Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide us toward good transitions

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As we turn the calendar to a New Year, I wanted to gather together some recommended titles for those who are engaged in or contemplating a major work or personal transition. In several instances I’ve borrowed from previous blog posts mentioning the books. If you’re in the midst of big changes, these books may prove a worthy investment in terms of your livelihood and well-being. I hope you find them helpful.

The Encore Career Handbook

Lawyer-turned-writer Marci Alboher is the author of a newly-published book, Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (2013). In her opening chapter, she writes:

You’ve hit a wall, lost a job, or are just wondering “Is this all there is?” Maybe your retirement plan has been shattered. Maybe the word “retirement” doesn’t even resonate with you. You may be forty and thinking about planning for another thirty years of work, or fifty-five and thinking of a ten- or fifteen-year third act, or seventy and wondering how to find a part-time job that would add money and meaning to your life.

Lots of inspiration and advice on planning and doing.

Let Your Life Speak

Less how-to and more contemplative, Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (2000) is a wonderful little book. Here he quotes a portion of a poem by May Sarton:

Now I become myself.

It’s taken time, many years and places.

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces. . . .

LifeLaunch

Pamela D. McLean and Frederic M. Hudson of The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara are co-authors of LifeLaunch: A Passionate Guide for the Rest of Your Life (5th ed. 2011). From their Foreword:

It’s our experience in working with hundreds of very talented and resourceful people over the last twenty years that most of us spend more time reacting to changes that surprise us, than we do in the listening to our own inner stirrings and yearnings so that we might craft intentional new chapters/transitions at the inevitable crossroads in our adult journey.

Hudson also founded the Fielding Graduate University, an innovative, flexible learning school for adults that emphasizes personal and organizational growth and change.

The $100 Startup

The long tag line for Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup (2012) is “Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.” As I wrote earlier this year:

If you’re serious about starting your own business, The $100 Startup is not the only resource you’ll want to consult — others will provide necessary advice on bureaucratic, tax, and legal details — but it likely will be one you return to for inspiration, ideas, and examples.

Okay, so your own $100 startup is unlikely to produce funds sufficient to earn a living at first, but the neat thing about this book is that it shows you how easy it can be to get started.

Transitions

Here’s a piece of what the blog kendrabookgirl wrote about Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004 ed), by William Bridges:

When life shifts happen, there are a few “universal” phases that almost everyone goes through, whether they realize it or not. This book is not really a how-to book for facing those challenging phases, but a book to put the phases in perspective and provide clues for how to respond and accept the emotions that are likely to pop up during the transition time.

There’s a chapter devoted specifically to work changes. Thoughtful stuff.

What Color is Your Parachute?

Richard N. Bolles’s bestselling career manual What Color is Your Parachute? remains a classic. It’s affordable, thought provoking, supportive, and useful — an excellent starting place for anyone planning a vocational transition or job search. The book is faithfully updated every year, and the 2013 edition is at the bookstores. Bolles doesn’t ignore the realities of the current job situation; recent editions open with a new chapter titled “How to Find Hope.”

I’ve heard people criticize Parachute because it didn’t get them the job they wanted or needed. But like any guidebook, it can’t ensure a result. And it cannot do the grunt work for someone. While mixed with hope and inspiration, it’s a book for those who are ready to move forward in concrete ways.

Working Notes: Charlie Rose settles unpaid intern lawsuit, WalMart vs. Costco, and eBossWatch’s worst boss list

From Intern Labor Rights

Credit: Intern Labor Rights

Here are some news items worth a look!

1. Settlement in unpaid interns lawsuit — Steven Greenhouse writes for the New York Times about PBS’s Charlie Rose Show settling a class action lawsuit for back wages brought by former unpaid interns (link here):

Charlie Rose and his production company have agreed to pay as much as $250,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by a former unpaid intern who claimed minimum-wage violations.

Under the settlement . . . , Mr. Rose and his production company, Charlie Rose Inc., will pay back wages to a potential class of 189 interns. The settlement calls for many of the interns to receive about $1,100 each — $110 a week in back pay, up to a maximum of 10 weeks, the approximate length of a school semester.

