Shout out to SUNY-Empire State College

Many thanks to the folks at SUNY-Empire State College (where I earned a Master’s degree in Labor and Policy Studies in 1999) for running this generous interview by Helen Susan Edelman, profiling my work on workplace bullying in the Spring 2010 issue of Connections, the ESC magazine:

Workplace bullying is a problem wherever there are human beings, says David Yamada, and he is dedicated to redressing this destructive phenomenon.  A lawyer and law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Yamada is inspired by a vision of a work environment that affirms and dignifies individuals; he promulgates this ideal in efforts to encourage the legal system, institutions and individuals to address workplace bullying.

Empire State College: A higher education pioneer

Empire State has been and remains a pioneering institution in developing and offering innovative degree programs. I have been an active alumnus because I believe wholeheartedly in its mission as a public, flexible learning college for adults who want to make a difference in their workplaces and communities.  Recently I joined the Graduate Dean’s Advisory Board, and for several years I have sponsored a modest scholarship for a graduate student pursuing studies in labor relations.

New York State Senate passes Healthy Workplace Bill; Assembly next

On May 12, the New York State Senate passed the Healthy Workplace Bill by a 45-16 vote.   The next stop for the bill is the State Assembly.

This is the second time this year that the Healthy Workplace Bill has been approved in a state legislative floor vote, the first being a  vote in the Illinois Senate.

Bipartisanship can work!

In a news release, Senator Thomas Morahan (R-Rockland Co.), co-prime sponsor with Senator George Onorato (D-Queens), highlighted the bipartisan cooperation that led to passage in the Senate:

“The social and economic well-being of the State is dependent upon healthy, safe, and productive employees,” said Senator Morahan. “I want to thank all my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, who voted for this legislation today. In particular, Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Labor Committee, Republican Leader Dean Skelos, Majority Conference Leader John Sampson and Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein for helping secure passage of the legislation”.

“I became aware of the prevalence of abusive environments in the workplace when one of my constituents brought her situation at her place of employment to my attention. It became apparent that legislation was needed to address the problem,” said Morahan.

In view of the gridlock and bitter political infighting that we’re seeing in this country, it is heartening to me that Republican and Democratic legislative leaders can come together to support legislation that will safeguard the health and dignity of all workers.

Thank you, Tom and Mike

Special kudos go to New York Healthy Workplace Advocate State Coordinators Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt, whose tireless efforts on behalf of the legislation have been largely responsible for this development.  Their work has been an excellent example of how steadfast commitment and smart advocacy can make a difference.

Next step: The New York State Assembly

Looking ahead to advocating for the bill in the Assembly, the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates circulated this request to New York supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill:

***

Dear Healthy Workplace Advocate,

Big news!  The Healthy Workplace Bill was passed in the New York State Senate today!!!  (Now we need the Assembly to do the same!)

If you haven’t already done so, please send us a letter detailing your workplace bullying experience or at the very least, us the template letter below to request our state Assemblymembers to pass the bill in their house.  We need your letter ASAP and by May 17, 2010 to show to the leadership in the New York State Assembly to try to get the Healthy Workplace Bill passed into law by the end of June 2010!

Time is of the essence and you can email your letter to us at info@nyhwa.org as well.

If you can, please also ask a few others to send a letter too!

The letter writing campaign in just a short ten days made a tremendous impact on the New York State Senate, now it is time to show the Assembly these letters and yours to get the Healthy Workplace Bill passed! 

Thanks so much (in advance)!

Please send your typed or hand written letter ASAP to:

Elected Representative of the New York State Legislature

c/o New York Health Workplace Advocates
P.O. Box 43
Amherst, NY 14226
 

or send via email to: info@nyhwa.org

Thank you!
Please use the template below as a guide to write your letter because we received a request to ask you to include the name of your state senator and your state assemblymember at the beginning of your letter.

