Workplace bullying and mental health counseling

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Counseling Today devotes an excellent cover story by Laurie Meyers to the effects of bullying behaviors, school, workplace, and online. Jessi Eden Brown, a licensed mental health counselor and coach affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute, is a featured interviewee and shares a wealth of important information on workplace bullying and how to work with targets.

Jessi has counseled and coached hundreds of people who have experienced workplace bullying, and her knowledge of this subject is second to none. She includes a bit of her own story in explaining how she works with clients:

Brown began specializing in counseling clients who have experienced workplace bullying after going through the experience herself in two different positions. “Both times were painful and deeply confusing,” she says. “I seriously considered leaving the counseling profession after the second experience.”

However, a friend who was doing web design for WBI introduced her to psychologists Gary and Ruth Namie, the founders and directors of the institute. The Namies were looking for a professional coach and offered Brown the job. As she worked with those who had been bullied, she began to integrate her experiences into her private counseling practice.

“The vast majority of my clients present as capable, accomplished professionals with a documented history of success in the workplace,” she says. “At some point in their careers, they encounter the bully and everything changes .”

. . . Brown says the first step toward helping clients who are being bullied is to identify what they are experiencing — workplace bullying and psychological violence. Naming the behavior helps clients frame and externalize their experiences by realizing that they are not creating or imagining the problem, she explains.

“Encouraging the client to prioritize [his or her] health comes next,” Brown says. “Working closely with other health care providers is essential in situations where the individual’s health has been severely compromised.”

Jessi goes into quite a bit of detail about workplace bullying, which makes this piece helpful to counselors, coaches, and bullying targets alike. And for those who want to further understand the dynamics of bullying in other contexts, the sections on school and online behaviors will be useful.

On the whole, the mental health community has been behind the curve concerning workplace bullying, so this extensive article is very welcomed, with a bow to Counseling Today for giving this topic its cover. It could not be more timely, as we continue to learn more about the destructive effects of workplace bullying on individuals. (I’ll be writing more about this soon.)

Folks who are already working with a therapist, counselor, or coach might consider sharing this piece with them. I’ve also just added it to my own Need Help? resource page on this blog.

Crowdfunding as privatized, casino-style public assistance

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Crowdfunding started as a way of raising capital for entrepreneurial projects, and then it also became a fundraising tool for non-profit initiatives. Now, fueled by a growing wealth divide and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, crowdfunding is turning into a popular medium for individuals to launch pleas for money to meet unexpected and sometimes dire personal expenses. Some campaigns are started by people who are trying to help friends and family members in need.

Many such requests are posted to Facebook. Using sites such as GoFundMe, they request individual donations to cover medical bills, rent, burial costs, educational expenses, and the like. The funding goals usually are in the four and five figures. I’ve seen a few for six-figure amounts. Because the crowdfunding campaign is almost always posted by an individual, donations are rarely tax-deductible as charitable gifts.

I have no idea what percentage of crowdfunding appeals for individual expenses are successful, but my guess is that there are many more misses than hits. Many, if not most of them, carry a voice of desperation. Those launching these campaigns feel like they have run out of options, and so they are asking others for support to keep them afloat.

Welcome to today’s privatized, casino-style form of “public” assistance. As the bottom continues to fall out of America’s middle class, and our safety net increasingly shows its holes, we’re going to see more and more crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of those who are trying to make ends meet. 

The successful appeals will be compelling in voice and substance and supported by a network of friends. The unsuccessful appeals will be unpersuasive, sound questionable, or naively assume that lots of strangers are waiting for reasons to give away their money. In other words, something of a twisted “meritocracy” will develop between those who are successful and unsuccessful at pitching for money to help them survive.

Perhaps this is a logical, unsurprising result of a society that has bought into the notion that the “free market” is a panacea and the solution to all of our problems. A reality TV show pitting those in need against each other cannot be far off.

Related posts

“Should I support that Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?” (2015)

Commencement season: Career and life launches yesterday and today

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

“When Harry Met Sally,” the 1989 romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and directed by Rob Reiner, easily makes my list of the top New York City movies. It’s like a great Woody Allen movie without the unease over Woody, blending endearing performances with classic Manhattan locations and musical standards performed by Harry Connick, Jr.

In fact, among the most nostalgic bumps for me are the opening scenes, when Harry and Sally meet up for the first time on the campus of the University of Chicago, following their graduation. A mutual friend has facilitated their shared drive to New York City, where they both are moving. They get to know each other during their trip and don’t exactly hit it off. They part company at Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, not to see each other again for several years.

