School bullying and workplace bullying: More alike than different?

Many commentators and advocates — myself included — often have differentiated school bullying and workplace bullying this way:

Most school bullying situations involve a more physically or socially advantaged kid (or kids) going after a physically vulnerable or socially isolated schoolmate. Workplace bullying, however, involves more varied pairings of aggressors and targets, with the latter group including a fair share of employees deemed high achieving or socially popular.

But hold on….

Tara Parker-Pope, health columnist for the New York Times, reports on new research studies about school bullying that challenge conventional assumptions (link here):

…(N)ew research suggests that the road to high school popularity can be treacherous, and that students near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers….

Highly publicized cases of bullying typically involve chronic harassment of socially isolated students, but the latest studies suggest that various forms of teenage aggression and victimization occur throughout the social ranks as students jockey to improve their status.

The latest research doesn’t deny the scenario of the strong abusing the vulnerable. Rather, it indicates that school bullying behaviors occur up and down and across the social hierarchy.

To compare, we know that workplace bullying, at least in the U.S., tends to be a vertical phenomenon, with bosses most often the aggressors and subordinates the targets. However, peer bullying is the second most common form. And while those considered vulnerable (by dint of job status, personal situation, or personality) often are targeted, so are those who are regarded as successful and popular because they are regarded as a threat.

Another common thread

Bullying usually doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Organizational cultures can fuel or discourage it. Parker-Pope closes her column with this quote from one of the school bullying researchers, Robert Faris, a University of California, Davis sociologist:

“Historically, all the attention has been on the mental health deficiencies of the bullies,” he said. “We need to direct more attention to how aggression is interwoven into the social fabric of these schools.”

Social fabric. Workplace culture. Varied terms, same lesson: When it comes to bullying, organizational settings and leadership matter.


The Parker-Pope column is well worth reading in its entirety, but even these snippets open more possibilities for seeing school cultures as paving the way for their workplace counterparts. Beyond our families, our first encounters with others in a structured setting come via school. Is it not surprising that bullying behaviors modeled and validated in school settings reappear and evolve devolve in the workplace? More stuff to ponder here.

Work on TV: Cop dramas

I love good cop dramas on TV, not only for their entertainment value, but also because they do a great job of portraying the ups and downs of working for a living.  Here are some of the underlying themes that are prominent in many these shows:

1. Pursuing one’s passion (the bad and good of it)

2. Career advancement (triumph and disappointment)

3. Diversity and inclusion (often not a lot of it)

4. Work-life balance (mainly lack thereof)

5. Incivility and bullying (often lots of both)

6. Politics (both in-house and electoral)

7. Ethics (good cop, bad cop)

8. Dispute resolution (from informal chats to murder)

My favorites (alphabetical order)

I’ve written about two of these shows before (The Wire and Prime Suspect), but here’s a longer list of my favorite police dramas:

Blue Bloods — A brand new weekly, it’s among a minority of cop shows built around a non-dysfunctional family. Tom Selleck is excellent as the New York City police commissioner.

Foyle’s War — A treat from PBS, this ongoing series is set in small town England during World War Two, featuring Michael Kitchen as Inspector Christopher Foyle.

Hill Street Blues (*) — Pathbreaking 80s classic set in an unspecified American big city. Hey, let’s be careful out there.

Homicide: Life on the Street (*) — David Simon’s earthy Baltimore, Take 1. Addictive.

Prime Suspect (*) — A gift from across the pond, Helen Mirren is astoundingly good as British police inspector Jane Tennison. Start with Prime Suspect 1 and follow her career and life. Brilliant stuff.

The Shield (*) — You’ll feel guilty for hoping that LA cop Vic Mackey doesn’t get caught.

The Wire (*) — David Simon’s earthier Baltimore, Take 2. Widely acclaimed for its portrayal of life in inner city urban America.

(*) = has completed series run; episodes available on DVD.

But where’s the union?

Even the best cop dramas miss on the realities of being in unionized work settings. Most rank-and-file police officers and detectives are unionized, and collective bargaining negotiations over salaries and benefits have a significant impact on their lives. In most cop shows, however, the union presence is practically invisible, usually limited to calling in a union rep when an officer gets in trouble.

Young and jobless: A global crisis

In countries as disparate as the U.S., Tunisia, Germany, and China, younger adults are finding it hard to get jobs. This is a crisis of global proportions.

Peter Coy, in a cover story for Business Week (link here), reports on the creation of a “a lost generation of the disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed—including growing numbers of recent college graduates for whom the post-crash economy has little to offer,” adding:

While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation.

