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….

***

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.

***

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.

34 responses

  1. The problem is, sociopathic personalities have long made the perfect warlords, so few organizational cultures have any real interest in weeding them out. Yes, they cost money, but the benefits they provide — instilling fear in, and control over, the workforce, far outweigh the costs. Perhaps a shift from focusing on bad apples, to bad trees (group aggression), or even the bad fields that produce them (organizational cultures), might do more to improve toxic work environments.

    • The apples>trees>fields analogy breaks down when it comes to most organizations. Instead, let’s look at the roots. Unhealthy roots — usually in the form of lousy leaders — infect the entire system.

      Show me an organization with a dysfunctional or abusive culture and I’ll show you a history of leaders whose bad acts and decisions, like unhealthy roots, affected the whole shebang. Troubled organizations won’t change until they rid themselves of the leaders who created and enabled the culture.

      By contrast, “We’re going to change the culture here” sounds good and positive (and may be the stuff of consulting contracts due to its upbeat, non-threatening tone!), but it’s unlikely to lead to genuine transformation absent dramatic changes at the top. Anything less may, at best, lead to temporary, superficial improvements — until a sufficient time has passed and the old guard (or their designated replacements) can take things back to the future.

      • Or, to put it more directly: Yes, let’s change organizational cultures by removing those most responsible for creating and continuing them.

        It’s clear that those people weren’t right for the job, so — just like others who aren’t a good fit for their positions — they can return to something with less responsibility, or — if they are capable and willing — retool and try again for a similar position.

        Shouldn’t we boot out those at the top who aren’t getting it done, especially when we’re so willing to deem those at the bottom of the org chart expendable?

      • I couldn’t agree more about changing the leaders. In fact, anthropological research has shown that to change a corporate culture the single most effective means of change is not changing consumer’s behavior (such as boycotts), or changing the views of the workforce, but changing the views of a key player at the top. I completely agree that brutish leaders create toxic workforces.

        Where I depart is that I do not believe it is easy to remove this brutish leadership. The whole “difficult employee” focus inevitably calls for a mid-level fall guy — or more commonly, lower level fall guys.

        Moreover, I don’t see anything “positive” about my approach; if anything, it is because I an so cynical that I doubt the efficacy of taking down corporate warlords. I think the most powerful change begins with ourselves, and I believe that each of the readers of this or any blog has an aggressive streak that could use some examination; has a reactive streak that could use some tempering; and has a followers streak that could use some awareness.

        To truly change corporate cultures, we begin with ourselves, examining the ways in which we disparage,shun, tattle on and gossip about our coworkers in the belief we are justified and morally superior. We become more aware of how we personalize and react to the behaviors of others, in ways that escalate conflicts rather than diffuse them. And we become more aware of how our views of people/contexts/conflicts/and cultures are shaped by collective trends, leading us to see what we expect to see, rather than what simply is. And “what is” is rarely simplistic or generalizable beyond the superficial, and always complex and choc full of contradiction and possibility.

        Like racism and sexism, aggression is inherent in our species, but its expression is shaped by culture. We will never bring an end to interpersonal aggression in the workplace anymore than we can end racism or sexism. But we can go far in minimizing it. Structural changes may well be critical to that change, but without changing our own behaviors and perceptions, no real change is possible.

      • Janice, I agree that self-reflection and self-improvement are laudable objectives, and in the aggregate these habits of mind may help to change organizational cultures. However, a small but powerful subset of people in our workplaces are not inclined to do so, and while others wonder what they did to escalate a situation to the point where they were abused, the abusers go on their merry ways. To believe otherwise is to risk buying into the self-blame that torments so many targets — exactly the kind of thinking that abusers and their sponsors want to encourage.

