Highlights from Minding the Workplace: 60+ popular and notable posts

I’ve updated and revised the “Popular and Notable Posts” page of Minding the Workplace. Here are 60+ posts that represent some of the best of this blog:

Workplace bullying and related topics

January 2012 — “Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work

December 2011 — At-will employment and the legality of workplace bullying: A brutal combo punch

November 2011 — The “bully” label: Too stigmatizing, too mild, or too inevitable?

October 2011 — The Healthy Workplace Bill: What’s it all about?

September 2011 — Should you confront your workplace bully?

September 2011 — Should workplace bullying be a criminal offense in the U.S.?

August 2011 — When the bullying comes from a board member

July 2011 — Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder and workplace bullying

May 2011 — Nurse writes about bullying by doctors, and other doctors respond

April 2011 — Female-to-female workplace bullying: Homespun theory on an imperfect storm

March 2011 — America’s Bullying Culture

February 2011 — Workplace bullying: A recommended book list

December 2010 — Bullied at work? Avoid making these common mistakes

December 2010 — Ten ways to stop workplace bullying

November 2010 — Understanding the bullied brain

November 2010 — Helping targets of workplace bullying: The need for an integrated counseling approach

July 2010 — With Time and Parade, the workplace bullying legislative movement goes mainstream

April 2010 – The workplace bullying suicide of Jodie Zebell, age 31

March 2010 — The school bullying suicide of Phoebe Prince, age 15

December 2009 — Workplace bullying in healthcare  (series of 4 posts — this is the first)

November 2009 — The Role of Unions and Collective Bargaining in Combating Workplace Bullying

August 2009 — After being bullied at work, what next?

August 2009 — Employers, their lawyers, and workplace bullying policies

March 2009 — Workplace bullying bill introduced in Massachusetts

March 2009 — Massachusetts public employee unions successfully negotiate workplace bullying provision

Jan. 2009 — Immersion in the Twisted World of Abuse at Work

Dec. 2008 — The U.S. Workplace Bullying Movement at 10

Management practices, HR, organizations, etc.

October 2011 — Can workplace incivility ever be healthy?

October 2011 – The “exit parade” as a worker termination protocol

September 2011 — How lousy organizations treat institutional history

July 2011 — Great organizational leaders enable and empower others

May 2011 — Brain science and the workplace: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity

October 2010 – What if we applied the Golden Rule at work?

July 2010 – Is your workplace psychologically and ethically healthy?

May 2010 — You want good leaders?

January 2010 — Work and Workplaces of the New Decade: Notes on a “Dignitarian” Agenda

July 2009 – NWI’s “Eightfold Path” to a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

January 2009 – “HR was useless”

Academic workplaces (including workplace bullying), higher education, etc.

August 2011 — What is academic tenure?

April 2011 — The culture of academic work: On conformity, bullying, and disappearing jobs

August 2010 – Did workplace bullying trigger the suicide of a University of Virginia literary journal editor?

June 2010 – Law schools and the legal job market

February 2010 – The University of Alabama-Huntsville shootings and the academic workplace

November 2009 – The legality and ethics of unpaid internships

February 2009 – Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?

Economy, politics, etc.

December 2011 — Is our psychologically ill economy led by psychologically ill business leaders?

September 2011 – From “punk-styled kids” to airline pilots, is Occupy Wall Street the start of something big?

November 2010 – When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck

March 2010 – Echoes of 1930s Europe: Emerging Mobs

February 2010 – Jobs, Unemployment, and the Great Recession

Employment and labor law

December 2011 — Has tackling discrimination led to a more elitist society?

November 2011 — Confidential settlements in employment cases: Poof, as if nothing happened

July 2011 — Can an apology prevent an employment lawsuit?

July 2011 – When bad employers retain thuggish employment lawyers

September 2010 — Supporting freelance workers: A policy agenda from Sara Horowitz

February 2010 — In federal employment discrimination claims, race and sex of judges matter (a lot)

September 2009 — Bullied at work, then bullied by the legal system

January 2009 — “Radical Middle Newsletter” supports dignity at work agenda

Careers, lifespan issues

December 2011 — The lessons of nostalgia

September 2011 — “Should I stay or should I go?” Career insights from Seth Godin and The Clash

June 2011 — How’s this for an epitaph? “She lived a balanced life”

December 2010 – Does life begin at 46?

