Hurricane Sandy and work: Vacation days, anxiety, stress, and overtime

Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy affect different workers in different ways. Here’s a sampling:

If Sandy is giving you an unexpected vacation day or two, then consider yourself lucky. For millions of other workers, Sandy is a bad, unwanted present that will keep on giving.

For retailers, restaurants, and other businesses that depend upon daily sales receipts and need a safe & secure storefront, Sandy is, at best, a source of deep anxiety and, at worst, a huge blow to the bottom line.

Especially for wage workers at these businesses, lost days of work mean smaller paychecks at a time when money already is tight.

For those working in the passenger transportation business — such commercial airlines, Amtrak, and intercity bus companies — it’s stress meeting stress. Those stranded away from their families and jobs are anxious about getting home, and workers on the receiving end of their long lines, phone calls, and emails are feeling it as well.

If you’ve needed help during Sandy, chances are good that unionized workers — the same people so demonized by the anti-labor far right — have provided a hand. They include police officers, firefighters, and other public safety workers, as well as countless crews from utility companies. Yup, some may be getting overtime pay for helping us through this, but I think we’d agree it’s a worthy expenditure.

Cuban Missile Crisis 1962: Cooler heads prevailed on and under the sea, as well

U.S.S. Waller (from http://www.usswaller.com)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a two-week period during which the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war.

After American intelligence discovered that the Soviets were building nuclear missile sites in Cuba, the two nations engaged in a diplomatic and military chess match that threatened to start a third world war. The fact that war and possible nuclear annihilation were avoided is seen as the most significant triumph of the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy resisted calls by his civilian and military advisors to bomb and/or invade Cuba. We also now know that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev resisted pressures to escalate the conflict, while continuing to seek a diplomatic solution.

While our public leaders deserve much credit for avoiding nuclear holocaust, other heroes are part of the story as well. Chief among them are the U.S. Navy officers and enlisted men who helped to stop Russian military supply ships from reaching Cuba.

Quarantine

With intelligence photos showing that nuclear missiles capable of destroying American cities were close to being operational, Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from delivering supplies and matériel to the Cuban base.

The U.S. Navy not only tracked and intercepted Soviet supply ships, but also played an extraordinarily tense cat-and-mouse game with Russian submarines.

A dear friend of mine, Brian McCrane (U.S.N., retired), served as a senior officer on a destroyer, the U.S.S. Waller, that participated in the quarantine. Brian recently shared with me some of his experiences during that event, and it is clear to me that one slip up, lapse of judgment, or loss of nerve by those in a position to deploy a weapon or to order to do so could’ve started us down the path to nuclear catastrophe.

Thanks to their courage and steadiness in the clutch, it didn’t happen.

The same can be said of some of the Soviet submariners. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Russian subs were carrying nuclear weapons. Indeed, we now know that they came perilously close to using them, as this article describing the brave actions of a single Russian officer explains.

Cooler heads

In the finest tradition of Navy officers, my friend Brian is beyond modest in describing his military career. But I know from letters of commendation and correspondence he received that his leadership and performance contributed toward keeping the peace during this dangerous time in world history. He would go on to serve as captain of the U.S.S. Calcaterra and the U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy, the latter of which is a part of the Battleship Cove Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts.

And herein lies lessons for all of us in terms of leadership, sound judgment, and courage under pressure: We often hear about the heroic actions of those who rose to the occasion after a crisis situation erupts, and justly so. But we don’t hear enough about those who helped us to avoid these situations in the first place. Often modestly and without fanfare, they contributed to steering us out of harm’s way.

Here’s to those quiet heroes and the examples they set.

***

For more about the Cuban Missile Crisis

This Christian Science Monitor piece by Harvard international affairs professor Graham Allison tells us how close we came to nuclear war.

Katharine Whittemore reviews six non-fiction books about the Cuban Missile Crisis for the Boston Globe, here.

If you want to learn more, but would prefer not plowing through a book or two on the subject, “Thirteen Days” (2000 motion picture) and “The Missiles of October” (1974 TV docudrama) have received positive reviews and are readily available for your viewing pleasure.