May 12, 2010

The New York Legislature
c/o New York Healthy Workplace Advocates
PO Box 43
Amherst, NY 14226

Dear Elected Representative:

My state senator is ____________ _ and my state assemblymember is ____________ , and I am appealing to you in your role as an influential member of the  New York State Legislature to advance and enact into law the Healthy Workplace Bill S1823 / A5414 this legislative session.  The bill addresses workplace bullying.

I have witnessed <or experienced> bullying in the workplace <describe the harm it caused to the individual(s) involved and to the employer>.  <Also, please try to keep your letter to one page if possible to make it easier to reproduce>.

Please do everything you can to bring this bill to a vote  this legislative session. 

Thank you.

Sincerely,

<Your Name>
<Home address >
<Telephone number>

Americans: We’re rich but not saving a lot

Yahoo!’s home page this morning served up an interesting double dose about income, social responsibility, and personal savings rates.

We’re rich!

First up, a piece by Jeanine Skowronski about how our earnings compare with the rest of the world:

For example, if you make $52,000 a year (the median American household income for 2009), you are the 58,252,719 richest person in the world (or in the top 0.97 percentile of all moneymakers).

The article links to the Global Rich List, a little calculator that allows you to enter your annual income (anonymously) to see how it stacks up against individual earnings globally.  Most employed American middle-class (and above) workers will see that they’re doing remarkably well compared to the world generally.

Giving

The Global Rich List site is shamelessly manipulative.  Its purpose is not to solicit our investments, but rather to make us more aware of how even modest charitable donations can make a huge difference to those in need:

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

Saving

The average American may be wealthy by global standards, but we’re not saving much of what we earn.  A second article posted on Yahoo! by Joe Mont details how Americans are saving less of their incomes in the midst of the recession:

When it comes to saving their pennies for a rainy day, millions of Americans are facing drought conditions, victimized by the bad decisions that come with a lack of financial literacy.

…The portion of adults who lack non-retirement savings has increased from 63% in 2007 to 67% in 2010. However, 30% — the statistical equivalent of more than 68 million people — have no savings. Only 24% are saving more now than they did a year ago because of the weak economy. Nearly 39% Generation Y adults, more than any other age group, reported having no savings. Of those with no savings, one in four say that if faced with an emergency, they would charge that expense to a credit card or take out a loan.

…One-third of adults, approximately 75 million people, don’t put any household income toward retirement. That’s a 5% increase from the 2008 survey, but unchanged from 2009.

Verdict?

Even as we climb out of this horrific recession, many Americans still live in the Land of Plenty compared to many of our neighbors around the world.  We probably could afford to share more of our good fortune, and we sure as heck should be saving more for rainy days and retirements.

These are bigger topics, and I plan on commenting more in the months to come, but there’s lots of food for thought here.

Attleboro Sun Chronicle links school and workplace bullying

Here’s more evidence that we’re connecting the dots between different forms of bullying and abuse in our society:  The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Mass. ran an editorial, “Standing up to bullies at last,” that praised the new Massachusetts school bullying law and linked school and workplace abuse, citing survey data from the Workplace Bullying Institute:

“It’s incredibly upsetting to me that the adults don’t seem to have acted like adults,” the governor said last month, in criticizing South Hadley school officials. But, should we be surprised? After all, workplace bullying is also rife. Hallmarks are rumors and ridicule that damage a worker’s stature, purposeful isolation, chronic snubbing and acts of disdain.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, a nonprofit educational organization, provides research showing victims can suffer panic attacks and depression, and once targeted, there’s a 64 percent chance of losing their job for no apparent reason. Most workplace bullies are bosses, WBI reports, and bullying could not exist without the explicit or tacit approval from employers.

***

Related posts:

It took the death of a child…

The school bullying suicide of Phoebe Prince, age 15

Profiles of advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill

The movement to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill has been grounded in grassroots advocacy.  Fortunately, the media is starting to pick up on that fact by profiling some of these citizen lobbyists for legal protections against workplace bullying. 

Here are but two of the stories that have brought people to devote countless hours to this cause:

Monica Walker, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Journal ran this brief Q&A with Monica Walker of the Wisconsin Healthy Workplace Advocates:

Monica Walker has heard the stories: Employees isolated, taunted, sabotaged and humiliated by their bosses and co-workers. She can sympathize because Walker, 65, has experienced it herself.

