Accumulating stuff and more stuff: Are Millennials breaking the pattern?

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Jura Koncius writes for the Washington Post on a trend observed by auctioneers, personal organizers, and downsizing coaches: Millennials aren’t that interested in inheriting all the material possessions that their parents and others want to hand down to them:

Members of the generation that once embraced sex, drugs and rock-and-roll are trying to offload their place settings for 12, family photo albums and leather sectionals.

Their offspring don’t want them.

As baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, start cleaning out attics and basements, many are discovering that millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are not so interested in the lifestyle trappings or nostalgic memorabilia they were so lovingly raised with.

For now, at least, the Millennials don’t need or want all that stuff. As to why, Koncius quotes professional organizer Scott Roewer:

“Millennials are living a more transient life in cities. They are trying to find stable jobs and paying off loans . . . . They are living their life digitally through Instagram and Facebook and YouTube, and that’s how they are capturing their moments. Their whole life is on a computer; they don’t need a shoebox full of greeting cards.”

So will Millennials be the generation that breaks the constant cycle of accumulation?

I think it’s too early to say. Right now it’s fair to presume that life circumstances are influencing Millennial attitudes toward material possessions as much as anything else. Finishing school, geographic transience, economic pressures, and a challenging job market all enter the picture. Furthermore, as the Pew Research Center recently reported, “for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” 

It also may be the case, as suggested in the Koncius piece, that Millennials are more likely to live in a digital mode, one less tied to accumulating material possessions. I’d like to think, or at least hope, that maybe they have wizened up to the fact that experiences, not possessions, tend to generate more individual happiness — something that many members of preceding generations have not necessarily understood.

In any event, if this trend hardens into a generational lifestyle choice, then it may be a healthy development for society overall. Speaking as an inveterate collector attempting to downsize my own belongings, I know that we’d be better off shaking the accumulation habit. It does mean, however, that thrift shops may overflow with unwanted stuff from empty-nested McMansions. Those giant dining room tables may just have to be sawed down into kindling.

The Orlando nightclub massacre and our American realities

Cropped screenshot from the Orlando Sentinel website

Screenshot from the Orlando Sentinel website

Our latest American tragedy is a mass shooting with fifty fatalities and over fifty casualties, the result of a one-man rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The unfolding facts suggest that the attacker, a native-born American citizen, was motivated by both an affinity for ISIS and a hatred of gays.

Already many pundits, politicians, and spin doctors are trying to attribute this to a single cause, but I hope we are too smart to fall for their lines. Yes, this is about a significant, ongoing terrorist threat posed by ISIS. Yes, this is about the fact that our LGBT brothers and sisters remain specially vulnerable to acts of hatred and violence. And yes, these shootings were perpetrated by someone who had previously drawn the attention of the FBI, yet was able to walk into a store and buy assault weapons. It all matters, and it all should be a part of America’s national discussion.

Although large-scale shootings may be a distinctly American form of violence, terrorism is not. We share with many of our fellow citizens of the world the experience of terrorist attacks. This is likely to remain our global reality for the foreseeable future.

The Orlando massacre occurs in the midst of an ugly, petty, vulgar presidential campaign. Our economy is shaky, a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet, and climate change poses a terrible threat to our planet and its people. At times, it feels like we’re coming apart at the seams. Previous generations have faced times equally or more dire, however, so it’s up to us to step up and help turn things around. It won’t be easy, but we have no other acceptable choice.

Are ethical employees more likely to be workplace bullying targets?

(Image courtesy of Clipart Panda)

(Image courtesy of Clipart Panda)

Over the past few months, I’ve had several conversations and exchanges related to this question: Are ethical employees more likely to be workplace bullying targets? 

My instinct has always been to answer “yes.” The works of Gary & Ruth Namie, Kenneth Westhues, and others have long reinforced for me that targets of bullying, mobbing, and abuse tend to be ethical individuals, and my own interactions with hundreds of self-identified bullying targets have underscored that belief.

But I think the question demands more than a simple yes or no answer. Like so many other topics concerning abuse at work, there are layers to it. Based on my fifteen years of working in this realm, I feel confident in making these observations:

First, whistleblowers are often bullied as a form of retaliation. This is the proverbial no-brainer. Challenging the legality and ethics of decisions and actions made in a less-than-wonderful organization can quickly place a target on one’s back.

This short piece cannot do justice to all of the relevant guidance that whistleblowers should consider in view of these risks, but suffice it to say that a decision to engage in such reporting activity should be made carefully, not impulsively, and with the fullest possible understanding of options and potential ramifications.