        Indeed, even if a target somehow contributed to the escalation of a situation that became an abusive one, that does not excuse the point at which the bullying behavior crossed that line. Yes, it’s true that someone’s personality may grate on another, but that doesn’t justify maliciously ruining his career. After all, a child may push the buttons of a busy parent who is trying to get everyone ready for work and for school that day, but that doesn’t justify subjecting the kid to loud derision or a beating. A woman’s decision to wear a provocative outfit to a bar may attract unwanted attention, but that doesn’t justify sexual assault.

      • In response to your reply below, about even if the target contributed to the conflict, it does not justify the behavior, I have never said such behavior is justifed. My aim is to help targets minimize the damage they might suffer. Twisting it to portray me as justifying abuse is perverse.

      • Janice, I’m suggesting that when applied to situations involving bullying behaviors, the logical conclusion of your assertion points back to the target as the one responsible — or at least jointly responsible — for preventing or stopping the wrongful conduct. In that sense, it does have a blame-the-victim quality to it.

        My impression is based on the reality that so, so many targets have looked deeply within, blamed themselves for not being able to work with different types of people, and bent themselves out of shape trying to placate and satisfy their abusers, only to have the behaviors continue or get worse. In fact, eager-to-please, high work ethic team players often are the ones most overcome by bullying, because their innate sense of fairness cannot process what is happening to them.

        Take a workplace of 100 people. Of them, 92 decide to embrace a healthier organizational culture and to hold themselves accountable for doing so. If the 8 others happen to be in the highest positions of power and insist on treating people like dirt, the improvements will be slight at best. In fact, such a scenario may even empower the bullies, because they will be able to do their thing amidst a delusional assumption shared by the 92 that it’s a new dawn.

  2. This is a very edifying Blog to read David. Containing my rage for the entire day, no matter how dreadful things got, meant that at the end of each day I was like a tightly wound spring. I knew it and I kept it in check until I got home and frequently and unfairly unleashed on my innocent family. I didn’t know how to deal with my rage. Once I was no longer working I lost my grip on that modicum of control and one of my outlets was the potential for road rage, car park rage and even shopping trolly rage. I guess what I am trying to say here is that the rage contained in the workplace, for the sake of survival, must spill over at some time and I hear so often that victims take their anger into a more public but anonimous arena and will show all the aggression they hold back in their workplaces. I always thought there might be a correlation between workplace abuse and rsome forms of road rage .or other public rage or family violence. If there is any link then the damage of the workplace abuser goes way beyond the workplace. I perhaps don’t make much sense here but I too believe that these workplace psychopaths have greater influence over our lives than even they would imagine and it is certainly time that governments understand this crippling affect on people’s lives. People festering like the economy. Once again David, your respect agenda springs to mind. If only we could claw back respect, dignity, honesty, integrity, loyalty and decency but, alas, while governments and corporations regard us only as ‘collateral damage” nothing is going to change anytime soon. Thank you David, I appreciately, very much, this article.

    • You’re really on to something here, demonstrating just how off target some of these portraits of targets as “passive victims” can be. Expressing rage does not diffuse the rage, but intensifies it, yet when a worker is a target of extreme abuse, rage is a normal psychological response. Workplace abuse is a form of controlled and targeted rage — toward the targeted worker, whereas the target is usually less emotionally prepared to counter the attacks in such a cold-blooded manner. There is a real need to help targets learn more effective ways to identify and control anger at early stages, so that it does not escalate, and so that an abusive management is not empowered to eradicate the employee by portraying then as mentally unstable or violent once they push them into the red zone.

    • Dianne, having to maintain that silence in the face of abuse (individual and corporate) is one of the most maddening things about these very related behaviors. And yes, I’m sure the baggage we take home from work affects our other human relationships and the way in which we interact with those in our community.

