Dysfunction junction: A round-up of not-so-great management practices

Hello, dear readers! I’ve gathered some recent and not-so-recent blog posts on dysfunctional management practices and related topics. Do any of these fit your workplace? If so, what can we do about it?

Consultants and the “outsourcing of leadership” (2014) — “Take a look around your workplace. Are there consultants buzzing around, addressing practically every major pending concern or decision your organization faces? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then it’s likely that your employer is engaging in what a friend of mine brilliantly calls the ‘outsourcing of leadership.'”

Want better productivity? Fewer, more focused meetings may help (2013) — “Meetings are a necessary piece of organizational life. But good meetings are the exception to the norm. All too often, meetings are giant time and energy suckers. Fewer and smarter meetings would benefit everyone except those who like to sit in a room and yammer.”

“Can we help you with the problems we caused?” The ironies of employee assistance and wellness initiatives (2013) — “In less-than-wonderful workplaces, however, EAPs and wellness initiatives can play an ironic role: They exist in part to deal with the dysfunctional and unhealthy aspects of the organization itself.”

On creating organizational culture: What if your boss simply doesn’t care? (2013) — “But what about bosses who don’t think much at all about the quality of work life within their organizations? What if notions such as supportive work environments, fair compensation structures, and organizational justice don’t cross their radar screens? What if all that matters to them are profits/revenues, avoiding liability, pleasing their boards & superiors, and getting ahead?”

One-way feedback: In-house surveys and the illusion of open decision making (2012) — “A recent conversation at a conference confirmed my suspicions: More organizations are using online, “anonymous” surveys to get feedback from their employees. This practice appears to be especially common during strategic planning or organizational assessment stages.”

Is our psychologically ill economy fueled by psychologically ill business leaders? (2011) — “During the three years I have hosted this blog, I’ve written a lot about the devastating effects that bullying bosses can have on individual psyches and careers. As these commentaries and studies show, many of these individuals also are wreaking havoc on our larger economic and social infrastructures.”

“Strategic planning”: All too often, a time sucking bridge to nowhere (2011) — “My friends in management consulting may toss me out of the visitor’s lounge for saying this, but two words uttered together send a chill up my spine: Strategic planning.”

How lousy organizations treat institutional history (2011) – “Bad organizations avoid accountability by labeling any unjust, unethical, illegal, or simply inept behavior as part of the past. Those who seek discussions of, or explanations for, such actions or behaviors are criticized for dwelling upon the past, even if that past is a relatively recent occurrence.”

Why so many managers are mediocre or bad: They weren’t promoted because they are good leaders (2011) — “This has been a recurring observation, repeated by different individuals in different circles, in person and online: So many people who are in positions of authority were put there for reasons other than their leadership ability.

When bad employers retain thuggish employment lawyers (2011) — “They distort, intimidate, and delay. They take a worker’s minor faults or mistakes and elevate them into major deficiencies. They help their clients sweep horrible behaviors and actions under the rug. They use legal process to deplete, torture, and humiliate everyday workers.”

How about unpaid internships for new managers?

In the face of a burgeoning social and legal movement challenging the widespread practice of unpaid internships, we continue to hear similar defenses of free labor:

  • “Unpaid internships are a great way to gain experience”
  • “It’s a terrific way to get a foot in the door”
  • “This is how we identify the best people to hire later on”
  • “You’ll get awesome networking opportunities”

Okay, let’s take these defenses of unpaid work and extend them up the organizational chart. In other words, if the unpaid internship system works so well for developing entry-level workers, why not apply the underlying logic and practice to budding managers and CEOs as well?

Let’s say, for example, that a company is weighing the hire of a very promising candidate for a mid-level manager position, but that individual has only modest experience in the field and has never held that level of managerial responsibility. Well, under the logic applied to defending unpaid internships at the entry level, why not ask that promising candidate to work for free in an “executive internship” for six months? Even if she doesn’t get an offer of full-time employment, she’ll still have received great experience and networking contacts!

Perhaps that candidate will balk at the prospect of working for free, citing the need to pay for food, housing, kids, and other extravagances. Just tell her, hey, what are you whining about?! You can always scrounge up some money from family and friends, dip into savings, or take a paying gig on the side! And didn’t you hear us on the great experience and networking opportunities?! If you want, we can even arrange for you to get COLLEGE CREDIT that you can apply to your next degree, so long as you’re willing to pay tuition!!!

