Healthcare bloggers on workplace bullying

We’re seeing more commentary about workplace bullying by healthcare bloggers, and that’s good news.

Bearing witness

Carey Goldberg, co-host of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog, introduces her piece on workplace bullying by recounting the experiences of bullied friends:

Over the last couple of years, I’ve watched three friends suffer through jobs turned bad by bully bosses. It was horrifying and infuriating, to see three virtuous, diligent, intelligent people laid low in ways that struck not just the wallet but the deepest sense of self.

I appreciated that Ms. Goldberg interviewed me at length for this piece and included many of my comments.


Julie Deardorff, writing for Julie’s Health Club hosted by the Chicago Tribune, centers her attention on the experiences of nurses:

Verbal abuse is so common in the nursing profession that the expression “nurses eat their young” has become standard lore. The unflattering saying refers to the hostile treatment — back stabbing, intimidation and sabotage — that new nurses often receive from senior colleagues.


During the summer, nurse Kristin Hayes blogged about ties between workplace bullying and medical malpractice:

For example, imagine a nurse discovers that a doctor has made a grave error. This doctor frequently yells at her and she is intimidated by him. He has worn down her self-esteem to the point that she questions her own judgment. Rather than voice her opinion and subject herself to more emotional abuse the patient is misdiagnosed and a life threatening illness goes untreated.


I’ve blogged on numerous occasions about bullying in healthcare, including this four-part series. The dovetailing of worker dignity and public health make healthcare an ideal focal point for efforts to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.

When targets of workplace bullying become advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill

Last Thursday I co-hosted a meeting to start planning advocacy and public education activities on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill for the 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature. This will be the second session in which we have introduced the HWB. Working with co-coordinators Greg Sorozan and Deb Falzoi plus a growing number of fellow supporters, we are optimistic that we will build upon the progress generated during the previous session.

The making of advocates

At this meeting, as we sometimes have done at others, we quickly went around the table and introduced ourselves. Inevitably, we learned that many people in the room had experienced workplace bullying or witnessed friends enduring it. Not surprisingly, some tears were shed during these introductions.

Especially for targets of this abuse, the decision to become an advocate for law reform often requires courage and fortitude. Meaningful social change is often effected by those who have experienced injustice and mistreatment. In this sense, the decision to go from “victim” to advocate can be an empowering one, a personal statement that one will harness a terrible experience to help others.

Not for everyone

When bullying targets come forward to be counted among the voices for change, they lend incredible power to this movement. But the role of advocate is not for everyone. For some, their experiences are too raw, perhaps ongoing. As I told people in the room last Thursday, no one should apologize for realizing that it is too difficult to be involved in a broader cause; healing must come first. There is no shame in acknowledging this is the case.

An ongoing personal lesson, with thanks

I ask my readers’ indulgence in telling a personal story: Many years ago I arrived in Manhattan as a first-year law student at NYU Law School, full of intentions of becoming a public interest lawyer and political activist. Frankly I wore my change-the-world ‘tude on my sleeve — to the likely annoyance of some of my law school friends who didn’t share my worldview.

I suppose on paper, it appears that I stuck to those convictions. After graduating from law school, I worked as a Legal Aid lawyer in New York City, followed by several years as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State. I then entered teaching and continued to be heavily involved in pro bono and public interest activities.

But until I learned about workplace bullying and what it could do to people, I didn’t comprehend the vital link between shared experience, abuse, and the need for change, at least not in the way that one feels and understands something in the gut. When heart and mind connect on something like this, the light bulbs start going off at a furious pace.

So I want to thank those of you who are becoming voices for change because of your experiences with workplace bullying. Whether working in a more public or private manner, you are breathing necessary humanity into this movement and ushering us toward a better day at work for all.

Report on rule of law poses challenge to U.S. legal profession

The American justice system doesn’t come out looking so good in a global survey of the rule of law sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) and other organizations. As reported by James Podgers for the ABA Journal (link here):

A report released by the World Justice Project—a 3-year-old initiative sponsored by the ABA and a number of other organizations representing various disciplines—says the United States lags behind other leading developed nations on all but one of nine key measures of adherence to the rule of law. The findings for each country are based on surveys of some 1,000 residents in three leading cities as well as experts in the law and other disciplines.

The absence of corruption, respect for human rights, and fair enforcement of laws are among the factors in which the U.S. ranked at or near the bottom compared to other wealthy nations.

