have had the exasperating, painful experience of being ignored or regarded dismissively, this could be a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

Caution (lots of it)

But let’s not get carried away. Even putting aside expenses, we’re a long way from proclaiming the fMRI test as being sufficiently foolproof for routine use.

We have an excellent example of why caution is advisable: The most commonly recognized electronic “lie detector test” is the polygraph machine, which has a long history of usage in law enforcement settings. Furthermore, until the late 1980s, it was a popular pre-employment screening mechanism for prospective employees.

However, polygraph evidence has never been admissible in criminal proceedings, due to ongoing concerns about its reliability. Furthermore, after the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment raised severe doubts about the polygraph’s reliability as employee screening tool, Congress banned this use through the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

Therefore, we should regard the fMRI, or any other scientific test, with reasonable skepticism. Can it detect the lies of a psychopath? Will it falsely identify honest statements as being untrue? These are among the questions that must be answered.

For targets of workplace abuse, a genuine lie detector test may seem like a panacea. We’re not there yet, but perhaps someday scientific technology will deliver a solution.

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Related posts

Brain science and the workplace: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity (2011)

In recovering from adversity, past adversity can fuel our resilience (2011)

Do organizations suppress our empathy? (2010)

Understanding the bullied brain (2010)

Bully Rats, Tasers, and Stress (2009)

Why concentrated power at work is bad (2009)

The prices we pay for stuff: A value system gone haywire?

Earlier this spring, the New York Times reported on an interesting and disturbing twist: Over the years, “wired” devices and electronics have plummeted in price, while the costs of education, health care, and child care have shot up. Here’s Annie Lowrey, reporting:

Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods — virtually anything produced in a factory — has followed a downward trajectory. The result is that Americans can buy much more stuff at bargain prices.

Many crucial services, though, remain out of reach for poor families. The costs of a college education and health care have soared.

…Child care also remains only a small sliver of the consumption of poor families because it is simply too expensive. In many cases, it depresses the earnings of women who have no choice but to give up hours working to stay at home.

Add to that the high costs of quality, unprocessed food and good, safe housing and you have a pretty fair idea of what’s more affordable in terms of everyday needs and wants. One could say this reflects a value system gone haywire, where basic health, education, nutrition, and housing needs are harder to pay for, while the latest digital gizmos are relatively affordable.

It’s something to think about the next time you see a person who appears to be homeless talking on a cellphone.

Roundup on workplace bullying and anti-bullying legislation

Workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill continue to attract interest from the media and professional associations. Here are five pieces that exemplify this trend:

Lexology.com on workplace bullying legislation

In a piece posted earlier this year by Lexology.com and the Association of Corporate Counsel, employment attorney Stephanie K. Rawitt assesses the implications of pending workplace bullying legislation:

The US is actually the last of the western democracies to consider laws forbidding workplace bullying.

…Since 2003, 25 states have introduced workplace bullying legislation that would allow workers to sue for harassment, without requiring a showing of discrimination. The proposed legislation was born in 2001 by Suffolk University Professor of Law David Yamada, who drafted the text of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).

…Enactment of anti-bullying legislation could very well be one of the biggest things to happen in the world of employment law since the passage of Title VII given its wide-spread applicability to all employees. If anti-bullying laws are to become a reality, state lawmakers will need to carefully craft the statute in an attempt to both protect employees from harmful workplace bullying while also shielding employers from an avalanche of frivolous litigation.

Wall Street Journal on Tennessee public sector bullying law

The Lexology.com piece preceded Tennessee’s enactment of a workplace bullying law that directs a state commission to develop a model anti-bullying policy that can insulate the state’s employers from liability. Adam Rubenfire, writing for the Wall Street Journal, solicited responses to the Tennessee law:

Tennessee approved the Healthy Workplace Act on May 22, a law designed to curb verbal abuse at work by making public-sector employers immune to bullying-related lawsuits if they adopt a policy that complies with the law.

…Dr. [Gary] Namie, a social psychologist, said the Tennessee law doesn’t go far enough.

…(T)he signed law applies only to public-sector employers, and administrators aren’t required to follow guidelines that the law ordered a state commission to draft by March 2015. Instead, they’re incentivized to do so in exchange for immunity from potential lawsuits.

SHRM on global approaches to workplace bullying laws

Putting workplace bullying and the law in an international context, Ellen Pinkos Cobb, a Fellow of the U.S. Academy on Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Abuse created by the Workplace Bullying Institute and the New Workplace Institute, contributed a piece to the Society for Human Resource Management examining the enactment of workplace anti-bullying legislation in other nations:

The legal picture looks different in other parts of the world. Under workplace health and safety legislation, employers in most countries have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment for employees.

…Whether referred to as moral harassment, psychological violence or mobbing, many European countries have enacted laws prohibiting this conduct in the workplace, including Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia and Sweden.

…Canadian provinces such as Ontario have also imposed obligations on employers to protect workers from psychological harassment in the workplace.

…With Australia’s introduction of the anti-bullying jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission on Jan. 1, 2014, a worker in Australia who reasonably believes he or she has been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work Commission and, if an investigation determines that workplace bullying has occurred, be entitled to a remedy.

Forbes.com on VitalSmarts workplace bullying study

Naomi Shaven, writing for Forbes.com, references David Maxwell, management consultant and co-founder of VitalSmarts, on the contemporary look of workplace bullying and a new survey done by his firm:

Over the years, he developed a particular interest in workplace bullying – where it was happening, how it was changing, how it affected productivity and efficiency in the office – and this morning, VitalSmarts released a new study on the phenomenon by Maxfield and coauthor Joseph Grenny.

