Ringing in the New Year

At year’s end, I always look forward to the holiday issue of The Economist, the venerable British newsweekly. It features an eclectic variety of articles on history, popular culture, and scientific and economic trends, some serious, others lighthearted.

In the spirit of that annual treat, I’d like to offer a more modest collection of a dozen posts from this blog that hopefully provoke, inform, and entertain:

1. Does life begin at 46? (2010) — As long as we’re talking about The Economist, here’s a piece inspired by an article in the magazine, speculating on the possible advantages of hitting midlife.

2. A 12-step program for compassion (2010) — A post about theologian Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

3. What if we applied the Golden Rule at work? (2010) — Yeah, what if we did?!

4. Why targets of workplace bullying need our help: A rallying cry from the heart (2013) — If you’re wondering why I write so often about bullying at work and have authored legislation addressing it, this post provides some answers.

5. NWI’s “Eightfold Path” to a Psychologically Healthy Workplace (2009) — Try it sometime!

6. The lessons of nostalgia (2011) — Featuring insights from homebrewed philosopher Charles Hayes, one of my favorite authors.

7. Our avocations and hobbies: The third pillar of work-life balance? (2012) — A hobby or avocation may be a portal to a richer, more satisfying life.

8. Maybe our modern day heroes are simply “weird” (2013) — Contemplating the heroes in our lives.

9. A movement emerges: Will unpaid internships disappear? (2012) — A piece anticipating the emerging intern rights movement.

10. Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide us toward good transitions (2012) — Timely for New Year’s resolutions!

11. What workplace bullying teaches us about the integrity of American employers (2011) — How an employer responds to workplace bullying tells us a lot about it.

12. You want good leaders? (2010) — Highlighting a superb essay on leadership by writer William Deresiewicz.

Working Notes: Healthy Workplace Bill video and WBI fundraising campaign for workplace bullying survey

Hello dear readers! I wanted to share a couple of important items concerning workplace bullying:

Healthy Workplace Bill video (6 mins)

If you’re wondering why we need the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, take a look at this short, snappy, informative video by Deb Falzoi of Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates.

WBI crowdfunding campaign for new national survey

In 2007 and 2010, the Workplace Bullying Institute teamed with Zogby International pollsters to conduct national prevalence surveys about workplace bullying. These surveys have been cited extensively by scholars, advocates, and the media.

Now, WBI is raising $6,000 through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to conduct a third national survey. Thanks to its ongoing association with Zogby, the survey will be done at a fraction of the cost normally associated with such an extensive effort. With less than two weeks to go, the campaign has raised over 2/3 of the required funds. Please consider contributing to support the latest scientific research on workplace bullying, resulting in a study that will be accessible to the public. The campaign includes donor incentives, including buttons, books, and DVDs.

Looking ahead with a giving spirit

(Photo: DY)

(Photo: DY)

I start this post with a confession: I’m not fully walking the talk on this one. When it comes to charitable giving, there are some transcendant souls out there who set rare examples. I’m not one of them.

But lately I’ve been wrestling with this question: How can we best make a difference with our charitable contributions?

Given the frequent subject matter of this blog, I know there are many readers who are not in a position to contribute money to charities. But I know that others have that capacity, and I hope they’ll join me in thinking about this.

Lately I’ve been reckoning with my own giving, which has strongly favored charities that benefit those in the U.S. For a variety of reasons, I realize that I should also be contributing more to organizations and initiatives that are tackling extreme poverty around the world. I’ve been spending good chunks of time on the websites of two entities, The Life You Can Save and Giving What We Can, both of which offer powerful moral and ethical arguments that we should be donating more to reverse extreme poverty.

Moral philosopher Peter Singer’s project, The Life You Can Save, asks people to pledge 5 percent or more of their income to charities that are effectively addressing global poverty. Here’s a short description from the website:

The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We spread knowledge of what we can all do to reduce poverty and the suffering it causes. We encourage people to support highly effective aid organizations, and to inspire others by joining our community of over 16,000 people who have publicly pledged their commitment to help make the world a better place.

A British-based initiative, Giving What We Can, raises the bar higher, asking people to pledge 10 percent or more of their income to global charities fighting poverty in the world’s poorest nations. From its website:

The members of Giving What We Can each pledge to donate 10% of their income to the most effective causes. Giving more is easier than most people expect, and easier still when you’re part of a global community of givers, united by the vision of a world without poverty. Learn more about our members, the pledge to give, and what you can achieve by joining Giving What We Can.

