Minding the Workplace: Changes for 2012

Thank you, everyone, for your ongoing interest in Minding the Workplace, which has attracted over 200,000 hits and a bevy of insightful comments since its launch in December 2008. During the coming year, I’ll be making some modest changes to the blog. They will include:

1. Interviews and podcasts — I’ll be doing short interviews with a wide range of people connected with the world of employment relations, and I’ll be using the podcast format to introduce more multimedia content.

2. Slightly less frequent publication — During the past three years, I’ve covered a lot of ground here, with over 700 articles entering the blogosphere. Consequently, I’ll be blogging an average of 3 times a week rather than the 4-5 times a week pace I’ve maintained since the blog’s inception.

3. More “aggregator” posts — With hundreds of blog posts here, and an abundance of relevant content by other writers available online, I’ll be doing more “aggregator” posts that assemble articles and other sources on relevant themes and topics.

What won’t change is a focus on topics such as workplace bullying, employment law and policy, psychological health at work, and related issues of economics, politics, and social justice. This blog entered the scene during the 2008 economic meltdown, and we continue to face tough times in our workplaces. I hope that Minding the Workplace will help to keep you informed and enlightened as we weather the storm.

Best wishes for a fulfilling, secure, and healthy New Year, especially to readers who have been struggling with some of very challenges discussed in these pages.

-David Yamada

Auld Lang Syne: The importance of organizational history and memory

Memory was a key theme appearing on this blog several times during the year. In other words, what events and persons do organizations and institutions choose to remember, and which ones do they opt to forget?

I’m a big believer in continually re-examining history for the lessons it keeps yielding. When memories are sharp and true, we all can benefit, sometimes because they allow us to celebrate and commemorate, on other occasions so we can learn from mistakes or failings.

Here are three posts from this year that examined the implications of institutional amnesia:

How lousy organizations treat institutional history — Excerpt: “How do lousy organizations treat their own institutional history? In other words, how do they treat their past, recent or otherwise? . . . Bad organizations avoid accountability by labeling any unjust, unethical, illegal, or simply inept behavior as part of the past. Those who seek discussions of, or explanations for, such actions or behaviors are criticized for dwelling upon the past . . ..”

Erase and forget: “Unpersons” and institutional memory — Excerpt: “Bad organizations choose to ‘forget’ less flattering events of their institutional history, especially those that conflict with their self-generated mythologies. Sometimes that process requires them to create new unpersons out of individuals associated with those events.”

Harass and eliminate: Anti-labor forces go after professors and art — Excerpt: “Maine Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, recently ordered the removal of an 11-panel mural depicting various chapters in the history of the state’s workers from the offices of the Department of Labor. . . . There is an Orwellian quality to this action, a desire to create a category of unpersons . . ..”

Is our psychologically ill economy fueled by psychologically ill business leaders?

It’s not often when mental health experts and business management scholars start to sound alike, but a December workshop address by therapist Michael Britton and a recent business ethics article by marketing expert Clive Boddy seem to be very much on the same page. Both address the twisted psychological dynamics driving the current economic crisis.

Our manic economy

In the Don Klein Memorial Lecture at the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network held in December (blog post here), psychologist Michael Britton described our current economic condition in psychological terms.

Our economic system has taken on “bipolar” qualities, said Britton. Using terms and phrases such as “excited,” “frantic,” “crash and burn,” “disregard for reality,” and “disregard for empathy,” he described an economy grounded in constant consumption and concentrations of power.

Britton said that instead of worshipping at the altar of national GDP and high unemployment, we should “reduce resource stripping” and emphasize how everyone can contribute to society and live a “materially decent life.”

Corporate Psychopaths

Of course, if our economy is psychologically ill, then we should search out the root causes. Clive R. Boddy of the Nottingham Business School believes that the behaviors of corporate psychopaths have fueled the economic crisis.

He makes the case in a 2011 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Business Crisis” (link here). Here are a few snippets:

Although they may look smooth, charming, sophisticated, and successful, Corporate Psychopaths should theoretically be almost wholly destructive to the organizations that they work for.

…Researchers report that such malevolent leaders are callously disregarding of the needs and wishes of others, prepared to lie, bully and cheat and to disregard or cause harm to the welfare of others….

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The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations, where they are able to influence the moral climate of the whole organisation and yield considerable power, have largely caused the crisis. . . . (T)he Corporate Psychopath’s single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement . . . has led to an abandonment of the old fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.

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When presented to management academics in discussion, the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is accepted as being plausible and highly relevant. . . .The message that psychopaths are to be found in corporations and other organisations may be important for the future longevity of capitalism and for corporate and social justice and even for world financial stability and longevity.

