The poisonous nature of too much of our online dialogue


Yesterday,’s Charlotte Wilder, writing against the backdrop of severe controversy and unrest over the deaths of black men in police custody (especially current events in Baltimore), claimed that Facebook is the best medium for identifying one’s racist friends and family members. Here’s a snippet of how Wilder (a white female, if anyone is curious) started:

Facebook is the best tool for sniffing out racists among your friends and family.

It’s like the metal detector of who’s a total jerk. . . .

The recent uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody—as well as the national protests over the police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner last year—showed that a lot of the kids who sat behind you in high school are actually kind of terrible.

The piece goes on to describe the kinds of posted comments that Wilder finds racist and offensive.

I could’ve predicted what the online responses would sound like. You know when you read something on the computer, and you’re thinking, uh oh, this is not going to go well. If you scroll through the comments, you’ll see that I was not disappointed. A heartfelt but somewhat snarky column predictably is yielding a lot of sharp and angry responses.

Sadly, we’ve become used to that level of uncivil online dialogue. That’s bad enough, but the comments that really give me the creeps are those that validate Wilder’s bigger concerns about race and difference, such as this one posted in response to her piece:


Whoa! And get the person’s nom-de-Net, which I’m guessing has been inspired by Germany of the late 1930s. (Nice “picture” too…)

And that, folks, is what we’re too often dealing with in our online world.

Personally, I find these deaths of black men involving police officers deeply disturbing. These situations, plus the widely differing public reactions, prove to me once again how claims that we have become a so-called “post-racial society” are way off the mark. The topic of race remains one of America’s biggest challenges. That said, I won’t attempt to stuff all the dynamics of something so difficult and complex into a few hundred words here. There’s too much that I don’t know.

I have yet to unfriend anyone on my Facebook account for what they’ve said about these deaths and the subsequent protests and destruction, and I hope that no one has done so for me. But when feelings run this hot, and social media platforms allow us to instantaneously share them (often anonymously), the loaded, hostile tones of exchange are not surprising.

Recycling: Five years of April

Each month I’m reaching into the archives to highlight a piece from that month for each of the past five years. Especially for those of you who missed them the first time around, I hope they provide interesting and useful reading. For each post I’m including a short excerpt; you may click on the title for the full article.

April 2014: FX’s “The Americans”: Putting on masks at work —  “On the surface, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are your basic well-scrubbed American couple, living with their two kids, Paige and Henry, in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb right outside of Washington D.C. . . . In reality, however, they are KGB sleeper agents who blend the facade of their everyday lives with serious, often deadly intelligence work. The other day, it hit me that ‘The Americans,’ however unintentionally, is all about putting on masks at work. Elizabeth and Philip must wear these masks almost all the time, even with their kids.”

April 2013: 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. . . . (I)t’s clear that Rutgers mishandled the situation at every level.”

April 2012: Workplace bullying 2.0: Psychology and mental health — “Of all the major disciplines relevant to studying, preventing, responding to workplace bullying, the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and its emerging sibling, occupational health psychology, rank first in terms of research and practice. . . . Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those seeking information on counseling and therapy for bullying targets.”

April 2011: Getting back at a bad boss — “Let’s say your boss sexually harassed a co-worker to the point where she quit her job to avoid further advances. Is it acceptable for you to retaliate against the boss?”

April 2010: Adversity, resilience, and trust — “Folks who demonstrate the ability to recover from serious challenges and setbacks often gain a special wisdom. It’s as if an authenticity switch was turned on. You can talk to them about real stuff and they get it. This quality, by the way, cuts across demographic, social, and political diversities. By comparison, too many of the overly sheltered are prone to superficial thinking, act in an entitled way, and have a seeming inability to empathize. They are great cheerleaders but can make for bad leaders.”

“Bullying on another level”: Native American actors walk off set of Adam Sandler production

Screenshot from

Screenshot of script portion, from

Last week, a group of Native American actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler production for Netflix, “The Ridiculous Six,” on grounds that the attempted parody of the Old West is demeaning and insulting to Native Americans. They were joined by the project’s cultural advisor.

Alyssa Rosenberg, pop culture writer for the Washington Post, wrote a piece praising the bravery of the actors, especially given the paucity of parts for Native Americans in the movies. I agree. Putting myself in the actors’ positions, I would find it humiliating to utter those lines. (If someone wrote something like that for Asian Americans, I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.)

