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.
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.