A short list of recommended books for targets of workplace bullying and mobbing

When someone is experiencing workplace bullying or mobbing, understanding what’s happening and assessing options are vitally important towards finding a way to a better place. There are many helpful resources available to targets of work abuse, such as those mentioned on the Need Help? page of this blog and my recently updated list of recommended books on workplace bullying and mobbing. However, the volume of resources may seem overwhelming, so I thought I’d offer a very selective list of four affordable books that I am repeatedly recommend to others.

Let’s start with Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009). This is the bestselling book on dealing with workplace bullying situations, and for good reason. Gary and Ruth are co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute and pioneers of the U.S. workplace anti-bullying movement. They were the first North American subject-matter experts to conceptualize the dynamics of workplace bullying and to communicate their knowledge to the general public. Their work is foundational, and the insights and supportive advice in this book are invaluable. For so many people, this book helped them understand the abuse they were experiencing at work.

Next is Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014). It’s safe to say that with this volume, Maureen and Len established themselves as the preeminent authorities on workplace mobbing. This book is a bit more academic in tone than The Bully at Work, but it is written in accessible prose and with a very supportive voice. It is also deeply insightful in grasping the dynamics of mobbing behaviors. This book, too, has provided many “light bulb” moments of understanding for people experiencing abuse at work.

Psychological trauma is one of the most frequent impacts of severe bullying and mobbing at work. To understand trauma and possibilities for treating it, Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014), is strongly recommended. This is a brilliant, in-depth, and accessible look at the nature of psychological trauma and potential treatment options, authored by one of the leading authorities. Suffice it to say that I have given away a good half dozen copies of this book to others.

Finally, there’s William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004). Severe workplace bullying or mobbing is a life-changing experience, and for many, it involves leaving their job and place of employment. It can have long-term effects on careers and livelihoods. In sum, it involves transitions. And while these life changes can be terribly difficult, they’re better than being stuck in place. Hence, I strongly recommend Bridges’s excellent book as a guide for forging and comprehending that path.

Indiana elementary school preps for violence by shooting its own teachers with pellet guns

I have to say, this is a jaw-dropper: Earlier this year, the Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, held an “active shooter training” that included shooting its own teachers with plastic pellets, execution style. As reported by Arika Herron for the Indianapolis Star (link here): 

An active-shooter training exercise at an Indiana elementary school in January left teachers with welts, bruises and abrasions after they were shot with plastic pellets by the local sheriff’s office conducting the session.

The incident, acknowledged in testimony this week before state lawmakers, was confirmed by two elementary school teachers in Monticello, who described an exercise in which teachers were asked by local law enforcement to kneel down against a classroom wall before being sprayed across their backs with plastic pellets without warning.

“They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” said one of the two teachers, both of whom asked IndyStar not to be identified out of concern for their jobs. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times.

“It hurt so bad.”

Folks, welcome to a combination of incredible stupidity blended with America’s love of guns. Let’s see, how do we prepare our teachers to deal with the threat of workplace violence? The answer is easy. We shoot them, but only with pellet guns that leave welts and bruises. No better way to prepare for trauma than to inflict a bit of it ourselves.

Yes, I know, I’m being snarky. I can’t help it.

But here in the U.S., beyond this idiocy is the more serious question of how we can safeguard our public places, amidst a powerful gun lobby that opposes even the mildest safety checks on those who want to own some of the deadliest weapons. The answer may be a complicated one, but shooting workers with pellet guns as a drill isn’t part of the solution. In the meantime, mass shootings are becoming a tragically ho-hum reality here.

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A morning field trip to the Boston Globe

I am a big fan of newspapers. They are necessary for healthy civic life. They are also laboring under challenging circumstances in a digital era where print edition advertising dollars have diminished and lots of online readers expect news reporting to be accessible free of charge.

Among the papers I’m rooting for is the Boston Globe. I have no personal stake in it, other than being a resident of Boston and a subscriber. But I grasp its central role in shaping and informing our understanding of current events, such as over the weekend when — as I wrote earlier this week — they published two excellent features highlighting the destructive impact of workplace bullying.

