Corrupt and greedy leadership cuts across private, public, and non-profit sectors

As a liberal, I’m more likely to look for evidence of corruption, ethical lapses, self-dealing, and greed in the private sector. You know, the big bad corporations and their executives.

Some of my conservative friends may be more likely to focus on similar excesses in the public and non-profit sectors. Yup, big bad government and those pesky non-profits.

Truth is, we need a big tent. The real problem is a deep crisis of integrity and leadership that cuts across the private, public, and non-profit work sectors and transcends professed political convictions and ideologies.

I confess, I don’t have comparative statistics to back up what I’m saying here. But the more I look at what has transpired over the past decade or so, the more I understand that excessive compensation and perks, conflicts of interest, endless varieties of corruption, and breaches of ethical standards do not discriminate between sectors of our economy and society.

Beyond happiness: Founder of “positive psychology” movement expands his vision

The importance of being happy has received a lot of attention in recent years. Much of this stems from the pioneering work of Martin Seligman, who has spearheaded the “positive psychology” movement.

However, commentators have criticized positive psychology for being too focused on the idea of happiness, to the exclusion of other factors that constitute a good life. Furthermore, some have unfairly reduced Seligman’s ideas to such superficial levels that the idea of happiness has become self-parodying.

Sounds good

Seligman apparently has heeded some of the criticisms. He now is advancing the idea of “well-being” or “flourishing” as a more well-rounded concept for understanding and pursuing life satisfaction. John Tierney of the New York Times (link here) summarizes the new framework:

[Seligman] has also created his own acronym, Perma, for what he defines as the five crucial elements of well-being, each pursued for its own sake: positive emotion, engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

These ideas are spelled out in a new book, Martin E.P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (2011).

A check on mindless “happy talk” at work?

Perhaps the most articulate critic of the “happiness movement” in America has been Barbara Ehrenreich, political and social critic extraordinaire, who took happy talk to task in her 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

In a sub-chapter titled “Managing Despair,” Ehrenreich excoriates corporate use of motivational speakers and team-building exercises to “inspire” workers in the midst of layoffs and pay & benefit cuts, while conceding it has achieved its intended goal:

By and large, America’s white-collar corporate workforce drank the Kool-Aid, as the expression goes, and accepted positive thinking as a substitute for their former affluence and security.

By comparison, does Seligman’s new Perma formulation — positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment — help us to look at the work experience in a more holistic way? Maybe. At least it gets us beyond the purely vapid.

But if we’re going to talk about positive emotions, meaning, and the like on the job, then we cannot ignore the ugly side of work, such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and excessive executive compensation. After all, the absence of bad behaviors helps to fuel the good emotions.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about decent, safe work with living wages and good benefits. That kinda stuff makes people pretty darn, well, happy.

Exclusionary behavior at work cuts across political lines

Actress Patricia Heaton, whom I became a fan of when she played Debra Barone in the hit sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” says that her conservative political views have cost her professionally at times.

Lee Warren reports for the Christian Post (link here) that Heaton “is a conservative Christian who has spoken out against embryonic stem-cell research and who is pro-life, which puts her at odds with many people in the acting industry.”

She said in the interview that she and her husband, a director, “know for a fact there are some people who have said they wouldn’t want to work with us because of our politics.”


The lede in Warren’s article states that “When you work in a culture that doesn’t share many of your views, you can probably expect a little backlash.” Yes, indeed.

During the decade-plus that I have steeped myself in the emerging workplace bullying movement, I have become convinced that political leanings are not destiny when it comes to who perpetrates bullying, exclusion, and similar behaviors at work. And while research indicates that greater diversity at work can be a source of conflict, a homogeneous work environment can be absolute hell on those who don’t fit into the dominant cultures.

In work settings defined in part by political leanings, those belonging to a distinct minority can be ostracized and iced out. And the more inflexible the worldview of the majority, the colder the atmosphere can be for those who don’t share it.