Felons vs. Bosses

These commentaries echo a 2005 study conducted by psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon comparing individuals housed in a British psychiatric hospital who had been convicted of serious crimes to managers and executives. As reported by George Monblot for the Guardian (link here):

On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for.

As 2012 approaches

During the three years I have hosted this blog, I’ve written a lot about the devastating effects that bullying bosses can have on individual psyches and careers. As these commentaries and studies show, many of these individuals also are wreaking havoc on our larger economic and social infrastructures.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against enterprise, entrepreneurship, and even a fair profit. And I’m not looking for a witch hunt of bad managers and executives. Instead, maybe it’s time we use the language of human resources and simply say that our “plans have changed” and that “we’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

Heaven knows it’s time we did so.

What workplace bullying teaches us about the integrity of American employers

Ståle Einarsen, University of Bergen psychology professor and a leading authority on workplace bullying, once gave a conference keynote address in which he said, in effect, that rather than using our knowledge of employment relations to help us understand workplace bullying, perhaps we should use our knowledge of workplace bullying to help us understand employment relations.

I had his remarks in mind when I realized that if you want an ultimate test of an American employer’s integrity, examine how it responds to risks and claims of workplace bullying. Here’s why:

1. Limited liability exposure — Until the Healthy Workplace Bill or something like it becomes law, most American workers will not have a direct legal claim against their employers for workplace bullying, no matter how abusive the conduct and its effects. Accordingly, employers that choose to tackle workplace bullying pro-actively are doing so out of a commitment to their workers and to the resulting benefits in terms of productivity and morale.

2. Adopting and enforcing a strong policy — Currently employers are under no legal obligation to develop a policy concerning workplace bullying. An employer that adopts and enforces a policy is making a statement about its institutional culture, while potentially exposing itself to liability in the event of a violation. This is a big step to take.

3. Power differentials — Workplace bullying in the U.S. tends to be a top-down phenomenon, with supervisor-to-subordinate mistreatment being the most common combination. This is why workplace bullying is such a threatening topic to organizations and to individuals in charge: It often implicates the very power structure of a workplace. Thus, preventing and stopping workplace bullying requires a sincere, full-blown organizational commitment.

4. Investigation challenges — Although workplace bullying is frequent and destructive, conducting a fair and thorough investigation can be a difficult and challenging task. This is especially the case when the allegations involve behaviors of a more indirect nature.

In other words, workplace bullying challenges employers to do right by everyone, even if the liability risks are comparatively low, senior managers are among those whose actions will be reviewed, and investigating claims of bullying are difficult and time consuming. Employers that embrace these priorities and practices are special indeed.

Workplace Bullying Institute’s DVD for targets

If you’ve been a target of workplace bullying or know someone who has been enduring this form of abuse, I highly recommend the Workplace Bullying Institute’s new DVD, Help for Bullied Targets from WBI.

This is an insightful, supportive, and frank 90-minute presentation of information, guidance, and advice that complements Gary and Ruth Namie’s groundbreaking book, The Bully at Work (2d ed., 2009). At $43 including shipping, it’s also affordable.

Before I go on, let me issue my standard disclaimer: I’ve been working with WBI and the Namies for over a decade on a pro bono basis. Although I don’t have any financial stake in this DVD, I’m too close to them to call this an impartial review.

Contents

The DVD includes the following chapters:

  • Could this be happening? Why me?
  • Getting help from professionals & family
  • Fighting back safely
  • Seeking justice from our legal system
  • Living in your post-bullying world

Of course, Gary and Ruth Namie figure prominently in the video. But also featured are Jessi Eden Brown, a licensed therapist and WBI’s coach for bullying targets, and Sean Lunsford, a consultant who joined the staff in 2011.

My impressions

I asked to see the video before writing this blog post, and as I watched, I realized it would help a lot of people. In fact, right after I finished, I ordered a copy for a friend.

I found several segments of Help for Bullied Targets from WBI especially helpful:

  • Dealing with reactions and responses from co-workers, family, and friends
  • What qualifications to look for in a therapist, and what questions to ask of a prospective therapist.
  • The realities of bringing a legal claim
  • Working through one’s emotions and planning for the long term

This is WBI’s first take at producing a DVD to help targets, so don’t expect a PBS-quality production. Putting on my lawyer hat, I think there’s still more that can be said about legal and employee benefit options. That said, this is the next best thing to having a knowledgeable personal coach or therapist. It captures years of accumulated research, experience, and wisdom gained from coaching and interviewing workplace bullying targets.

Go here for more information and ordering details.