Netflix claims that the diverse characters are “in on” the jokes, which would make a difference if true. However, as the script segment posted by the Indian Country Today Media Network illustrates, Netflix has it very wrong. In making fun of Native Americans, it wreaks of unfunny sexual and toilet humor, using supposedly humorous terms such as “chi wat” and “chungo,” that — at least according to my Google search — aren’t part of any Indian language. (For more of the same, see these script portions shared by Jordan Sargent on

In a video clip posted with Rosenberg’s piece, actor Loren Anthony called the experience “bullying on another level.” Maybe his use of the term is different than how I typically employ it on this blog, but his point is well taken. One can easily understand why the actors stood up for their dignity and left the production.

Especially when it comes to racial and ethnic humor, there is an extraordinarily fine line between genuine parody and the furthering of demeaning stereotypes. Only the most gifted comedy writers can pull it off.

Mel Brooks, as exemplified by “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” is among that small, gifted group. Adam Sandler is not. He should go back to making the vacuous movies that are his calling card, but hopefully with less offensive content.

As for Netflix, this is a disappointment. They’ve led the way on streaming productions, but this one is a tasteless clunker in the making.

Our heroes: Emulating their best qualities vs. basking in their reflected glow

When it comes to our heroes, do we try to emulate their best qualities, or do we simply bask in their reflected glow?

I submit that the way in which we relate to our heroes says a lot about us as individuals. In a 2013 article, I mentioned a few of my heroes and added:

From these heroes and others, I continually draw lessons and inspiration, and I am a better person today as a result. Isn’t the power of example one of the most special long-term gifts provided by any real hero?

Of course, if our heroes are historic, iconic figures, then they may seem other worldly and beyond our limited capacities to emulate. However, if we dig deeper, we often find that they have confronted very human struggles during their lives. To illustrate, last week I wrote in my personal blog about my long-time fascination with Abraham Lincoln. I observed that what attracts me to his story is not the Lincoln of myth, but rather the Lincoln who struggled with depression and bore a heavy emotional burden as President during America’s Civil War.

Lessons and inspirations

Whether a hero is a family member, friend, work colleague, or public figure, knowing their story will help us to draw lessons and inspirations that we can apply to our own lives. These applications may not earn us wide recognition or renown, but in small and sometimes large ways, they can help us make a positive difference to others.

For example, I recently had an exchange with a long-time friend who told me that his devotion to Lincoln goes back decades. Although his life path and Lincoln’s are obviously very different, I see in him qualities of good judgment, self-discipline, humor, and understated generosity that I associate with Lincoln.

In other words, it’s about manifesting “heroic” qualities in our everyday lives and deeds.

The disconnect

By contrast, I’ve also encountered people whose actions and behaviors have been at stark odds with those of their professed heroes. In my previous post, I mentioned Winston Churchill. I am reminded of someone I knew who worshipped Churchill and claimed to have read many books by and about Sir Winston. Nevertheless, in his position as a manager, he raised bureaucratic, inside-the-box thinking to an art form and would follow virtually any directive from above, no matter how wrongheaded or hurtful to others, with scant protest or question.

Sadly, I think this fellow equated admiring Winston Churchill with possessing some of Churchill’s best qualities. Um, let’s just say that the disconnection was quite profound.

The better approach

Okay, so obviously we don’t want to become a clone of my faux-Churchill acquaintance. However, if we unforgivingly hold ourselves to the standards of our heroes, then at times we may fall short and possibly engage in a lot of self-blame.

The better approach, I think, is to learn from their examples, to hold ourselves accountable to the standards we embrace, and to keep moving forward. For most of us, it’s the best we can do, and that’s not a bad thing. 

When dealing with abusive work environments, the terrible “ifs” may accumulate

When Winston Churchill was the First Sea Lord of the British Navy during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, he observed that “the terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate.” While fully admitting that I’m borrowing his quote out of context, I find the words ever so relevant to many of those who are dealing with abusive work environments, especially in the form of workplace bullying.