  3. David
    No question about it! There are certainly many other economic issues that have led us to where we are now economically, such as spending 800 billion dollars in Iraq, but corporate psycopaths definately are a large piece of the puzzle. Take my former boss for example, while this person fits every description that Micheal Britton describes as a corporate psychopath, the organization went on to pay her $180,000 a year and give no raises to other employees. Myself for example was over worked to the point of 20 to 30 hours week overtime with no extra pay, and it could be estimated that what i saved the orgainzation with my skills and extra hours paid her salary, yet when push came to shove and i became ill because of her, i was fired. These corporate psychopaths have been around for a while and i bet if a survey was done right now and a poll was taken about how many people are out of work or on disability because of stress in the workplace, the numbers would be staggering. Government and people have a habit of looking at the big items like iraq etc, but when you break it all down and sort it out there are many factors that got us where we are.and paying executives and over working the little guy, and corporate ceos givng themselves million dollar bonuses etc have all driven the bus that has parked us on recession street. We need to get some balance back in the workplace and the economy will come back. When employees are healthy and treated right and fairly compensated for their work, they will work harder and in turn will be in a better position to put money back into the economy. Employers must stop over working the little guy and over paying the executives, it is out of balance, also i would like to see the numbers for one month in this country that employees or their insurance companies pay for work related stress. I bet if these numbers were put in front of the faces of the right people often enough, you would see the law passed to stop stress and bullying in the workplace, i bet the numbers are staggering!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mel

    • Mel, the truly insane thing is that it’s not as if there’s no more money or no more need for people to do important work. But the lack of balance — including the concentration of wealth — is killing us, literally and figuratively.

  4. Thank you.

    The world needs to learn about psychopaths! Psychopaths are responsible for so much pain and corruption, yet few people know what a psychopath is. Yes, they destroy people and companies!

    Have psychopaths also infiltrated the US government and media? Gosh, it seems that way. While most people were preparing for the holidays, for example, the Senate and House approved a bill that includes provisions for indefinite detention of US citizens. Did mainstream media report it? Hardly. A person has to search “indefinite detention” to see what is going on. Kudos to Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart for shedding light on this egregious violation of our rights.

    • I wrote a piece on indefinite detention and no one would pick it up. Perhaps because I discussed how when I was accused of terrorism and subjected to a Homeland Security investigation, it was not by far right patriots, but by liberal human rights activists. My point was that when we believe ourselves to be morally superior, we find ourselves justifying all sorts of atrocities as “necessary” and “right.” Democrats readily backed that bill, yet there has been little reflection on how and why so many so-called “doves” backed such a hawkish bill.

      I see similarities to how easily it can be to support aggressive behavior in the workplace once a person is convinced that they are morally right to do so; many directions in the anti-bully discourse begin with the objective of eradicating aggression, but end by empowering HR to more efficiently fuel aggression — with those who participate telling themselves it is necessary and right to do so, if they can be persuaded someone is “a bully.” “Bullies” gunned me down; believe me, I share contempt for such behavior and the opportunists who engage in it. But I have no doubts that had I battled much longer, they would have branded me the bully for fighting back, because that would be the most effective way to rally support against me.

      We live in a surreal society that defends indefinite detention without charge as necessary and moral because there is such genuine fear among our citizens and lawmakers. What lessons might we learn from exploring our reactions to terrorism – a very real threat – with very disturbing and ineffective reactions?

  5. I understand Dr. Yamada’s point.

    Caring people tend to question themselves first. It is that “weakness” that psychopaths prey on.

    Discussions regarding how targets should change miss the point. The target could be an assertive, calm, patient, thoughtful, considerate, clear-spoken, self-reflective saint and still be bullied. In fact, bullies enjoy destroying good people.

    Bulling is a form of abuse and the bullies are responsible for the abuse, not the targets. Intervention should be directed at the bullies — how about firing their butts?

    • While you wait for someone to “fire their butts,” targets suffer. Discussing how targets can change their behavior does not miss the point, it elaborates upon it to show how targets can gain control during a conflct and diffuse it to the best of their ability. Moreover, I am not calling on just targets to change, but everyone. Everyone has aggressive traits, and the failure of the anti-bully tide to recognize this fact and explore it, empowers workplace abusers because it maintains the “difficult employee” focus which serves management, not workers.

