Working Notes: New York City conference on workplace bullying, April 28

On April 28, the New York State Psychological Association’s Organizational, Consulting, and Work Psychology Division is hosting a conference on workplace bullying at John Jay College of the City University of New York in Manhattan. Gary Namie and I are the keynote speakers, joined by an impressive cadre of presenters and moderators.

I’ve pasted in the agenda, speakers, and registration info below. Although I imagine that most of the attendees will be organizational psychologists and consultants, the conference is open to the public, with sliding fees based on affiliations, student status, etc. The registration link is here.

As a side note, this helps to explain why I haven’t been posting as frequently lately. In addition to hitting a busy point in the semester, I’ve got a heavy schedule of speaking commitments that takes me through July. Most of these appearances require the preparation of materials to share with fellow participants and attendees, which is keeping me on an ongoing cycle of writing, cutting, and pasting!

It’s all good, though — a sign that these important workplace issues are getting a hearing.

******

The New York State Psychological Association
Organizational, Consulting, and Work (OCW) Psychology Division
hosts
Bullying In and Out of the Workplace and Other Organizations:
Psychological & Legal Perspectives on Prevention, Intervention, & Amelioration

Sunday April 28 – 10 am to 4 pm
John Jay College of Criminal Justice of CUNY
Tenth Ave. at 59th St., NYC

This conference brings together two Keynote National Experts on workplace bullying (WB) and a broad range of leaders and advocates in the psychology, conflict resolution, law, and business communities. I/O psychologists, private practice psychologists working with individuals experiencing WB related anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD symptoms, forensic psychologists doing WB assessment/evaluation and consulting, conflict resolution professionals, and managers and human resources professionals dealing with organizational stress and change will find ways to enhance their understanding and skills.

Co-sponsors
CUNY Dispute Resolution Center at John Jay College
NYSPA’s Independent Practice, Forensic, Psychoanalysis & Women’s Issues Divisions
Manhattan Psychological Association
Society for the Psychological Study of Social IssuesKeynote Speakers

Gary Namie, PhD
Founder and Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute
Social psychologist viewed as North America’s #1 authority on WB, and author, together with
Ruth Namie, PhD, of “The Bully-Free Workplace” and “The Bully At Work”. He has taught management and psychology courses at the university level for more than 21 years and directs the only U.S. research and education organization dedicated to workplace bullying.

David Yamada, JD
Foremost Legal Expert and Author of the Healthy Workplace Bill
Professor of Law at Suffolk Law School in Boston, he is considered the leading legal authority on workplace bullying. The Healthy Workplace bill has been introduced in a number of states, including New York. Its impact on employers and employees, when passed, will be discussed.

Panel Presenters

Sharon Brennan, PhD – Dynamic and Interpersonal Issues in Workplace Bullying
Harold Takoosian, PhD – Bullying in Academe – A Global Problem
Ann Winton, PhD – A Forensic Psychologist’s Views on Bullying

Richard Wexler, PhD – The Organizational Psychologist’s Role in Preventing & Ameliorating Workplace Bullying; Moderator of Q & A
Sylvan Schaffer, J.D., Ph.D., A Forensic Psychologist’s Hypothetical Case
Judi Segall, Stony Brook University Ombudsman – The Ombudsperson’s Role

Ira Richman, PhD, Carol Goldberg, PhD & Michael Grove, PhD – Moderators

###

CE credits (pending, but expected) and opportunity for Free OCW Membership.

ONLINE REGISTRATION. Space is limited.

$35     Members of Co-Sponsoring Divisions/Organizations

$60     NYSPA Members (Includes OCW Membership)

$90    General public, Not members of co-sponsoring organizations

$25    Early Career Psychologists

$15    Students

Surcharges
$10 For CE Credits (pending)
$20 – At-the-Door Registration

Registration includes morning coffee/muffins and a light sandwich buffet lunch.

