Workplace Bullies in Politics

Politics attracts a lot of workplace bullies.  Political affiliation is irrelevant.  And we all lose as a result.  Two visible cases in point:

Sarah Palin, Alaska Governor (R), VP candidate, and Saturday Night Live ratings savior:

Rod Blagojevich, Illinois Governor (D) and alleged auctioneer of a Senate seat:

Their wackjob personalities get most of the media attention.  But as these articles show, both also appear driven to squish their opponents like bugs — Blago being the classic in-your-face bully, Palin being the classic stealth bully.  Workplace bullies often display a desire to exterminate perceived enemies.  Both fit the profile.

Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse

Especially in light of the times, here’s a book worth looking at by business ethics & law professor Marianne Jennings, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to Spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies…Before It’s Too Late (St. Martin’s Press 2006).


Her seven warning signs are:


-Pressure to maintain numbers

-Fear and silence

-Larger than life CEO

-Weak board of directors

-Conflicts of interest

-Innovation trumping any other priority, such as ethics

-Belief that goodness in some areas atones for wrongdoing in others


Jennings drew these lessons from companies like Enron and WorldCom but says they apply to all types of organizations.


Inexpensive copies can be purchased from

How Do We Get “Good Jobs at Good Wages”?


“Good jobs at good wages” is a phrase we hear often during political campaign times, usually referring to manufacturing jobs offering decent pay and benefits and safe working conditions.  But labor lawyer Beth Shulman, in her book Betrayal at Work: How Low Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans (2003), has reminded us of how “good jobs” became that way:


Today’s “good jobs” in large-scale manufacturing were not always good.  Working in a factory is hard work.  It can be dirty and unsafe.  At one time, it paid poor wages and had few benefits.  But factory jobs became “good” jobs in this country when employers were forced to make them so through worker power in unions.  This success also forced nonunion employers to change their wage and benefit packages to compete for workers.


Today there is no shortage of jobs that provide low pay, few benefits, and harsh working conditions.  The labor movement can and must play the same organizing, advocacy, and representational role for home health care workers, retail store employees, fast food servers, and others who find themselves in the low-wage sector of the workforce, as it has for manufacturing workers.


Of course, some unions do a terrible job at advocating for their members, some are corrupt, and still others engage in threats or, more rarely, actual commission of violence.  These practices are as inconsistent with the goals of dignity in the workplace as abusive or unethical employer behaviors.  Nevertheless, the presence of bad unions does not negate the critical importance of organized labor as a force on behalf of working people. 


This blog will include ongoing discussions about the role of organized labor in today’s workplaces.  If you’d like to read more now, check out:


Lawrence Mishel and Matthew Walters, How Unions Help All Workers (2003), available without charge at



Work on TV: ER

ER is in its 15th and final season as NBC’s weekly drama set in County General Hospital in Chicago.  It’s been an off-and-on thing for me, but last season I rediscovered the program and am enjoying its last run.

In addition to being a prime-time soap opera and guilty pleasure, ER is much about work, the good and bad of it:

  • Good — It’s about finding work that is important and meaningful.  The doctors, nurses, staff…they’re all contributing to something that matters.
  • Bad — Whoa, these guys spend a lot of time at work, don’t they?  Their outside lives are portrayed as being quite peripheral.
  • Good — Over time, we see people grow, mature, regress, rebound, and retool, professionally and personally.  Some die.  The characters are not static.
  • Bad — Working in health care is a pressure cooker.  ER captures some of that.

Good Bosses: Looking Back

During summers and vacations while in college, I worked as a stock clerk for a local drug store chain.  The stock clerks unloaded trucks, arranged and filled floor displays, and did clean up work.  The pay was lousy (a non-union job paying just a tad over minimum wage), and the work could be quite exhausting (especially if it was necessary to move dozens of heavy boxes around the warehouse by hand).

But looking back, I must say this: The founder and president of the chain, his heir apparent son, and the floor managers they hired didn’t ask the stock clerks to do anything they weren’t willing to do themselves, and at times we’d be working side-by-side doing the same work.  When they pitched in to do some heavy lifting, it wasn’t just for show, they worked hard to help get the job done.  They didn’t pamper us, but they appreciated a good work ethic and knew how to say thank you with sincerity.

Have You Ever Worked for/with a Sociopath?

In lay terms, a sociopath is someone who lacks a conscience.

In my work on workplace bullying, I have found that sociopaths make for the scariest bullies.  They are smart and devious and utterly ruthless.

If you want to read more, I recommend:

Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door (2006 paperback ed.)

Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2007 paperback ed.)

Workplace Bullying: A Short Primer

If you become a regular reader of this blog, you’re going to see a lot about workplace bullying.

For the unitiated, workplace bullying can be defined as the repeated, malicious, health-endangering mistreatment of a worker by a supervisor or co-worker, using verbal and non-verbal methods.  It may come in the way of the loud, thuggish, in-your-face boss, or perhaps a group of co-workers ganging up on someone they don’t like by spreading rumors and unfairly disparaging that person’s performance.

In any of its endless forms, workplace bullying wreaks havoc on workers and employers alike, impairing the health of targeted employees and hurting productivity and morale.

Many other countries have recognized the harms caused by workplace bullying, but in the U.S., we have become aware of it only during the past 10 or so years, thanks largely to the pioneering work of Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie and their Workplace Bullying Institute (, which for newbies to this subject should be your very first virtual destination to learn more.  Their book, The Bully at Work (Sourcebooks, with a new edition coming out in early 2009), is the best information source for the general reader.

The Namies also are leading the charge to help enact workplace bullying laws.   Several years ago, I drafted model anti-bullying legislation — which we’ve dubbed the “Healthy Workplace Bill” — that is now the subject of grassroots lobbying campaigns in numerous states.  To learn more, go to:

If you’d like to read some of the longer, more scholarly articles I’ve written on workplace bullying, you can check out abstracts and download information (all free) at:

One of the posted articles, “Workplace Bullying and Ethical Leadership,” is shorter, more accessible, and directed to organizational leaders and others who would like to address this destructive phenomenon.

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