CNN segment on New York workplace bullying legislation

Adam Cohen, the lawyer and news commentator whose evenhanded Time magazine piece on workplace bullying legislation helped to trigger a wave of attention to the Healthy Workplace Bill last week, was interviewed on CNN about the significance of the HWB’s passage in the New York State Senate. Once again, he gives a very fair assessment of the pros and cons of enacting the legislation.

This is more evidence that public awareness of, and support for, workplace bullying legislation has turned a big corner.  Within the past 10 days, Time and Parade magazines, MSNBC, and now CNN have featured the Healthy Workplace Bill.  In the Parade magazine online poll, some 93 percent of respondents voted in favor of a workplace bullying law. People are fed up about being treated abusively at work, and they are making their opinions known.

Psychological health in the legal profession

As I write this, thousands of law school graduates are studying and sitting for bar examinations across the country.  Those who pass (and, fortunately, the overwhelming majority do!) will be one giant step closer to being admitted to the practice of law in their state.

However, they are entering a profession in crisis.  As I noted recently, the recession has battered the legal profession, and the legal job market is very difficult for those seeking work, especially at the entry level.  In addition, the practice of law itself is often stressful, confrontational, and rife with anxiety, as the July 2010 issue of Your ABA (an e-newsletter of the American Bar Association) reminds us:

The life of a lawyer isn’t a cakewalk. Constantly judged in terms of winning and losing, and existing in a culture of attack and counterattack, lawyers face countless pressures. The emphasis on perfection that starts in law school seldom lets up once a lawyer is in practice, and the resulting stress only multiplies with impatient clients and exacting bosses.

The newsletter features an interview with psychologist Rebecca Nerison, author of Lawyers, Anger and Anxiety: Dealing with the Stresses of the Legal Profession.  It’s solid, substantive piece, with helpful insight and advice on managing stress and building personal resilience to the ups and downs of modern practice.

From the mainstream to the cutting edges

For those who want to venture beyond the mainstream, I’ll reiterate two mega-sources of possible interest.  Both are rich with possibilities for transforming the practice of law:

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is a movement that examines the law and legal practice  in terms of their therapeutic and anti-therapeutic qualities.  TJ founders maintain a website with an excellent online bibliography and host a Facebook page.  I have written about my involvement with the TJ community on numerous occasions.

Cutting Edge Law brings together a wealth of alternative perspectives on, and approaches to, legal practice, including TJ.  It hosts an in-depth website and a Facebook page.

How we bash every vocation

“Oh those lawyers…”
“Oh those CEOs…”
“Oh those contractors…”
“Oh those politicians…”
“Oh those doctors…”
“Oh those pro athletes…”
“Oh those cab drivers…”
“Oh those accountants”
“Oh those bureaucrats…”
“Oh those public schoolteachers…”
“Oh those sales clerks…”
“Oh those reporters…”
“Oh those social workers…”
“Oh those investment bankers…”

Have you thought about how many vocations are subjected to easy put downs starting with “Oh those…,” followed by a story? I have done so myself, and I can’t promise that I won’t do it again. (This, coming from the lips of a lawyer!)

So what?

I’m not 100 percent certain what the “takeaway” points are from this, but let me give it a shot:

First, if a vocation has a poor reputation, there often are elements of truth behind it.  (Believe me, I get it when people complain about the legal profession.)

Second, regardless of whether the negative characterizations are fair or unfair, their prevalence is making us very cynical toward our fellow workers. And a lot of us may be tossing these bricks from some pretty big picture windows.

Finally, if we want to improve the world of work and the products and services we all provide, then we need to ask hard questions of ourselves, our vocations, and our attitudes.

Will our avocations save us?


Maybe you’ve got a novel in you? (image courtesy Clipart Panda)

I am beginning to believe that our avocations can save us, personally in terms of enriching our lives, and publicly in terms of contributing to the greater community.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines an avocation as “a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment.” That’s a good start, but I want to add a few other qualities that separate avocation from a pure hobby, such as a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the broader community.

For example…

In 2008 I wrote about professional storm chasers who lead groups of weather enthusiasts around America’s heartland in search of tornadoes and other severe storms. Tour guests are the beneficiaries of this shared expertise, exploring places and experiencing vistas that would be hard to discover on their own.

Recently I wrote about two long-time friends who have nurtured their creative passions for writing and music. Their work not only provides personal artistic rewards, but also enriches those who are enjoying the fruits of their labors.

For many years I have taken a weekly singing class at a local adult education center. The instructor is a Juilliard-trained vocalist who created the class for adult students who wanted to learn how to sing better, regardless of previous music experience. Her “day job” is working in a university library.

Civic activism is a very satisfying way to contribute to the well being of our communities.  The causes fueling that activism are often grounded in personal experience. For example, many of the folks who are advocating for legal protections against workplace bullying found this cause after personally dealing with abusive treatment on the job.