Now, I neither attended the University of Chicago nor shared a long car ride to New York with Sally Albright/Meg Ryan. But a year after graduating from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, I would leave for law school at New York University in Greenwich Village. So I can relate to the life transitions captured by Harry and Sally’s drive to New York.

***

With the calendar turning to May, we are now approaching graduation season. Okay, so I’m not a big fan of commencement ceremonies. With notable exceptions (such as here and here), the speeches and remarks tend to be banal and forgettable.

But I have enjoyed those stretches of time that embrace endings and beginnings. I spent my final undergraduate semester in a life-changing study abroad program in England. I spent my final law school semester participating in several rewarding extracurricular activities, with a post-graduate job already awaiting my arrival. Being a nostalgic creature by nature, I can easily get soggy thinking of both.

***

Increasingly, however, the making of these sentimental memories are the province of the more fortunate. The classic “college experience” became the American middle class ideal during the second half of the last century, but rising tuition levels have rendered it less of a reality today. During the past ten years, especially, heavy student debt and the entry-level job market have been understandably ratcheting up the anxieties of soon-to-be graduates. In essence, the supposed “blast-off years” of one’s early twenties are now loaded down with a lot of ballast.

With heavy student debt, unpaid internships, and the like, America has front loaded the costs of getting one’s start in life. Many culprits have contributed to this state of affairs. The higher education industry, our political and governmental infrastructures, corporate hiring practices, and student loan vendors — among other stakeholders — all share responsibility. Until we summon the collective will to change this state of affairs, higher levels of debt and anxiety will continue to accompany new graduates as they collect their diplomas on graduation day.

Workplace bullying: A quick view from Baltimore

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I’m writing from Baltimore, where this evening I had the privilege of serving as the guest speaker at the monthly dinner meeting of the Maryland chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association. LERA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to public education and research about work and workplaces. My topic was “How to Respond to Workplace Bullying,” and it gave me a chance to share some of my work and to engage in a very thoughtful Q&A with those who attended.

Most of the attendees are practitioners in this field, including attorneys, arbitrators, mediators, and labor relations specialists for companies, government agencies, and unions. What struck me during the various questions, comments, and side chats is that this topic continues to become mainstreamed among employee relations stakeholders. The turnout for this event was very strong, and the information I shared appeared to resonate with the attendees.

I enjoyed meeting such a sharp group of fellow employee relations colleagues. Many thanks to Maryland arbitrator Ezio Borchini, president of the state’s LERA chapter, for issuing this invitation and for being such a welcoming host. Oh, I should add that the Maryland LERA meetings are held at a wonderful restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy, La Tavola, so we all got a fine meal as part of the deal.

Displays (literally) of progress for the workplace anti-bullying movement

Deb Falzoi and Torii Bottomley holding sign near the MA State House

Deb Falzoi and Torii Bottomley holding sign outside the MA State House (photo: MA Healthy Workplace Advocates)

Hey, it’s about time that we made a big display about ending workplace bullying!

Recently I wrote about Massachusetts: Face Workplace Bullying, an artistic photo display designed to raise public awareness about workplace bullying and to voice support for the Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771, currently before the MA legislature). The display features photographs of 14 individuals who have been targets of workplace bullying, along with their names and statements about the circumstances surrounding their experiences. It made its official debut on the 4th floor of the Massachusetts State House.

Last Friday, advocates met at the State House to commemorate the display’s two-week run and to take it down, packing it for its next port of call. Later that afternoon, Torii Bottomley and Deb Falzoi, staunch supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill and participants in the Face Workplace Bullying project, took to the street outside the State House to display their homebrewed sign “End Workplace Bullying.”

The photo display in the State House and the big sign outside are just what we need to shine a public light on workplace bullying and the damage it causes. In order for the Healthy Workplace Bill to become law, we need more advocates to be out front with this messaging.

I have been privy to communications between the individuals who allowed their images and stories to be included in the Face Workplace Bullying display, and they have invoked terms such as healing and empowering to describe how they feel being a part of it. I think their brave actions are making a huge statement: Enough of the silence and shame surrounding this form of interpersonal abuse. We need our legislators to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill. Let’s get on with it.

Interviews and documentary footage in the State House

Media interest and documentary footage in the State House (photo: MA Healthy Workplace Advocates)

News of the day: How much do we need to know?

It starts to pile up!

Among my staples

How closely do we need to follow the news of the day? How much and what types of news should we be tracking in order to be informed citizens? How does general awareness of current events relate to our effectiveness in performing certain jobs?

Folks, I confess that I ponder these questions more often than the average bear.

