Gen X, too, faces dire retirement funding prospects

I have written frequently about the dire state of retirement funding facing America’s Baby Boomers, but the crisis is hardly limited to that generation. It’s now becoming clear that Generation X faces similarly challenging circumstances as well.

Abby Ellin, blogging for ABC News, recently examined the results of a cross-generational study on retirement funding by the Pew Charitable Trust from the standpoint of Gen X (roughly speaking, those born between 1966 and 1975), which:

. . . found that Gen Xers – the group of Americans following the baby boomers that range in age from 38 to 47 – fared especially poorly during the recent economic down swing. As a result, their retirement years will likely be more tarnished than golden.

The study . . . found that between 2007 and 2010, Gen Xers — which the report defined as those born between 1966 and 1975 — lost nearly half of their overall net worth, an average of about $33,000, and also had higher levels of debt than previous generations.

In addition, notes Ellin, Gen Xers are carrying heavy student loan and credit card debts that add to their financial burdens.

The retirement funding crisis

How much more evidence do we need for leaders in all sectors — government, business, and non-profits — to declare that America is facing a full-blown crisis in retirement funding that will become monstrously, painfully evident during the coming decades?

While our leaders in Washington D.C. bicker and tinker over numbers at the margins concerning Social Security (which, by the way, is a lot more stable a program than some of its critics try to argue), the larger problem goes largely neglected:

1. Traditional pension programs are going the way of the dinosaur, and many existing pension plans — especially in the public sector — have been mismanaged to the point where they may not be able to pay out promised benefits.

2. Social Security was never designed to provide full retirement funding.

3. 401(k) accounts took a beating during the worst of the current meltdown.

4. Many people don’t have 401(k)s anyway.

As a result, millions are advancing toward their later years with insufficient savings and resources to fund a relatively secure and comfortable retirement. The Boomers will be the first to feel this very real pain, and it now appears that Gen Xers will be right behind them.

Prestigious honorary society president may be a bullying boss

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies, a sort of hall of fame for leading scholars and artists. Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, who has served as the Academy’s president for some 17 years, is now under fire for allegedly having lied about earning a doctorate that does not exist.

The Boston Globe‘s Todd Wallack broke the story today, reporting that Berlowitz has fabricated a 1969 doctoral degree from New York University in federal grant applications. In addition, tucked into the story’s background information is a long record of alleged bullying behaviors toward staff by Berlowitz.

According to the Globe piece, “(s)taff members have long complained that Berlowitz micro­manages their work and that she dishes out frequent tongue-lashings. Some workers left after only a few days or weeks.” The article describes a work culture of fear and silence, angry public scoldings of employees, and a revolving door of Berlowitz’s administrative assistants. For example:

Gail Loffredo lasted just 14 days as Berlowitz’s executive ­assistant in 2012. She said ­Berlowitz fired her last year ­after her teenage daughter found a lump in her chest and Loffredo told Berlowitz she needed to take her daughter to the doctor the following week. Loffredo later learned that ­Berlowitz had gone through as many as five other assistants in as many months.

“She is horrible,” Loffredo said, adding that she regularly witnessed Berlowitz scolding employees in her office in front of colleagues.

Hardly new

Reports of Berlowitz’s treatment of staff go way back. Some of these concerns emerged in a 2003 Globe article that focused on claims of heavy-handed, controlling behaviors by Berlowitz.

Despite these frequent reports, the Academy’s leadership has stuck by Berlowitz, basically rationalizing that her successes in fundraising and program development overcome concerns about worker mistreatment. And when presented with evidence of her fabricated doctorate, the Academy hired a public relations consultant who couldn’t resist playing the sexism card in responding to the allegations. As reported by the Globe:

“Neither the academy nor President Berlowitz is going to respond to subjective, interpretive, and gossipy allegations from former employees and unnamed sources,” [the consultant] said in the statement. “Nor are they going to respond to personal questions that are irrelevant, do not belong in the public ­domain and, frankly, smack of sexism.”

What’s new?

Bullying in non-profit organizations is a serious problem. During the 15 years that I’ve been studying and writing about workplace bullying, I’ve heard countless horror stories from those who have worked in the non-profit sector, including tales of tyrannical, manipulative bosses who regularly mistreat their staff.

The Academy’s responses to reports of employee mistreatment and, now, a fabricated doctorate, are classic examples of bottom-feeding organizational leadership: First, sweep allegations of workplace bullying under the rug. Second, hire a PR consultant to spin the Academy and Berlowitz into victims.


Related posts

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector  (2011)

When the bullying comes from a board member (2011)

Is your workplace psychologically and ethically healthy? (2010)


June 5 Followup

Carey Goldberg of WBUR, a health writer for Boston’s NPR news station, did an extensive interview with me on workplace bullying in the non-profit sector.