Working Notes: The Freelancer’s Bible, lifelong learning, and donating to NWI

I periodically use this Working Notes feature to flag items worthy of our attention. Here goes:

1. Sara Horowitz’s new guidebook for freelancers — Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, has authored a comprehensive guide for freelance workers, The Freelancer’s Bible (2012). Here’s how she describes it:

From nearly two decades working on behalf of America’s growing freelance workforce – including our 200,000 members – I’ve learned a lot about what makes a successful freelancer. It’s about networks, contacts, contracts, kindness, and so much more.

I hope The Freelancer’s Bible . . . will give you the practical steps you’ll need to be more nimble, flexible, and successful. The book includes sections like:

  • Seven Start-up Steps
  • Building Your Portfolio
  • Getting Clients
  • Marketing Yourself
  • Managing Your Work and Your Life
  • 10 Steps to Retirement Planning

I just received my copy, and it looks like a must-have for freelance workers. I look forward to spending more time with it.

2. Russell Sarder on lifelong learning — As long as I’m in the mood to pitch good books, here’s a quick, inspiring read. Sarder, an entrepreneur and author, is passionate about lifelong learning, as exemplified in his 2011 book, Learning: Steps to Becoming a Passionate Lifelong Learner.

He presents his philosophy and practice of lifelong learning through a series of short essays spurring us to “embrace being a committed lifelong learner,” “read an hour each day,” “build your own library,” and so on, buttressed by quotes from dozens of prominent lifelong learners over the centuries, drawn from many walks of life. It’s a neat little book that will make for a pleasant evening of reading.

You can learn more about Sarder from his website.

3. Donating to the New Workplace Institute — In 2006, I created the New Workplace Institute as a research and education center to promote healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces. As long-time readers of this blog know, much of NWI’s work has been dedicated to addressing issues related to workplace bullying.

The Institute is now a part of Suffolk University Law School and receives a very small stipend from the school in support of its work. I’d like to start building our capacity to sponsor more programs, hire more student interns, and pursue more activities, but we need to raise monies to make that happen. Just today a friend suggested that it’s time to engage in some fundraising, and she’s right. While a more formal appeal will follow, I would greatly appreciate your tax-deductible contribution in support of our activities.

If you’re in a position to donate, please make out a check to “Suffolk University Law School” with “New Workplace Institute” in the memo line, and accompanied by a short note directing the donation for use by NWI. Please send your donation to me at: Prof. David C. Yamada, Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108.

You’ll receive a personal thank you note and an acknowledgement from the University, along with my assurance that your gift will be used wisely and respectfully.

Recapping Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, Part 2: Reporting from Boston

Dr. Ronald Schouten, featured speaker, at the podium. I’m listening attentively on the right. (Photo: Deb Falzoi)

Here in Boston, the focal point of Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2012 was a terrific, well-attended program at Suffolk University Law School, “Workplace Bullying: Who are the Aggressors, and What Can We Do About Them?,” on Friday, October 19.

The program featured Dr. Ronald Schouten, author of Almost a Psychopath and director of the Law and Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a distinguished panel including mediator Ericka Gray, organizational consultant Paula Parnagian, union president Greg Sorozan, and employment attorney David Wilson.

Kimberly Webster’s summary

Kim Webster, a legal intern with the New Workplace Institute and a Northeastern University law student, prepared this summary of the program.  (Thank you, Kim!)

Featured Speaker

Ronald Schouten, M.D., J.D., Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School

On average, one person in a hundred meets the clinical definition for psychopathy.  However, Dr. Ronald Schouten, lead author of Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? (2012) suggested that maybe we should be more concerned about the 10 to 15 percent of the population that almost meets the definition.

Schouten noted that most disorders are defined by sets of standardized criteria. For psychopathy, a 20-item scale is commonly used, measuring traits such as glibness or superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, lack of remorse or guilt, a shallow affect, and a lack of empathy.