As an academician and lifelong learning junkie, I read/review/skim a lot of news and commentary. The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Economist, and Guardian get a lot of my attention. I like The Week for a quick flyover, AlterNet for progressive politics, and Business Week and Yahoo! Finance for business news. WBUR, the Boston NPR station, wakes me up in the morning. I also like a variety of general and specialized periodicals, with a nod to the Atlantic.

I still have plenty of print subscriptions, but like many I increasingly rely on the Internet. (I have many online subscriptions and make donations to favorite non-profit news sites, as I believe that good journalism and commentary should be compensated.)

As for television news, I largely skip it. The typical 11 p.m. local news show doesn’t do much for me. I have scant use for most cable news coverage as well. While many readers can probably guess that I’m not a fan of Fox News, I rarely watch the more liberal MSNBC, either.

In any event, with all these subscriptions and online bookmarks, I am not a master of the universe when it comes to current events. My understanding of domestic politics is far better than my grasp of international relations. With the latter, I’m much keener on making big picture historical connections than on being able to recite the latest goings on in the world’s hot spots.

Furthermore, I wrestle with a broader philosophical point: Knowledge is not wisdom. While ignorance is not wisdom, either, one can easily load up on facts and be short on understanding. Being able to tick off the day’s major news events does not substitute for that deeper comprehension.

On the whole, we Americans, especially, would benefit by having deeper knowledge and wisdom about history and current events. Our civic IQ is not very high, and our nation and world would be better places if we could improve it.

Weighing the exit option for a toxic job

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In “10 things I realized after I quit my job without a plan” (Business Insider), life coach and consultant Anna Lundberg shares her experience of walking away from a job and creating her own business:

In September 2013, I walked out of my office and into the unknown. . . . I emptied my apartment of seven years, put my boxes into storage, and moved into my parents’ guest room as I thought about my next move.

My intention since the start had been to create a more independent and flexible lifestyle.

. . . So far, so good! This time last year, I officially incorporated my own consulting business and I’ve been busy on great projects ever since, working with big-name clients, making new connections, and sharpening my skill set.

Drawing upon hindsight, she then offers ten points reflecting upon her experience:

1. “Life on the other side is not as scary as you think.”

2. “You have to stick to your guns.”

3. “There are more options than you ever thought possible.”

4. “You can easily live on less money than you think.”

5. “New opportunities will appear from nowhere.”

6. “It doesn’t have to be perfect from day one.”

7. “Nothing is forever.”

8. “You are not alone.”

9. “You’ll never have all the answers.”

10. “Not all who wander are lost.”

Lindbergh offers explanations for each statement, and it’s worth checking out her full piece to read them.

The escape route

Many folks discover this blog because of their experiences with workplace bullying and abuse. Long-time readers know, however, that I resist touting one-size-fits-all fixes. Each work situation has its own individual dynamics, rendering easy advice dangerous, especially when issued from an online perch. That said, for some the exit option is the most viable one. It should be weighed carefully.

Back in 2011, I wrote about the “Should I stay or should I go?” question for folks in bad work environments:

When should you hang in there, and when should you pursue an exit strategy? This question confronts a lot of people who feel stuck in frustrating or even toxic work situations. And given the realities of a tough job market, the dilemma of what to do becomes even more pronounced.

In that post, I offered insights inspired by entrepreneur Seth Godin and the rock band The Clash, as well as more concrete suggestions about thinking through one’s options. To these points, I add this one: One of the most recurring regrets that I hear from targets of severe workplace bullying is that they didn’t remove themselves quickly enough from bad work situations, even as the abusive behaviors kept mounting. Among the costs was that it became much harder to pick up the pieces afterward, including developing options for moving forward with their livelihoods and careers.

It doesn’t appear that Anna Lundberg walked away from a toxic job. Her decision seems to have been grounded in a desire to change the direction of her life in a more positive way. Thus, the sunny tone of her piece understandably may not resonate with someone who is feeling trapped in a terrible workplace. It’s pretty damn hard to be optimistic about your future when you’re being emotionally pummeled. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that walking away from one job for any reason will lead to something better.

But until more employers start to take abuse at work seriously and the law steps in to create stronger legal protections, leaving a bad job — voluntarily or otherwise — will remain the most common “resolution” of severe workplace bullying. Whenever possible, those who are experiencing toxic jobs should try to get ahead of the situation. It is not an easy thing to do — at first glance, it may feel downright impossible — but it’s much better than waiting for others to impose the choices.

Additional resources

Those considering their exit options may want to review the Need Help page of this blog, which, among other things, collects a variety of blog posts that can help to clarify the decision making process.

 

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