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.

Brain science and the workplace: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity

If you’re interested in how the experience of work affects us, but you’re not into heavy science, get over the latter and become familiar with these two terms: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity. We’re going to be hearing a lot about both in the years to come.

Definitions

Neuroscience is defined by MedicineNet.com as:

The study of the brain and nervous system, including molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, psychophysics, computational modeling and diseases of the nervous system.

Neuroplasticity is defined as:

The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

In other words, we’re talking about the science of the brain, including how we can change it for the better and fix it after bad stuff happens.

Past blog posts

I try to avoid using too much jargon in writing articles for this blog, so the following pieces are not filled to the brim with references to neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Nonetheless, these concepts are at the heart of these posts:

In recovering from adversity, past adversity can fuel our resilience

Do organizations suppress our empathy?

Understanding the bullied brain

Bully rats, tasers, and stress

Why concentrated power at work is bad

Huge implications for workplace bullying

As the titles of the posts listed above suggest, this has huge implications for understanding and responding to workplace bullying.

Neuroscience gives us tools for understanding what workplace bullying does to people. For example, last year Dr. Gary Namie wrote on the Workplace Bullying Institute blog about a promising experimental tool for diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (link here):

Prolonged exposure to unremitting stress damages a person’s health. . . . In worst cases, trauma can result. . . . Now comes a potential new neuroscience tool to complement the diagnostic toolkit — MEG. MEG stands for magnetoencephalography. PTSD can be detected with 97% accuracy using this non-invasive, but still experimental, procedure.  MEG measures the magnetic signals produced by the activity of the brain.

Similarly, emerging understanding of neuroplasticity — in this context, applying insights to help counsel and heal bullying targets — gives us hope for breakthroughs toward helping those with PTSD, a condition so difficult to treat that often has left even the most optimistic trauma experts in a state of frustration.

Legal significance

Words not only can hurt, but also when delivered in a malicious, sustained, and targeted way, they can impair brain functioning. In short, psychological torture causes brain damage. Thus, as these discoveries and developments become documented through published scientific research, neuroscience will help targets of bullying, harassment, mobbing, and abuse prove legal claims against their tormenters. It also will help them access workers’ compensation and disability benefits.

Organizational behavior and business practices

Insights from neuroscience increasingly will inform the study of organizational behavior and business management practices. In an article for Strategy + Business about neuroscience and organizational culture (link here, free registration), Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick wrote:

When corporate leaders talk about change, they usually have a desired result in mind . . .. They know that if they are to achieve this result, people throughout the company need to change their behavior and practices, and that can’t happen by simple decree. How, then, does it happen? In the last few years, insights from neuroscience have begun to answer that question. New behaviors can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons.

A next big thing

So folks, this is a Next Big Thing. Stay tuned, because we’re going to be learning a lot of interesting stuff about ourselves, and this knowledge may lead us to ways of improving our lives at work and elsewhere.

What policy objectives should workplace bullying legislation advance?

With growing discussion about the enactment of workplace bullying legislation occurring both in the U.S. and in other nations, it is fitting to identify some of the broad objectives that any such law should be designed to further.

When I was drafting the Healthy Workplace Bill, I identified a cluster of public policy goals that should inform the substance of an anti-bullying law. These four figured most prominently:

Prevention

Prevention is the most important goal. The law should encourage employers to use preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of workplace bullying. These include developing and enforcing policies, educating employees, and supporting a workplace culture that values employee dignity. If bullying is prevented, then workers and employers alike will benefit, and all stakeholders are spared burdensome litigation.

Relief to targets

The legal system should provide a means of relief to targets who are subjected to severely abusive treatment. This should include monetary damages, mental health counseling, and, where applicable, reinstatement to the target’s original position.

Prompt and fair resolution

The law should encourage prompt resolution of bullying disputes, with procedures designed to be fair to all parties, and with strong protections against retaliation for workers who report instances of bullying.

Responsibility

Finally, bullies and employers who enable them should be held responsible for their actions. This will have a deterrent effect and further encourage the use of preventive measures to discourage bullying behavior.

***

I believe this is a good starting place for considering the role of the law in responding to workplace bullying. These policy objectives have been well-received by commentators around the world, ranging from scholars in fields such as law and industrial psychology, to the World Health Organization (see below for link).

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For a free pdf copy of the World Health Organization’s publication Raising Awareness of Psychological Harassment at Work, go here.