The “almost psychopath” falls short of meeting the criteria for psychopathy, but nevertheless may exhibit many of the most disturbing traits and behaviors. In the workplace, a good number of almost psychopaths engage in bullying. They often escape detection and removal as they charm their superiors and exploit and abuse their peers and subordinates.

Almost psychopaths often are fueled by workplace cultures that enable bullying behaviors. Schouten emphasized that this cultural component is often passed down within an organization. It’s possible that interventions could reduce some of these problematic traits in order to improve relationships in the workplace.

Schouten conceded that there may be other explanations for bullying behaviors besides a psychopathic aggressor or a toxic work environment. For example, many people aren’t on their best behavior when dealing with temporary life stressors. Others have may be dealing with different psychiatric disorders or injuries.

Given his findings on “almost” psychopathy, Dr. Schouten concluded that the problem of workplace bullying should be attacked on multiple levels. First, management should stop discounting complaints as personality conflicts and address their organization’s culture. Although it’s helpful for people to be competitive in the workplace to a certain degree, there needs to be pressure in the other direction when a person’s bullying behavior threatens the success of a workplace. In addition, there needs to be a better understanding of the potential liability situations.

Panel Discussion

L to R: Greg Sorozan, Ericka Gray, Dave Wilson, and Paula Parnagian, with me scurrying about behind them. (Photo: Deb Falzoi)

Ericka Gray, Mediator and Founder, DisputEd

Ericka Gray’s growing awareness of workplace bullying caused her to change her approach to workplace dispute resolution. She observed that she’s often called in to fix a bullying-related problem when the damage already has been done. Employers don’t do much unless they think a legal problem has developed. Often they don’t want to get involved because they don’t know what to do.

This tendency caused Gray to stop accepting mediation cases without a preliminary screening or assessment. She noted that this screening often uncovers other bullying problems, or reveals that individuals designated as problems by HR are actually targets of bullies, not aggressors.

Once Gray conducts her assessment, she makes her recommendations to the client. They often include coaching, educational interventions, and transfers. She recommends mediation less frequently than before because it is more useful in the earlier stages of a bullying situation. When the bullying is prolonged, often the best solution for the company is to discharge the employee(s) causing the problem. This practice can also help with prevention: She emphasized that “bullying can’t exist where it isn’t tolerated.”

Paula Parnagian, Organizational Consultant and President, World View Services, Inc.

Parnagian posited that in a variety of settings – workplaces, schools, families – bullying behaviors can be stopped or even prevented if people in a position to manage the situation simply use their power to take corrective action. Like Gray, Parnagian lamented how often she has been brought in to address a bullying situation, only to find that most of the damage already has been done and that replacing the manager often is the only recourse. If caught earlier, however, there are measures she can recommend (such as coaching) that can turn the bullying situation around.

Parnagian also noted that human resource professionals and other management employees often don’t understand just how much damage a bullying situation can create. She frequently demonstrates to her clients the other costs of ignoring the problem, which in some cases can push an organization to bankruptcy.

In addition, Parnagian said that it’s necessary to educate an organization on the difference between workplace bullying and occasional bad behavior. An organization must be very assertive about setting clear limits on what constitutes acceptable behavior, but it also must understand that good people can have a bad day.

Gregory Sorozan, Union President, SEIU/NAGE Local 282

Greg Sorozan has been advocating for changes in collective bargaining and in the law as president of a large public employee union. He played a major role in negotiating a “mutual respect” provision that covers bullying behaviors in his union’s current contract. He noted that simply raising workplace bullying in union contract negotiations was an important first step toward opening a dialogue.

Although employers initially worried that including the article in the new contract would open an overwhelming “Pandora’s Box” of workplace discontent, implementation of the provision has proven successful. It has improved recognition of bullying situations, which helps to prevent it and allows it to be addressed at earlier stages when it does emerge. The provision also has given union members a sense of “safety in numbers” regarding the issue.

Along these lines, Sorozan observed that putting the Healthy Workplace Bill on the legislative table has increased recognition of and dialogue about workplace bullying. He expressed optimism that the bill will be enacted into law during Massachusetts’ next legislative session. His union has devoted resources toward that end.