  6. Janice, I’m not surprised that your story was ignored or that you were targeted by the left. The powers that be (right and left) are so afraid of independent thought.

    Look at the media’s coverage of Ron Paul’s campaign. You’d hardly know he was running, even though he currently ranks first or second in the polls. He’s predictably being portrayed in the media as a nutcase… the same way Ross Perot was being portrayed when he talked about the “giant sucking sound.” Now, after losing thousands of jobs overseas, it looks like Perot wasn’t so nuts after all.

    Is Homeland Security investigating people for independent thought? If so, we are in trouble.

    • Homeland Security didn’t investigate me for independent thought. What began as the aggressive behavior of a couple of influential people flourished in an unstable and abusive institutional context. I was teaching a course on war and conducting research on depleted uranium. A student wrote that she had never known me to do or say anything violent, but she was told I was violent so she realized my lecture on the Manhattan Project was really me revealing my interest in building a hydrogen bomb. Had she been told to see me as a bully, that is what she would have seen, just as if she had been told to see me as a victim, that is what she would have seen.

      Her friend, who was failing an independent study because she did nothing, then seized the opportunity to profit. She claimed that my email to her telling her that for a higher grade she take an incomplete and do a paper on her proposed thesis topic — transport of nuclear materials, a topic widely reported in the local press — was an attempt at extortion to obtain classified documents. Two junior faculty joined in with reports that I was first suicidal, then homicidal, until everyone I knew was convinced that whatever I was, it was bad, despite an excellent reputation prior to the mobbing. Who was the bully in this case? One was a dupe, one a charismatic opportunist, one a chronic liar, and another just plain mean. Grades were changed, generous raises and early tenure bestowed, and points scored with administration. There was a powerful incentive to view me as the problem, not administration. The bully paradigm fails miserably at explaining this social context of mobbing, which transpires the same whether “conservative” or “liberal.”

  7. Janice, your experience sounds horrible.

    I also had a horrible experience and learned from my counselor to accept that there are situations over which we have no control. Please consider that possibility.

    Given what happened to you, it is possible that your trauma was orchestrated by a psychopath. They are exceedingly clever. If you haven’t already, you might want to consider reading about psychopaths. “Snakes in Suits” was an eye opener for me. It described my experience, from start to finish.

    • Terms like sociopath or psychopath are as problematic as they are useful, because they describe character traits that exist on a continuum. Yes, in my case there was one at the top and one below who I would characterize as having sociopathic tendencies; both charismatic and successful manipulators who have and will go far. But that paradigm is useless, really, other than learning how to better recognize and avoid these snakes.

      But I did have control, though no one helped me to see how I did at the time. And the anti-bully literature only helped me to a point — in many respects, following the advice of one of the leading books did more to fuel the aggression, than diminish it, and nothing to help me clearly understand it.

      By focusing on the “bad guys” I became blind to how the decent humane people surrounding me could so easily turn against me. Had I had a better understanding of that dynamic, I could have better controlled my responses and either prevented it early on, or limited the damages as it escalated. I never “blamed the victim” as David alleges, but I wholly reject turning a bllind eye to our own behavior, because our own behavior is the only thing we really can control, especially in a mobbing context. You might want to look at my paper, Just Us Justice: The Gentle Genocide of Workplace Mobbing (http://www.janice-harper.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Harper-Just-Us-Justice3.pdf) for a better understanding of how targets can unknowingly enable aggressors to destroy them. I’m sure we’ve suffered similarly, and I do hope you are recovering.

      • While every instance of dealing with bullying at work yields its lessons, I do think there are dangers in falling back on one’s own experience as the primary “text” for understanding the phenomenon. I believe this is especially so when bullying/mobbing occurs in university settings, because upside-down cultures in academe are standard operating procedures.