It would be the same “win-win” cited by defenders of unpaid internships at the entry level, right?! And given the potential harm wrought by bad managers, the higher stakes would seem to justify this approach, yes?!

Reality check

I’ve raised this silly (but logical) suggestion to make my point: Work is work, and it should be compensated, regardless of where it lands on the org chart. Furthermore, anyone who advances to a position with new responsibilities, demands, and challenges is going to be learning — and sometimes receiving formal training — in order to do the job right.

A new manager, even an inexperienced one who will do some serious on-the-job learning, expects to get paid, and rightly so. But we’ve reached the point where in the eyes of some, simply slapping the label of “intern” on entry-level work removes any obligation to render even the minimum wage in return.

It’s time to change this frame.


For readers interested in the legal and policy implications of unpaid internships, I’ve written two law review articles that may be downloaded without charge:

The Legal and Social Movement Against Unpaid InternshipsNortheastern University Law Journal (forthcoming, 2014)

The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns – Connecticut Law Review (2002)

Bullying athletic coaches

Boston University women’s basketball coach Kelly Greenberg faces multiple accusations of severe emotional abuse directed toward some of her players, raising once again the specter of bullying behaviors associated with big-time sports. As reported by Bob Hohler for the Boston Globe:

One basketball player at Boston University said she felt so emotionally damaged by her coach she considered suicide.

Another player said the coach, Kelly Greenberg, treated her so poorly she sought mental health care. And two other players said Greenberg’s emotional abuse ruined their love of the sport.

All four women walked away from the BU women’s basketball team this academic year, an exodus that has renewed questions about Greenberg’s treatment of her student-athletes — and her future at the school.

Although B.U. is launching an inquiry into Greenberg’s overall performance, including the bullying allegations, this apparently is not the first time that numerous players have complained about her alleged mistreatment of them. As further reported by Hohler:

Greenberg faced similar complaints seven years ago, when most of her players reported to BU’s athletic director that Greenberg routinely engaged in unwarranted and damaging personal attacks against them.

Bigger problem

Bullying coaches are nothing new. Famed Indiana University basketball Bobby Knight served as a poster case for such behaviors and eventually lost his job due to his excesses. Knight also happened to be very successful, a claim that not all out-of-control coaches can make.

The allegations directed at Greenberg echo those brought against now former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice. I wrote about the situation last year in piece titled, “Ethical failure at Rutgers: Abusive coach, bad management, questionable lawyering“:

Last week, Rutgers University men’s head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after videotape of his ongoing verbal and physical abuse toward his players went viral. The video is a compilation of Rice at practice sessions, repeatedly yelling at his players (including loud profanities and homophobic slurs), aggressively grabbing and pushing them, and firing basketballs at them.

Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti reportedly knew of the behaviors as early as last summer.  He saw the videotape late last fall, and — after obtaining legal advice and consulting with Rutgers president Robert Barchi — gave Rice a slap on the wrist by suspending him for three games and imposing a fine.

More recently, Jan Hoffman blogged about bullying coaches for the New York Times:

“Most coaches treat their athletes with respect, but bullying is clearly a problem,” said Dr. Kody Moffatt, a pediatrician in Omaha who is on the executive committee of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But it happens more at the elite levels of the game.”

Beyond the “elite”

I might question Dr. Moffatt’s assertion that bullying coaches are found more often in elite athletic circles, though concededly I’m doing so based on personal observations of many years ago.

When I was in high school, we had some coaches who were clearly out of control. One was a Bobby Knight wannabe who threw chairs around when things weren’t going his way. Another was a hotheaded screamer who happened to be a racist to boot. Both of these guys sapped the love of sports from some of the young kids who were on their teams. However, the deference accorded to them at the time meant that they could get away with it. (Both also happened to be lousy coaches.)

Team sports can be excellent character builders, and sometimes players’ actual experiences bear this out. But I also believe there are way, way too many athletic coaches at all levels who get carried away with their roles and are unable to control their volcanic tempers. Those who cannot be supportive, well-behaved adults should not be allowed to coach young people.


Update (4/23/14) — Greenberg has left the team following an internal investigation by Boston University. As reported by Bob Hohler for the Boston Globe:

Boston University has parted ways with women’s basketball coach Kelly Greenberg after four scholarship players said they quit the team last season because Greenberg emotionally abused them.