Challenge to the legal profession

Obviously this is an unflattering picture of the state of civil and criminal justice in the U.S., and it comes via the co-sponsorship of the mainstream ABA. Some might claim that we have to do a better job of promoting the American justice system, but I suggest that changing reality is the more necessary first step.

Bar associations and other lawyers’ groups may dig into this report and ask, in an institutional or organizational context, what should be done. That would be a good step forward. Nonetheless, it’s also incumbent upon individual members of the legal profession to ask ourselves, How am I making the American justice system more ethical, accessible, humane, and fair?


For the full World Justice Report, WJP Rule of Law Index 2010 Report (pdf), go here.

A “marketplace” for worker dignity: Why bad employers and managers should be shown the door

Diehard devotees of free market economics are fond of characterizing virtually every human endeavor as a transaction. While understanding economic principles is a necessary staple of modern life, I believe that such extreme thinking drains us of our humanity.

But okay, I’ll play

Nevertheless, let’s play along for a few minutes and frame the experience of work in market terms:

First, let’s characterize each act of workplace bullying, discrimination, and harassment as a transaction. Second, let’s further suppose that every legitimate complaint or lawsuit in response to worker abuse is an attempt to recover rent or payment for engaging in that abusive transaction, i.e., the “price tag” for taking someone’s dignity at work. That price tag may reflect lost wages, severe stress, emotional distress, and interference with one’s ability to work.

Shouldn’t it follow that employers and managers who continually treat their workers poorly and pay out damages in litigation are among the marketplace’s failures in terms of employment practices? Furthermore, isn’t it logical for us to replace them with better performers?

How about “creative destruction” of bad employers?

In the cold hard world of economic markets, little thought is devoted to the human costs of business creation or dissolution and employee hiring, treatment, and termination. It’s all part of the process of “creative destruction” so enthusiastically embraced by those who see the world as one big marketplace.

Well, maybe it’s time for a new — or at least complementary — bottom line. Maybe it’s time to show the door to bad employers and managers on grounds that they are failures in the marketplace of human dignity. Now that’s the kind of creative destruction that will lead to healthier workplaces.


This post is offered in conjunction with Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

Understanding the executive psychopath

Think your boss should be feared?  Well, you may not be imagining things. In some cases, you may be dealing with a psychopath — someone who lacks a normal conscience, targets others for abuse and termination, and manages to lie with impunity.

Earlier this year, the Boston Globe‘s Kevin Lewis summarized a recent study by Paul Babiak, Craig Neumann, and Robert Hare, documenting higher measures of psychopathy for managers:

One of the authors of the study was hired by companies to evaluate managers — mostly middle-aged, college-educated, white males — for a management development program. It turns out that these managers scored higher on measures of psychopathy than the overall population, and some who had very high scores were candidates for, or held, senior positions. . . . The authors conclude that “the very skills that make the psychopath so unpleasant (and sometimes abusive) in society can facilitate a career in business even in the face of negative performance ratings.”

Babiak, Neumann, and Hare are leading researchers on psychopathy.  Here’s the citation for their article: Paul Babiak, et al., “Corporate psychopathy: Talking the walk,” Behavioral Sciences & the Law, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Pages 174 – 193 (2010).  (An individual or institutional subscription is necessary to access it.)

Helpful background info

Industrial relations professor Mitchell Langbert (CUNY Brooklyn College), in a piece titled “Managing Psychopathic Employees” (link here) published in the Cornell HR Review, provides a useful overview on psychopathy in the workplace:

What if a small but definable subset of the employee population were responsible for a major share of corporate crime and ethical breaches? If so, then developing policies that target them would improve the firm’s performance, not to mention its ethical climate. In this article I claim that psychopathic employees constitute such a subset, and I suggest human resource policies that can help firms cope with them.

In this piece, Langbert draws heavily upon the work of Hare and Babiak, including the aforementioned article and Hare’s important Psychopathy Checklist Revised. Hare maintains a website, Without Conscience, devoted to his study of psychopathy.

What does this mean for the anti-bullying movement?

The worst — and scariest — workplace bullies have these personal characteristics. In fact, they make the “regular” workplace bullies — petty jerks with short fuses and insecure, dysfunctional managers — seem like lightweights by comparison. True, the psychopath workplace bullies may be very small in number, but they make up for it with a cold, calculating lack of conscience and a recidivist nature.

