Tired Doctors = Patients at Risk

Here’s a less publicized concern in the quest for quality health care: Recently Liz Kowalczyk, a health reporter at the Boston Globe, wrote about surgical residents at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (one of the nation’s leading hospitals) working too many hours, in violation of medical education accreditation standards:

Junior surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital have been working too many hours, in violation of patient safety rules, according to a national accrediting organization that is threatening to put the hospital’s surgery training program on probation.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education cited the hospital because a significant number of its surgeons in training, known as residents, were exceeding hour limits and working seven days straight. The organization believes these workloads contribute to fatigue-related mistakes, and has given the hospital until Aug. 15 to fix the problem.
When I get a chance, I’ll be writing a more extensive post about the relationship of working conditions in healthcare fields and increased risk of patient errors.  There’s a lot to say on this topic, making healthcare an important focal point for consideration of how we can create healthier workplaces.

Can the term “bullying” be overused?

Can terms such as “workplace bullying” be overused to the point of actually impeding the effective resolution of conflicts at work?  Yes, says Coreen Nugent, writing in the British-based Personneltoday.com:

Using this term to describe inappropriate behaviour such as poor management, unwanted personal comments and jokes that go too far, can cause situations to rapidly escalate into a total breakdown of the workplace relationship. Once an allegation of bullying has been made, workers will immediately adopt unhelpful and defensive positions, with less room for rebuilding the relationship.

Nugent’s observations deserve our attention.  If allegations of bullying are made every time people exchange angry words or believe they are on the receiving end of bad management practices and decisions, then we run the risk of elevating tensions and disagreements in the workplace.  In addition, overuse of the term has the effect of obscuring the truly abusive, malicious, and harmful behaviors that constitute genuine workplace bullying.

It’s true that, at the margins, it can be difficult to distinguish lousy management or human relations skills from bullying, but we should be careful not to use bullying as a generic term for workplace discord and dysfunction.  Here is where terms such as workplace incivility come into play.  Of course, bad management can reveal itself in ways that exploit power relationships at work, raising scenarios that fall short of bullying while nevertheless causing stress and anxiety.  It’s also possible to have a manager who is so screwed up that s/he maliciously targets a lot of people, so here again we run into tricky situations at the border.

That said, bullying, as this blog has emphasized over and again, tends to be targeted, malicious, and health-endangering.  When it reaches this level, it should be named as such, notwithstanding Nugent’s valid concerns.

For Coreen Nugent’s “Workplace bullying: top tips for tackling the problem”:  http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2009/06/26/51204/workplace-bullying-top-tips-for-tackling-the-problem.html

Website of the Week: European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology

The European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology is a great example of how our friends across the pond have been setting the standard for taking seriously the importance of psychologically healthy workplaces.

On issues ranging from occupational stress to workplace bullying to work-life balance and many others, the Europeans have been a great inspiration to those of us in the United States with their social vision and intellectual leadership.

Check out the Academy’s website at: http://eaohp.org/default.aspx.

Faulhaber on Work vs. Family

Thomas Faulhaber, founder and editor of The Business Forum, discusses the conflicts between work responsibilities and family obligations in a nice little essay.  He concludes that emerging businesses may be in a better position to balance these competing, valid priorities:

The emerging company is often better able to accommodate these discordant family and business demands. It can implement and maintain more flexible policies, respond to special situations and family crises with personal sensitivity and compassion, and foster a healthy corporate culture. Public policy continues to promote family formation. The emerging company is positioned to meet these newly-perceived conflicts between the old and the new in innovative and uniquely human ways.

For Faulhaber’s “Job Responsibilities vs. Family Obligations”: http://www.businessforum.com/jobfamily.html

Video: Hopefully Sid Citrus is Not Your Boss!

Orange Rebel Productions is producing a very funny online video series, “Sid Citrus: Asshole Boss,” in conjunction with The People Group, a workplace consulting firm led by Kevin Kennemer, a friend of this blog.  Here’s the announcement from Kevin’s blog, Chief People Officer:

Orange Rebel Productions today announced the launch of a new comedy web series, Sid Citrus: Asshole Boss, in partnership with inaugural corporate sponsor, The People Group. “Sid’s goal in life is to be universally acclaimed by his peers as the King of all corporate assholes. Sid Citrus already stands head and shoulders above every other jerk boss out there,” laughs writer-director Fred Emmer. “Or rather I should say, he floats.” Sid Citrus is an orange. A floating, philandering orange to be exact, who wears a tie, including Saturdays. And he’s not very nice.

Sid Citrus on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/sidcitrus

Kevin Kennemer’s post:  http://thepeoplegroupllc.com/2009/06/video-series-sponsored-by-the-people-group-premiers-on-youtube-sid-citrus-asshole-boss/

The Working Poor, Countervailing Power, and EFCA

Let’s face it: For most Americans, what makes a recession “bad” is that it threatens the economic security of middle-class and upper middle-class households.  The stories that keep us awake at night are those of folks who were doing fine until a job loss sent them spiraling into foreclosure or bankruptcy.

But what of the people who were barely getting by even before the meltdown?

Barbara Ehrenreich, who helped to shine a light on the challenges facing the working poor in her bestseller Nickel and Dimed (2001), caught up with some of the people she interviewed for the book to see how they were doing.  Not surprisingly, she reported in an op-ed piece in the June 14 edition of the New York Times, they were still struggling:

This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.

