What do sustainable employability and workplace bullying have to do with one another? Not a lot, I concluded, after moderating a stimulating panel on organizational justice and sustainability at this year’s 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.
Presenters Bram Fleuren (Ph.D. student, Maastricht University, Netherlands), Karolus Kraan (researcher, Institute for Applied Sciences, Netherlands), and Dr. Peter Schnall (clinical professor of medicine, UC-Irvine, and expert in work stress and heart disease) presented papers on sustainable work, globalization, and worker health.
Among the topics discussed was the meaning of sustainable employability, which Bram Fleuren defined as one’s employability not being negatively affected by work experiences over time. Peter Schnall added that we should aspire to make people healthier and more employable over time, not the other way around.
That little nugget of conversation resonated strongly with me. During our Q&A, I observed that workplace bullying can have destructive impacts on the sustainable employability of so many targets. This ranges from the challenges of explaining the circumstances behind job departures to prospective employers, to dealing with the health consequences and anxieties spurred by the abusive behaviors themselves.
A century ago in the U.S., manufacturing work and hard labor constituted primary ways of making a living wage, and it led to considerable physical wear and tear. In today’s America, wear and tear on the job is more likely to be associated with stress, and severe behaviors such as bullying are at the tip of that iceberg. As I suggested in a recent post, by the time people reach their 50s, many are being chewed up and spit out by a harsh economic system that no longer has much use for them.
When I introduced the presenters, I noted the small symbolism of their countries of origin. Europe, on balance, has been much more receptive to ideas such as sustainable employment, and so it is fitting that both Bram Fleuren’s and Karolus Kraan’s papers centered on this concept. The U.S. isn’t as enlightened in this way, and so it also was fitting that the American presenter, Peter Schnall, discussed how work contributes to heart disease.
And so, both ideals and realities dovetailed in one neat little 75-minute program.