A visit to the Globe

That’s among the reasons why I was delighted to participate in an onsite visit to the Globe’s downtown Boston headquarters this morning, courtesy of its Facebook group for subscribers. The Globe’s audience engagement team is experimenting with ways to connect with subscribers, and this tour was part of those efforts. Call it a neat little morning field trip.

The highlight of the tour was sitting in on the editors’ morning planning session. If you’re a news junkie like me, it is very, very cool to listen to the editors going around the table, sharing what pieces will be published online later in the day and, eventually, in the print edition. I appreciated their willingness to allow a group of strangers to witness discussions of developing news stories and decisions about what to publish and when.

Heightened appreciation

The Globe is a preeminent regional newspaper with national influence. Like most newspapers, it has suffered cutbacks and budget challenges over the years, thanks to the changing environment for print journalism. But it continues to publish comprehensive news reporting and features on a daily basis, as well as to break major investigative stories.

My appreciation for the Globe and newspapers like it has increased markedly during recent years. A prime example is reporter Jenna Russell’s in-depth piece about the savage bullying and harassment endured by a female corrections officer in Massachusetts. In the work I’ve been doing about workplace mistreatment, I have become familiar with stories like this in other parts of the country, where there are no newspapers capable of reporting them — or at least no papers willing to do so. It takes both resources and commitment to do journalism like this.

It may sound corny, but good newspapers shine a light on what’s happening in the world. Electronic news and social media play important roles as well, but only newspapers can do the deep digging on a consistent basis. We need them now more than ever.

It’s not Yale or fail: The college admissions scandal and our unhealthy obsession with school prestige

Top fueler of the unhealthy prestige obsession

Here in the U.S., we’re watching the unfolding of a major college admissions scandal (highlights here) led by criminal indictments alleging that dozens of wealthy parents engaged in fraud and bribery to get their kids into highly selective universities. It has prompted a fast-developing and overdue dialogue about how the wealthy and powerful are able to game the college admissions systems on behalf of their children.

Have you heard the term “Yale or jail“? It’s a catchphrase that refers to the notion that if you don’t get into a prestigious college, then your only option is a slide toward landing in jail. It’s a clever saying, but a more accurate descriptor of this dynamic is Yale or fail. You see, it’s not that parents and applicants fear an eventual jail sentence if they don’t attend Yale or a similarly elite school. Rather, it’s that they fear failure, loss of social status, and others’ perceptions of the same.

The Yale or fail dynamic, I submit, is the main answer to the question of why would rich parents risk felony indictments to snag that elusive letter of acceptance for their children.

This scandal, which just broke last week, has already prompted a ton of handwringing in media commentaries about social class inequality and how the wealthy and powerful gain undue access to prestigious institutions of higher learning. It has been accompanied by a wave of anger and resentment about those advantages, splashed all over the social media.

Of course, these protestations may be a bit overdue. In reality, these advantages have been around for a long, long time. Perhaps it took a scandal of this (alleged, of course) brazenness and magnitude to unleash the simmering backlash.

Against this backdrop is another truth: There are many colleges and universities outside of that elite circle that provide quality learning and open doors to life’s opportunities. Literally millions of people can personally attest to that. The focus on such a narrow band of colleges and universities takes out of the conversation hundreds of schools that deliver multiple, abundant benefits to their students.

The underlying culprit: U.S. News rankings

I submit to you that the world of American higher education changed dramatically when the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of colleges, universities, and graduate programs came onto the scene. The appearance of the U.S. News rankings has been the most influential development in modern higher ed history, in terms of shaping perceptions of institutional prestige and accompanying priorities. These rankings have serious flaws — there’s a whole literature on that — but they have occupied the field nonetheless.

Many educators and administrators in higher education are positively obsessed with these rankings and their endless spinoffs. Of course, because the rankings are so influential, they are ignored only at one’s peril. They can and do matter. Ask any admissions director, and they’ll tell you why.

However, I have good reason to suspect that much of the obsession is due to too many denizens of higher education allowing their own self-images to be unduly shaped by those rankings. Intellectually, they know the U.S. News rankings are problematic, yet they buy into them. Beset by what I call the “good student” syndrome, they look externally for validation, rather than creating their own markers for evaluating quality and success. True, most of us do that to some extent, but here it can be taken to extremes.