This spring, I tracked down a couple of the people I had met while working on my 2001 book, “Nickel and Dimed,” in which I worked in low-wage jobs like waitressing and housecleaning, and I found them no more gripped by the recession than by “American Idol”; things were pretty much “same old.” The woman I called Melissa in the book was still working at Wal-Mart, though in nine years, her wages had risen to $10 an hour from $7. “Caroline,” who is increasingly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, now lives with a grown son and subsists on occasional cleaning and catering jobs.

The low-wage, service sector of our labor market emerged at a time when unions have been in decline.  As an important legislative response, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act will help to facilitate union formation and collective bargaining agreements.

In the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that organized labor exercised “countervailing power” in the battle over division of profits.  By the mid-1990s, he reluctantly acknowledged for many workers union organization “is not now a practical solution.”  Passage of EFCA won’t reverse that judgment overnight, but it will help to level a badly tilted playing field.

For Ehrenreich’s op-ed, “Too Poor to Make the News”: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/opinion/14ehrenreich.html

For a briefing paper I authored on the Employee Free Choice Act: http://www.adaction.org/media/EFCA.pdf

Earlier version published originally on June 16 on eLiberal, the blog of Americans for Democratic Action (www.adaction.org).

The Tyranny of Word: How Microsoft Hurts Office Productivity

Microsoft Word, the seemingly ubiquitous word processing program, is a shining example of how product quality and market share can be mutually exclusive considerations.

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.

I have no time studies to support this point, but my writing productivity as a professor declined when I was more or less obliged to switch from WordPerfect 5.1 to MS Word for Windows.  Word was, and remains, slower, more cumbersome, and more outrageously control freakish.  For basic text documents with footnotes and other features of academic writing, it is a burdensome program.  Writing a scholarly article with Word is an annoying chore.

Even worse, the dear folks at Microsoft have heaped upon us Word 2007.  My school just switched over to this version, and I’m hoping our computer staff will be able to reinstall the old one on my machine.  Word 2007 is no better than its predecessors, but it offers the added bonus of a substantially changed menu that only inflicts more frustration onto the experience of using this deficient product. 

In sum, Microsoft Word is a lousy word processing program, and Word 2007 shows us how a product can undergo a considerable revision without being materially improved.  The folks at Microsoft may be laughing all the way to the bank, but they are doing so at the expense of office productivity around the world.

Talking about Workplace Bullying: The Value of Different Perspectives

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during the 10 years I’ve been talking and writing about workplace bullying is the importance of incorporating different perspectives.  Academicians sometimes refer to this as being “multidisciplinary,” i.e., reaching out to scholars in other fields of study, but in this context it’s much more than that.

Case in point: Yesterday I participated in a program on workplace bullying sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar Association.  My introductory remarks about workplace bullying and the law were followed by the heart of the program, a short series of hypothetical role-plays in which attendees were asked to consider responses to bullying scenarios from the standpoints of lawyers, HR directors, and other individuals.

Because the program attracted not only employment lawyers, but also an array of HR professionals, union officers, employee assistance counselors, and dispute resolution specialists, the discussion was especially lively, informed, and diverse in viewpoints.  The give and take was spirited but respectful, and people learned from one another.  Boston employment lawyer Dave Wilson skillfully moderated the discussion, with Mary Rowe (MIT ombudsperson), Lydia Cummings (Harvard ombudsperson), and yours truly helping to facilitate the dialogue and adding relevant points of information.

When “attendees” become “participants” and add their experience and expertise, the result can be a powerfully educative event.  That certainly was the case here.  It also gave me some ideas for planning programs for the New Workplace Institute.

Maybe even Donald Trump gets it?

Perhaps my least favorite variety of co-worker is the “kiss up, kick down” type who shamelessly curries favor with higher ups while treating others as lesser beings.  A lot of workplace bullies raise this practice to an art form.

So I was especially amused when I read why Donald Trump recently fired Carrie Prejean, Miss California, a few short weeks after publicly defending Ms. Prejean in the wake of her comments about same-sex marriage and revelations about racy photographs taken of her several years ago:

To me, she was the sweetest thing.  Everyone else, she treated like s–t.

Apparently, the now-dethroned Miss California was a terror to work with and repeatedly missed scheduled public appearances.

File under: Only skin deep.

(No links for this one, but if you Google Trump’s words, you’ll be awash in hits.)

Tough boss vs. workplace bully: Malice makes the difference

Distinguishing between tough management styles and workplace bullying is a frequent topic of conversation among those who deal with employment relations.  In the June issue of HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Teresa Daniel provides a summary of her doctoral research on workplace bullying that identifies malice as the linchpin factor:

Workplace bullying is an unambiguous and intentional form of abusive behavior, and participants in this study describe clear distinctions between the two types of managers. The findings suggest that whether or not a conflict situation is workplace bullying can be determined by the presence or absence of malice—defined in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (2008) as “the desire to cause pain, injury or distress to another.”

Daniel’s analysis buttresses a key component of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), anti-bullying legislation I authored that has been introduced in over a dozen states since 2003.  The HWB requires a bullied employee to establish that s/he was treated maliciously in order to state a valid legal claim.

For Daniel’s article: shrm.org/Publications/hrmagazine/EditorialContent/Pages/0609daniel.aspx

Daniel’s new book, Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR and Legal Professionals, also is published by SHRM.

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