Registration also includes membership in the OCW Psychology Division for NYSPA members who are not already members and would like to join now as part of the registration package

NYC mayoral candidate highlights the line between tough bosses and abusive ones

I sometimes field variations of this question concerning workplace bullying: Aren’t we talking about people who can’t deal with a tough boss?

My typical response is that there’s a big difference between a tough boss and an abusive one.

Case study: Christine Quinn

And thanks to an article in the New York Times, we have an example of someone who crosses the line into the abusive category: New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, currently Speaker of the City Council. Her public persona is described as feisty, brash, and sometimes charming, but descriptions of her private behavior paint a different picture. Here’s a snippet of the profile written by Michael Grynbaum and David Chen:

But in private, friends and colleagues say, another Ms. Quinn can emerge: controlling, temperamental and surprisingly volatile, with a habit of hair-trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath.

She has threatened, repeatedly, to slice off the private parts of those who cross her.

She is sensitive to slights: When a Queens councilwoman neglected to credit Ms. Quinn in a news release, the speaker retaliated by cutting money for programs in her district.

Ms. Quinn’s staff, concerned that angry tirades could be overheard by outsiders, added soundproofing to her City Hall office. Wary of her temper, they are known to ask one another: “Did she throw up on you today?”

Classic bullying behaviors

Grynbaum and Chen don’t stop with generalizations; they add plenty of specific examples, as well as Quinn’s own characterization of her persona. The full piece is worth reading.

Suffice it to say that the article describes a laundry list of classic bullying behaviors. While some workplace aggressors tend to be more direct or more indirect, Quinn apparently has mastered both forms. In terms of overt, direct behaviors, she’s a yeller and screamer, often employing foul, threatening language. In terms of covert, indirect behaviors, she brutally retaliates in response to even minor perceived slights.

Politics is rough business, but…

To be sure, politics can be a bloodsport, and those who seek to be players must have a thick skin if they want to survive. The article fairly points out that Quinn has been an effective Speaker in some ways and that previous holders of the office to which she aspires, including celebrated Mayors such as Fiorello LaGuardia and Rudy Giuliani, also had notable tempers. In addition, there always is the risk that women will be judged more harshly on such measures. And it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that some of the people who criticized Quinn but would not allow their names to be disclosed are among her political opponents and thus have their own agendas.

Nevertheless, this article does not smack of a planted hatchet job on one candidacy. Rather, it describes a pattern of repeated, highly volatile, abusive behaviors. It clearly shows us the difference between hard-nosed, demanding leadership and workplace bullying.

Does the Healthy Workplace Bill “demonize” workplace aggressors?

I’ve read and heard opposition to the adoption of laws that address bullying in work or school settings on the ground that such measures “demonize” those accused of engaging in bullying behaviors.

I can’t speak for all current and proposed anti-bullying laws. However, as the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, which serves as the primary template for workplace anti-bullying legislation across the country, I certainly can address whether that criticism fairly applies to this particular proposal.

The Healthy Workplace Bill provides targets of severe workplace bullying a legal claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to take preventive and responsive measures toward this form of mistreatment. It allows claims to be brought against both employers and offending co-employees.

Prevention, not demonization

Prevention is the most important public policy objective for any workplace bullying law. The HWB achieves this by significantly reducing liability exposure for employers that pro-actively prevent workplace bullying and respond promptly and fairly to claims of workplace bullying.

The HWB doesn’t even mention the terms “bullying” or “bully” in its key language. Rather, it uses the term “abusive work environment” to define the conditions that lead to liability.

Damages

The HWB allows for a full range of potential damages to be awarded to individuals who can prove their claims, including punitive damages for especially egregious behavior.

So yes, it is possible that an individual aggressor could be found liable under the HWB. However, it is more likely that employers, rather than individual aggressors, would pay the bulk of those damages. Put simply, most plaintiffs employment lawyers know that unless liability can be imposed upon the employer, the likelihood of recovering damages is slim.

Change of heart

In my earliest writings about this topic, I suggested that punishment should be among the public policy goals of any workplace bullying law. I’ve softened on that point since then.