Many also are adept at escaping detection, having mastered the art of kiss up, kick down. Their friends at work — mostly peers and higher ups but rarely subordinates — cannot believe they would treat anyone in an abusive or predatory manner. If legal counsel gets involved, the cloaking effect often succeeds, because the attorneys will seldom go beyond the inner circle to learn what’s really going on, especially if the alleged targets are rank-and-file workers.


This post is the third of several devoted to 2010 Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

Bay State supporters of Healthy Workplace Bill to meet October 21

The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates will be hosting an organizing meeting for supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill on Thursday, October 21, at 6 p.m., Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street (near the Park Street T stop), 4th floor Faculty Meeting Room.

We will be planning our advocacy work on behalf of the bill for the 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature.

To stay informed about our efforts, sign up at our website (link here) and/or join our Facebook page (link here).

We look forward to seeing you!


This post and the October 21 meeting are devoted to 2010 Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

What if we applied the Golden Rule at work?

What would happen if we practiced the Golden Rule at work?

You know, that simple maxim we were taught as kids: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Or, more simply, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

It’s substantial and historic

For starters, it’s important to note that the Golden Rule is more than just a handy saying invoked by our grade school teachers to make us behave a little better. Variations of it have roots in major faith traditions. According to John Carroll University philosophy professor Harry Gensler:

The golden rule is endorsed by all the great world religions; Jesus, Hillel, and Confucius used it to summarize their ethical teachings. And for many centuries the idea has been influential among people of very diverse cultures. These facts suggest that the golden rule may be an important moral truth.

Gensler has written extensively on the Golden Rule and dedicates a substantial portion of his website to it. It’s fascinating stuff.

The website Religious Tolerance links the Golden Rule to the “Ethic of Reciprocity.” This ethic informs our ideas of human rights:

One result of this Ethic is the concept that every person shares certain inherent human rights, simply because of their membership in the human species. . . . As a minimum, all should enjoy basic human rights.  The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . is one manifestation of this growing worldwide consensus.

Taking it to work

So what would happen if we took the Golden Rule to work?

A lot.

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination would decrease significantly. When times are tough, burdens would be shared rather than imposed on a few. A living wage and decent benefits might become staples even for those in unskilled jobs. The idea of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay would reassert itself as a norm.

And all this would occur without a lot of pesky employment laws and labor protections!


Of course, our workplaces are not overrun by employment practices advancing the Golden Rule, thus necessitating a regulatory and enforcement role for the law. And for many of us mere mortals, practicing the Golden Rule is a heckuva lot harder than preaching it.

But we can aspire to it as a personal ethic, and we can encourage others to do the same. The result will be happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces. Guaranteed.


This post is the first of several devoted to 2010 Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week. Hat tip to Del Carmen, who lobbied me to write about the Golden Rule and work. If you’d like to learn more about the Golden Rule, Google it and enjoy. Or try “do unto others” for more hits.

Websites of the Week: Freelancers Union and YES! magazine

If you’ve been following this blog in recent weeks, you may have picked up on my sense that we need to find new ways of working and living in an age of uncertainty and economic turmoil. Two great sources to encourage our thinking and action are the Freelancers Union and YES! magazine.

Freelancers Union

The Freelancers Union (link here) is an advocacy and support organization for America’s 42 million independent workers, who represent roughly 30 percent of the workforce. These include “freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees, and the self-employed.”

The Freelancers Union is committed to providing “mutual support and community” and to supporting social entrepreneurship. It also endorse changes in the law that will enable independent workers to succeed. (For more on this, see my post summarizing founder Sara Horowitz’s three-part policy agenda to help freelancers.)

Spend a bit of time lurking around the Freelancers Union website. You may find some helpful information for your own career — or perhaps envision yourself doing independent work with more support than you imagined was available. Membership is free.

YES! magazine

YES! (link here) “reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions.” Its articles “outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.”

What I like about YES! is its hopeful balance. It acknowledges the darkness and attempts to light a candle.

Its website is jampacked with good stuff, including a full archive of articles, freely accessible. For now they’re also offering an online special subscription rate of $17 for one year (4 issues).

Recently I highlighted a series of articles in the current issue of YES! on building resilient communities. This is a prime example of the kind of creative thinking presented in the magazine and its website.