May 2010 — Will our avocations save us?

Want more socially intelligent workers? Hire novel readers

If you want to hire more workers who understand the human condition, you might set up a recruiting table near the fiction shelves of your local library or bookstore.

Emeritus professor Keith Oatley (University of Toronto) is among those studying the effects of novel reading on the emotional development of readers. He and others are finding that, contrary to popular belief, those who immerse themselves in fictional worlds and characters may be more empathetic, open minded, and socially aware than those who do not.

Oatley gathered these emerging insights in a Scientific American Mind piece (Nov.-Dec. 2011), “In the Minds of Others.” Here’s a snippet:

Recent research shows that far from being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. The process of entering imagined worlds of fiction builds empathy and improves your ability to take another person’s point of view. It can even change your personality. The seemingly solitary act of holing up with a book, then, is actually an exercise in human interaction. It can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down you may be better prepared for camaraderie, collaboration, even love.

Although the full article is not freely available from the magazine’s website, a brief summary and ordering information may be accessed here.

Workforce implications

Oatley’s article doesn’t dwell on the implications for the workforce, but it’s pretty easy to take that step.

At a time when we seem preoccupied with finding workers who possess technological and computer skills, let’s not overlook qualities of social intelligence in evaluating job applicants. Indeed, if you spend any time talking to those who interview prospective employees, they’ll tell you that sometimes it’s hard to find people who can carry on a decent conversation and relate to others.

Also, these findings buttress the case for how a liberal arts education can prepare people to enter the workforce and even to play leadership roles. It reminds me of a blog post I wrote three years ago suggesting “that the study and application of philosophy can help managers sort through difficult decisions at work.”

Call me “old school,” but when it comes to hiring new co-workers, Oatley and his colleagues may make a strong case for hiring the young person who just finished Moby Dick over her college classmate who spent that time texting furiously about like, u know, whatever.


The Scientific American Mind issue containing the article is worth ordering if this topic interests you. It’s a full feature that also lists suggestions for further reading.

Dear Apple, please start taking global human rights seriously

photo credit: Wikipedia

Here’s a factory scene from China, as described by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza of the New York Times:

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

Snazzy products, high profits, and workers at risk

Unfortunately, dangerous working conditions for workers who assemble Apple products are more common than any of us who buy, own, and love these computers and gadgets would like to think. As Duhigg and Barboza add in their report:

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

Our responsibility

I own and use a MacBook laptop and an iPad regularly. I think they are excellent products. I own a small amount of Apple stock in my retirement portfolio. I’ve made some money off of it.

Folks like me (and perhaps some of you, dear readers) need to make our concerns known. I’m a latecomer to the Apple world, but I’ve always envied the “hip and cool” image of the company and its followers. Now, however, it’s terribly clear: There’s nothing hip or cool about exposing workers to life threatening and health impairing conditions on the job.

Borough of Ridgefield, New Jersey, adopts anti-bullying ordinance that covers workers

The Borough of Ridgefield, New Jersey, has adopted a broad anti-bullying ordinance that covers employees of the borough.

Monsy Alvarado reports for The Record (link here):

On Monday, the Borough Council approved an ordinance that will prohibit bullying in municipal facilities, borough recreation programs and by employees. The measure — the first one of its kind adopted by a municipality in the state — calls for the formation of a committee which will receive bullying complaints and will be tasked to investigate them and recommend remedial action.

It appears that a lot of the details have yet to be worked out. And notably, it remains to be seen how workplace bullying situations will be handled, as the primary motivation behind the ordinance appears to be school bullying. That said, this is a big step forward, signaling the increasing receptivity to protecting workers from psychological abuse at work.

Piggybacking onto statewide school bullying law?

The ordinance may have been inspired by the state’s school anti-bullying law, which became effective last September. Alvarado further reports:

New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act was implemented in schools statewide in September and expanded the responsibilities of schools in reference to bullying. The law requires that districts intercede during bullying incidents that happen outside of school, or on the Internet, if they disrupt or interfere with the operation of the school or the rights of students.