(Many of the Giving What We Can leaders also are moral philosophers. Interesting!)

If you need to be persuaded of the worthiness of such giving, consider this: Your money can literally save lives. Again: You can save lives.

Helping “our own” first?

In the U.S., some will counter that we should help “our own” before making donations to help the poor in other countries. Certainly I believe we need to continue giving to charities that help those in need here. However, we also must keep in mind that even the poorest Americans, with the significant exception of homeless persons, have better living conditions than countless millions of others who battle dire poverty, sickness, and hunger on a daily basis.

So let’s not ignore “our own.” But let’s remember that we inhabit this planet with many others who are struggling merely to stay alive.

Put it in the will

Also, some will urge that monies should be saved and donated via one’s estate, rather than given away now. First, they say, interest can compound and increase the eventual gift. Yes, that’s true, but people are starving and dying now.

Second, some say that we shouldn’t be too quick to donate money that we may need in the event of a job loss, some other major financial setback, or retirement.

I confess to having those fears, and they trace back to much younger days growing up, when at times our family relied primarily on Mom’s meager salary as a kindergarten teacher as the primary source of income. Today I’m making a very good salary as a tenured professor, but the financial instability of higher education triggers those anxieties, and not without justification.

Nevertheless, such worries do not compare with going hungry for days or wondering whether your kid can obtain treatment for malaria. Not even close.

The amount

Many live frugally yet struggle to make it to the end of the month or to the next paycheck. This post is especially for those who don’t face such difficult financial burdens.

Yes, it’s about giving what we can.

Personally, my main 2014 financial resolution is to meet the 5 percent benchmark of The Life You Can Save. I’m hoping that by publicly saying so, I’ll both increase the likelihood of honoring my own commitment and encourage others to join me.


The photo above is an enhanced version of an original I took in Colorado in 2012.

Working Notes: 2 important new books on workplace bullying & mobbing


As the calendar year comes to a close, two important new books have arrived to enlighten our understanding of, and shape our responses to, workplace bullying and mobbing.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing

Drs. Maureen Duffy (therapist and consultant) and Len Sperry (faculty, Florida Atlantic University and the Medical College of Wisconsin) have co-authored Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (Oxford University Press, 2013). Earlier this year, I was asked to provide an endorsement for the book. After spending a good chunk of time with the manuscript, I wrote up this statement, which appears on the back cover:

This is a very important and useful contribution to the literature on mobbing, bullying, and emotional abuse at work. Employee relations and mental health practitioners, mobbing targets and their families, scholars, and advocates alike will benefit from its command of the relevant research, on-the-ground understanding of the workplace, and practical application. I will be adding it with enthusiasm to my short list of recommended books on this topic.

I meant every word. And at a list price of $21.95 — very reasonable for a university press hardcover title — it is within the budgets of most who will gain from its insights. Kudos to Maureen and Len for writing this excellent book.

Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Adult Bullying

Over the past decade, Dr. Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik (North Dakota State University) has emerged as a leading scholar on workplace bullying and related topics, authoring and co-authoring a variety of peer-reviewed studies and commentaries through the lens of communications. Now, in Adult Bullying: A Nasty Piece of Work (ORCM Academic Press, 2013), she has gathered these works into a single volume. In addition to serving the needs of scholars in this field, Pam has written the book for those dealing with bullying-related “grievances, complaints, or concerns with upper-level management and HR professionals.”

Several of her co-authors will be very familiar to those steeped in the literature on workplace bullying, including Jess K. Alberts, Gary Namie, and Sarah J. Tracy. Other co-authors include Elizabeth Dickinson, Lisa Farwell, Courtney Vail Fletcher, Karen A. Foss, Jacqueline Hood, and Virginia McDermott.

This book also is priced very affordably, listing at $13.61 for the softcover edition and $9.99 for the Kindle edition. It’s a handy way to obtain the writings of a leading expert in the field.

Study: Nursing school professors face workplace bullying

We know that workplace bullying occurs frequently in health care and in academia. Now, a study published in a recent issue of Nurse Educator brings these two settings together, detailing how faculty at nursing schools are bullied by superiors and peers.

In “Social Bullying in Nursing Academia” (abstract here), nursing school professors Janice Beitz (Rutgers-Camden), Earl Goldberg, Ciara Levine, and Diane Wieland (the latter three from LaSalle University) interviewed 16 mostly non-tenured nursing school professors from around the country who had been targets of workplace bullying. Among the most frequent reported behaviors were defamation, ostracism, threats to physical safety, lying, and unreasonably heavy work demands.