I fully understand the emotions that cause some targets of workplace bullying to desire retribution. And while I do believe that compensation is a just goal for the Healthy Workplace Bill, the objectives of revenge and punishment seem less appropriate to fuel legislation designed, ultimately, to affirm human dignity.

That said, holding someone accountable for engaging in proven, targeted, health-harming interpersonal abuse is not “demonization.” We must be careful not to overuse the term, lest we become resistant toward all notions of personal responsibility for severe, intentional mistreatment of another.

Working Notes: A busy Friday discussing workers and workplaces

 
L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

Yesterday served as a welcomed reminder that healthy dialogue can play an important role toward advancing the interests of workers and workplaces. I was fortunate to participate in two excellent events, and I’d like to share a bit about each.

MARN Legislative Forum

I spent the morning at the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses 2013 Health Policy Legislative Forum, held in the Great Hall of the State House. There I joined Representatives Ellen Story (a lead sponsor of the HWB, House Bill No. 1766) and Kay Khan (a HWB co-sponsor and psychiatric nurse) for presentations and Q&A about workplace bullying in healthcare and the importance of supporting anti-bullying legislation. MARN is one of the organizational endorsers of the HWB.

The discussion was both practical and policy oriented. We talked about the challenges of dealing with bullying behaviors in the healthcare workplace, as well as the role that associations like MARN can play in advancing the Healthy Workplace Bill.

It’s an honor to present with two elected officials who truly “get it” when it comes to how public policy can promote human dignity in the workplace. The three of us were pleased to be there, as the photo above (grabbed shamelessly from Rep. Story’s Facebook page) indicates!

Northeastern University Conference, “Employed or Just Working?”

For the afternoon, I hopped on the subway to a conference sponsored by the Northeastern University Law Journal, Employed or Just Working? Rethinking Employment Relationships in the Global Economy, which focused on the changing definitions of employee status and their impact on workers and organizations.

I gave a talk on the “intern economy” and detailed the emerging legal and social movement against the widespread practice of unpaid interns, explaining how this practice excludes individuals who cannot afford to work for free and likely violates minimum wage laws. I will be submitting an article on this topic to the journal later this year, updating my 2002 Connecticut Law Review article on the legal rights of interns. (You may download the 2002 piece without charge, here.)

Several panels focused on the common practice of employers misclassifying workers as independent contractors that, in turn, allow them to avoid paying wages, overtime, and benefits. Some of these practices are egregious, as lawyers who litigate these claims explained to us. We also heard from attorneys representing employers, and they provided an important perspective on the challenges of engaging in good-faith compliance efforts with laws that define “employee” in significantly different ways.

A compelling panel featured advocates and scholars who are examining the difficulties confronting domestic workers such as home health care attendants who are trying to obtain decent wages and benefits. These issues aren’t going away as our population ages and the demand for affordable in-home care increases.

Thanks and kudos

Thank you to both MARN and Northeastern for these opportunities to share information and ideas and to engage in discussions with people who care about the quality of our work lives, and congratulations for putting on very successful events involving multiple speakers. I hope that others who attended and participated benefited as much as I did.

Recycling: Working in the non-profit sector

I’ve spent most of my career associated with various non-profit organizations, and those experiences have taught me a lot about work life in this sector. Here’s a collection of posts especially relevant to working for non-profits:

1. Non-profits: If you need a committee to obsess over your mission statement, you may not have a real mission (July 2012) — Any decent non-profit organization should know its mission without convening a committee to define it!

2. One-way feedback: In-house employee surveys and the illusion of open decision making (July 2012) — Here’s the giveaway: YOU fill out the survey, THEY keep the raw results to themselves.

3. When survival is at stake, we need grounded leaders (July 2012) — This is especially the case when non-profits are facing limited resources and tight budgets.

4. Burnout in the non-profit sector (February 2012) — A frequent occupational hazard.

5. “Should I stay or should I go?” Career insights from Seth Godin and The Clash (September 2011) — A dilemma for those devoted to their work but suffering in their organizations.