The whole deal breeds a lot of insecurity and elitism among a bunch of people already susceptible to both. Former college president and physicist Robert Fuller has coined a term for this dynamic. He calls it “rankism,” or the abuse of rank-based privilege.

A better measure of institutional quality?

In the wake of these rankings has come a second generation of metrics and measures of institutional quality, infused with talk of “outcomes,” “assessments,” and “returns on investment.” This is the commoditization of higher learning, and it is contributing to the decline of important disciplines such as history, philosophy, and the liberal arts in general. It’s largely about training new worker bees, and measuring their schools by how much money their graduates are earning.

I propose an alternative measure of college quality, one that is concededly difficult, if not downright impossible, to package in purely numerical terms. In a reflective essay about my own undergraduate experiences at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana (“Homecoming at Middle Age,” The Cresset, 2017; link here), I wrote the following:

Currently the higher education industry is positively obsessed with “assessments” and “outcomes,” educational jargon for figuring out what students learned. Well, here’s a longer-range outcome for colleges and universities to consider: How are your graduates turning out in life? If my friends are any indication, then Valparaiso can stand proud on this measure. They have turned out darn well, in myriad ways. Amid differences in life choices, family arrangements, political views, incomes, faith traditions, and vocational paths, they are grounded people leading good and meaningful lives. Some have met significant challenges with courage and determination.

In sum, this obsession with college prestige and reputation has gone too far. And while vocational considerations are certainly important in terms of post-secondary learning, a higher education should include a healthy dose of ideas, concepts, information, and experiences that don’t necessarily translate into a paycheck. Indeed, perhaps that education might even transmit the kind of values that would discourage someone from paying a huge bribe to get their child into a chosen school. Imagine that.

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Related writings

I’ve written a couple of law review articles about the influence of the rankings culture on aspects of legal education:

  • Way back in 1997, I wrote one of the first law review articles critiquing ranking schemes of law schools, “Same Old, Same Old: Law School Rankings and the Affirmation of Hierarchy” (Suffolk University Law Review; free download here). I pulled a few punches, as I was a very junior professor writing on a topic that had yet to be explored in legal scholarship, and my caution shows. However, I think it anticipates the fuller criticisms that have followed.
  • The rankings and prestige obsessions have infected the world of scholarly publication as well. I wrote a critique of the culture of legal scholarship and suggested alternatives in a more recent law review article, “Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship” (University of Memphis Law Review, free download here). If I may be immodest, it is one of my best long-form, essay-type writings.

Boston Globe: Two important features on workplace bullying

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe published two lengthy features on workplace bullying. Both are detailed and compelling and worthy of our close attention.

Bullied in the state prison system

The Globe‘s Jenna Russell goes in depth on the story of former corrections officer Marycatherin DeFazio, who suffered years of savage bullying and sexual harassment while working for the Massachusetts state prison system. It is a terrible account of repeated verbal battering, sexual vulgarities, defamatory rumor-mongering, physical assault, and abandonment by co-workers that left her at severe risk of harm. DeFazio’s reports of the abuse to prison officials made no difference.

Like so many stories of severe, ongoing bullying and abuse at work, this one cannot be easily summarized. Russell does a superb job of explaining the personal and organizational dynamics, sharing plenty of nuances that are part of many bullying situations. She also makes brief mention of efforts to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill here in Massachusetts. You can read the entire story here; registration may be necessary.

Bullied in the process of becoming a doctor

Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran, a Canadian resident physician and medical journalist, provides an in-depth look at bullying and mobbing behaviors at the residency stage of medical training:

THERE’S NO QUESTION that bullying is endemic in medical education. One study revealed that about half of residents and fellows in the U.S. reported being bullied, most often by their attending physicians. Canadian researchers found that 78 percent of residents surveyed reported being bullied and harassed in their training, often by attendings or program directors. 

The mistreatment can be so severe that suicides of residents have been associated with it. And if the abuse alone isn’t bad enough, consider that it also negatively affects patient care.