        I agree that we should “wholly reject turning a blind eye to our own behavior,” but I don’t see the majority of targets doing so. In fact, many targets obsess over and relentlessly second guess their own behaviors in the bullying situations and engage in unhealthy amounts of self-blame.

        What may be more pertinent, however, is the target’s failure to act strategically and coolly in the line of fire. That failure may include trusting those who turn against them, a dynamic one giant step up the food chain from that of bystander. (Unfortunately, this 3rd party behavior is very prevalent in academe, even among tenured professors who have more job security than most workers in the U.S.) Bullying is so overwhelming that many targets, quite understandably, are unable to think rationally about their options, as their comprehension of the situation becomes clearer to them. I’ve never seen another setting where things are so damn clear in hindsight.

  8. I completely agree about university settings and tenured professors. But to be clear, my “text” comes not only from my own experience as a target, but from my expertise in the anthropology of warfare/conflict and organizational cultures, and from interviewing, and corresponding with, countless targets from all over the world. The more I express my views on this topic, the more I find these views dismissed as lacking any authority. Were I to agree with the prevailing views, however, my experience as a target and expertise as a scholar would be viewed quite differently. Enough with the silver-backing. Despite agreeing on most points, you have accused me of “blaming the victim,” making my own experience my “primary” source of knowledge, excusing and justifying bullying, and being naively “positive” no matter what I say. That approach stifles dialogue, it does not inspire it.

    • Janice, I’m following the implications and the slippery slope of your comments, not “accusing.” And rather than “dismissing” your views, I’m responding to where they take me and why. You raise thoughtful and provocative points, but I happen to disagree with some of them and where they lead us.

  9. Janice, I read your article. The analogy between mobbing and genocide makes a lot of sense and your portrayal of the mobbing sequence is enlightened.

    I disagree with you, however, when you imply that targets bear responsibility for provoking attacks (p. 13). They don’t, unless you believe that just wanting to work and do a good job is a reason for abuse.

    As the readers of this blog know, the bullying/mobbing experience is devastating. Perhaps most devastating is the loss of control – over our emotions (grief, rage, anxiety, depression, etc.), health (panic attacks, insomnia, heart problems, immune disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, cancers, etc.) careers (references, reputation, etc.), income (loss for entire family), benefits (loss of pension, health insurance, etc.), personal relationships (strained or failed relationships from stress), and, perhaps most damaging, loss of control over our own identities (shaped by others).

    Our culture teaches us that responsible individuals take control. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. You control your fate. Find the silver lining. Focus on the positive. Banish the negative thoughts. Control your breathing. Exercise more. Volunteer to feel better. Get hypnotized. Be cheery. Pray. Eat more vegetables. Count your blessings. Talk to friends. Take an antidepressant. Consider the alternative point of view. Meditate. Turn the other cheek. Sleep more. Remember there is always a way. Do all this while putting your best foot forward and a smile on your face.

    Good advice? Well, maybe for everyday life, but we can’t control the universe by concentrating. I tried everything, except making lemonade, and it didn’t work. Trying to meditate, for example, while experiencing a fight-or-flight response, is like holding onto the side of a speeding train and trying to stop it with your sneakers. Good luck. Sometimes the ONLY choice available to us is to get out.

    Life happens. We’re not omnipotent. It can be really hard forgiving ourselves for not having control, but sometimes we just don’t have control and we need to forgive ourselves for doing the best we can in an awful situation.

    If a friend came to you and told you that her entire office conspired to belittle, disparage, discredit, and torment her, would you put responsibility for the bad behavior on HER? Really? Wouldn’t you think, wow, sounds like a few psychopaths are running lose over there and the rest of the bunch are cowards? Wouldn’t you tell her to run?

    You seem like a person who desires honest dialog. I can honestly tell you that your insistence that targets provoke the attacks feels unjust, adding insult to injury. I know I tried everything I could to make the situation better, but I cannot control other people. Neither can you. Neither can other targets.