A gift from our elders: Turning their shared regrets into our opportunities

In a society that worships youth and images of youthfulness, all too often we overlook precious opportunities to learn from those who have been around the block before us. As a counter to this mindset, palliative care provider Bronnie Ware asked people nearing the end of their life journeys to share what regrets they have carried into their later years.

Here are their top five regrets, as drawn from her conversations:

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” (number one lament)

2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” (men especially)

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” (“surprisingly common” regret)

To expound on what she learned, Ware has a new book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing (2011), available in both paperback and a very inexpensive Kindle edition.

A gift for the New Year

Ware’s full blog article is absolutely worth your click-and-read, and you may be motivated to get her book as well.

Especially as we approach or pass certain age milestones, or as we bemoan the passage of time often marked by a new year, we may be reluctant to heed the advice of those who are a decade (or two or three) older, as if paying attention suddenly accelerates our own aging. In reality, however, this is priceless wisdom, offered to many of us at points in our lives when we have the freedom to make changes and choices.

Some of these points may relate to career paths taken or not taken. Others may pertain to too much attention given to work in our lives. And a few remind us of the important people in our lives.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but stuff like this provides welcomed food for thought as we turn the calendar.

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Related post

The lessons of nostalgia

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Hat tip to Ann Appa via Facebook for Ware article.

The iPad and work: Some notes for road warriors


When I bought an iPad 2 earlier this year, I didn’t think of it as being a work machine. Rather, I found myself drawn to the display of iPads every time I walked into an Apple Store (a dangerous thing in and of itself), and after spending a chunk of an afternoon playing a very simple soccer video game on one of them, I was a goner.

Upon my purchase, I feared that I would be like a kid who got the birthday present he’d been pining for, only to become bored with it in a few weeks or months. Initially, it looked like it might go that way, as I played games on the machine that I eventually tired of.

But then I started taking it with me for out-of-town trips to conferences and visits with friends. And happily I realized that I didn’t have to lug my heavier laptop with me every time I hopped on a plane or a train.

Travel aide

If you travel a lot and tire of loading an electronics store into your bags even for the shortest of trips, the iPad may be the light, compact jack-of-all-trades that you need.

With either a local wifi or the subscription 3G connection, you can can surf the web quickly and easily — the iPad was made for busy consumers of information. You can do basic work tasks with simplified versions of Apple’s productivity suite — but don’t expect Microsoft Word! And while the iPad doesn’t have Adobe Flash capabilities, most YouTube and many other streaming videos work well on it.

The iPad’s battery life is boon to travelers, lasting a good 8-9 hours on a charge.

If you want to do heavier-duty writing or notetaking, you’d be advised to buy an add-on keyboard (some of which serve as covers for the iPad as well), as the pull-up touch screen keyboard is best for hunting and pecking. And if you plan on doing significant writing or graphics work, you’ll probably want that laptop with you.

In the office

During the past year, I’ve noticed a lot of people carrying iPads into meetings with them, even in their own office buildings. It appears the tablet computer is becoming more of an office staple.

The iPad won’t replace your office computer as a workhorse machine, but it can be very handy if your job requires you to bop around a building, campus, or other work site. Because it’s a breeze to turn off and on, you can do quick checks of your email or jot down a few notes without waiting for it to power up.

Reasons to exercise willpower

There are lots of good reasons not to buy an iPad. First, it’s pricey. You can buy a quality, full-fledged PC laptop for the same price or less. A netbook may be all you need, at a fraction of the cost.

Second, the iPad does a lot of things on a range of acceptable to pretty darn good, but frankly, it doesn’t excel at any of them. If you want a portable computer to do heavy duty writing, graphics, or number crunching, get a laptop or netbook. If you want a quality e-reader, the Kindle or the Nook will be a little easier on your eyes and a lot less expensive to boot.

On the entertainment side, if you want to play video games on the road, you can pick among a number of portable gaming systems. If you want to watch movies or streaming video while traveling, your laptop or maybe the Kindle Fire (the verdict is still out) is a good option.

Before you buy

If you’re thinking buying about an iPad at least partly for work/travel purposes, you might want to get a sense of whether it will do the job for you. I’d suggest taking a close look at a book like Jason R. Rich’s Your iPad 2 at Work (2011) (pictured above), which does a fine job of explaining and illustrating choices and options.

In addition, if you’re not in a huge hurry, you might wait out the rumors that an iPad 3 is scheduled to arrive sometime during the first half of the new year. I’ll be sticking with what I have — the iPad 2 is a terrific machine, and it wasn’t cheap — but there may be enough bells & whistles in the next version to justify holding out for a few months.

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