In nasty work environments, one’s mind may start to race with possibilities, and few of them are good. Hence,”the terrible ‘ifs’,” which also dovetail hard with the understandable tendency of many people in bad work settings to ruminate over their situations. As I wrote back in February:

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

The constant rumination may include imagining a parade of horrible possibilities…what if thiswhat if that. It may fuel a form of “catastrophizing,” whereby “we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong,” as Dr. John Grohol explains for

In some cases, the perpetrators of the abusive conduct may intend this effect. Overall, it’s about keeping people guessing, fearful, and always looking over their shoulders.

If you find yourself in such a workplace, try to keep your wits about you, even in the face of stress and anxiety. As I’ve written many times about bad work situations, this is much easier said than done. Nevertheless, while bad things can and do happen, rarely do all of the terrible ifs occur in unison. In some cases, it’s possible to mitigate the risks by assessing the options and taking smart actions.

“Should I support that Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?”

Screen shot of Indiegogo home page

Screen shot of Indiegogo home page

The growth of “crowdfunding” or “crowdsourcing” sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo has created a sort of privatized lottery system, whereby if you can design the right appeal for a product, cause, or someone in need, and it happens to gain momentum, then you may be buoyed by monies from complete strangers over the course of a few weeks.

To be sure, most crowdfunding campaigns do not go viral and do not raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite occasional news stories suggesting that if you merely ask for it, then it will come. Many campaigns fail dismally. (Hence, the lottery-like quality to the whole deal.) However, crowdfunding has evolved into a viable option for entrepreneurs, social causes, and personal appeals.

If you Google around a bit, you’ll find plenty of advice on how to design a crowdfunding campaign. But what if you’re on the receiving end of those requests? Over the last year, I’ve looked at several dozen crowdfunding campaign requests, either through sites such as the ones mentioned above, or via more informal means such as Facebook.

At times, I will happily support a crowdfunding campaign for a good cause, interesting new product, or an individual facing tough times. On other occasions I might decide not to contribute.

For what it’s worth — and I’m not claiming to be the first or last word on this — here’s what I look for when approached by a crowdfunding appeal:

1. Above all, is the request a legitimate one? There are so many factors that go into this assessment, including the individuals involved, the nature of the funding request, and the information provided in the crowdfunding appeal.  This question pervades many other considerations discussed below.

Whether it’s supporting a niche business idea, helping to launch new social venture, or lending a hand to someone in need, I want my contribution to have a positive impact. While this applies specially to larger amounts of money, it’s relevant even if we’re talking about modest donations.

The integrity of a crowdfunding campaign depends in large part on its sponsor(s). Are they identified? Do they have an online presence? If you don’t know them or of them, can you otherwise verify the legitimacy of the request?

2. Is the funding campaign “fixed” or “flexible”? A fixed campaign specifies that if the minimum listed amount isn’t raised, then no one will be charged. By contrast, a flexible campaign takes your money even if the stated dollar goal isn’t reached. I tend to favor fixed campaigns because they tell me that the sponsor is confident in the appeal and its chances of success.

In considering an appeal from a high dollar flexible campaign, I will weigh whether (a) it’s an organization or individual I know; (b) the appeal (including the amount) is realistic and well articulated, and (c) I strongly support the project on its merits. At times, if a flexible campaign seems promising but perhaps overly ambitious or not too well thought out, then I’ll wait to see if it’s attracting a lot of support. If not, there’s a chance that others have the same concerns.

Let’s suppose, for example, that someone is asking for $25,000 for a project on a flexible funding basis. If, say, my $75 contribution is part of only $1,000 raised in total, then I may feel like a bit of a chump, having sent money to a project that isn’t even close to having sufficient funds to go ahead. On the other hand, I may so strongly believe in the project and its sponsor(s) that I will quickly make a contribution, knowing that they will use the money wisely even if they fall short of their fundraising goal.

3. Is there a sufficiently detailed budget? I want to know how the money will be used. I’ve read compelling appeals that are specific and detailed. I’ve read others for amounts around $5,000, $25,000, or even (yup) $100,000 that tell me very little. Guess who is more likely to get my contribution?

When foundations consider grant applications, they typically required a fairly detailed budget. Having both written and evaluated grant proposals, I know that writing out these budgets can be a pain, and frankly there’s often some guesswork involved. Nevertheless, it’s about transparency and accountability. Likewise, crowdfunded campaigns should provide a budget, too. If someone is asking for money in a public way, it is reasonable to expect some specificity concerning how the funds will be used.