    I do not doubt your credentials, your experience, your knowledge, or your description of the mobbing process, which I think every business could benefit from hearing. I understand that losing control over our lives can be devastating and that seeing the dark side of human nature is life-altering. I think the objection in this thread was to shifting responsibility onto the target, not who you are as a professional.

    Please consider that you did not have control. The bullies were running the show. It is not a copout to think like this. It’s accepting reality.

  10. I have never said that targets bear the responsibility, and I clearly state that in my paper. Just as victims of domestic abuse must learn to become empowered in their own lives so that they do not continue to be abused, so too do targets of mobbing need to understand the same. I won’t continue to dispute discussions about “bullies” among this audience, because my points are about collective aggression or mobbing. Mobbing goes far beyond “bullies” to involve many fine, decent people — yet the anti-bully focus fails to hold anyone but “bullies” responsible for workplace aggression.

    As for the objections on this thread; readers have not disparaged me as professional, but David Yamada has.

    At any rate, I’m out of here. You folks continue to banter about bullies, I’ll take on the mob.

    • I think what we say directly and the implications that follow may be distinguishable, and I find that a lot of what you say spawns implications worthy of discussion. I honestly don’t consider that to be disparagement.

      No one denies that workplace mobbing situations exist; in fact, I have long considered genuine mobbing to be a form of group bullying, sometimes creating the dynamics and behaviors that you well understand. But you may disagree with my assertion that a lot of what is called mobbing is actually under the control of one or two puppetmasters who are the primary movers behind the abusive conduct. Take those controlling individuals out of the picture, and the abusive force typically diminishes and the “fine, decent people” to which you refer go back to whatever they were doing before they were enlisted to participate in the abuse. In that sense, I am attracted to Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil thesis, and this is where the intersection between bullying and mobbing often occurs for me.

      “Banter about bullies”??? This ain’t casual chatter. Whether we’re talking about one or two bullies or a fully formed mob or something in between, the results are often the same for the target.

    • I did read your paper, Janice. I agree that you do not directly say that targets bear the responsibility. Unfortunately, I can see how your comments here and some of your recent articles are interpreted that way. I think it may be helpful to clarify that in many cases what targets are doing to invite the bullying/mobbing is nothing more than what they were hired to do. Unfortunately, when people excel and adhere to a code of ethics in their work, they are often attacked by those who are not capable of acting so ethically or competently in their positions. I also appreciate that you have shared the details of your experience here. More targets of workplace bullying/mobbing/aggression (whatever you want to call the obnoxious behavior) need to share the details of what happened to them in order for the experience to be fully understood and addressed. I realize the risks in doing so ranging from claims of defamation to risking current or future employment, but the problem will only be addressed when people begin telling their stories in all of the horrific detail. It is not defamation if what you are saying is true.

      When I was employed in a state agency in New Hampshire, I gathered all of the evidence and I fought like hell against the “genocidal workplace situation” that you so accurately describe in your paper when you write, “When you are at war, you can win. But mobbing is not a form of warfare, it is a form of genocide, and the only way to survive genocide is to flee.”

      I am now more than five years out from my experience, and I give a lot of credit to the author of this blog David Yamada for how well I recovered, and I thank him for being a voice of so many targets who are still understandably unwilling or incapable of sharing their experiences. In 2010, I provided full details of my experience in a legislative committee hearing on a workplace bullying bill here in New Hampshire. While the press was not in attendance at the hearing, I remain hopeful that some recent interviews that I have given (pending publication) about my experience as well as my future plans to become more vocal will prove to be a benefit to increasing people’s understanding about workplace bullying and will inspire others to stand up and speak out in detail.

  11. When people are being targeted left and right, and the group is so threatened they go along with mgt and pretend it’s like a normal day, that kind of toxicity doesn’t work well for an empath. When the empath stands up and says things over and over- and in the end becomes the target themselves, and winds up being run out like so many others, you better believe there is a problem with corporate psychopaths. How can a ‘healthy’ person do such damage and live with themselves??