David Wilson, Employment Lawyer and Partner, Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP

Wilson shared a story about advising a business client that had employed a bullying worker for many years. She was excellent at “managing up” and gained influence because of it. Eventually the company decided that the worker needed to be discharged, but because of her bullying behaviors, they needed to handle the matter carefully.

Wilson helped to make the case for discharging the employee by pointing out that the turnover rate in her division was four times the average. The cost of this attrition persuaded the company that firing her would be an act of “addition by subtraction.” Wilson worked with company executives to create a plan for progressive discipline and possible separation. Eventually the company was able to discharge the employee without incident.

Overall, Wilson emphasized the importance of appealing to employers in terms of both their bottom line and their morality. Each human resource professional needs to see himself as a “gatekeeper of fairness” rather than a “yes man” who won’t stand up to management. Wilson added that getting the Healthy Workplace Bill enacted will be an uphill battle. He cited management attorneys’ concerns that the bill is too broad and will create a “slippery slope” of judicial policing of workplace behavior.

News Coverage

Christine Lee, State House Bureau correspondent for Channel 22 News, covered the event:

Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to anti-bullying in our schools, but advocates say our work isn’t done, and the state needs to address bullying in the workplace.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly one third of workers will be victims of bullying in their careers. During an anti-bullying talk at Suffolk University Law School, advocates said it can appear in obvious and not so obvious ways.

Although the program was not about the Healthy Workplace Bill specifically, her segment examined the legislation and its prospects for passage. For the link, including the 2-minute televised news segment, go here.

Recapping Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, Part 1: From the National Press Club

Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2012 (October 14-20) got a huge boost from a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., organized by the Workplace Bullying Institute and featuring prominent labor union leaders, civil rights activists, and anti-bullying advocates.

In addition to host Dr. Gary Namie, the roster of speakers supporting WBI and the Healthy Workplace Bill included NAGE President David C. Holway and NAGE Vice-President Greg Sorozan, SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry, NAACP Sr. Vice President and Washington Bureau Director Hilary O. Shelton, AFGE Local 32 President Charletta McNeill, NAGE Local 200 President & executive board member Jane Bethel, advocates Lana Cooke, Ernie Cooke, and Neal Dias, and personal coach Susan Rae Baker.

The event demonstrated the growing support for the workplace anti-bullying movement and for the Healthy Workplace Bill, especially among America’s labor and civil rights organizations. Put simply, the presence of national officers from leading labor unions and the NAACP lent tremendous credibility to the news conference, showing that workplace bullying has emerged from the shadows to become a mainstream topic in employee relations.

To access videos of all the speakers at the news conference, go here.

Have we fallen prey to the “curse of conformity”?

There is only meager evidence that we Americans recognize the urgent task confronting us — to shift the emphasis from “bigger” to “better,” from the quantitative to the qualitative, and to give significant form and beauty to our environment. An evolution of this kind would add moral authority to material abundance, would open up frontiers that we have been slow to explore.

The writer of the piece from which this passage is drawn criticized the conformity and “extreme specialization” in our society. He noted the “triumphal march of the practical sciences ” over the “magic of life,” and he lamented how “(t)he artist, the poet, the prophet have become stepchildren of the ‘organization man.'”

Back to the future, once again?

These are the words of Walter Gropius, renowned architect and professor, from a 1958 essay — “The Curse of Conformity” — in the Saturday Evening Post. Founder of the Bauhaus school of design, he normally critiqued the lack of diversity and variety in modern architecture, but he diverted his focus in this piece to address society and organizations generally.

Significant elements of Gropius’s conceptualization of America circa 1958 certainly manifest themselves in our nation today. In fact, the Great Recession and the ongoing mess that has followed seem like a natural consequence of what Gropius wrote about some 54 years ago.

***

I was introduced to “The Curse of Conformity” via a delightful 1960 volume of Saturday Evening Post essays titled Adventures of the Mind, edited by Richard Thruelsen and John Kobler, once distributed as a dividend-book by the Book-of-the-Month Club. Inexpensive used copies are available from booksellers.