Reporting on Orlando: Until we create more humane workplaces, do we need coping and resilience skills for all?

Do we all need training in coping and resilience skills to prepare us for the rough-and-tumble realities of the workplace?

Last month I posted an article asking whether young lawyers needed military-style resilience training to help them deal with the rough edges of the law firm work environment (link here). I found myself thinking about that post during much of the just-concluded “Work, Stress, Health” conference in Orlando, during which speaker after speaker described difficult working conditions in many vocations.

Bullying and abuse

During a panel I participated in on workplace bullying, public school administrator and human resources professional Matt Spencer described the bullying of young teachers. Matt drew his remarks from his 2010 essay, “Stealing From Children: A Great Injustice of Workplace Bullying In America’s Schools” (link here):

Each year, outstanding teachers such as these are hired for service in schools all across America.  They can’t wait to get to work in their classroom at their new school and begin the process I described above…loving and caring for their students and giving them an outstanding educational experience everyday!

But it’s only a matter of time when to many of these teachers finds themselves in the crosshairs of a bully; a predator that roams the halls of their school looking for a victim.  The bully could be an administrator, a fellow teacher, a custodian, or anyone in the organization.  But the bully has selected a teacher as a target and begins the devastating assault on this unsuspecting servant of the common good.

Co-panelist Greg Sorozan, a Massachusetts union president who has become a leading advocate for the Healthy Workplace Bill, described his own experiences with workplace bullying and the challenges of dealing with bullying behaviors in a unionized work setting.

I also attended a number of talks on the healthcare work environment. And once again I heard a lot about the experiences of nurses, who enter the profession full of enthusiasm and commitment, and all too often face bullying from fellow nurses and physicians and violent behaviors from patients. Many become burned out and leave the profession.

Shattered assumptions

I keep returning to the basic theme of psychology professor Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Psychology of Trauma (2002 ed.), in which she posits that the traumatization process shatters three commonly held, fundamental beliefs “about ourselves, the external world, and the relationship between the two”:

The world is benevolent.

The world is meaningful.

The self is worthy.

Many idealistic young people enter the workforce with those very assumptions. When they are treated abusively, they struggle to process what just hit them. The gap between expectations and realities is beyond anything they ever imagined.

Missing piece of our schooling

Think about it: In the typical American high school and college, how much are we prepared for the realities of entering the workplace? If schooling is supposed to be, at least in part, a socialization process that eases our way into being adult members of society, then shouldn’t we be better prepared for the world of modern workplaces?

And especially in educational programs designed to train someone for a profession or trade, shouldn’t the curriculum cover the experience of working in a given vocation?

Perhaps it is unfortunate that we have to look at military training — with its literal life-and-death significance — as evidence of the need for such training, but at least the armed forces recognize that psychologically preparing men and women to serve in uniform is an important component of readying them to do their jobs.

Beyond coping and resilience

Of course, we also need to look beyond coping and resilience and maintain a laser-sharp focus on creating workplaces that don’t require such protective armor. That means embracing dignity at work as a fundamental human right and, among other things, translating that conviction into measures that prevent and stop abusive behaviors at work.

Bay Staters, join us on June 15 to support the Healthy Workplace Bill

Massachusetts supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill, please join us on Wednesday, June 15 at the Massachusetts State House in Boston for a Lobby Day, along with members of the National Association of Government Employees executive boards.

We will visit offices of our state legislators, asking them to support legislation that will protect all workers from severe workplace bullying. More information to follow soon!

Please go to the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates website for more information about the HWB and how to support it.

Update: House AND Senate bills and a growing list of co-sponsors

Also, from the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates website, here’s an update on our current progress:

This legislative session, the bill was filed by Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst) and Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and designated as House Bill Number 2310 and Senate Bill Number 916.