More than a hobby…

Hobbies are great. They allow us to engage in an enjoyable pastime that captures our attention.

But avocations can be even better. Like hobbies, they are satisfying and engaging, but often they also provide a deeper sense of accomplishment and contribution.

After all, there’s a difference between writing poetry solely for one’s personal journals and, say, sharing that work by publishing it and participating in readings. The latter gives us a chance to interact with others and enrich the culture of our communities.

Compared to work…

In the best of worlds, our jobs would provide us with the best qualities of our avocations, topped off with a livable income. Indeed, one of the goals of this blog is to explore how we can create better work and workplaces that move us closer toward that ideal.

But transforming the experience of work is a long, hard slog. For many, work is largely a means to an end. Especially in the midst of this recession, higher aspirations for work may have to go on the shelf, at least temporarily.

Likewise, the work of raising a family or caring for loved ones is demanding and sometimes thankless in the short term, even if the underlying devotions are the stuff of strong bonds a long-term meaning. In the meantime, many other forms of personal expression may be sacrificed to the demands of caregiving.

Avocations, however, free us from some of those inherent limitations and obligations. They can be remarkably liberating, a chance to pursue dreams and passions even within the inevitable confines of everyday life.

Let’s stoke this idea…

So why don’t avocations get more attention in our society? Why aren’t we thinking more creatively about that third place between work and leisure?

No answers here. For example, I went to the Amazon website and did a search for “avocation.” I was surprised by how the topic has been so neglected by observers of the human condition.

Nevertheless, we don’t need scholarly studies to teach us how avocations can make a difference in our lives and those of others. In seeking to discover and create meaning in our lives, we can take it upon ourselves to put the idea of avocation high on our lists.

MSNBC interview on the Healthy Workplace Bill

This afternoon I was interviewed by MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer on the Healthy Workplace Bill, anti-bullying legislation I wrote that was passed by the New York State Senate this spring.

The interview ran live.  I haven’t seen it myself, but here’s a link.  The experience did remind me of how little time there is to communicate the complexities of something like workplace bullying in a segment that lasts but a few minutes.

That frustration aside, in terms of media coverage, this has been quite a week for the movement to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill. First Parade and Time magazines, now MSNBC!

With Time and Parade, the workplace bullying legislative movement goes mainstream

During the past few days, articles in Time and Parade magazines are evidence that the movement to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill has entered the mainstream.  We are witnessing the next big steps in the quest to provide severely abused workers with the protections they need and deserve.


The mere presence of the piece in Parade, which is included in Sunday editions of newspapers across the country, is a big deal. Parade captures America’s heartland.  But there’s more:

Online poll results

Online polls are hardly scientific, and the Parade poll on whether readers support or oppose workplace bullying legislation is no exception.  Still, it is significant that, as of today, some 92 percent of respondents to the online poll have voted in favor of the proposition that workplace bullying should be illegal.

Online comments

Parade doesn’t make it easy to add online comments to its articles. Its comment function is dodgy, and those who wish to post longer comments must go through an elaborate registration process. Regardless, the overwhelming majority of posted comments expressed deep concern over workplace bullying, and most supported legal intervention.


Adam Cohen, writing for Time, pens an informative and very evenhanded article on the status of workplace bullying legislation:

Worker abuse is a widespread problem — in a 2007 Zogby poll, 37% of American adults said they had been bullied at work — and most of it is perfectly legal. . . . But the law generally does not protect against plain old viciousness.

That may be about to change. Workers’ rights advocates have been campaigning for years to get states to enact laws against workplace bullying, and in May they scored their biggest victory. The New York state senate passed a bill that would let workers sue for physical, psychological or economic harm due to abusive treatment on the job.

Time represents establishment, middle America — solid, conservative, no-nonsense.  When a fair & balanced piece on an emerging social movement shows up in Time, it’s a sign that change is in the air.


The Time piece is being carried on the Yahoo! home page today, and comments are piling in.

Bullied 5th grader writes to President Obama — and gets a response!

When West Philadelphia 5th grader Ziainey Stokes wrote to President Obama about her years of being bullied at school, she wasn’t expecting a response.  But she would receive a letter from the President, expressing his sympathy for her plight.  As reported by Anne Grant for NBC Philadelphia:

In the letter, Mr. Obama thanked Ziainey for bringing attention to the issue of bullying.

“Your letter demonstrates a desire to change the culture of your classroom as well as your community,” he wrote.

The letter also ended with a promise: “You deserve a safe, engaging, and enjoyable classroom, and together we will strive to make this a reality.”

Why not the workplace?

I’m delighted that a child’s experience of school bullying prompted such a great response from the President.  We must also strive to make our elected officials feel the same way about workplace bullying.  To paraphrase President Obama, don’t we all deserve a safe, engaging, and enjoyable place to work?

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