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.

Are HR professionals bullied at work?

If you want a job in which you won’t be subjected to workplace bullying, then perhaps the human resources field isn’t for you.

Pamela Babcock, writing for the Society for Human Resource Management’s Safety and Security blog (link here), reports on Dr. Teresa Daniel’s survey of 102 Kentucky HR professionals:

In an online survey of 102 HR professionals in Kentucky, 31.4 percent reported that they had been bullied at work. Behaviors included work interference or sabotage (42.4 percent), verbal abuse (33.3 percent), and offensive conduct such as threats and humiliation or intimidation (24.2 percent).

HR professionals reported being bullied at the same rates as other employees responding to recent surveys. However, an important finding was that over half (54.1 percent) of the bullied participants reported that they felt that the abuse was related to their role as an HR practitioner.

Why is this so?

Daniel then asked targeted individuals why they believed they were being bullied:

In follow-up interviews, 28 participants offered the following explanations as to why they felt HR is a target for bullying:

  • HR must often tell managers “no.”
  • The role is not fully appreciated and/or understood.
  • HR is perceived by some as lacking business knowledge.
  • HR practitioners sometimes lack professional credentials, education or “organizational fit.”
  • Insecure managers might see competent HR professionals as a threat.

Babcock’s article closes with useful recommendations from Daniel and survey respondents on how HR professionals can deal with these situations.

Caught in the middle

As this survey confirms, when HR practitioners disagree with the wishes or decisions of senior management, they sometimes pay the consequences.

This especially may be the case when HR disagrees with management on personnel matters, and it can lead to being bullied. In a blog post titled “Can an ethical HR officer survive at a bad company?,” I concluded:

For HR practitioners who see their role solely as an extension of upper-level management, questions of how to treat the rank & file are easy to resolve: Go with what the bosses want, even if it means that someone gets screwed over or unethical behavior is swept under the rug. In cases of workplace bullying or sexual harassment, we know what this usually means.

Conscientious HR practitioners, however, face a dilemma when management philosophy and practice run squarely into the ethical treatment of workers. If they antagonize their bosses by doing the right thing, they, too, may find themselves on the firing line.

Coffee and work

The most important machine in my office suite

Coffee and work. Work and coffee. David Crookes, in a great piece for the British Independent, “Thirsty Work: The coffee shop as office,” makes the connection:

The bond between coffee and work is strong. It has long been the staple drink for employees in offices, leading to rather wired workers but ones with alert brains ready to tackle the tasks of the day. Ever since American chair manufacturer Barcalounger became the first company to allow employees a coffee break in 1902, such a breather has grown to become an integral part of the working day on both sides of the pond.

Rocket fuel

Perhaps hell hath no fury like a late convert, but I didn’t pick up the coffee habit until my mid-30s. Now, that morning cup is a staple, typically followed by 1 or 2 more later in the day. And if I’m working late into the night, on occasion I brew up a pot to give me a needed jolt.

By conventional standards, I’m not a super-charged coffee drinker, but I confess to being hooked on the stuff. The effect of coffee is both physical and psychological in a way that a strong tea or energy drink like Red Bull simply can’t pull off. It tells me to start the day, push through the day, or work into the wee hours.

Hey, we’re part of a tradition!

As Crookes notes, the coffee-and-work connection goes way back:

When Edward Lloyd opened a rather modest London coffee shop in 1688, it became known for more than just its delicious hot black liquid. Large numbers of merchants, shipowners and insurance brokers would stop by, not only to relax and socialise but to trade.

The coffee shop quickly developed into the perfect place to obtain marine insurance and its reputation grew to the point where its influence continues to this day. Only now we know it as Lloyd’s of London.

Writers and coffee

Coffee seems to be especially associated with writers. Crookes invokes J.K. Rowling, Marina Fiorato, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, and Malcolm Gladwell as examples of writers drawn to cafes and coffee shops to do their work.

In popular fiction, I’ve noticed how many mystery and suspense novel writers create protagonists who are hooked on coffee — by the gallons. The late Stieg Larsson, author of the wildly popular Millenium trilogy (starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), must’ve been addicted, because investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist — one of his major characters — seems to brew up a pot of coffee in every scene!

Health benefits

To justify the habit, I’ll close with a reference to the possible health benefits of coffee, including decreased risk of certain cancers and less susceptibility to depression. Just type “coffee health benefits” into Google and you’ll see!

Four Bay Staters on eBossWatch’s 2011 “America’s Worst Bosses” list

Four denizens of the Bay State have been named to eBossWatch’s “America’s Worst Bosses” list for 2011. Each year, eBossWatch assembles a panel of workplace experts who evaluate leading candidates for the distinction, basing their selections largely on publicly available records and news reports.

In addition to the personal hurt inflicted by their actions, some of these bosses are costing their employers a lot of money. eBossWatch reports that as “of December 2011, the 2011 America’s Worst Bosses have cost their employers over $145 million in monetary damages and lawsuit settlement payments.”

Jay Severin’s “grateful” interns

Former WTKK-FM talk show host Jay Severin finished No. 6 in this year’s listing after he bragged about his conquests of young interns and employees (link here):

Jay Severin, a controversial talk radio host at WTKK-FM, was fired after admitting on air that he slept with his interns and that they should be grateful for it.

Severin said, “I slept with virtually every young college girl I hired to be an intern or an employee for my firm.

“That’s not the purpose for which they were hired but it certainly was an ancillary dimension of the job.

“Those girls that got to sleep with me got to know their boss better, they got to go on trips, they got to travel in some cases to various parts of the world, to see things and meet people that they never would have seen or done.

Sexual harassment and sewing assignments at the Hull P.D.?

The Hull Police Department seems to be stuck in another era — the Neanderthal Age, perhaps? — when it comes to how it treats women, at least according to a lawsuit alleging harassment inflicted by top brass Richard Billings, Robert Sawtelle, and Dale Shea, who collectively ranked 51st in the 2011 list (link here):

A female police officer in Hull has filed a scathing harassment lawsuit against the department’s chief and two top commanders, alleging the men regularly demeaned her with sexist slurs, and forced her to mend other officers’ uniforms while off duty.

Wendy Cope-Allen, an officer on the Hull force since 2003, is accusing Police Chief Richard Billings and two other supervisory officers, Captain Robert Sawtelle and Lieutenant Dale Shea, of “pervasive and severe’’ sexual harassment, and contends they routinely denigrated other female employees in the department.

Organizational cultures

I appreciate eBossWatch for its annual list and other ways in which it informs us about gruesome workplaces. The annual list, in particular, serves as a stark reminder of how people can be mistreated, even when laws exist that address the offending behavior.

In addition, as I’ve said before, we must remember that dysfunctional organizational cultures often play a huge role in encouraging or enabling these behaviors. Changing those cultures is as important as dealing with individual bad apples and the damage they inflict.

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