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.

4 responses

  1. I certainly agree with the value of preparation for individual entering the workforce, developing their resilience in part through realistic expectations. It raises the question for me though as to whether workplace leaders and managers need education as to the negative effects on the business of bullying and its cousins, controlling, limiting, mistrusting, and other manager behavior. a negative impact on employees and on the climate of the organization. These effects cost the company money and compromise its ability to grow. Healthy workplaces are more often successful workplaces. Why then don’t leaders invest in changing behavior that interferes with the growth and success of the company?

    • Taylor, you’re preaching to the converted here! The effects of workplace bullying and related topics should indeed enter the curricula and training programs of those who are in management and executive positions.

  2. I can’t believe that managers and the like are not taught good practices in their training. They likely consider it ridiculous. Or there is a disconnect between the textbooks and their own actions and their consequences.

  3. Hi, I’ve been subjected to workplace bulling for 3 years now, I have so many greivances, human rights complaint, duty to accomodate requests and a Canada Labour Code appeal pending that I can’t remember which narrow aspect any given so-called corrective process is dealing with.

    The employer is willing to pay me to be in bully limbo and do nothing of value but refuses to put me on admin leave and stay home because I might get worse there.

    It seems that they are fine for me to not be a productive employee as long as I am in hitting distance, but not be unproductive and at home where I can recover.

    Like most victims, I have reams of documentation and can make the situation clear to anyone who has no vested interest in the outcome – but the corrective precesses are almost as bad as the inciting incidences.

    I don’t see the world as beneficial anymore, it is fraught with peril and meaninglessness, and while I am still able to maintain some self worth, even that seems pointless in this world context.

    I used to think that James Dean was selling it too hard in Rebel Without a Cause when he shouted to his parents “you’re tearing me apart”, but now that cry seems understated.

    What astonishes me more is the disconnect that is between bullying a person to the point of psychological impairment and no thought given to that these state gives rise to workplace violence – I increasingly am feeling like an animal in a leg hold trap and no corrective process is letting me out in a way that I can become whole and productive again.

    Intellectually, I know that the choice is not between keeping on in the corrective processes and becoming a workplace violence statistic

    but emotionally, I am not identifying other options than those two

    I spend hours staring at the walls of my workstation because literally doing nothing is preferable to doing something that amounts to nothing.

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