E-mail sanity: Do as this says, not as I do

Remember a day, not too long ago, when e-mail was this amazing tool for communicating with people more easily and quickly than ever before?

Well, that’s still true: e-mail is easy and fast.  And it can save time doing certain work tasks, especially anything that requires more than a quick phone conversation with more than one person.  Problem is, it’s so easy and fast that many of us have in-boxes that are overloaded with unsorted, unfiled, undeleted, and even unread e-mails.  For many, e-mail has become a source of anxiety rather than a mode of convenience.

To help us manage the deluge, Farhad Manjoo recently wrote this piece for the New York Times on managing e-mail, and it’s worth printing out: www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/technology/personaltech/05basics.html.

I hope it’s helpful, but please don’t bother e-mailing me with your reaction.

Workplace Civility from the Heartland

I’ve added to the blogroll this very interesting blog, Civility in the Workplace, from the Iowa State University Extension: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/.  Some thought-provoking posts cover topics such as:

Micromanagement vs. microemployees:  www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/05/micromanagement_command_and_co.html

Distinguishing between criticism and bullying:  www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2008/04/criticism_and_bullying_are_two.html

Moving from contentious to collaborative cultures: www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2009/01/from_contentious_to_collaborat.html

Battle looming over labor law reform

There is a huge battle looming in Congress over the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation strongly supported by the labor movement that eases the path to union representation and collective bargaining agreements.  (For background info, see earlier post: https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/labor-efca-and-the-obama-administration/.)

Readers of this blog may know that I support EFCA.  A policy brief that I wrote in support of the legislation can be downloaded here: http://www.adaction.org/media/EFCA.pdf.

For another perspective, management-side employment lawyer Michael Fox provides some interesting observations on the pending legislative fight: http://employerslawyer.blogspot.com/2009/03/efca-strongarm-majority-leader-reid.html#links.

Learning about work: Socially Responsible MBA Programs

One of the noticeable trends in graduate-level business administration programs has been the emergence of socially responsible Master of Business Administration programs, which emphasize preparing leaders to create, build, and run sustainable businesses.  These MBA offerings range from socially responsible concentrations within established business schools to original, innovative programs offered by new business schools.

Two programs in the latter category are the MBA in Sustainable Management offered by the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco (http://www.presidiomba.org/mba_overview/) and the MBA in Sustainable Business offered by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle (http://www.bgiedu.org/content/view/9/40/).  They are worth taking a look at if only to gain a sense of the creative thinking going on behind this new wave of business education.

For those who want to learn more about socially responsible MBA programs, Berrett-Koehler publishes the Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs, available as a softcover book or a more affordable download: www.bkconnection.com/ProdDetails.asp?ID=9781576756669&PG=3&Type=RLMa&PCS=BKP.

The Working Wounded

Here’s an ABC News story looking at the stress and survivor’s guilt experienced by the “working wounded,” those individuals who are fortunate to remain employed but who are dealing with the burdens of doing more with less after their colleagues have lost their jobs: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/Economy/story?id=7007973&page=1.

Facing the Music, and Not Forgetting

This post is going to ramble a bit, but it’s about the economy and our places in it.

Facing the Music

Ignorance can be blissful.  By turning off the seemingly relentless stream of bad news about the economy and the job market, we can pretend all is well, or at least OK, especially if we happen to be among those fortunate folks who are gainfully employed.

But if ever there was a time to pay attention to the world around us, this is it.

For example, here’s an Associated Press piece speculating, not unreasonably, about whether this recession is on its way towards becoming a depression, not as bad as 1929, but qualifying for the “D word” nonetheless: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090302/ap_on_bi_ge/the_d_word.

Even if we’re not heading towards a depression, some knowledgeable folks are forecasting a deep, lasting recession.  Economist Nouriel Roubini, who was tagged as “Dr. Doom” when he predicted the current crisis over a year ago, says in an interview that we’re in the midst of a rare “synchronized global recession” that could last for 36 months:  http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/article/197164/Even-%27Dr.-Doom%27-Is-Scared-Economy-Much-Worse-Than-Roubini-Predicted.

New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt wrote this about the economy and job losses (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/business/04leonhardt.html):

What does the worst recession in a generation look like?

It is both deep and broad. Every state in the country, with the exception of a band stretching from the Dakotas down to Texas, is now shedding jobs at a rapid pace. And even that band has recently begun to suffer, because of the sharp fall in both oil and crop prices.

Last Sunday, the Times ran two pieces that no doubt caused shudders among its core of upper middle class readers: “Forced From Executive Pay to Hourly Wage” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/us/01survival.html) and “Boomers in a Post-Boom Economy” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/fashion/01generationb.html).

Three years ago, personal finance magazines like Money and Kiplinger’s were running cover stories about how to invest enough money to live the good life.   Now they’re writing about how to rebuild broken nest eggs (from Money: http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/23/retirement/retirement_rescue.moneymag/) and how to cut daily spending (from Kiplinger’s:  http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2009/02/save-fifty-a-day-and-feel-no-pain.html).

Even the lefty In These Times offers advice on savings and frugality, with a progressive political spin: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4249/all_consuming_poverty/.

Individually, we may be in a position to take steps to better secure our own financial situations and those of people closest to us.  But if we want to affect the bigger picture, we must be engaged, involved citizens as well.  This is not a time to be looking purely inward.  The old labor adage of hanging together or hanging separately certainly applies to the times.

Not Forgetting

Last year, as the economy as the fall political campaign launched, the economy began to tank, and corporate bailouts were on their way to become standard practice, Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel blogged about poverty in America:



The upshot of these posts, as Vanden Heuvel wrote on on Sept. 30, is that “too little attention is being paid to the real struggles of ordinary people and the human costs of our inequitable economy.” 