4. If it’s a personal appeal for, or behalf of, an individual in need, then how credible does it sound? This is a difficult question, loaded with personal biases relating to who is “deserving” of help, and subject to the narrative skills of the person(s) writing the funding appeal.

Here are the personal appeals that cause me to back away fast: They tend to ask for larger sums of money, often five or six figures or more. Some sound excessive or suggest a failure to explore options. A few smack of The Secret on hallucinogens; it’s as if someone sat down and thought, I sure could use $100,000, so let’s go for it and maybe my request goes viral.

However, especially in this age of massive wealth inequality, economic uncertainty, and a frazzled social safety net, it’s also true that a lot of people are struggling to pay their bills and to put food on their tables. We should keep our hearts open to personal appeals, while considering them carefully.

5. What do the perks, if any, say about the attractiveness and integrity of the funding request? On occasion I’ve funded something because the perk(s) offered seemed pretty cool. Maybe a perk includes the very product I’d like to support. Or perhaps it gives me a good feeling of connection with the people organizing the campaign.

On other occasions I’ve declined to fund something because the perk(s) seemed cheesy or, well, insincere. By the latter, I mean that the perks were somewhat contrived and, in some cases, appeared to be deliberately difficult to fulfill. If, say, a $500 donation to a national campaign gets you a face-to-face cup of coffee with the project organizer, but you have to fly halfway across the country on your dime for that latte, then this should tell you something about the campaign sponsor’s regard for potential contributors — regardless of whether you can afford that level of support.

6. Is the funding request on behalf of an abused animal, or a beloved pet who needs expensive surgery? Put a sad looking little doggie or kitty cat on the funding page with a cry for help, and my critical evaluative skills often go out the window. Unless the critter is Cujo, I’m fumbling through my wallet for my credit card. Yup, I’m a sucker.


This post was revised in December 2015.

The bullying consumer: Is there a little bit of Britt McHenry in most of us?

ESPN sideline reporter Britt McHenry is paying a price for contemptuously berating an attendant at a towing company, an act that was caught on the company’s security camera and has now gone viral:

If you haven’t clicked to the one-minute video, here are some of the “highlights” of McHenry’s verbal beatdown of the attendant, as reported by Clinton Yates for the Washington Post:

  • “That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”
  • “That’s all you care about is just taking people’s money. With no education, no skill-set. Just wanted to clarify that.”
  • “Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
  • “Maybe if I was missing some teeth, they would hire me here, huh?”
  • “Lose some weight, baby girl.”

McHenry has apologized for her actions, and ESPN has suspended her for a week. It’s hard to say whether the story will last beyond a news cycle or two, but for today it’s making the rounds.

A lesson for all of us?

Yup, Britt McHenry appears to be the classic Mean Girl: Beautiful until she starts talking off-camera, the quintessential hot horror show.

But before we make her out to be the blonde Charles Manson, let’s dig a little deeper into the story. As the Post‘s Clinton Yates further reports, the towing company in question, Advanced Towing, has a less than wonderful reputation for numerous incidents of allegedly inappropriate towing. And generally speaking, it’s unlikely that any of us would be in the best of moods after chasing down a towed car and having to pay to get it back.

Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between being an unhappy or even angry consumer and verbally abusing a receptionist, attendant, or customer service rep for policies and practices that likely trace up to senior management. A few of McHenry’s comments might be excused as venting over a frustrating experience, but the remarks about the attendant’s education, appearance, and employment were plain mean and nasty.

In the couple of news stories I’ve read about this incident that also have included information about the towing company’s reputation, I’ve found the reader comments remarkably evenhanded. Many seem to understand that even when dealing with a not-so-great company or organization, there’s a difference between showing displeasure over the service and savagely personalizing the criticism toward the lower-level employee who is just following instructions.

For me, it’s an important reminder for the next time I have to call my cable TV company: Don’t be a jerk. While I’ve never treated any employee the way Britt McHenry treated that attendant, I’ve lost my temper a couple of times over the years trying to deal with the cable company, to the point where I’ve apologized to the customer service rep for being so agitated.

Now when I pick up the phone to call the company, I coach myself ahead of time to not take out any frustrations on the person at the other end. I tell myself, they’re not the ones who created such lousy customer service. Even the folks who are reading off of a script are doing so because they were trained that way.