The new generation gap

We continue to see a brewing economic generation gap between the younger and older generations. The jobs crisis facing the young is fueled by older workers holding onto good jobs and their expectations for retirement. According to Coy:

The world is aging. In many countries the young are being crushed by a gerontocracy of older workers who appear determined to cling to the better jobs as long as possible and then, when they do retire, demand impossibly rich private and public pensions that the younger generation will be forced to shoulder.

Familiar terms, dire consequences

References to a “lost generation” and a “generation gap” harken back to Hemingway’s Paris and Woodstock of 1969, yes? But mark my words, this is different. We’re looking at stark economic challenges that will reverberate for decades to come.

Right now, it doesn’t look good for the younger folks. Take the situation in the U.S. The people in charge of hiring and setting pay are older, and they’re likely to be watching out for themselves. (Classic example: Companies with highly-paid managers and unpaid interns.) Furthermore, older folks vote more often than younger folks, which translates into more attention to Social Security and less to Pell Grants.

Egypt has just taught us that relatively peaceful revolutions fueled by the young are still possible. Will younger people in other countries exert their political power to claim a better future for themselves?


For those dealing with a layoff or recovering from a job where they were bullied or harassed, there may be an understandable tendency to dwell on the negative experiences of the recent past. But ultimately, if they want to turn things around, they’ll also want to envision the possibilities for something better.

This is much easier said than done. Nothing is more frustrating and even infuriating than to be told that it’s time to “get over it” or to “move on” from a horrible experience at work. Indeed, that experience may be with someone for a long time. Job loss, bullying, and harassment leave their marks.

And yet, the ability to look ahead is a key to finding that better place.

During the 2+ years I’ve written this blog, I have identified a number of books, websites, and resources that may be helpful to those who are forging solutions and options that will move them toward a better place.  I thought it might be useful to collect them, as well as a few others I haven’t mentioned, in one post. Here goes:

Inspiration, letting go, moving on

Career envisioning and job hunting

Richard Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute? is a classic career guidance and job hunting manual, updated yearly. Go here for Bolles’s website.

Career coaching

Personal career coaching may help you define a better path. For example, Career Planning and Management in Boston offers career counseling services for individuals (link here). Principal and co-founder Dan King (and member of the New Workplace Institute advisory committee) has posted a host of excellent advice columns on the website, including “Fight or Flight: When Your Job Becomes a Nightmare” and “What Do You Want To Be In Your Next Life?”

Quitting, defining your role, and connecting

Among Seth Godin’s many great little books, The Dip (2007) helps you decide when to quit or hang in there, Linchpin (2010) helps you to define an indispensable role for yourself, and Tribes (2008) teaches you how to lead and connect.  Godin’s website (with lots of free goodies) and blog can be accessed here.

Starting a business or non-profit

Starting your own business or non-profit organization is hard work, but it may be an attractive option for those who have a great idea and a desire to call their own shots.

SCORE offers free, confidential, small business mentoring and training. Go here for the SCORE website.

The federal Small Business Administration is another helpful resource. Go here for the SBA website.

Boston University offers a four-course online certificate program in entrepreneurship. Go here for the program description.

The NOLO Press offers some excellent guides on navigating the legal end of creating businesses and non-profits. Go here for their small business page and here for their non-profits page.

The Free Management Library has a helpful page on starting a non-profit, here.

Lifelong learning

Especially if you’re considering a career switch, obtaining additional education and training may be advantageous. My advice is to consider all the options, taking the one that gets you there effectively, in the least time, and spending the least amount of money.

In elevated order of time and expense:

Independent learning

Learning what you need on your own is the most cost-effective approach. Three books — Ronald Gross, Peak Learning (1999) and James Marcus Bach, Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar (2009), and Anya Kamenetz, DIY U (2010) — are helpful resources.

It’s possible to learn a lot on your own. For example, I recently blogged about Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business (2010) and his accompanying website.

Continuing education

Non-credit courses, taken at a local college, adult education center, or online, can give you introductions to new vocations and professions and teach you needed skills.

Certificate programs

A certificate program can be useful in terms of both education and credential value, while requiring less time and expense than a full-blown degree. Colleges and universities (in person and online) offer certificate programs, as well as some adult learning centers.

Degree programs

A degree program can provide immersive study and a valuable credential, but it also can be expensive and time-consuming. Investigate this possibility thoroughly. Many people can get where they want to go without obtaining a new degree. But if you want to enter certain professions, such as teaching, nursing, law, and others, a degree program is the standard door opener.