That’s why the Mazomanie woman volunteered to be the state coordinator for the Healthy Workplace Bill making its way through the state Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, would require employers to create and enforce rules against repeated abusive behavior directed at workers – or face possible lawsuits.

Walker, now happily employed as an administrative assistant at New Heights Lutheran Church in Black Earth, told her story along with other “targets” of bullying at a Capitol hearing recently.

John Smurda, Ohio

The Steubenville Herald Star ran this profile of John Smurda of the Ohio Healthy Workplace Advocates:

It’s not as long a journey from automobile dealer to citizen advocate if one is committed to a cause. The switch in John Smurda’s life came as a result of reading a book and considering what he’s seen in his own family over the years. Smurda, a city resident, is now a volunteer citizen advocate for Ohio to pass a bill offering legal remedies to targets of workplace bullying.

***

Hat tip to the Workplace Bullying Institute for links to these stories.

Being a Good Mom is Hard Work

I usually write about work that earns a paycheck, but let’s pause on this Mother’s Day to recognize the hard work that doesn’t earn an hourly wage, a retirement plan, or health care coverage.

Simply put, being a good mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

The story that caught my attention is that of Eva Briseno, who spends her days and nights caring for her 27-year-old son, Joseph Briseno, Jr.  Joseph was catastrophically wounded in 2003 during a tour of duty in Iraq.  From AP medical writer Marilynn Marchione (link here):

And then there is Eva Briseno.

Joseph Briseno Jr., Eva’s 27-year-old son, is one of the most severely wounded soldiers ever to survive. A bullet to the back of his head in a Baghdad marketplace in 2003 left him paralyzed, brain-damaged and blind, but awake and aware of his condition.

Eva takes care of “Jay” in her suburban Virginia home where the family room has been transformed into an intensive care unit, with the breathing machine and tubes he needs to stay alive.

Try to imagine this life.

Each day starts with two hours of bowel care, an ordeal as awful as it sounds. She labors over his body, brushing his teeth, suctioning fluid from his lungs, exercising his limp arms and legs, and turning him every other hour to prevent bedsores.

She sleeps a few hours at a time, when the schedule says it is her turn, often slumped in exhaustion by his side.

She has been out to dinner with her husband, Joseph Sr., once in seven years.

Overtime pay?  Forget it.  Benefit plan?  Right.  Work-life balance?  No balance.

Fortunately not all mothers face such challenges.  But even for those moms whose responsibilities are more typical, it may be impossible to put a price on a job that requires self-sacrifice, continuous juggling, exquisite time management, and emotional intelligence beyond what any CEO must exercise.

***

P.S.  Mom, if you’re up there somewhere reading this, thanks for everything.

It took the death of a child…

Here in Massachusetts, it took the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to galvanize elected public officials into enacting a school bullying law.  In the aftermath of considerable publicity over her life and death, the Massachusetts legislature and the Governor swung into action.   As reported by the Boston Globe:

The law prohibits any actions that could cause emotional or physical harm to students, including text messages and taunting over the Internet. It also mandates antibullying training, for faculty as well as students, and requires that parents be informed of incidents at school.

It also requires every school employee, including custodians and cafeteria workers, report incidents of suspected bullying and that principals investigate each case.

A piece in Slate magazine by Emily Bazelon calls this “the country’s best anti-bullying law,” so clearly this is an important step forward.

But why did it take such a publicly visible tragedy to move us in the right direction?  In Massachusetts, school bullying legislation had languished for several years, despite pleas from families that something had to be done about this destructive problem. (As the Globe further reported, present at the bill signing was the father of an 11-year-old boy who committed suicide last year.)

And what about the workplace?

Last month I wrote about a Wisconsin legislative hearing on the Healthy Workplace Bill in which committee members heard details concerning the 2008 suicide of Jodie Zebell, who took her own life after enduring months of workplace bullying at the clinic where she worked as a mammographer.  This is one of a growing number of accounts from around the nation and the world linking workplace bullying to suicides.  The terrible phenomenon even has a name, “bullycide.”