. . . Todd Klipp, senior counsel at the university, was quoted by BU Today as saying that many of the complaints could not be substantiated, but that “a compelling case was made, based on interviews with the team as a whole, that the manner in which Coach Greenberg interacted with many of her players was incompatible with the expectations and standards for university employees, including our coaches.”


Mixing psychology and law: A brief report from New Orleans


On Friday I gave a short presentation, “How Employment Law and I/O Psychology Exemplify the Value of Law and Psychology Cross-Pollination,” at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) in New Orleans. AP-LS is an affiliate of the American Psychological Association.

Despite the wordy title, my remarks were a conversational effort to build more bridges between the worlds of industrial/organizational psychology and employment law. As an example of how such partnerships can enrich both law and psychology, I discussed my recent work with the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence in helping to develop a webpage and educational video on workplace bullying and my ongoing participation in the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference co-sponsored by the APA.

I was part of a panel that examined how AP-LS can attract more participation from lawyers and legal academicians. My fellow panelists were all noteworthy members of the therapeutic jurisprudence community: Law professors David Wexler, Michael Perlin, and Heather Ellis-Cucolo, and psychologist Astrid Birgden.

AP-LS presidential address

I was delighted that our panel was preceded by a morning address by AP-LS president Jennifer Skeem, who urged the organization to become more innovative and broad-ranging in its appeal and its work. Her talk was largely an elaboration upon these three points:

  • “Target a broader audience” — This includes legislators and policy makers.
  • “Tackle bigger problems” — The AP-LS should practice its mission to advance individual well-being, justice, and human rights.
  • “Make ‘interdisciplinary’ real” — The AP-LS should interact more with legal scholars, public policy analysts, and scientists.

Dr. Skeem’s remarks set the stage nicely for our panel discussion later that afternoon. I hope that we made a strong case for greater collaboration between psychologists and lawyers.


David Wexler and Michael Perlin will be among those speaking in Boston on Friday, April 11, as part of a symposium on therapeutic jurisprudence. For more details, see my blog post from last Monday.

The dignity of a living wage

Across America, labor activists and other progressives are calling for a higher federal minimum wage, often citing the personal financial challenges that confront low-paid retail and fast food workers. The current minimum wage is $7.25/hour, though some states have adopted a slightly higher one. Advocates are calling for a new minimum wage ranging from $10.00 to $15.00 an hour.

Whenever a minimum wage hike is proposed or debated, opponents claim that doing so will reduce jobs. At the far end of that spectrum, virulent opponents of any minimum wage law claim that such government mandates are “job killers.”

Yes, I suppose if you got rid of the princely $7.25/hour minimum wage, you could take the same hourly rate and pay three people $2.00/hour and still have a $1.25/hour as a bonus for the CEO. But that’s not “job creation,” it’s exploitation. Take away the minimum wage and you get a labor situation like that in Bangladesh, where wealthy corporations pay factory workers a pittance and subject them to dangerous working conditions. (After all, American factory jobs moved overseas to avoid paying workers good wages and benefits!)

Current minimum wage and low-wage earners often find themselves having to access public benefits such as food stamps to get by. The low minimum wage means, in effect, that American taxpayers are indirectly subsidizing corporations such as Walmart and McDonald’s and their shareholders by supporting living expenses for workers who can’t afford to live on their paltry paychecks alone.

Above all, we need to frame this debate in terms of human dignity. Okay, so maybe that high school senior from an upper middle class family who works part-time to earn spare cash can get by on $7.25/hour. But for those supporting themselves and others, a full-time job at least should pay for the basics. In fact, let’s remember that Congress’s intent behind enacting the federal minimum wage law during the heart of the Great Depression of the 1930s was to provide a living wage. It’s a shame that we have to invoke the hardship of our last systemic economic meltdown to remind ourselves of that.

April 11 Boston program: How can we create psychologically healthier legal systems?

At a time when levels of unhappiness within the legal profession run high, and litigants’ experiences with the legal system are often stressful and unpleasant, an April 11 symposium at Suffolk University Law School will examine how legal practice and legal proceedings can be made psychologically healthier for all involved.