Most commonly, academic administrators bullied junior faculty members, but other instances included peer-to-peer bullying and upward bullying from faculty member to superior administrator.

ScienceDaily carried the Dec. 19 Rutgers news release that provides more details about the study.

You’ll find a lot of related articles on this blog. Here’s a sampler:

UMass Amherst launches campus-wide workplace anti-bullying initiative (2013)

Nurses and workplace bullying (2013)

Keashly and Neuman on workplace bullying in academe (2011)

Workplace bullying in healthcare (2009) (series of 4 articles)

Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven? (2009)


Hat tip: David Wexler

Holiday reflections: The end of limitless possibilities (and that’s good)

Rockefeller Center during NYC's post-Christmas blizzard, 2010 (Photo: DY)

Rockefeller Center, NYC post-Christmas blizzard, Dec. 2010 (Photo: DY)

Like birthdays, end-of-year holidays can be a time for taking stock. However externally prompted, these recurring milestones give us opportunities to look back, assess the present, and peer into the future.

In October 2009, writer Judith Warner blogged for the New York Times (link here) about listening to her daughter sing the title song of the musical Fame:

…I heard Julia’s voice, stronger and more confident than mine: “I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly. (High.)

And one of those all-too-frequent choke-in-the-throat feelings came over me.

This was her song now. Not mine.

The sense of limitless possibility: hers. Vaulting ambition: hers. Anticipation, excitement, discovery, intensity: all hers.

Later in the piece, she laments, “This is the cruelty of middle age, I find: just when things have gotten good — really, really, consistently good — I have become aware that they will end.”

I hope that, for Warner’s sake, she was writing her blog post at a time when she was briefly caught in a down mood. But even her attempt to locate the silver lining sounded a bit sad:

There are trade-offs: intensity versus contentment, exaltation versus peace. And perhaps the best exchange of all: you trade in an idea of yourself for a reality that, if nothing else, can make you laugh.

Ack. Even the top benefit of her “really, consistently good” life today is the ability to chuckle at her current self. I hope that the reality of her middle years has been better than that.

I’m not quite sure why I’m using Warner’s piece as the prompt for a holiday reflection, but obviously it has stuck with me over the years. Although I won’t claim immunity from all of Warner’s lamentations about getting older, I now feel ready to write a response.

True, I now understand Warner’s acknowledgement of our mortality, which for me is also maddeningly accompanied by a recognition that I am finally becoming the best version of myself. With apologies for invoking a sports metaphor, I get that I am fully into the second half of my game, and this “season” lasts for but one match. (Yeah, maybe I’ll come back in another life, but I won’t bank on that.)

That said, among the genuine blessings of the passing of time have been the gaining of authenticity and self-definition. I have been afforded the extraordinary privilege of being able to make choices — hundreds of millions of people in this world are not so fortunate. I have squandered some of that privilege — stupidly at times — but thankfully a kernel of inner wisdom has helped me to narrow down the limitless possibilities, rather than struggling to keep them open.

As I see it, in making the right choices we find the “(a)nticipation, excitement, discovery, [and] intensity” that Warner has now reserved for her young daughter. When that happens, the would’ve beens and could’ve beens — i.e., the roads not taken — don’t matter as much.

I do know of those youthful feelings that Warner writes about. That sense of the world being your oyster, wrapped in a seemingly boundless optimism of things to come. I remember those days well, and sometimes I get nostalgic for them.

But was it ever actually that good? If I’m being honest with myself, I also must acknowledge the piles of anxiety, insecurity, immaturity, and posturing (a kinder way of saying inauthenticity) that were very much a part of my twentysomething self and, umm, beyond. By no means do I assume that all others within those age ranges are similarly afflicted, but such qualities were very much a part of my life during that long stretch of time.

So today I’ve got less hair, more paunch, and my knees creak, but I have a strong sense of what I’m supposed to be doing and that feels good. I now understand Joseph Campbell’s sage advice, follow your bliss. Campbell (1904-87), whose writings and lectures on mythology, faith traditions, and the world’s societies made him a cherished authority on the human experience, suggested that following our bliss will lead us to the life paths that have been awaiting us. When we reach this point, opportunities and connections seem to materialize.

In a popular PBS series of interviews with Bill Moyers, Campbell replied to a Moyers question about whether “hidden hands” guide and facilitate our work once we’ve found our path:

All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you. . . .