    I agree that our job should be to spread the word- knowledge is power, as they say. I had no clue what was going on until well after I was gone. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time reading and studying up on the subject. It has been incredibly justifying and comforting to know I AM NOT CRAZY, as they would want the innocent victim to believe.

    So many folks take the idea of ‘workplace bullying’ lightly, without knowing the seriousness of it, that it is indeed an epidemic, and people lose their lives because of it, one way or another.

    As far as I’m concerned, I am here to 1) educate and support others and B) join others in fighting for laws against these crimes.

  12. “When the empath stands up and says things over and over- and in the end becomes the target themselves…”

    “I had no clue what was going on until well after I was gone. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time reading and studying up on the subject. It has been incredibly justifying and comforting to know I AM NOT CRAZY…”

    Sue, you described my experience. I could have written those exact words. Now, like you, I am committed to education, support, and getting legislation passed.

    It’s time to out these creeps and fight back!

  13. One would tend to think this phenomenon just happened? It didn’t. Why is there still not a solution to the problem. Rachel Simmons wrote about it in her book _Odd Girl Out_, how many years ago? The psychologically ill are becoming the norm it seems because so many people just put up with the behaviors. The Targets usually always lose, either by leaving the job, school, situation, or more drastic measures– committing suicide.

    15 children in Washington State alone have committed suicide because they feel so alone. No where to turn, as most adults don’t recognize the symptoms of the Targets behavior. This has been my passion for over 15 years, to rid our society of bullying, and aggression. It serves no purpose in any human manner. I too am committed to education, support and even passing laws.
    Not one more child should die because of this. Not one more child should suffer through being bullied. Not one more. Speak out, Speak up, and Take a stand. No More.

    One more thing. I heard that a female famous person was being harrassed by a male famous person, and when the two happened to cross paths one day, the female asked ‘Why are you so mean” ? The male stopped in his tracks, suddenly recognizing what had happened. IT put a face on the bad behavior. It changed the dynamics of the event down a more personal level. It was the lightbulb moment for him. He said he would change his behavior.

  14. Hi David, Compelling comment thread. I always respect your integrity but I find your argument that targets who have experienced workplace bullying are somehow too weakened and damaged and inherently unable to educate themselves on the topic enough to see the broader picture. Where would the women’s movement have been if women, who knew first hand and experienced gender bias and sexual harassment, had not carried an authoritative voice in academia and the public dialog. In fact, where would the women’s movement have been if Gloria Steinem hadn’t successfully been able to work past Betty Friedan’s determination to remain the sole dominant voice on the topic. Where would the Civil Rights movement have been if those discriminated against had not been able to become dominant academic voices? The list goes on and on in the struggle against harassment and discrimination.

    • I’d agree with your criticism, except that’s not my position and never has been. Indeed, no doubt you’re aware that I work with many advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill who are one-time targets and who definitely understand the broader picture. Furthermore, many of the best insights shared on this blog have come from targets, and I believe that Been There’s comments in this thread are fine examples. And I’ve invoked the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the labor movement on many occasions in speeches and addresses describing my hopes for the anti-bullying movement.

      When Gary and Ruth Namie hosted the very first national conference on workplace bullying in 2000, they made sure to include target perspectives in the presentations and discussions. That perspective has never been forgotten. And one of the lessons we’ve learned from those stories is the difficulty of acting skillfully and dispassionately when you’re a target in the middle of the maelstrom.

  15. I personally don’t see that the more objective and dispassionate approach has actually offering up a broad enough public dialog about workplace bullying. For over a decade the mainstream press has relied too heavily on a a singular voice (source). [ “…While every instance of dealing with bullying at work yields its lessons, I do think there are dangers in falling back on one’s own experience as the primary “text” for understanding the phenomenon….” ]

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