Co-sponsors include:
Denise Andrews (D-Orange)
Nick Collins (D-Boston)
Gloria L. Fox (D-Roxbury)
Kevin G. Honan (D-Brighton)
Louis L. Kafka (D-Stoughton)
Kay Khan (D-Newton)
Peter V. Kocot (D-Northampton)
John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley)
Frank I. Smizik (D-Brookline)
Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield)
Alice K. Wolf (D-Cambridge)

Many thanks to these legislators for their leadership and support. We also thank now-retired Senator Joan Menard, who stepped up in the last legislative session to be the original sponsor of the HWB in Massachusetts.


Disclosure note: I am the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, variations of which are being considered by state legislatures across the country. The HWB provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a legal claim for damages and creates legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors. For more information, go to the Healthy Workplace Bill website.

Gary & Ruth Namie’s “The Bully-Free Workplace” hits the bookstores

Gary and Ruth Namie’s latest book, The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop the Jerks, Weasels & Snakes from killing your organization (2011), is now available in a print edition and on the Amazon Kindle.

The Bully-Free Workplace is a guidebook for employers who want to prevent and stop workplace bullying, drawing upon the Namies’ years of experience and accumulated expertise in consulting with private, public, and non-profit organizations throughout North America.

This is a brisk, information-packed, no-punches-pulled read, intended for organizations that take these behaviors seriously and recognize that effectively addressing bullying at work requires ongoing commitment and, at times, tough decisions.

In strongly recommending this book, I once again must disclose my bias: I have worked with Gary and Ruth on workplace bullying initiatives for over a decade. They are colleagues and dear friends, and I have “blurbed” the book on its back cover.

That said, my endorsement is grounded in the deep respect I have for their understanding and wisdom. At a list price of $16.99, it’s an inexpensive and wise investment for executives, managers, human resources directors, board chairs, and other organizational leaders who understand that bully-free workplaces are a win-win for employers and workers alike.

Go here to access the website for the book.

Reporting on Orlando: Ståle Einarsen’s four suggested focal points for workplace bullying research

Ståle Einarsen, psychology professor at the University of Bergen and one of the world’s leading authorities on workplace bullying, presented a tutorial workshop on research trends related to workplace bullying at the just-concluded “Work, Stress, and Health” conference in Orlando.

Einarsen identified four focal points that should guide our research and understanding:

First, we need to focus on legal interventions and the role of the law in preventing and responding to bullying at work, including designing effective anti-bullying laws and working towards their implementation.

Second, we need to strengthen our focus on witnesses to workplace bullying and on coping processes employed by people who have been bullied.

Third, we need better data on the specific individual consequences of workplace bullying, in addition to the aggregate data we have on bullying generally.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the confusion caused by the plethora of terms used to label these behaviors, including workplace bullying, mobbing, psychological harassment, and so on.


Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

In addition to his many publications, Einarsen is co-editor, with Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf & Cary L. Cooper, of Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed., 2011), the best one-volume, multidisciplinary, international collection of research and commentary on workplace bullying, with contributions from leading authorities.


Work, Stress, and Health conference

I’ll be devoting several blog posts to the biennial “Work, Stress, and Health” conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), and Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP). This gathering has become, in my opinion, the best North American conference for learning about the latest research on psychological health at work, featuring a multidisciplinary collection of speakers.

The Orlando conference was no exception. In the best way possible, my head was spinning after the array of talks and panels at the conference. All too many professional and academic conferences have a tired, obligatory feeling to them. Not this one. Because of the compelling combination of speakers and topics, the term “cutting-edge” is more than a cliché.

I especially appreciate the “big tent” approach taken by the conference co-sponsors for creating an event that includes and appeals to folks in other professional disciplines, not just psychology. Many conferences claim to be open to multidisciplinary participation; this one actually makes good on it — and I write as a beneficiary of that inclusive philosophy and practice.

Kudos also go to APA conference coordinator Wes Baker, whose unflappable and friendly demeanor makes it easy to underestimate the enormity of organizing this event.

Wall Street Journal: If your boss is bullying you, take a good hard look in the mirror

The Wall Street Journal‘s online career advice section includes an article on what to do if you’re being bullied by your boss (link here). I have to wonder if this piece was written by a human resources director skilled in deflecting complaints about bullying managers.