As the meltdown and recession have ripped through the home equity, retirement accounts, and job security of so many people who, one year ago, anticipated a decently secure future, the plights of the working poor and the truly destitute have become even more invisible on our everyday radar screens.  And yet, as Leonhardt noted in his Times column,  “recessions exact the biggest price on the most vulnerable workers.”

After all, Kiplinger’s advice about how to save $50 a day and “feel no pain” may be useful to some people, but for many others it is literally impossible, unless going hungry and skipping rent payments are viable ways to “feel no pain.”

True, even periodicals such as Business Week are talking about capping the pay of corporate CEOs:  http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_07/b4119000763155.htm.  However, debating President Obama’s proposal for capping pay at $500,000 for CEOs of companies that are receiving bailout monies is not the same as examining the ongoing and deepening challenges facing the poor and others who are struggling to make ends meet.

It’s really difficult, as middle class aspirations and hopes are being tempered and shred, to remember that for all too many, poverty is a way of life, recession or not.  At a time when fiercely free market CEOs are demanding bailout monies in the billions from the federal government, we must insist that an economic “recovery” that stops at the middle class is a morally inadequate one.

I’m not an expert on economics or high finance, and I won’t pretend that this modest post contains any golden nuggets of economic policy advice.  But I will urge dear readers not to turn away from the gruesome news about our economy and to participate as citizens in the discussion about how to reverse this dire state of affairs.

Massachusetts public employee unions successfully negotiate workplace bullying provision

Massachusetts public employee unions affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) have approved a new collective bargaining agreement covering over 21,000 state workers that includes protections against workplace bullying and abusive supervision.

The new agreement is effective July 1, 2009 and runs for three years.

SEIU/NAGE bargaining teams proposed adding bullying and abusive supervision to the contract during negotiations with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Dubbed the “mutual respect” provision in the new contract, it is believed to be one of the first major American collective bargaining agreements to include express protections against bullying at work.  Here is the provision:

Article 6A

Mutual Respect

The Commonwealth and the Union agree that mutual respect between and among managers, employees, co-workers and supervisors is integral to the efficient conduct of the Commonwealth’s business. Behaviors that contribute to a hostile, humiliating or intimidating work environment, including abusive language or behavior, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Employees who believe they are subject to such behavior should raise their concerns with an appropriate manager or supervisor as soon as possible, but no later than ninety (90) days from the occurrence of the incident(s). In the event the employee(s) concerns are not addressed at the Agency level, whether informally or through the grievance procedure, within a reasonable period of time, the employee or the union may file a grievance at step 3 of the grievance procedure as set forth in Article 23. If an employee, or the Union, requests a hearing at step 3, such hearing shall be granted. Grievances filed under this section shall not be subject to the arbitration provisions set forth in Article 23. No employee shall be subject to discrimination for filing a complaint, giving a statement, or otherwise participating in the administration of this process.

An alleged violation of the provision may be grieved, but it may not proceed to arbitration.  According to Greg Sorozan, president of SEIU/NAGE Local 282 and one of the lead negotiators, “the Commonwealth recognized the existence of ‘workplace bullying'” but at this juncture “sought to limit their financial exposure by refusing to bring grievances all the way to arbitration.”

This is a major step forward and an excellent example of committed, visionary, and capable union leadership.  The new CBA covers SEIU Locals 509 and 888 and NAGE Units 1, 3, and 6.  Special kudos go to SEIU’s Kevin Preston, who coordinated the collective bargaining efforts for the unions, and to SEIU/NAGE’s Greg Sorozan, who introduced the idea of a provision covering workplace bullying and led negotiations for the NAGE bargaining units.  SEIU/NAGE took an early lead in recognizing the need for mutual respect in the workplace.

In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deserves credit for recognizing bullying as a workplace hazard.

This also is an encouraging instance of new ideas leading to good results.  In November 2007, I gave a presentation about workplace bullying to an SEIU/NAGE shop stewards training session, and I concluded my talk by suggesting that concerns about abusive supervision should be raised at the negotiating table.  Union leadership began doing so, and the result of their steadfast efforts was this significant development.

Creating a Vocation: Portrait of an “Artivist”


Kayhan Irani

Here’s an equation that even math-phobes like me can appreciate:  Artist + Activist = “Artivist”

“Artivist” is the self-styled vocation that Kayhan Irani of New York City has created for herself, and it’s a compelling mix of artistic vision, commitment to social change, a good soul, and hard work.  At a time when many are asking how we can create work that is consistent with our values, Kayhan’s example is one worth considering.

For example, “We’ve Come Undone” is Kayhan’s one-woman play in which she portrays the challenges facing immigrant women in post-9/11 America.  In 2004, Kayhan brought “We’ve Come Undone” to Suffolk University Law School, and she played to a full audience drawn from the Greater Boston community.  Especially at a time when anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sympathies ran strong and public support for the Iraq War remained at a high level, this was a brave and creative performance of heart and mind.

That same weekend, Kayhan also hosted a “Theatre of the Oppressed” workshop the day before, inviting those of us who are (definitely!) not professional performers to engage in improvisional acting scenes drawn from daily life.  Her presence throughout was warm, engaging, and educational.

Not everyone will agree with Kayhan’s worldview, but my point in introducing her work is not to advance a certain political outlook.  Rather, it’s to show how an individual can create meaningful work, consistent with her values and beliefs, in a way that makes a difference.

For more about Kayhan’s work, visit her Artivista website at: http://www.artivista.org/.

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