What is a “Ulyssean adult,” and how can you become one?

What kind of life do you want to live? And as age creeps up on you, how do you want to spend the rest of your life?

I recently discovered an intriguing book about adult development, The Ulyssean Adult: Creativity in the Middle & Later Years (1976), by the late John A.B. McLeish, a Canadian education professor. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but if you’re interested in this topic, it’s worth hunting down a copy.

Judging from The Ulyssean Adult, McLeish was not a warm and fuzzy self-help writer. His observations can be sharp-edged and may cause discomfort, as he was not one to pull punches. Take, for example, how he gets to the core concept of his book:

Three common types of adults

McLeish wrote that we tend to encounter older adults who fall into one of three categories:

Quiet desperation

First is the “older adult to whom life always seems to have happened, rather than he happening to it.” Though typically a decent person, his life has been a series of negatives, as in “don’t rock the boat, don’t step outside the limit, don’t get involved, don’t explore yourself too much, don’t disturb your years with dreams because someday from unfulfilled dreams may come ‘disgust and despair.'” Such individuals, McLeish noted, often “live lives of what Thoreau called ‘quiet desperation.'”

What might have been

The second kind of adult “at least seems to have gone through some attempts at identification of self,” but “there is an air of pathos and defeat” to this individual. Often this person laments the man “he might have been” and sees no chance of becoming anything greater.

Days of yore

The third type of adult “has been consummately successful in his or her chosen field,” but now has “opted out of the ‘creativity game.'” She lives, at best, with a sense of “cheerful resignation and passivity,” and, at worst, with a sense of “despair and frustration” over no longer living an engaged and creative life.

…and then there’s the “Ulyssean adult”

Thankfully, there’s another kind of individual, one who “brings light with him, the light of creativity retained or regained, and the surging joy of human powers confidently held and used.” McLeish called this individual the “Ulyssean adult”:

The title comes, of course, from Ulysses, the adventurer and hero of the early Greek classical world who would have been about 50 when the great series of adventures described in The Odyssey was coming to an end, and perhaps close to 70 when he began his last adventures.

Harsh

Yikes! McLeish pities the people who fall into the first three categories, without taking into account their life circumstances. Maybe someone made a misstep here or experienced a mishap there. Perhaps some of those lost dreams are due to personal sacrifice, such as caring for a sick child or a family member in need.

Personal responsibility and initiative are good things, but so are empathy and understanding.

Keys to becoming a Ulyssean adult

That said, I do like the idea of the Ulyssean adult. A website devoted to McLeish’s work draws upon a later book, The Challenge of Aging (1983), to identify five factors that nurture the development of a Ulyssean adult:

  1. Learning, insight and creativity
  2. Exploration of the self
  3. Growth and development in the later years
  4. Meeting change pro-actively
  5. A zest for living

Easier said than done

Especially if life has dealt you some frustrations, blows, and setbacks, this may seem like an elusive ideal. Life sucks and then you die, right?

However, what other choice do we have? For the vast majority of people, a life of growth, exploration, and zestfulness isn’t simply handed to us. We can either pursue it or opt out.

Gen Yers, this is for you, too

Of course, those most likely to benefit immediately from these insights are those in their 40s or older.

But Gen Yers, take note. This stuff isn’t just for those of a preceding generation (or two or three). If you want to absorb the wisdom of those ahead of you, grab these opportunities to learn from others. As late Boomer, I am deeply appreciative of the lessons shared by folks a generation ahead of me. There’s no reason why you cannot do the same.

******

Related posts

The lessons of nostalgia (2011)

What’s your legacy work? (2011)

Does life begin at 46? (2010)

Will our avocations save us? (2010)

Hat tip…

…to Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook (1981, 1993 eds.), for pointing me to McLeish’s book. I’ll have more say about this remarkable book in a later post, but suffice it to say that it’s a classic that keeps on giving. Ron is a defining pioneer in the field of lifelong learning, and his work continues to inform and inspire me.

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