6. When the bullying comes from a board member (August 2011) — This is a neglected topic that cries out for more research.

7. “Strategic planning”: All too often, a time-sucking bridge to nowhere (July 2011) — How many gazillions of hours have non-profits thrown away on strategic plans that are either hopelessly vague or after-the-fact validations of decisions already made?

8. How’s this for an epitaph? “She lived a balanced life” (June 2011) — Some work-life balance thoughts, a frequent issue for those dedicated to their causes.

9. Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector  (January 2011) — If you’ve been around non-profits long enough, you know that bullying behaviors aren’t limited to the big bad corporations!

10. Is your workplace psychologically and ethically healthy? (July 2010) — Surprisingly (perhaps), these questions sometimes are overlooked in non-profit work settings.

America’s economic meltdown continues for millions: Articles worth reading

The human costs of our ongoing economic crisis continue to mount. If your primary impressions of the economy are shaped by the rise in the Dow Jones Average, you might be wondering what I’m talking about. But for countless millions of others who are more concerned with the challenges of paying their bills, feeding their kids, saving for the future, and finding work, crisis remains an apt way to describe this economy.

I’ve collected a number of articles and blog posts that help us to connect the disturbing dots:

Bob’s cousin

Bob Rosner, blogging for Workplace Fairness Weekly, writes about “Broken Hearts: Unemployment’s Devastating Impact“:

Last week my cousin died of a heart attack. After working continuously for the first two-thirds of his career, recently he’d bounced from short term jobs to stretches of unemployment. This cycle is tough enough on someone just starting out a career, but for someone in their early 60’s, it can literally be a heartbreaker.

Read what he has to say about maintaining hope through the 4 “Ps”: perspective, pride, pals, and possibilities.

Profits over people — by a longshot

But hold on, it’s not as if our economy remains in complete meltdown mode. Nope, that just applies to the vast millions who are struggling to make ends meet and to secure decent work. Derek Thompson, business writer for The Atlantic, sums up the situation in meaty blog post:

Here are two things that are true about the economy today.

(1) The Dow Jones industrial average is poised to set a new record as corporate profits stretch to all-time highs.

(2) There are still fewer working Americans today than there were before the start of the Great Recession.

He goes on to explain:

When the economy crashes, we all crash together: corporate profits, employment, and growth. But when the economy recovers, we don’t recover together. Corporations rack up historic profits thanks to strong global demand, cheap global labor, and low interest rates, while American workers muddle along, their significance to these companies greatly diminished by a worldwide market for goods and people.

The forgotten

Although the official unemployment rate continues to improve very slowly, overlooked in those figures are the millions who are no longer included in the counts. Annalyn Kurtz reports for CNN.com:

An often overlooked number calculated by the Labor Department shows millions of Americans want a job but haven’t searched for one in at least a year. They’ve simply given up hope.

. . . These hopelessly unemployed workers have just been jobless so long, they’ve fallen off the main government measures altogether.

. . . Five years ago, before the recession began, about 2.5 million people said they wanted a job but hadn’t searched for one in at least a year. Now, that number is around 3.25 million.

The future of retirement

As I’ve written frequently here, the demise of retirement as a normal lifespan experience may be one of the longer-term effects of our economic condition. Steven Greenhouse, labor reporter for the New York Times, offers a thorough look at the future of retirement in the U.S.:

While retirement has assumed myriad forms across the country, many economists and other experts on retirement see some common, increasingly worrisome trends. A growing number of workers are convinced they will not have a comfortable retirement. A Boston College study in October found that 53 percent of Americans were “at risk” of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living once they retire, up from 30 percent in 1989. A study last May by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 44 percent may not have enough money to meet their basic needs in retirement.