As I suggested above, many people are not afforded this opportunity. If life is largely a struggle to obtain food, clothing, and shelter, then it’s awfully hard to pursue one’s higher level aspirations. (Sidebar holiday message: If you’re fortunate to be able to define yourself and your life, rather than be controlled by difficult circumstances, then please find ways to give back as well.)

But I’m guessing that most folks with the ability to read this have some degree of choice about their lives. Of course, some may be struggling to find their deeper purpose, or to recover from setbacks. For these people, especially, here is what I wish for them at this holiday season: Opportunities to discover and follow their bliss, and the wisdom to do so. When that happens, life can get better, much better.


This post was revised in December 2019.

The original version of this post was cross-posted with my personal blog, Musings of a Gen Joneser.

Democratic National Committee: Pay your interns

While Democrats are leading the call for a higher minimum wage, their own Democratic National Committee doesn’t bother paying its interns the current one.

The DNC is currently accepting applications for 2014 internships. The work done by interns may vary, but note how the DNC itself describes interns’ contributions as being “vital” to its daily functioning:

Intern responsibilities and tasks vary depending on department, but all interns play an important role in their departments.  While all interns will perform some administrative tasks, making copies — filing, etc. — the work you do is vital to the day to day functions and department projects DNC staff are working on.  For example:

Communications allows interns to work closely with the media, collecting daily news clips, formatting press releases, and monitoring television appearances by Democratic surrogates.

Unfortunately for those who aren’t from well-to-do families or don’t have other sources of funding, the DNC internships are unpaid. While a small stipend may be available to a limited number of interns, most will have to fend for themselves.

I’m a big supporter of people volunteering to support their favorite candidates. But I also think that office interns for political organizations should be paid for their work. If the DNC wants to widen opportunities for all to see the inner workings of party leadership and to become familiar with this side of the political process, then it will find the money to pay at least the minimum wage to its interns. In doing so, it will send a valuable message about walking the talk.


Hat tip on DNC listing: Ben Pianko

Workplace bullying, unions, and connectivity

In my last post, I reported on the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s very successful symposium on workplace bullying last Friday, which attracted over 500 staff, faculty, and administrators. The event marked the public launch of a multi-year initiative to address workplace bullying on campus.

It appears that four factors contributed to the unexpectedly large turnout: First, a very effective and committed cross-campus Committee on Workplace Climate and Bullying has been working on this issue for three years, and the pieces finally came together for them to do something significant. Second, the symposium, and the initiative generally, have had the strong support of a new Chancellor, whose office encouraged people to attend.

Third, the various UMass unions reached out to their members, urging them to participate. On a campus where most of the workforce is unionized, this organizing and outreach made a huge difference. Many of the organizing committee members are active in their unions, and their connections helped to spread the word.

Unions can do a lot to address workplace bullying, but they are not necessarily a panacea. Over the years, I’ve heard from many people who felt abandoned by their unions when pressing complaints about bullying behaviors. Furthermore, when union members are accused of bullying others, unions are legally obliged to represent their interests. In situations where both the purported target and alleged aggressor are union members, this can be a sticky situation. And let’s acknowledge that the culture within some unions can be very, well, bullying.

Nevertheless, unions can be among the lead players in stopping and preventing workplace bullying. At UMass, a campus of some 7,000 employees with a deeply embedded hierarchical structure, an active union presence provides invaluable networks for workers to communicate across, and occasionally even transcend, occupational categories. This was evident last Friday.

Indeed, as the UMass auditorium swelled with people participating in the symposium, one union leader remarked to me that he had never before been at an event — other than a UMass basketball game — where so many staff, faculty, and administrators were together in the same room.

Finally, a critically important, overarching fourth factor contributed to success: The committee, union members, and UMass leadership worked together to develop and promote this event. I would not be so naive as to call these collaborative efforts the norm at UMass or any other place of work, but this instance gave me real hope that last Friday’s symposium was the start of a very meaningful, impact-making initiative within the university.


Related post

The role of unions and collective bargaining in combating workplace bullying (2009)

UMass Amherst launches campus-wide workplace anti-bullying initiative


Yesterday the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the flagship entity of a major public university system, publicly launched a workplace anti-bullying initiative with a campus symposium that attracted over 500 UMass employees. This remarkable turnout, which included staff, faculty, and administrators, was over triple the number of RSVPs for the event.

This very successful kickoff was the result of some three years of dedicated, steadfast, often very challenging work by a cross-campus Committee on Workplace Climate and Bullying and the strong support of a new Chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, who offered welcoming remarks at the symposium.