Local workplace anti-bullying initiatives

The Ridgefield ordinance also joins a growing number of workplace anti-bullying initiatives at the local government level. For example, as previously reported on this blog:

  • Ventura County (CA) grand jury report — In 2011, a Ventura County, California grand jury issued a report finding that workplace bullying is a serious problem in county government and recommending that the county Board of Supervisors adopt an anti-bullying policy and collect information on bullying in county government offices.
  • Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week proclamations — Last October, over two dozen U.S. cities, towns, and counties issued proclamations supporting Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week. The proclamations were the result of outreach by grassroots activists from Healthy Workplace Advocates groups across the country.


Hat tip to Tom Witt, New York Healthy Workplace Advocates.

3 Questions for Andrea Weckerle, founder of CiviliNation

Andrea Weckerle

Andrea Weckerle is the founding president of CiviliNation, a non-profit education and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing civility in our online discourse. She brings her varied skill set as an attorney, dispute resolution specialist, and communications consultant to bear on the challenges we face in creating online communities that are robust, democratic, and free of harassment and character defamation.

I posed several questions to Andrea about her work and CiviliNation, and here’s what she had to say:

1. Andrea, please tell us why you founded CiviliNation.

Years ago when I became active online and started blogging, which was before the time of social networking sites, I felt like I’d won the lottery. I was able to meet people from all over the world, from different fields and industries, and come together to talk and share ideas, debate the important issues of the day, and collaborate in a way that previously had only been possible in face-to-face meetings.

But right away I also noticed that there were always some individuals who undermined what was going on, whose sole purpose seemed to be to wreak havoc and attack others online, seemingly for fun. I came across the work of Dr. John Suler of Ryder University where he discussed the Online Disinhibition Effect, which basically involves people saying and doing things online they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in everyday interactions.

Over the next several years, I was hearing about, and meeting increasingly, more people who were the targets of online attacks – both well-known and everyday folks – and I started wondering why no one was working to put a stop to this. Fortunately there are excellent groups dealing with cyberbullying of children and teenagers, but I couldn’t find anyone specifically focused on the needs of the adult population. So one day, after once again talking about how “someone needs to address the problem of adult hostility,” CiviliNation was born.

2. How does CiviliNation’s overall agenda intersect with concerns about civility and dignity in the workplace?

More than at any other time in history it is now possible to quickly and easily learn things about one’s colleagues, clients and competitors that in the past would have taken a considerable amount of time and effort to discover; increasingly more hiring decisions are taking into consideration someone’s online behavior and online reputation (the latter being something that ill-meaning people can seriously and easily damage); and with the increased use of technology in the workplace, it’s become much easier to attack, harass and bully someone at work.

CiviliNation believes that people have a fundamental right to be free of unwarranted attacks and harassment in the workplace, and we strongly oppose the extent to which technology is being misused to degrade, harass and attack others.

3. What role does law and public policy reform play in advancing CiviliNation’s broader objectives?

Applying pre-Internet rules of engagement to a world comprised of communication that’s instantaneous, global, and non-retractable is problematic. Furthermore, the application of laws is challenging in and of itself – while what may be permissible in one state or country may be impermissible in another, the Internet and what we do online aren’t jurisdictionally bound. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t let these issues dissuade us from expecting the legal system to provide appropriate recourse for victims and to hold transgressors fully accountable for their actions.

That having been said, we cannot rely on the legal system to create norms of behavior. We need individuals and the communities they belong to, both online and off, to step forward and model a positive online environment that supports and fosters freedom of expression via passionate debate and spirited dissent, while at the same time safeguarding the right of others to engage online without fear of physical, reputational or psychological attacks.


Starting in 2012, “3 Questions for…” is a regular feature presenting short interviews with notable individuals whose work and activities overlap with major themes of this blog.

“Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work

One of the ongoing debates among those who study psychological abuse at work is the question of “bullying” vs. “mobbing.” At times it is presented as an either/or dichotomy. Some will use the term bullying exclusively, while others will use only the term mobbing.

Personally, I think of workplace mobbing as a form or subset of workplace bullying, but others don’t necessarily agree with my distinction. In any event, I’d like to look at two forms of multiple-aggressor abuse at work that may stand at the fault lines between common conceptions of bullying and mobbing.

“Puppet master” bullying

Let’s start with what I call puppet master bullying. In these situations, a chief aggressor’s power and influence over a group of subordinates may be sufficient to enlist their participation in mistreating a target, creating what looks and feels like a mob. For example, if the aggressor is a mid-level manager, he may recruit HR to help out with the dirty work and encourage the target’s peers to shun or bully her.