It’s not me, it’s you

The theme of the piece is bullying target, look inward. This may be your fault, and even if not, it’s your problem. Here’s a snippet:

Try to understand that managers have their own burdens to bear. Then turn the mirror on yourself. If the bullying has started fairly recently, it’s possible that your boss is reacting to something you’ve done. He or she could have become tougher on you because your work isn’t as good as it used to be. . . . [I]t doesn’t make the bullying right, but you owe it to yourself and your company to consider that maybe you have been inadvertently fueling your boss’s bad behavior.

They don’t get it

Of course, it’s quite possible that there’s some confusion over terms here. The WSJ seems to conflate bullying with personality conflict, a common trait among those who deny that severe workplace bullying is about abuse, not differences in management or work styles. Such an understanding would explain this piece of advice leading off the column:

If you work for a bully of a boss, career experts recommend confronting him or her directly to discuss the problem and come up with a way to turn things around.

Par for the WSJ course

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the WSJ badly fumbles this topic.

After all, last year the newspaper characterized the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill as allowing workers to sue for mere “nastiness” (link to my blog post here), which couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2009, the WSJ ran a misguided op-ed piece (link to my blog post here) claiming that the recession has freed us of workplace jerks because (1) “in times of high unemployment, most people don’t care if they work with jerks” and (2) “jerks are often the first people fired during recessions.”

Who woulda thunk that the recession is the ultimate bully-buster . . . at least according to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page.

Recycling: On best jobs, great jobs, and our body of work

I’m currently at an excellent conference — the biennial “Work, Stress, and Health” conference co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Society for Occupational Health Psychology — about which I’ll be blogging later.

In the meantime, from the archives of this blog, here are three posts of possible interest:

1. What are the best jobs in America? (November 2009) — Money magazine took a stab at the question, and I commented.

2. “What makes a great job?” (October 2009) — I Googled that question and reported the highlights.

3. What will be your body of work? (August 2009) — Our lives should add up to something, yes?

[Editor’s Note: In addition to maintaining a list of articles that have remained very popular on this blog — see the Popular and Notable Posts page — every month or so I’m recycling relevant posts from more than a year ago. Hopefully they will be of interest to newer readers.]

Working as an educator: Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach

If there was one book I could recommend to an educator at any level  — K-12, higher education, adult education — it would be Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (10th ann. ed., 2007).

A departed friend and pioneering adult educator, John Ohliger, once wrote that a classic is something you keep getting more out of every time you go back to it. That definition resonates with me when I think about The Courage to Teach.

Identity and integrity

Palmer won me over with this short statement of purpose in the first chapter:

This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.

The rest of the book espouses upon that philosophy, while recognizing that contemporary education at all levels resists it. Palmer takes on a culture of teaching “that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.”

Recharging the teaching batteries

Last week, with my 20th year of law teaching coming to a close, I wanted to read something that would help me reflect upon my role as an educator. So I looked to The Courage to Teach, revisiting a book I’d read parts of some time ago.

It has been the right decision. I have become dismayed that many educators (law professors included) are reducing “better teaching” to a bag of tips & tricks, the very thing that Parker warns against. In fact, it is downright demoralizing how the culture of legal education, to borrow from Parker, “glorif[ies] the method du jour, leaving people who teach differently feeling devalued, forcing them to measure up to norms not their own.”

In law schools today, the current methods du jour include inserting more “skill development” and “assessment” into our courses, seemingly without any integration of personal values and qualities of emotional intelligence, not to mention the lack of active questioning of what the law should be and whose interests it should serve. It’s a cut-and-paste approach to legal education, and neither lawyers-in-training nor their future clients are likely to benefit.

So I return to Parker’s book at a good time. As I slowly make my way through it, truly savoring his ideas about education, I find the inspiration to continue trusting my instincts about what makes for effective, quality teaching.

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