Burdening next generations

As the cost of a college education continues to climb, student loan debt rises with it. Martha C. White reports for Time on the economic repercussions of massive student loan debt:

The broader economic implications are troubling. Graduates struggling to dig out from a mountain of student debt also tend to put off getting married, buying homes, and having kids. And since a bigger chunk of their income will go towards servicing the mortgages or car loans they are able to obtain at higher rates, they’ll have less spending power when they do eventually buy big-ticket items like homes and cars.

And that’s not even addressing the psychological impact of mountainous debt and reduced hopes. Cryn Johannsen of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project writes about the spectre of suicide in connection with student debt:

Suicide is the dark side of the student lending crisis and, despite all the media attention to the issue of student loans, it’s been severely under-reported. I can’t ignore it though, because I’m an advocate for people who are struggling to pay their student loans, and I’ve been receiving suicidal comments for over two years and occasionally hearing reports of actual suicides.

Inequality = more stress and illness

America’s wealth gap is widening despite the supposed economic recovery, reports Rick Newman for U.S. News & World Report:

The problem, however, is that the recession raised the bar for success while leaving fewer haves and more have-nots. America as a whole may be just as wealthy as it used to be, but the wealth is being shared by a smaller slice of the population. And that rearrangement may end up being permanent.

In this piece for BillMoyers.com, Theresa Riley interviews epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, an authority on the destructive public health consequences of societal inequality:

The pattern we’ve found in our research is quite extraordinarily clear. More unequal countries, the ones with the bigger income differences between rich and poor have much more violence, worse life expectancy, more mental illness, more obesity, more people in prison, and more teenage births. All these problems get worse with greater inequality, because it damages the social fabric of a society.

The end of the American dream?

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, assessed our economy in the context of the November election:

In this election, each side debated issues that deeply worry me: the long malaise into which the economy seems to be settling, and the growing divide between the 1 percent and the rest — an inequality not only of outcomes but also of opportunity. To me, these problems are two sides of the same coin: with inequality at its highest level since before the Depression, a robust recovery will be difficult in the short term, and the American dream — a good life in exchange for hard work — is slowly dying.

Stiglitz’s public policy prescriptions “include, at least, significant investments in education, a more progressive tax system and a tax on financial speculation.”

Goodbye to trickle-down economics?

The policies that led us to this widening gap between the haves vs. the have-less and the have-nots have been at least 30 years in the making, with “trickle-down economics” being the policy mantra of the era. This concept held that if wealthy people could keep more of their money and businesses could be freed of regulatory safeguards, the benefits would trickle down to everyone else. The centerpiece of trickle-down theory was that tax cuts to the wealthy would give a jump start to America’s economic engine, an assumption rebutted in a non-partisan Congressional Research Service report discussed in this Huffington Post piece.

If you’re interested in learning more, read some of these articles and start connecting the dots for yourself. We’re at a critical economic juncture in America, and the well-being of all but the most fortunate is at stake.

Recycling: The social context of workplace bullying and responses to it

I dug into the blog archives from 2011 to pull these posts addressing some of the contextual issues surrounding workplace bullying and our attempts to understand and respond to it. If you didn’t catch them the first time around, I hope you find them worthwhile now!

1. America’s bullying culture (March 2011) — A look at broader cultural forces that fuel bullying and abuse at work.

2. The experience of being bullied at work: Insights and silos (November 2011) — How personal experiences of being bullied at work shape and limit our understanding of this phenomenon.

3. How lousy organizations treat institutional history (September 2011) — This post was not about workplace bullying per se, but it helps to explain how organizations that enable such behaviors find it easy to overlook, ignore, and forget them.

4. When bad employers retain thuggish employment lawyers (July 2011) — I’ve recycled this post on other occasions, but I think it bears repeating that employers that enable and defend bullying behaviors have an uncanny knack for retaining employment lawyers of the same ilk.

5. The American academic response to workplace bullying: A grounded orientation (June 2011) — Much of the important research on workplace bullying is not coming from elite institutions operating in rarified settings; rather, it’s largely the product of people associated with state, regional, and distance learning universities, as well as organizations such as the Workplace Bullying Institute.

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