Second, people with a highly developed sense of ethics may stick out. Those who are perceived this way in an organization with a low ethical baseline will be more vulnerable to bullying and mobbing actions.

This observation yields potential lessons: If you find yourself in an unsavory organization, then it may be advisable to pick your battles carefully. Be wary of the risks of being perceived as an ethical crusader in a less-than-ethical workplace, and avoid gratuitous actions prompted by feelings of self-righteousness.

Third, very rare is the self-identified target of bullying or mobbing at work who struck me as being unethical or, as some might put it, “sketchy.”

There’s more to this seemingly milquetoast point than meets the eye. Consider the logical flip side question: Are ethically challenged folks actually at lower risk of being bullied at work?

There are exceptions, of course. For example, an employee who does something harmful or damaging could be on the receiving end of mobbing behaviors by resentful co-workers. Nevertheless, I would hypothesize that many potential workplace aggressors have the good sense not to mess around with their, umm, “peers”!

Okay folks, this is concededly more of a weekend meandering than a scientific investigation. I should add that before writing up this piece, I did a quick check to see if any research studies had delved into this topic. While predictably I found a lot about workplace bullying and organizational ethics generally, I didn’t find much specifically exploring the ethical profiles of the target population. This doesn’t surprise me, as it would be a challenge to assemble a representative cross-section of bullying targets on this particular scale to complete a survey instrument.

I hope this has been useful food for thought nonetheless.

Targets of workplace bullying: A short checklist for assessing options

 

(Image courtesy of clipart lord.com)

(Image courtesy of clipart lord.com)

We can identify four stages that targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, or abuse may experience in working their way to better places in their lives. I have discussed them at greater length in an earlier piece, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Recognition — Recognizing and understanding the bullying behaviors and their effects on you;
  • Response — Figuring out how to respond to the mistreatment;
  • Recovery — Recovering from the experience; and,
  • Renewal — Moving forward.

These stages often overlap, and they are not necessarily linear.

Weighing options

Getting to that better place, however, is no easy task. To help people understand the scope of potential options, here is a quick checklist of possibilities, with a note that the legal and employee benefit options are specific to U.S. readers:

1. Medical assistance — For seeking treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to the mistreatment.

2. Therapy and counseling — For addressing mental health issues related to the mistreatment, ideally with a licensed mental health provider who understands interpersonal abuse and traumatic stress.

3. Coaching — For understanding, developing, and assessing options and choices.

4. Career coaching/counseling/consulting — For obtaining career guidance in the midst or aftermath of a bullying situation.

5. Employer-provided vacation, personal, and sick days — Using up accumulated leave days to remove yourself from the toxic work environment and to consider options.

6. Family and medical leave — Federal and state laws providing (usually unpaid) family and medical leave may offer an option if you have used up paid leave time but want to retain the right to return to your job.

7. Legal assistance/potential lawsuit — As many readers know, we are still working to enact comprehensive workplace bullying legislation. However, in some instances, anti-discrimination laws, disability laws, whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections, collective bargaining agreements, employee handbooks, and other miscellaneous legal provisions may provide the “hook” you need for a potential legal claim.

8. Legal assistance/public benefits — Unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and Social Security Disability offer potential sources of income replacement due to job loss and work-related injuries.

Resources

The Need Help? page of this blog contains links to helpful resources and past blog posts that expound upon some of the items above.

Also, I highly recommend these two affordably priced books:

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009) — Gary and Ruth are co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, whose website also is an excellent source of information. This is the bestselling book on dealing with workplace bullying situations, and for good reason.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014) — Maureen and Len have written an excellent book, especially for those who are facing mobbing-style mistreatment at work.

A final word

As many readers can attest, there are few quick fixes when it comes to dealing with most severe workplace bullying situations. Furthermore, the challenge of sorting out options is often left to the individual experiencing the mistreatment. Making smart decisions in the midst of a bullying or mobbing situation requires arming yourself with as much information as possible and seeking out available sources of help. There are no guarantees, but these efforts can make a positive difference.