Plus, if you’ve ever worked in the retail service industry, then you may know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an angry customer’s tirade. Especially if that behavior crosses the line, it’s no fun, and it can feel very diminishing.

Workplace bullies can wear many hats, including that of consumer. Let’s try not to be one of those.

David Brooks and his “moral bucket list”


In a piece for Sunday’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks writes about “The Moral Bucket List,” a sort of personal reckoning he has experienced about the importance of leading a meaningful, positively impactful life:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. . . . When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

He goes on to talk about two main sets of virtues:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.

A life built primarily around the résumé virtues, suggests Brooks, will prove to be a more empty one.

Brooks’s moral bucket list is comprised of the “experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life.” They include a shift toward humility, confronting self-defeat and our own weaknesses, accepting “redemptive assistance from outside,” experiencing and giving “energizing love” with others, finding our callings, and embracing a sense of conscience.

In his opinion piece, he introduces exemplars of these virtues, such as General and President Dwight Eisenhower overcoming a severe temper, Catholic social activist Dorothy Day surmounting an early life of indulgence and reckless behavior, and U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins deciding to devote her life to workers’ rights.

It’s an excellent article, very appropriate and wise for the age in which we live.

On the political scale, Brooks is regarded as a moderate to conservative commentator. Yet, to his great credit, he cites the lives and examples of men and women spanning a broad political and social spectrum, both in the article and in his new book that expounds upon these ideas and stories, The Road to Character (2015). Brooks’s article caused me to run out and buy the book, and my preliminary page flips tell me that it will be a worthwhile read.

Positive echoes

Brooks’s moral bucket list concept intersects nicely with the messages of other authors I’ve written about, who urge upon us the importance of finding our life purposes, living compassionate lives, and making a positive difference with the time we are here. I think these works are most resonant to those in the second half of life (or close to it), but anyone may benefit from them. For more:

Defining, refining, creating, and redefining your “body of work” (2015)

Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments (2014)

Holiday reads: Fueling heart, mind, and soul (2014)

“The Shift: Ambition to Meaning” (2014)

Transitions and inner callings (2014)

“Follow your bliss”? Parsing Joseph Campbell’s famous advice (2012)

What’s your legacy work? (And how can you de-clutter way to it?) (2011)


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Working Notes: Upcoming speaking appearances and a nice kudo

Hello dear readers, I wanted to quickly share a few items about upcoming speaking appearances, as well as a surprise kudo.

The Mara Dolan Show, Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Today (Monday) at around 10:30 a.m. eastern I’ll be making my second appearance this year on the Mara Dolan Show, 980 WCAP radio in Massachusetts. I’ll be giving an update on the status of the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State and talking about therapeutic jurisprudence, the school of legal thought that examines the psychological impacts of law, public policy, and legal systems.

I was a guest on Mara’s show in January, talking about workplace bullying, and I enjoyed our conversation very much. She’s a highly respected, very knowledgeable political commentator with a background in law and social work.

[4/15/15 Editor’s Note: You may listen to the segment, about 12 minutes, here.]

Work, Stress, and Health Conference, Atlanta, May 2015

This is a repeat of an earlier note that I’ll be presenting at one of my favorite events, the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference will be held on May 6-9 in Atlanta.

I’ll chairing and presenting on two symposium panels, one on the impact of emerging workplace bullying legislation on employee relations stakeholders (with Gary Namie, Ellen Pinkos Cobb, and Maureen Duffy), and another on coaching as an intervention strategy for workplace bullying (with John-Robert Curtin, Ivonne Moreno-Velazquez, and Jessi Eden Brown).

In addition, I just accepted an invitation to moderate a panel on organizational justice featuring Karolus O. Kraan, Bram P. I. Fleuren, and Dr. Peter L. Schnall.

International Congress of Law and Mental Health, Vienna, Austria, July 2015

I’ll be taking a long plane flight to Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a biennial, global gathering of academicians, practitioners, judges, and students hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health on July 12-17. I’ll be on a panel that examines how therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) perspectives can be integrated into law teaching and legal education. My paper will examine how TJ can be included in continuing legal education programs for practicing attorneys.