This piece, too, is hard to capture in a few snippets and thus merits a full read. You can read it in full here; again, registration may be necessary.

Some background

In December 2017, the Globe became probably the first major newspaper in the U.S. to put a feature about workplace bullying on its front page, when it ran Beth Teitell’s excellent overview of workplace bullying and its impact on workers and workplaces.

This weekend’s coverage took the focus into a deeper level of understanding. I have to say that I hopefully anticipated both features. I provided background information to both Russell and  Kalaichandran as they were preparing their articles, and I could tell that they “got it” in terms of grasping the complexities of bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors at work. This was borne out by the quality of their published pieces.

We need more media coverage of this caliber in order to expand public education of the human carnage wrought by bullying, mobbing, and abuse in the workplace. Hat’s off to the Globe for providing two excellent examples this weekend.

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If you’re on Facebook, please consider “liking” my new Page for this blog and the New Workplace Institute. Go here to sign up.

 

Join me on Facebook!

Dear readers, if you’re on Facebook, please consider “liking” my new Page for the New Workplace Institute and this blog! Go here for the link, and simply “Like” the Page.

I tend to be very deliberate about adopting new technologies and social media platforms. For example, despite many suggestions, I’ve avoided setting up a Twitter account. There’s something about that platform that bothers me, so I’ve stayed away.

By contrast, I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook. Nevertheless, I’ve held off on creating a Page for the blog. Instead, I’ve simply shared blog posts to my personal page and other places.

However, I finally broke down when I realized that a dedicated Page on Facebook would help me share more of the work I’ve been doing, post additional info that doesn’t make it into the blog, and foster greater dialogue with readers and followers. If you’re a Facebook user, I hope you’ll join me at my new Page.

On “workism” and American attitudes toward work

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook that I had managed to crank out a 30-page draft of an article, citing roughly 75 sources, in four days. Although I was happy with the draft when I submitted it for possible publication, upon rereading it I quickly saw its rough edges. Nevertheless, some of my Facebook pals gave me kudos for having hunkered down and completed the job, and I have to say that I was giving myself a pat on the back for having pulled it off.

But today I read this piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, “Workism Is Making America Miserable” (link here) and I had to wonder if it was speaking to me:

The economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. They failed to anticipate that, for the poor and middle class, work would remain a necessity; but for the college-educated elite, it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community. Call it workism.

…The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.

OK, so some might understandably say that “workism” is merely a repackaged way of saying workaholic. But Thompson is taking the latter notion a step further. He’s basically giving social class and (male) gendered angles to this deep, sometimes obsessive quest to work. He confesses that he is a “workist” whose personal identity “is so bound up in my job, my sense of accomplishment, and my feeling of productivity,” yet he also realizes that this isn’t good for him or for society. In fact, he makes suggestions for public policy reform that combat workism. (He shares plenty of details in the full article, which I heartily recommend.)

I am very grateful for the work I get to do. In terms of my work as a professor, with the exception of grading exams (a necessary evil) and faculty meetings (ditto, sometimes minus “necessary”), it’s a wonderful job. Teaching, scholarship, and service — the troika that make up a professor’s core job duties — are very rewarding activities. But geez, I saw a lot of myself in that article. It’s not unusual for me to work seven days a week.

However, I break with the workism theme here: While Thompson says that workism has replaced faith for some, I don’t necessarily look at it that way. Although my religious beliefs are a work-in-progress — I believe in a God whose truth is somewhere in the intersection of the great faith traditions and various notions of spirituality — that hodgepodge of values helps to infuse my work with meaning. There are many others with much more defined religious beliefs who see their work as a personal ministry. And for those who see their work as an opportunity to create positive change, it’s not about making more money. 

That said, all work and no play can be an unhealthy recipe. I’m trying to do better on that elusive work-life balance thing. One of my hobbies is singing. For years I’ve taken a weekly singing workshop at a local adult education center. I’ve also become a regular at a local karaoke studio. I love the Great American Songbook — Sinatra, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Rodgers & Hammerstein, and some of the classic singer-songwriters are among my favorites. In fact, I’ll be crooning a few tunes at karaoke this weekend.

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