The symposium, titled “The Study and Practice of Law in a Therapeutic Key: An Introduction to Therapeutic Jurisprudence,” will be held on Friday, April 11, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, in downtown Boston.  It is sponsored by the school’s New Workplace Institute.

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is a school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic aspects of the law, legal practice, and legal profession.  TJ has attracted the interest of practicing lawyers, judges, law professors, and law and graduate students.  The Suffolk workshop will feature law professors from the U.S. and Canada presenting TJ perspectives on legal practice, including legal writing and drafting, appellate advocacy, and specific fields such as mental health law, criminal law, employment law, tort law, and trusts & estates law.

“Too many lawyers are stressed out in their practices, and too many members of the public have terrible experiences with our legal systems, even when they win,” said Suffolk law professor David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute and organizer of the conference.  “Therapeutic jurisprudence is part of a solution that fosters psychologically healthier legal systems, legal results, and lawyers,” he added.

The symposium is designed for lawyers, law teachers, and law students, but members of the public are invited as well.


10:00 a.m. Welcome

  • Prof. David Yamada, Suffolk University Law School
  • Assoc. Dean Patrick Shin, Suffolk University Law School

10:15 a.m. — Panel 1: Applying to TJ to law teaching, legal writing, and drafting

  • Hon. Michael Jones, Arizona Summit Law School — “Teaching Therapeutic Jurisprudence”
  • Prof. Shelley Kierstead, York University, Osgoode Hall — “Legal Writing, TJ, and Professionalism”
  • Prof. Amy Ronner, St. Thomas University Law School — “Lessons from Bartleby the Scrivener for an Appellate Practice Clinic”
  • Prof. David Wexler, University of Puerto Rico School of Law — “The Emotional and Legal Benefits of Reforming Legal Forms”
  • Discussant: Prof. Kathleen Elliott Vinson, Suffolk University Law School, and President, Association of Legal Writing Directors

12:00 noon — Light Lunch

  • Speaker: Prof. David Wexler, TJ co-founder — “The Creation, Present, and Future of Therapeutic Jurisprudence”

1:00 p.m. — Panel 2: Applying TJ to legal practice areas

  • Prof. Mark Glover, University of Wyoming College of Law — “The Solemn Moment: Expanding Therapeutic Jurisprudence Throughout Estate Planning”
  • Prof. Michael Perlin, New York Law School — “’There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere’: How TJ can bring voice to the teaching of mental disability and criminal law”
  • Prof. Amanda Peters, South Texas College of Law — “TJ and Mental Health Courts”
  • Prof. Gabriel Teninbaum, Suffolk University Law School — “Putting Patients First in the Aftermath of Medical Malpractice”
  • Prof. David Yamada, Suffolk University Law School — “Employment Law, Stress, and Employee Well-Being”

2:30 p.m. Closing remarks

  • Prof. David Yamada


The workshop will be held at Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, in downtown Boston.

To Register

Registration (including a light lunch) is free, but space is limited. To register, please send an e-mail to Patricia McLaughlin at tmclaughlin@suffolk.edu by Wednesday, April 9 with “TJ Conference” in the subject line and include in the text your name, affiliation, and e-mail address.

For more on the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence, go to the network website.

New WBI workplace bullying survey: Men bully more than women, and women are most frequent bullying targets

The latest Workplace Bullying Institute public opinion survey on workplace bullying in the U.S., summarized here last week, yielded a number of useful, albeit unsurprising, findings concerning gender:

  • Men are 69% of the perpetrators and females are 31%;
  • When men bully, females are 57% of targets and males are 43%;
  • When women bully, females are 68% of targets and males are 32%;
  • Overall, women are 60% of bullying targets and men are 40%.

These figures largely affirm previous statistical trends on workplace bullying and gender breakdowns.

The 2014 WBI survey, done in conjunction with Zogby Analytics, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults in late January. A full 17-page summary of the survey findings is available in pdf format here.


Kerri Stone’s work on gender and workplace bullying

These results underscore the relevance of Prof. Kerri Stone’s (Florida International University) 2009 law review article on gender considerations concerning workplace bullying. (You may access the article abstract and pdf here.)

Previous post

I attempted to piece together my thoughts on the challenging question of female-to-female bullying in this 2011 blog post, “Female-to-female workplace bullying: Homespun theory on an imperfect storm.”

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