I must admit that I have not thought through the full implications of the ideas offered by these resources in terms of work and workplaces. After all, I can hardly claim to be a freelancer, having worked in institutional settings for all of my career. And I have a lot to learn when it comes to the resilient practices favored by YES! magazine. But I cannot help but feel that we are going to have to adapt and innovate in response to the challenges facing us, and these two entities are prime among those that will help to show us the way.

Prisons as jobs programs

According to the latest federal jobs report (see Bloomberg news analysis, here), the American economy shed tens of thousands of public school teaching positions last month, casualties of shrinking state and local budgets.

But at least we have one growth industry that promises a continuous supply of new jobs: Building and staffing prisons. If we need any more evidence of the insanity prompted and enabled by the Great Recession, we can stop here and take a long look.

Berlin, New Hampshire

Kathy McCormack of the Associated Press (here, via Yahoo) reports on how the tiny city of Berlin, New Hampshire, is welcoming a new federal medium-security prison as a source of jobs and a spur to the local economy. Even though the prison isn’t scheduled to open until next summer, the construction work already is providing business:

“There are some people within the community that still don’t like the federal prison, that don’t think it’s going to do anything for us,” said Diana Nelson, who works at the Berlin office of the state Department of Employment Security.

“But I’ve seen this project since Day 1, and I saw what just the construction workers coming in have done for the local economy — they’re buying cars, eating in the restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said. “It’s little stuff, but they’re here and they’re spending money.”

The prison itself will provide about 200 new jobs to New Hampshire workers, adds McCormack. Designated to house mostly drug and weapons offenders, it will infuse an estimated $38 million annually into the local economy, which has been hard hit by sharp declines in manufacturing work.

Not-so-hidden agendas

Berlin is just one example of this growth industry. Another prominent trend is the emergence of privately-run prison management companies, which typically deliver both senior managers and security personnel, while promising a cost savings in terms of public expenditures.

If you’re smelling a hidden agenda, you sniffed right. Investigating for DiversityInc magazine, Sam Ali, Luke Visconti and Barbara Frankel report on the private-sector prison industry and its implications for immigration and civil rights (link here):

In this exposé of America’s prison system, DiversityInc examines the rapid growth of privately run prison operators and what is fast becoming the next dark chapter in the ever-expanding prison industrial complex: immigrant detention. What are the racial implications? And why has anti-immigration sentiment helped private prisons make a fortune?

…Critics say that human-rights violations and physical and sexual abuse of inmates flourish in privately run prisons and detention centers because they are closed to outside scrutiny, allowing guards and officials to act with impunity.

America’s devotion to imprisonment

America is known around the world for harsh sentencing laws that result in one of the highest incarceration rates among western nations. But don’t just take the word of this self-confessed liberal. Instead, listen to the solidly conservative Economist magazine, which consistently has criticized American rates of imprisonment, such as in this July piece, “Too many laws, too many prisoners“:

Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

We’ve got it backwards

At a time when our infrastructure is severely in need of repair, we’re handing over tax dollars to private companies to lock up more people. We’re laying off schoolteachers and hiring more prison guards.  And how ironic: Over time, fewer jobs and less funding for schools will fuel the need for more prisons. Talk about misdirected priorities…

Seth Godin: Who reacts, responds, or initiates?

In his 2008 book Tribes, Seth Godin identifies three things that organizations and individuals do: React, respond, and initiate.

Reacting to external events is “the easiest thing.”  It is “intuitive and instinctive and usually dangerous.”  Too many politicians and managers merely react to developments thrust upon them, and often badly.

Responding is “the second easiest thing.”  Responding to “external stimuli with thoughtful action” is “a much better alternative” to simply reacting. A response requires deliberation and planning.

Initiating is by far the most challenging of the three, but it is “what leaders do.”  They see a void or need and act upon it, thereby causing “events that others have to react to.”  They seize and create the agenda. They are the true change agents.

Simple but insightful

Godin captures, in one neat little commentary, the differences among so many organizations and managers.  Obviously circumstances may dictate when an entity or individual reacts, responds, or initiates. But think of your own world, whether it be a business, a community group, a school, or some other entity.  Who reacts?  Who responds?  Who initiates?  I’ll bet the answers to those questions reveal who are the change agents in that realm, hopefully leading society in positive directions.


Seth Godin’s website and accompanying blog (links here) offer an abundance of ideas and free materials for individuals and organizations.

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