I was delighted that Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute built his keynote address (link below) at last week’s Cardiff workplace bullying conference around the ideas of UC-Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, in urging us to frame a more effective moral case for taking human dignity at work seriously.
Gary emphasized the importance of framing workplace bullying in a context that supports target recovery, organizational responsiveness, and legal reform.
Lakoff and Framing
Lakoff has attracted considerable attention with his theories about how public issues are framed and discussed in the United States. In his 2006 book, Thinking Points: Communicating our America Values and Vision, he observed that “Frames are the mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality—and sometimes to create what we take to be reality.” These frames “facilitate our most basic interactions with the world – they structure our ideas and concepts, they shape the way we reason, and they even impact how we perceive and how we act.” Lakoff has urged progressives to communicate their basic values more effectively by framing issues in ways that resonate with stakeholders and the general public.
Framing Employment Law and Policy
Lakoff’s ideas are profoundly important for the ways in which we look at employment relations. For too long, the ideas of unfettered free markets and management control have framed how we look at regulating the workplace. We must change that frame in order to build public support for stronger labor protections and better enforcement, and we can do so by making the case for human dignity in the workplace.
A Dignitarian Framework for the Workplace
In short, human dignity should supplant “markets and management” as the central framework for analyzing and shaping American employment law. Within this “dignitarian” framework (to borrow from Robert Fuller, whose work has been praised here), there is plenty of room for market-based competition, entrepreneurship, individual responsibility, and sound management prerogative. Furthermore, the call for dignity in the workplace is not a rallying cry for state ownership, runaway taxation, or regulatory micromanagement of the workplace. Rather, it is about promoting the complementary goals of healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces within a mix of robust private, public, and non-profit sectors.
- For Gary’s keynote address at the conference, go here.
- For my series of blog posts about the Cardiff workplace bullying conference held last week, go here.
- Parts of this post have been adapted from my law review article, Human Dignity and American Employment Law (University of Richmond Law Review, 2009), which can be downloaded without charge here.