Even in cases of peer bullying, one aggressor can use intimidation and persuasion to turn others against a peer-level target.

One of the key indicators of puppet master bullying, all too infrequently realized, is what happens when the master is removed from the scene. Typically, much of the malicious energy that fueled the puppets fades away, and so with it much of the bullying behavior.

Genuine mobbing

By contrast, genuine workplace mobbing occurs when the malicious energy is shared among the many, who proceed to go after the few. It may have started as puppet master bullying, but regardless of its origins, this is now a mob, with individuals owning that animus in ways that fuel each other’s antipathy toward the target.

In these situations, even removal of the key instigators may not be sufficient to end the target’s torment, because too many individuals are now emotionally invested in his demise.

Target perceptions

From the standpoint of the target, the distinctions often matter little in terms of the experience of being on the receiving end. Whether it’s someone surgically directing or controlling her minions to bully an individual, or a true mob descending upon a lone target, it sure as heck feels like a mobbing.

For those studying these behaviors and trying to develop measures to curb them, however, the distinctions do matter. With puppet master bullying, removing the instigator(s) may be enough to stop the abusive behavior. With genuine mobbing, however, the remedy is even more difficult, because the emotional impetus to act has now infected an entire group.

Is one more common than the other?

I have yet to find a study that delineates between these two forms of bullying. However, based largely on a decade’s worth of listening to accounts of personal experiences, I believe that puppet-master bullying is more common than genuine mobbing, perhaps by a significant margin.

That said, I also believe that in certain vocations or professions, one form of abuse or the other may be much more prevalent, grounded in variations among organizational hierarchies and group cultures.


Related post

Does the Holocaust help us to comprehend targeted, malicious workplace bullying?

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Free podcast series, No. 1: About the New Workplace Institute

I’ve launched a new podcast series that will serve as a multimedia complement to this blog. You can access the podcasts without charge from iTunes!

In podcast No. 1, “Creating Healthy Workplaces: The New Workplace Institute,” I answer these questions from Ian Menchini, Director of Electronic Marketing at Suffolk University Law School:

1. Professor, what is the New Workplace Institute and why did you create it?

2. Can you give us an example of the kind of activity you want the Institute to host or sponsor?

3. Tell us a bit about your blog, Minding the Workplace, as well as your plans for this Podcast series.

4. Will Suffolk law students have opportunities to become involved with the Institute?

We’ll be posting new podcasts roughly 3-4 times a month. Next week’s podcast will be devoted to explaining the Healthy Workplace Bill, the anti-bullying legislation I’ve written that is the basis of our law reform movement.


Many thanks to Ian Menchini at Suffolk University Law School for his instrumental assistance in creating this series.

3 Questions for Kevin Kennemer, founder of The People Group

Kevin Kennemer

Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group, an Oklahoma-based organizational consulting firm “founded on the premise that positive people practices are primarily the missing component of average performing companies.” Kevin also is a long-time friend of this blog and an emerging leader in calling for workplaces that are both humane and productive.

Over the years I’ve mentioned and linked many of Kevin’s blog posts and commentaries. I’m delighted that he kindly agreed to take a few questions about his work:

1.  Kevin, please tell us about why you created The People Group and describe its mission.

In December 2007, I left one of the largest privately-owned energy companies in the U.S. to start The People Group.  As the former chief human resource officer of this large energy concern, my department, along with many other fellow leaders and employees, helped create a best in class work environment. Unfortunately, we also had a few executive bossholes who were as toxic as a Cyanide cocktail.

After fighting for months to enlighten the CEO of the growing presence of toxic leadership, I was asked to move on. Seven months after my departure, the renowned mid-stream energy company filed for bankruptcy.

The positive and negative experience of this trying time allowed me to see how to create and destroy a great company.  Just like positive people practices create great companies, toxic leaders will eventually destroy an organization.

The People Group focuses on the best practices in culture formation. Great workplaces have a positive impact on employees, their families, business owners, and society.