Top 30 list

Last week, I was doing some online research on workplace bullying when I found this feature by Dr. Tanja Babic, “The 30 Most Influential Industrial and Organizational Psychologists Alive Today,” on Human Resources MBA, a website and blog for individuals interested in training and degree programs in HR work. I was delighted to see Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute listed at No. 5. Gary’s contributions to our understanding of workplace bullying have been singular and definitive.

I scrolled down the rest of the list and was stunned to find myself at No. 30. Especially given that my formal training is in law and public policy, I am honored to be included on a list of influential people in I/O psychology.

Here’s the January 2015 news release announcing the article and listing.

Unemployed at midlife, “faking normal”…and sometimes bullied, too

Screenshot from Next

Screenshot from Next (Photo: DY)

In a plaintive commentary posted on Next Avenue earlier this year, Lizzy White writes about professional, middle-aged women who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet as they search for work:

You know her.

She is in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight.

She is 55, broke and tired of trying to keep up appearances. Faking normal is wearing her out.

To look at her, you wouldn’t know that her electricity was cut off last week for non-payment or that she meets the eligibility requirements for food stamps. Her clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good times when she was still making money.

To be sure, the effects of the economic meltdown that began some seven years ago continue to be felt by men and women in almost every income level and vocational category. But those of my generation (late Boomers in their 50s), and notably unmarried women within that group, have felt its impact especially hard, with livelihoods and careers interrupted or ended at what should be periods of peak earning potential. White continues:

She lives without cable, a gym membership and nail appointments. She’s discovered she can do her own hair.

There are no retirement savings, no nest egg; she exhausted that long ago. There is no expensive condo from which to draw equity and no husband to back her up.

Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated her credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script, expressing polite sympathy for her plight — before demanding payment arrangements that she can’t possibly meet.

White provides more facts and figures to document the income disparities and disproportionate caregiving responsibilities that often put women in a less advantaged position than their male counterparts. It’s an important piece, and the comments posted below it are worth reading as well, including those who rightly point out that middle-aged men who have experienced job losses are facing these circumstances, too.

The bullying effect

This topic intersects with workplace bullying, because middle-aged workers endure a lot of it. When work abuse culminates in their termination or departure, they often face multi-level challenges in trying to pull themselves together and obtain new employment.

Two years ago, I summarized Workplace Bullying Institute instant poll results showing that workers in the 40s and 50s are frequent bullying targets. The poll asked visitors to the WBI website who have experienced workplace bullying to respond to a single question, “How old were you when the bullying at work began?” WBI collected 663 responses and reported the following:

The average age was 41.9 years. Targets in their 40’s comprised 30% of all targets; in their 50’s were 26.4%; under 30 years of age were 21.3%; those in their 30’s were 18.9%. The prime productive years are also the prime years for being [targeted] for bullying.

Five years ago, I suggested that unmarried women may be specially vulnerable to being bullied at work, especially if they have kids:

Let’s start with the observation that truly abusive bullies often have a knack for sniffing out vulnerable individuals. Then we look at potential targets: Demographically speaking, is there any group more vulnerable than single women raising kids? They already are juggling work and caregiving, their schedules seem timed down to the minute, and not infrequently they are struggling financially — especially if there is no father in the picture.

Unmarried women without children may not be as economically desperate to hold onto their jobs, but they can be very vulnerable as well. Women in general remain underpaid compared to male counterparts. Those who came out of busted marriages may have re-entered the workforce later in life. In any event, they are less likely to have someone to fall back on if bullied out of a job.

Over the years, I’ve encountered many women in their 50s who have been bullied out of their jobs and then face the daunting challenges of recovering from the experience in terms of psychological well-being, employment, and personal finances. For those individuals, “faking normal” may require wearing a mask that feels like a heavy weight, in addition to carrying the burdens of their situations generally.

Sad, disturbing stuff

This makes for pretty unpleasant and unsettling reading, especially if you’re on the north side of 50. These challenges are hitting my generation of late Boomers especially hard.

Decades ago, many of us entered the workforce in the heart of a severe recession. At the same time, employers were cutting back or eliminating pensions and other benefit plans. For those going to school, loans were supplanting need-based grants and scholarships as the primary form of financial aid.

And now this group has experienced an even more severe economic downturn during the heart of what should be its peak earning years.

It distresses me greatly that we have not summoned the collective will to make this a major political and public policy issue. What will it take to make it so?

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