This is a major victory for the nascent but growing movement in opposition to unpaid internships.

2. WalMart vs. Costco on jobs — Here’s a neat little info graphic making its way around social media land, drawn from information compiled by Business Week:

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Clearly, when it comes to compensation, not all big-box retailers are the same!

3. eBossWatch’s 2012 List of America’s Worst Bosses — One of my favorite sites, eBossWatch, has released its annual list of bad bosses. From the introduction to this year’s list:

The 2012 America’s Worst Bosses include a college dean, four restaurant owners, a fire department chief, five doctors, a judge, three county prosecuting attorneys, and a state attorney general.

. . . The managers who made this year’s list of America’s Worst Bosses were named in workplace lawsuits filed by their employees and were accused of workplace harassment and/or sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and/or creating a hostile work environment.

Does research on predicting bullying behaviors by kids yield insights for identifying future workplace aggressors?

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In a recent column for Yahoo! Shine, Barbara Greenberg summarizes a study by Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, that identifies six “risk factors that predicted future aggression and bullying behavior” in kids:

1. A tendency toward hostility

2. low parental involvement

3. gender with boys being more likely to be physically aggressive

4. a history of physical victimization

5. a history of prior physical fights

and

6. media violence exposure.

Here’s how the study was conducted:

The study by Gentile and Bushman looked at 430 children ages 7-11 in grades 3-5 from 5 Minnesota schools. For this study, children and their teachers were surveyed twice in a year – usually six months apart. Physical aggression was measured using self-reports, peer nominations, and teacher reports of actual violence.

Any relevance to workplace bullying?

The question of identifying likely workplace aggressors comes up more than occasionally in discussions about preventing bullying at work.

However, most of the popular and academic literature examining aggressors at work focuses on actual behaviors rather than identifying risk factors. There definitely are research opportunities in this realm.

Furthermore, workplace bullying tends to be in the form of psychological rather than physical abuse, so practically speaking it’s less likely that there will be a documented record of prior risk-level behaviors. Even if such a record exists, it is improbable that it will be shared among stakeholders in a position to act preventively, given standard human resources practices and confidentiality/privacy issues concerning employee evaluations.

Equally important is whether employers would even want to be able to “profile” candidates for hiring and promotion based on their supposed propensity to engage in abusive mistreatment of co-workers. Various commercially marketed personality tests may help to identify certain counterproductive traits, but their reliability as pre-employment screening devices is highly questionable.

It’s a topic rife with complications, much different from school situations.

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Although the full journal article is not freely available, go here for the posted abstract:

Holiday posts from years gone by

A variety of past holiday-time posts!

1. No ho ho: Unsigned holiday cards (2008) — I once predicted a dean’s departure upon receipt of an unsigned holiday card. Or maybe it was just mine and the departure was a coincidence.

2. This year’s No Ho Ho Award Winner: Phil Stamm, Hyatt Regency Boston GM  (2009) — Hospital GM penned a Christmas Day op-ed in the Boston Globe to defend laying off long-time hotel housekeepers.

3. On happiness: If you’re going to spend, buy experiences, not stuff (2010) — For the best memory making, you need real memories.

4. A 12-step program for compassion (2010) — Thoughtful stuff from theologian Karen Armstrong.

5. Prof says “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” promotes bullying (2011) — Puhleeze.

Tackling workplace bullying, one workplace at a time

Sometimes it’s the little victories that keep you going.

Almost a year ago, a union member for a public library asked me for suggested contract language to cover workplace bullying and abusive supervision. I sent her the draft that I’ve circulated to other union activists who have contacted me.

Out of the blue, she recently e-mailed me to say that some of the suggested contract language had been incorporated into their employee handbook and that an individual who had engaged in workplace bullying was eased out of his position. She added:

Our situation is much improved and awareness of workplace bullying has increased among staff, management, and library trustees.

Their original goal was to get some of this language into their collective bargaining agreement. Having been thwarted on that, they persevered and got it into their employee handbook. It’s a start, and this note shows that their efforts have had an impact.

Nice.