2.  What are your plans for The People Group in 2012?

Continue working to create National awareness of the positive business benefits of creating positive company cultures, by 1) speaking to groups about the business necessity of creating great workplaces, 2) working diligently to acquire new clients to help make our message a reality on the ground at various workplaces, and 3) continue writing The Chief People Officer Blog and serving as an official blogger for SHRM’s Next Blog.

3.  How can we get businesses to take workplace bullying more seriously?

Although I would like to imagine that all human beings, including CEO’s, would want to build a team of employees without bullies, I realize this not the reality. Businesses are in business to make money. However, bullies cost companies a great deal of money by lowering productivity, increasing turnover, reducing the positive energy inside their department and simply sucking the life out of those around them.

The best way to reduce or eliminate bullying in the workplace is to show CEO’s the financial advantages of eliminating bullies and their toxic behavior. Enlightened self-interest is the best way to move this mountain.

If the CEO is a bully herself, there is not much hope for that company and I would recommend employees find a different place to earn a living.


Starting in 2012, “3 Questions for…” is a regular feature presenting short interviews with notable individuals whose work and activities overlap with major themes of this blog.

“Workplace bullying is bad for business”

Thanks to the Worcester Business Journal for soliciting and publishing this short op-ed piece, “Workplace Bullying is Bad for Business,” which ran last week.

Here’s the “takeaway” part of what I wrote:

Too many employers dismiss concerns about workplace bullying. According to a 2007 national survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby pollsters, 62 percent of employers either ignored complaints of bullying or worsened the situations.

Nevertheless, employers that want to minimize the likelihood of bullying can take these three concrete steps:

1. Send a message that bullying is unacceptable. The message must come from the top. Specific measures include drafting and implementing policies related to workplace bullying, offering in-house educational programs and presentations, and using effective “360-degree feedback” systems to evaluate supervisors.

2. Empower HR to handle bullying situations fairly and forthrightly. One of the most common remarks from targets of bullying is how the human resources department is “useless” in handling complaints about bullying and, in some cases, turned out to be complicit with the bullies. Effective preventive and responsive measures by HR are key components of any anti-bullying initiative.

3. Remove destructive bullies. Even if an incorrigibly abusive individual happens to be key in attracting business, increased productivity through better morale and less time lost to the gossip mill may make this a sound decision from a purely cost-benefit standpoint.

A Workplace Bullying Think Tank

Earlier this week, the New Workplace Institute hosted our first Greater Boston “Workplace Bullying Think Tank,” an invited gathering of practitioners in fields such as labor relations, management, law, counseling, and consulting to discuss how people from different professions and vocations can learn from and work with one another to address workplace bullying.

Enlightening exchanges

Over a light meal at Suffolk University Law School, we went around the room and introduced ourselves before breaking into smaller groups to discuss how to develop pro-active preventive and responsive measures to workplace bullying. We then reconvened as a body of the whole and discussed what ideas had emerged.

Among these is the possibility of holding a larger conference this year. In addition, individual participants have started to share ideas and information that promise to develop into collaborative initiatives and projects.

Equally important, the gathering itself brought together people whose paths might not often cross, despite their common interest in stopping bullying at work. When, say, labor union officials and management-side employment lawyers have a chance to talk about workplace bullying in a supportive, non-adversarial, mutually respectful environment, possibilities for greater understanding start to emerge.

I don’t mean to suggest that we’ll resolve all differences of opinion, but the success of this program was largely in assembling a somewhat disparate group of thoughtful, committed individuals who understand what workplace bullying does to people and organizations and want to address it.


The program was inspired by work being done at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, California on community-based think tanks that gather interested individuals from various walks of life to address social and economic challenges. The Workplace Bullying Think Tank idea was enthusiastically greeted by Greg Sorozan and Deb Falzoi, who have been leaders in advocating for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace, and we quickly put together the first meeting.

We definitely will be holding more such gatherings during 2012, and I have a feeling that the conference idea will become a reality.


Our intention is to keep the group to a modest size for now. However, we’ll consider adding individuals from the Greater Boston area with backgrounds in fields such as law & public policy, labor relations (management and union), psychology and mental health, and organizational consulting. Please send a letter describing your interest and background and a resume to me at dyamada@suffolk.edu.

I must emphasize, however, that this is not a support or discussion group for those who are seeking help or advice in dealing with workplace bullying situations. Unfortunately we do not have that capacity, as much as I wish we could provide such assistance.

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