Bully Nation: How economic power and inequality are fueling a bullying culture

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Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society (2016) by sociologists Charles Derber (Boston College) and Yale R. Magrass (UMass-Dartmouth) takes a “big picture” look at how the economic Powers That Be have fueled a deeper, broader culture of bullying behaviors. Here’s part of an excerpt published on AlterNet

Any economic or social system based on power inequality creates potential or latent bullying that often translates into active bullying, by institutions and individuals. So this is not a problem exclusive to capitalism; bullying was brutally manifest in systems claiming to be socialist or communist, such as the Soviet Union, and it is also obviously a major problem in China today. But capitalism is the dominant system currently and has its own, less recognized, institutionalized bullying propensities.

This looks like a promising book. Unfortunately, however, Drs. Derber and Magrass also take an unmerited swipe at the anti-bullying movement, by suggesting that we have failed to link bullying to the broader economic and political forces that frame their analysis:

Though the bullying of vulnerable kids in schools gets a lot of attention, the bullying of vulnerable workers usually is ignored. If the mass media mention it at all, they typically parrot the corporate view that the agitating workers are troublemakers who deserve punishment. The failure of scholars in the “bullying field” to see even illegal (not to mention legal) corporate threats, intimidation, and retaliation as bullying is another profound failure of the psychological paradigm that views bullying only as a “kid thing” in schools. Such scholars are blind to the adult and institutionalized bullying that is endemic to our economic system.

It appears that the co-authors neglected to do the necessary homework to learn more about the workplace anti-bullying movement. Indeed, the ongoing campaign to enact legal protections against workplace bullying has its philosophical roots in the value of employee dignity. In the law review article that led to my drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill, “The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection” (Georgetown Law Journal, 2000), I explore the social and economic conditions that are fueling bullying at work.

In addition, I connect the dots between the state of workers’ rights, employee dignity, and economic power in my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law” (University of Richmond Law Review, 2009). My 2014 blog post drawing from that piece stated:

American employment law has been dominated by a belief system that embraces the idea of unfettered free markets and regards limitations on management authority with deep suspicion. Under this “markets and management” framework, the needs for unions and collective bargaining, individual employment rights, and, most recently, protection of workers amid the dynamics of globalization, are all weighed against these prevailing norms.

Furthermore, we know darn well about the plutocratic forces that want to keep workplace bullying legal. Here in Massachusetts, a powerful corporate trade group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has spearheaded opposition to the Healthy Workplace Bill. The Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management are among the other corporate friendly trade groups that have opposed employer accountability for severe workplace bullying.

This oversight aside, it appears that Bully Nation has the potential to raise our collective consciousness about how concentrated power is fueling abusive behaviors. I look forward to taking a closer look at it.

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Do more Americans need to pack their bags in order to maximize work opportunities?

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Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), believes that Americans must be more willing to move in order to maximize their work opportunities. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, he writes:

Mobility is more than just a metaphor for getting ahead. In America, it has been a solution to economic and social barriers.

. . . Even for those already here, migration has long been seen as a key to self-improvement. As Horace Greeley so famously advised in 1865: “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”

. . . Fewer and fewer people are taking Greeley’s suggestion. In the mid-1960s, about 20 percent of the population moved in any given year, according to the United States Census Bureau. By 1990, it was approaching 15 percent. Today it’s closer to 10 percent. The percentage that moves between states has fallen by nearly half since the early 1990s.

Brooks offers a provocative thesis built on statistics of which I was previously unaware, and he offers thoughtful policy prescriptions to support greater individual mobility.

On a personal level, I understand the benefits of mobility. I’ve made two major moves during my life, first from NW Indiana to New York City, and then from NYC to Boston. Both helped to open up significant career and work opportunities for me. By contrast, at times I’ve been frustrated when, at my downtown Boston university, some of my students have passed on promising opportunities in places as close as New Hampshire or Connecticut, citing a reluctance to “relocate.” Could my anecdotal experience be connected to Brooks’s observation that since the Great Recession, “mobility decline . . . has actually been the most pronounced among millennials”?

However, we also must assess the reality of what has been called the Great American Jobs Machine. In recent decades, the largest job growth has been in the lower paid service sector. True, marginally better opportunities may present themselves, as Brooks suggests, to people in Mississippi (6.3 percent unemployment rate) who move to New Hampshire (2.6 percent). But that won’t do much to reverse the burgeoning wealth gap and the ongoing demise of good jobs with decent wages and benefits.

Thus, it’s arguable that until we create a stronger base of jobs nationally, we’re doing only slightly more than shifting around the deck chairs on a sinking ship by encouraging people to move where jobs are in greater supply. A greater sense of flexibility and even adventure may help to better match the right people with the right jobs, but ultimately we need more good jobs just about everywhere.

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