July 24 Update

The Boston Globe‘s Todd Wallack reports that Leslie Cohen Berlowitz has resigned her position.

UIC study: Bullying and harassment of college students fuels alcohol consumption

College students face bullying and sexual harassment both at school and at their jobs, and these forms of mistreatment are associated with excessive alcohol consumption, according to findings presented by Dr. Kathleen Rospenda (U. of Illinois at Chicago) at the recent “Work, Stress and Health” conference in Los Angeles.

Rospenda, an organizational psychologist, and colleagues Jennifer Wolff and Judith Richman conducted a study involving over 2,100 college students at eight Illinois schools:

  • At school, 43 percent experienced bullying and 14 percent experienced sexual harassment;
  • At work, 33 percent experienced bullying and 4 percent experienced sexual harassment.

The survey covered a four month period — essentially, the first semester of the students’ freshman year — which makes these prevalence stats pretty high.

Mistreatment and alcohol abuse

The students’ experiences with bullying and harassment were strongly associated with greater alcohol consumption.  Here are several major points drawn from Rospenda’s presentation and a followup e-mails exchange:

  • “Bullying at work and at school were more strongly and consistently associated with frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption than sexual harassment at work or school”
  • “Compared to bullying and sexual harassment at work, bullying and sexual harassment at school were more strongly and consistently associated with abusive and problematic drinking”
  • Stronger prevention and intervention programs for bullying and sexual harassment at schools will help to “remove some of the triggers for problematic drinking among college students.”


It may be tempting to breezily write off such studies on grounds that connections between going to college and heavy drinking are hardly novel. After all, pushing boundaries of personal behavior is a rite of passage for many during their college years, and most manage to “settle down” as they mature. Those of us who grew up during the “Animal House” era of college life may be especially prone to thinking this way.

But taking this attitude ignores a serious problem with genuine ripple effects. The study shows that bullying, sexual harassment, and alcohol use are a potent mix. Rospenda observed that college is a period of “emerging adulthood.” She also cited research indicating that over 40 percent of 18-25 year olds self-reported engaging in binge drinking during the past month.

Pulling all this together, we see how increased alcohol consumption can become an easy if self-destructive coping response to interpersonal mistreatment early in someone’s life. And when later inevitable challenges and setbacks occur, coping methods learned in college may revive themselves. This can contribute to serious personal and public health concerns covering life spans.


The biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology.


Is the “psychopath boss” theme overhyped?

I hear it a lot from people who have endured bad work experiences: My boss is a psychopath. Indeed, if all such claims were true, there must be a lot of psychopaths in management positions, which should be cause for great concern. After all, psychopaths lack a normal sense of conscience, lie with impunity, and target others for mistreatment.

Those who have been severely bullied at work by their supervisors often invoke the term, while others are dismissive, claiming that simply being a bad or abrasive boss does not make one a psychopath.

But hold on: Maybe the claimed prevalence of psychopath bosses is true, or at least close enough to make us feel darn uncomfortable. This isn’t the first or last word on the topic, but let’s play with some numbers and assessments to get a sense of what we’re talking about:

1. Genuine psychopaths — According to ballpark estimates, 1 percent of the population may be classified as genuine psychopaths.

2. “Almost psychopaths” — Psychiatrist Ronald Schouten (Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital), lead author of Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? (2012), suggests that maybe 10 to 15 percent of the population almost meets the definition of psychopathy. As reported here last fall:

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.

3. Drawn to management — A 2010 study by leading psychopathy researchers Paul Babiak, Craig Neumann, and Robert Hare documented higher measures of psychopathy for managers. The Boston Globe‘s Kevin Lewis summarized the study:

One of the authors of the study was hired by companies to evaluate managers — mostly middle-aged, college-educated, white males — for a management development program. It turns out that these managers scored higher on measures of psychopathy than the overall population, and some who had very high scores were candidates for, or held, senior positions. . . . The authors conclude that “the very skills that make the psychopath so unpleasant (and sometimes abusive) in society can facilitate a career in business even in the face of negative performance ratings.”

Do the math

Okay, so let’s combine the 1 percent of the population of genuine psychopaths, Schouten’s 10-15 percent of the population of “almost psychopaths,” and evidence correlating higher presence of psychopathic traits among those in management positions.

Conclusion: Based on this reasoning, it’s fair to suggest that some 15 percent or more of bosses fit the psychopath or almost psychopath profile. In other words, between 1 of 6 and 1 of 7 bosses may behave in a manner that causes underlings and other co-workers to think of them as psychopaths.

That makes for a lot of Sunday night and Monday morning anxieties…

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