***

If you’d like a copy of the suggested contract language, please send me an e-mail with your name, specific union local, and your position with the union to dyamada@suffolk.edu. It’s based on the Healthy Workplace Bill, the anti-bullying legislation I authored that is serving as the template for law reform efforts across the country.

Holiday reflections and best wishes

Rockefeller Center, NYC, Dec. 2010 (photo: David Yamada)

Rockefeller Center, NYC, Dec. 2010 (photo: David Yamada)

I don’t get around to writing out Christmas or holiday cards these days, but if I did, I’d make my own using this photo I took of Rockefeller Center two years ago.

I spent that Christmas holiday with my awesome cousins in Manhattan, during which time the city experienced a full-on blizzard. It actually made for a more festive holiday. In fact, I have fond memories of trudging through the snow (only horses “dash” through the snow) with my cousins to a Broadway show, where the cast of “La Cage aux Folles” treated the hearty souls who filled up roughly half the theatre to an energized and fun performance.

So, although this photo has nothing to do with work, workers, or workplaces, I associate it with a memorable time and would like to use it as my holiday card to you, dear readers.

This also marks four years of writing Minding the Workplace, which I launched as a platform to discuss topics related to workplace bullying, employee relations, and surrounding issues of law, psychology, politics, and economics. Overall, the task of making human dignity a front-and-center priority in our workplaces remains a challenging one, and I hope that this blog delivers at least a modest contribution toward nudging us in the right direction.

I wish for you a holiday season that allows for some meaningful reflection and good company & fellowship. And if you’ve been struggling with some of the very realities that inform many of the articles here, I wish for you a 2013 loaded with better opportunities and more humane workplaces.

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic

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Specific workplace bullying tactics can run from the obvious and transparent to the remarkably deceitful and calculated.  Among the most treacherous of the latter is “gaslighting,” defined in Wikipedia as:

…a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. It may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

Gaslighting at work can range from orchestrated, manipulative aggressor-to-target behaviors, to HR officers expressing faux incredulity in response to claims of abusive mistreatment. Recently, gaslighting has appeared as a topic of discussion on Facebook among workplace bullying subject matter experts. It’s overdue for a mention here.

Pop culture origins

Dr. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door (2005), describes the origins of the term:

In 1944, George Cukor directed a psychological thriller entitled Gaslight, in which a beautiful young woman, played by Ingrid Bergman, is made to feel she is going insane. Her fear that she is losing her mind is inflicted on her systematically by Charles Boyer, who plays her evil but charming husband. Among a number of other dirty tricks, Boyer arranges for Bergman to hear sounds in the attic when he absent, and for the gaslight to dim by itself, in a menacing house where her aunt was mysteriously murdered years before.

Naturally, Bergman’s psychological descent is hastened when no one believes her claims.

The almost psychopath as gaslighting expert

In recent months I’ve been touting the work of 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). Ron talked about the almost psychopath at work during a recent New Workplace Institute program. Here’s how NWI legal intern Kim Webster summarized his remarks:

On average, one person in a hundred meets the clinical definition for psychopathy.  However, [Schouten]  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.

I submit that among almost psychopaths, you will find a bevy of gaslighting experts. In fact, the traits that characterize many an almost psychopath — especially superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, and lack of empathy — make for a combination platter of gaslighting behaviors.

Gaslighting at work: Workplace bullying

As Ron Schouten has observed, almost psychopaths can function and be successful in everyday society. This means, of course, that a lot of almost psychopaths ply their trade in the workplace. And when they engage in bullying behaviors, woe to the targets, especially babes in the woods.

If you’ve ever experienced or witnessed gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic, you know what I mean. Whether we’re talking petty mind games or severe, twisted harassment and stalking, challenges to such behaviors are met with denials that anything is going on. The goals are to undermine a target’s confidence, keep the target off-balance, and instill fear and paranoia.

Gaslighting often is discussed in the context of spousal and family relationships. It makes sense, then, that we see so many parallels between domestic abuse and workplace bullying. Perhaps the leap from Ingrid Bergman & Charles Boyer to The Office isn’t much of one after all.

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