Non-traditional options

Temping as a bridge strategy

Too many companies treat temporary workers shabbily. However, temp work can be regarded as a bridge to something better. You’ll find helpful information about the overall temp job market (here), pros and cons of temping (here and here), and temping strategies (here).


For freelancers, temps, and other workers in non-traditional positions, the Freelancers Union may be an important source of information and support. Go here for its website.


For some, telecommuting is an attractive and perhaps even necessary choice.  To learn more about telecommuting options, go here (basics) and here (future of telecommuting).

Good luck!

These resources just begin to scratch the surface of the good stuff that is out there for people. If you find yourself ready to consider your next steps, I hope that some of this will be helpful to you.

A Tale of Two News Articles: Snapshots from Egypt and the U.S.

The lead story in today’s New York Times is predictable yet so compelling: It’s all about the revolution in Egypt and the exit of President Hosni Mubarak. As reported by David Kirkpatrick:

An 18-day-old revolt led by the young people of Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak on Friday, shattering three decades of political stasis here and overturning the established order of the Arab world.

Egypt’s future is mightily uncertain, but for now, this largely non-violent revolution, fueled by young Egyptians, has all the makings of an historic moment for human rights and freedom of association.

Wisconsin (and America) on a different path

Tucked inside the Times‘s national edition is a story headlined “Wisconsin May Take an Ax to State Workers’ Benefits and Their Unions.” As reported by Monica Davey and Steven Greenhouse, the newly-elected Republican governor, Scott Walker, is proposing significant benefit cuts for public employees and to take away most of their collective bargaining rights.

In addition to calling for benefit cuts, Walker’s plan involves “limiting collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to the issue of wages (instead of an array of issues, like health coverage or vacations).” He claims:

“I’m just trying to balance my budget,” Mr. Walker said. “To those who say why didn’t I negotiate on this? I don’t have anything to negotiate with. We don’t have anything to give. Like practically every other state in the country, we’re broke. And it’s time to pay up.”

If necessary, he is ready to call out the National Guard if protests threaten to become violent.

Collective bargaining is a basic human right

I will put aside for now the question of whether these benefit cuts are necessary and fair. It is a complicated subject, though suffice it to say we are hearing only one side of it in the mainstream media.

Of equal, perhaps even greater concern is the full frontal attack on the very right to engage in collective bargaining, an effort so blatantly anti-worker that it betrays any attempt to characterize this as a budget-cutting measure.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms, among other things, the right to association. The International Labour Organization, a part of the UN, holds that collective bargaining is a core human right (link here):

The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their own choosing is an integral part of a free and open society. In many cases, these organizations have played a significant role in their countries’ democratic transformation. From advising governments on labour legislation to providing education and training for trade unions and employer groups, the ILO is regularly engaged in promoting freedom of association.

In 2000, Human Rights Watch, in an extensive report titled Unfair Advantage, concluded that the state of labor rights in the U.S. was so abysmal that it constituted a violation of international human rights standards.

The demonization of public employees

To be sure, there are some comparative excesses in terms of pay, benefits, and pensions in the public sector. Certain arrangements carry a heavy whiff of back room deals and political thuggery. It also is true that state budgets everywhere are in crisis, part of the ongoing wave of aftershocks from the Great Recession.

However, the vast majority of public employees earn modest compensation and will receive modest pensions. One major national public employee union estimates that pensions for its members average $19,000 a year, hardly a windfall.

Nevertheless, the demonization of public employees has begun, for doing so helps to justify taking away their basic rights to bargain collectively for themselves and their families. But folks, listen up, this isn’t about budget control or balancing the books. This is part of a broader attack on the right of everyday people to associate and to join together to advance their common interests, make no mistake about it.

Does it boil down to the rich & powerful vs. the rest of us?

Amid the economic and personal struggles confronting people as they deal with forces that sometimes appear beyond their ability to manage or control, I find myself thinking a lot about the abuse of power and authority in our society. Recently these ruminations were triggered by an old book and two January magazine cover stories:

Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism

Fascism is such an overused word in our tear-down political discourse that I’m instantly suspect of any book that uses it in the title. But Bertram Gross’s Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1982), is becoming one of the most remarkably prescient books I’ve ever encountered about politics and society.

Conflicting trends

Gross was a social science professor and public servant who served in two presidential administrations. In Friendly Fascism, he warned of two conflicting trends in American society, as he set out in the preface to his 1982 edition:

The first is a slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership. . . . The phrase “friendly fascism” helps distinguish this possible future from the patently vicious corporatism of classic fascism in the past of Germany, Italy and Japan.