My three major law review articles on workplace bullying and the law extensively discuss the public policy objectives and implications of workplace bullying legislation, including the Healthy Workplace Bill. They can be downloaded without charge by clicking the titles:

The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection– Georgetown Law Journal, 2000

Crafting a Legislative Response to Workplace Bullying– Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, 2004

Workplace Bullying and American Employment Law: A Ten-Year Progress Report and Assessment – Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 2010

Work on TV: “Mad Men” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”

 

I’m about to sound like a geeky professor, but I’d like us to compare and contrast two television programs, one currently airing, the other a vintage classic.

Here are two American television shows portraying early-to-mid 1960s families, featuring a husband who commutes from Long Island to Manhattan every day to a job doing creative, well-compensated work, a beautiful work-at-home housewife, and adorable children.

We’re basically talking about the same programs, several decades apart, right?

Yeah, right.

Mad Men

First there’s “Mad Men,” AMC’s one-hour drama about the lives of Manhattan advertising executives in the 1960s, currently one of the most talked-about shows on the small screen.

In “Mad Men” you have the tortured, manipulative Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and his troubled, ice princess wife, Betty Draper (January Jones).

In the world of Madison Avenue advertising, Don Draper and his colleagues create ad campaigns, compete with other agencies for accounts, and spend a lot of time drinking, smoking, and carousing.

The Dick Van Dyke Show

And then there’s the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” a classic sitcom from the 1960s centered on the lives of writers for a television comedy/variety hour, “The Alan Brady Show.”

In the “Dick Van Dyke Show” you have the boyish and klutzy Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) and his wholesome beauty of a wife, Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore).

In the world of producing a network television show, Rob Petrie and his colleagues write comedy sketches, spend time with each other’s families, and sometimes perform at the boss’s parties.

Representations of work and society

Is there an objective truth about the worlds of high-stakes creative work at that time and place, and if so, does either television program accurately reflect it?

“Mad Men” is dark and brooding, both at work and at home. It can be fairly brutal in portraying the experiences of women and other “minorities” (racial, religious, and sexual) in that world of advertising.

The “Dick Van Dyke Show” presents an idyllic world of fun at work and almost picture-perfect suburban bliss at home. Occasionally the show delved into issues of difference, especially the changing roles of women and religious diversity (mainly through the Jewish faith of fellow comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Maury Amsterdam), but almost always with a light touch.

My verdict? Both are brilliant, entertaining shows. But while the world of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” is a happy, fun place to be, the world of “Mad Men” is a lot closer to the truth.

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You can watch both television shows via cable networks, DVD sets, and Netflix subscriptions. For “Mad Men” especially, I recommend starting from the beginning of the series to understand all the story arcs.

Left brain, meet right brain: Dan Pink’s Whole New Mind

For a long time I’ve meaning to write up a quick post on Dan Pink’s 2005 bestseller, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In essence, Pink — trained as a lawyer but making his living as a writer — suggests that a new set of aptitudes will be necessary to succeed in the times to come.

Left brain and right brain

Pink starts by pointing out how “left-brain” dominant occupations such as lawyer, accountant, and engineer have been touted as traditional pathways to steady incomes and professional success.

He then suggests that our technological, economic, and labor market structures are changing dramatically, to the point where a good number of left-brain tasks increasingly are being outsourced or even performed by computer programs. (A software program that can do your taxes is an obvious example of the latter.)

Pink goes on to opine that the attractive opportunities of tomorrow will emphasize creative, artistic, and holistic “right-brain” senses.

The six right-brain senses

Here are the six key right-brain abilities, according to Pink:

  • Design (combining utility and significance to maximize appeal)
  • Story (placing facts in context, delivered with emotional impact)
  • Symphony (“the ability to put together the pieces”)
  • Empathy (putting yourself in another’s shoes)
  • Play (understanding the importance of games, humor, and joyfulness)
  • Meaning (taking spirituality and happiness seriously)

OK, so it’s somewhat abstract

I haven’t put a lot of meat on the bones of this summary of A Whole New Mind, but if you spend some time with it, the examples in the book will fill in the substance.

When I consider Pink’s take on these qualities, I cannot help but think of the marketing success of the Apple computer company. Diehard fans of Macs, iPads, and iPhones probably know what I mean by this. Or walk into an Apple store and see that genius at work for yourself.

In any event, I’m not claiming that I buy into this worldview completely. But I find Pink’s thesis very intriguing and certainly worthy of consideration.

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