Researchers looked at the responses of 2,283 people, and the results surprised even Maxfield: “96% of respondents say they have experienced workplace bullying.” “89% of those bullies have been at it for more than a year.” “54% have been bullying for more than five years.” “80% of bullies affect five or more people.”

…All too often it is the industry itself that inadvertently fosters bullying. “Silicon Valley has masters of sarcasm and irony,” Maxfield says, observing that cruel jokes can feel like a punch in the gut. He also cited the health care industry and the “intimidating physician” problem.

The Guardian on workplace bullying

Jana Kasperkevic, in a piece for The Guardian, reports on the VitalSmarts study and efforts to enact Healthy Workplace Bill, while observing this about workplace bullying:

Those studies and surveys, when taken together, cast light on the surprising dynamics of bullying – the belittling, reputational attacks, gossip and elbowing that make many modern workplaces unbearable.

Here’s what the studies show: bullying is not random. It has reasons in the bully’s mind, even if those reasons are unfair, skewed, and informed by their personal insecurities. That bodes well for handling bullies, in the workplace or elsewhere, because it means you can address the root causes – and it’s absolutely essential to stand up for yourself, because bullies tend to prey on those they perceive as weak, and they have lasting power in the office. They tend to drive better workers away to remain the last man (or woman) standing, and they tend to turn on not just one person, but several at a time.

“Let’s run it more like a business” (The problem with many non-profit boards)

If you’ve been around the non-profit sector for a decent length of time, then you’ve likely heard some variation of this line: We need to run this organization more like a business. Typically the mantra begins with a board member or two, keeps getting repeated by others, and eventually rolls downhill.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen the effects of poorly managed non-profit organizations as both a lawyer and a professor. If running a non-profit “more like a business” means empowering effective, inclusive, and socially responsible leaders and holding them accountable, then I’m all for it. And if it means maintaining fair-minded, ethical, and transparent employment practices, then count me in for even more.

But all too often, the “more like a business” meme translates into the same authoritarian, top-down, command & control model that board members may be embracing in their respective private sector roles as executives and managers. In such instances, board members frequently have scant inclination toward understanding the culture, traditions, and histories of the non-profit organization and its employees.

In terms of employee relations, these attitudes and practices can have unfortunate consequences. Board members may hear only from top managers within the non-profit, and thereby get a skewed, misleading impression of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. They also may be cut off from news of valid concerns about the organization’s leaders and employment practices.

There are lots of badly managed, dysfunctional, low morale businesses out there. Some of them are run by people who serve on non-profit boards. Let’s not emulate their errant ways. If we’re going to run non-profits “more like a business,” then we should at least pick & choose among the very best business practices available.

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Related posts

Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014)

When the bullying comes from a board member (2011)

Recycling: Five years of June

With some 1,100 articles posted to this blog since its founding in late 2008, each month I’m reaching into the archives to highlight a piece from that month of each past year. Especially for those of you who missed them the first time around, I hope they provide interesting and useful reading. For each piece I’m including a short excerpt; you may click on the title for the full article.

June 2013: What makes someone a potential workplace bullying target? – Taking issue with the notion that there’s a prototypical bullying target.

It’s true that some bullying targets may project a vulnerability that attracts aggressors like moths to a flame. (Or, perhaps “sharks to prey” is the better imagery…) But over the past decade, I’ve become familiar with so many workplace bullying stories that this profile simply doesn’t hold up as the sole or primary scenario. I’ve also seen too many instances where even the strongest of individuals have their breaking points. Under the wrong circumstances, any of us can be rendered awfully vulnerable.

June 2012: Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts – More of my case for a liberal arts education.

But I believe it is more than soggy reflection that causes me to urge the value of a liberal arts education. By connecting our lives to our culture and society, and by enhancing our understanding of how we can shape both, we may live richer existences as human beings and participate in our communities with a deeper sense of perspective. At a time when sound bites and “messaging” too often replace serious thought, that’s pretty good “value” in my book.

June 2011: The American academic response to workplace bullying: A grounded orientation – Cutting-edge research and analysis on workplace bullying, by and large, has come from academe’s grassroots rather Ivy-type institutions.

However, whereas some social problems attract gobs of attention from those affiliated with elite academic institutions, the American academic response to workplace bullying has been driven, for the most part, by professors holding appointments at state and regional private universities. I believe this is a telling reason why so much of the important scholarly work concerning workplace bullying has genuine real world application.

June 2010: The good vacation and why it matters – Americans would benefit by being able to take more genuine vacation time.

Should we be taking the topic of vacations this, well, seriously? At least for Americans, the answer is yes. We take much less vacation time than our counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world. In some nations, paid vacation time is a legal right. Our workaholic culture is regarded by many as unhealthy and misguided. It’s the less attractive flipside of our willingness to dig into work and get the job done. Google the phrase Americans vacation time and you’ll get countless hits to surveys, studies, and analyses on this phenomenon.

June 2009: The Tyranny of Word: How Microsoft Hurts Office Productivity – When features of popular word processing software change with each new edition, the primary impact is more time sucked into learning the changes, not greater productivity.

The best word processing program ever developed, in my opinion, was WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, released in 1989. It was fast and clean, with lots of bells & whistles for its day. Once you learned how the function keys operated, you could fly through a document as fast as your fingers could type. In terms of document formatting, it did what you wanted it to, rather than what some control freak programmer assumed you wanted it to do.

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