Based on media coverage of the Phoebe Prince suicide as well as various bullycides, some of us who favor workplace bullying legislation are asking whether publicizing such human tragedy is necessary to get our legislators to take these forms of abuse seriously.  We are not unique in facing this question — no doubt advocates for protections against domestic violence and child abuse have confronted it too. 

We do not want to exploit human suffering, but is bringing that suffering into the public arena the only way to spur enactment of the laws we need? Indeed, if Phoebe Prince was alive today, looking forward to the summer after completing another year of high school, it is unlikely that the school bullying law so eagerly enacted in Massachusetts would have seen the light of day.

Work and the middle-aged brain

Hitting middle age often brings with it complaints of increasing forgetfulness and absent-mindedness.  I hear these laments frequently — and share the concern personally!

But perhaps there’s hope for us middle-agers after all.  New York Times health editor Barbara Strauch is the author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.  She recently sat down for an interview with health writer Tara Parker-Pope, (whose 2008 piece on workplace bullying attracted wide attention), and here are a couple of excerpts:

The Bad News, But…

Obviously, there are issues with short-term memory. There are declines in processing speed and in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain. But as it turns out, modern middle age is from 40 to 65. During this long time in the middle, if we’re relatively healthy our brains may have a few issues, but on balance they’re better than ever during that period.

The Good News, No But…

Here is what we do better:

Inductive reasoning and problem solving — the logical use of your brain and actually getting to solutions. We get the gist of an argument better. We’re better at sizing up a situation and reaching a creative solution. They found social expertise peaks in middle age. That’s basically sorting out the world: are you a good guy or a bad guy? Harvard has studied how people make financial judgments. It peaks, and we get the best at it in middle age.

Problem Solving and Social Intelligence at Work

We hear so much about the need for problem solving and social intelligence in our workplaces.  It would seem that the middle-aged brain is tailor made to fill that need.  Our capacity to remember names and dates may be taking a hit, but on the whole we’re becoming better at seeing through the hedgerows, assessing ourselves and others, and making a bee line toward solutions.

Personally, I also think this deepens our capacity to be authentic.  Not every one has that inclination or desire, but I’d say that our workplaces, not to mention society at large, are very much in need of these qualities.

You want good leaders?

Attention organizations: If you want good leaders, then don’t promote the kiss ups, the kick downs, the scheming hoop-jumpers, and the ambitious conformists.  Instead, select folks of genuine vision, courage, character, and good judgment.

But don’t take my word for it.  Rather, read this remarkable address to West Point cadets by writer William Deresiewicz, titled “Solitude and Leadership,” and published in the American Scholar.  It’s worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a great snippet:

Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that…you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

If this piece resonates with you, then check out Deresiewicz’s previous American Scholar essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.”  You’ll see plenty of connections.

Don’t assume that HR is your buddy

Time and again I learn about situations where employees erroneously believed that the human resources office was their friend in helping to resolve a workplace conflict or problem.  The truth is maybe yes, quite possibly no.

Understanding the multifaceted roles and true loyalties of HR is an important starting place.  Toward that end, from SmartMoney.com via Yahoo!, here’s an interesting piece by Jim Rendon, 10 Things Human Resources Won’t Say:

1. “We’re Squeezed Too.”
2. “We’re Not Always Your Advocate…”
3. “…But We Can Help Your Career.”
4. “Want the job? Then You’ll Want to Get to Know Us.”
5. “Yes, Facebook Can Get You Fired.”
6. “In Some Companies, We’re Not Very Useful at All.”
7. “You’re Not Paranoid — We are Watching You.”
8. “Read the Fine Print.”
9. “We Know More About You Than You think.”
10. “We Love Tests.”

It echoes some of the observations made in one of this blog’s most popular posts, “HR was useless”, which discusses some of the realities of relying on HR to help workers.

Targets of workplace bullying, sexual harassment, etc., and potential whistleblowers, take heed.

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