I had the privilege of presenting the keynote address, and one of the lasting memories I’ll have is that of standing at the podium and seeing the large auditorium fill with people, with some having to stand even after dozens of extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the overflow.

Other speakers, facilitators, and moderators included committee chair and associate chancellor Susan Pearson, committee members Derek Doughty, Kathy Rhines, Joe Connolly, and Randy Phillis, Representative Ellen Story (lead sponsor of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts), District Attorney David Sullivan, and workplace trainer and consultant Fran Sepler.

Support from the top

Last spring, Scott Merzbach of the Amherst Bulletin reported on Chancellor Subbaswamy’s support for this initiative:

Saying he wants the University of Massachusetts to do better, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has launched a campaign to address workplace bullying.

In a memo sent to faculty and staff this month, Subbaswamy wrote that the university will be taking steps to deal with the bullying at UMass that came to light in a survey released in September.

“While the numbers were consistent with those found at workplaces of all types throughout the country, this is clearly an area in which UMass Amherst aspires to be something much better than average,” Subbaswamy wrote.

In addition to numbers, the survey also featured anonymous comments.

Subbaswamy’s memo cites these “poignant comments” as a reason to move toward eliminating bullying from campus.

The full report on the survey, prepared by Elizabeth Williams and Yedalis Ruiz of the School of Education, can be downloaded here.

Just the start, but an encouraging one

The symposium is just the start for the UMass initiative, and committee members are well aware of the challenges before them in this multi-year effort to stop bullying and to change the campus culture. Among the next steps will be a series of trainings, as well as the development of a campus workplace bullying policy. They also will conduct extended outreach to individual departments.

The committee members have genuine reason to be encouraged. True, the large turnout reflected the seriousness of this problem on campus, but it also demonstrated that many are willing to give this initiative a chance to succeed. Such levels of cross-campus interest and top leadership buy-in are rare. Public acknowledgement of a major problem is a hard thing for many organizations, but UMass did so in a very meaningful way yesterday. It was definitely an inclusive step in the right direction, and UMass has an opportunity to serve as a positive example and model for other schools in the years to come.


I’d like to offer special thanks to the committee members who worked most extensively with me to help develop the keynote address and to host my visit: Derek Doughty, Amy Brodigan, and Joe Connolly.

The symposium was buoyed by active support of many union leaders at UMass Amherst, a public employer that is heavily unionized. I’ll have more thoughts on that in my next post.

Dialogues about dignity, Part III: Claiming and using power to do good

Presenting about workplace bullying at HumanDHS workshop (Photo: Anna Strout)

Presenting about workplace bullying at 2013 HumanDHS workshop, at right (Photo: Anna Strout)

How can those who want to advance human dignity claim and use power toward that good end?

I spent two days last week participating in the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) Network, held at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. The workshop is a global, transdisciplinary gathering of educators, practitioners, and activists devoted to advancing dignity and ending humiliation in our society.

At the end of the workshop, we stood in a circle, and each person shared a closing thought. When it was my turn to speak, I noted that the term “power” was not invoked often during our two days together, and I suggested that we need to summon our personal and collective power to address the societal challenges highlighted so eloquently by the participants.

I’d like to elaborate on my remarks here.

I submit that those of us who have witnessed excesses of power may be wary or downright fearful of it, and with good reason. All too often, power is exercised by those who use it to hurt others. Consequently, many of us have come to associate power with abuse.

To illustrate, I think this apprehension is why some progressives are uncomfortable with the labor movement. Organized labor is about building collective power and exercising it. On occasion it can misuse that power. So, yes, there are trade-offs when even the most valuable social movements and institutions demonstrate their imperfections. However, without a strong labor movement, the prospects of everyday workers are quite perilous. It’s no coincidence that here in the U.S., we’ve witnessed the simultaneous decline of union membership levels and rise of massive wealth inequalities over the past three decades.

My larger point is that such ambivalence can cause us to cede our own power to make positive change. Perhaps some feel comfortable with the term “empowered,” which is more likely to be invoked at gatherings of social activists. But I think we need to face down the beast. We need to build our individual and collective power, exercise it effectively and judiciously, and keep it in check when we are tempted to use it excessively.

I realize that my comments may sound more like a self-help rap than a call for a better world, but I have long believed that artificial dichotomies between individual change and social change cause us to overlook their interrelatedness. Power can be heady stuff, like holding a live wire. Those committed to advancing human dignity should carefully but decisively embrace it and use it.

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