…The other is a slower and less powerful tendency for individuals and groups to seek greater participation in decisions affecting themselves and others. . . . It is embodied in larger values of community, sharing, cooperation, service to others and basic morality as contrasted with crass materialism and dog-eat-dog competition.

Power mongers

Gross went on to identify the types of people who are consolidating power in America:

I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting undeserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds.

From the magazine stand

Fast forward to modern day.  Here are two magazine cover headlines. First, from the Jan.-Feb. issue cover of the Atlantic (article link here):

The Rise of the New Ruling Class — How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind

From a January cover of the Economist (article link here):

The rich and the rest — A 14-page special report on the global elite

What’s going on here? The moderate-to-liberal Atlantic and the free-market Economist on the same page? Well, not quite.

Rise of the plutocracy

Chrystia Freeland’s article in the Atlantic is more along the lines of what concerns me. Freeland tells us that as a business journalist, she’s “spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan.”

Based on these observations and events surrounding the economic meltdown, she acknowledges the “wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.” Her lengthy analysis concludes:

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome for America, and the world. Let us hope the plutocrats aren’t already too isolated to recognize this.

But we’re in good hands, right?

By contrast, the Economist‘s take on elites and their power is not so alarmed, suggesting that with appropriate tweaks, things should be fine:

All these curbs require continual refinement: greater transparency in government, vigorous enforcement of antitrust rules, efforts to make justice swift and fair. Yet by and large in liberal democracies the powerful get on by pleasing others. In short, they work for us.

From 1980 onward

My generally liberal politics aside, I often enjoy the Economist‘s sensible, understated prose. But on this I believe they are dead wrong. Since 1980 (at least), buoyed by the election of Ronald Reagan and the policies that came in on his coattails, we have been witnessing a concentration of wealth and power that puts an exclamation mark on what Bertram Gross was writing about as this era was unfolding.

Another way it trickles down, jackboot style

The abuse of wealth and power can manifest itself at the micro level as well. Labor journalist James Parks, in a piece posted to Today’s Workplace blog (link here), reports on a study showing a correlation between excessive CEO pay and poor treatment of workers:

The study examined the corporate behavior of 261 companies and found a close correlation between pay inequality and poor treatment of workers. In companies where CEOs made much more than their average workers, the companies were more likely to underfund pensions or cut corners on health and safety. Often, according to the study, the bosses engaged in a cost-benefit analysis, calculating that a fine would be a cost of doing business, compared with the profits they could make.

Docility, apathy, acceptance

Gross predicted that the rise of friendly fascism would create a politically docile and apathetic American public that largely accepts the economic and power inequities of the status quo, while getting caught up in a culture that embraces petty conflict and superficiality.

Of course, it’s wholly unfair to label an entire populace as being this or that. But if you think we’re in good shape, check out an episode of the “Jerry Springer Show” or “Judge Judy,” watch Donald Trump telling a reality TV underling that he’s fired, listen to a few rap songs, and then log onto the Internet news coverage to read about the latest troubles of Lindsay Lohan.

For now, at least, I rest my case.

Are electronic gadgets promoting or undercutting work-life balance?

This is a question that keeps me going ’round in circles: Are electronic gadgets such as laptops, netbooks, iPhones, Blackberries, and Skype promoting or undercutting a healthy sense of work-life balance?


Electronic gadgets can be a godsend for those who jobs require time on the road, whether it’s a business person hosting a conference call or a contractor working with customers across a state. They can render distance largely immaterial in terms of communications.

For those with family responsibilities or health & mobility impairments, all this gee whiz technology makes telecommuting a genuine option. With a relatively modest investment in space and equipment, a wired home office can be a reality.


But there are real disadvantages too. Mickey Meece, writing for the New York Times, captures the downsides of technology that allows us to work anywhere and anytime (link here):

GIVEN the widespread adoption of smartphones, text messaging, video calling and social media, today’s professionals mean it when they brag about staying connected to work 24/7.

…But all of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of unease. Too often, people find themselves with little time to concentrate and reflect on their work. Or to be truly present with their friends and family.

With the right toys, work can go wherever we go, and that’s not always a healthy thing.

A toss-up

I call it a toss-up, with the most important consideration being, as many have noted, whether we’re using the technology to facilitate more balanced lives and make work more convenient, or whether the technology is making it nearly impossible to separate ourselves from our work.

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