How do social and economic class differences impact workplace bullying?

Do social and economic class differences impact workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors? If so, how?

America continues to think itself as a classless society, despite deep and worsening wealth divisions. Now, however, it appears that a combination of the ongoing effects of the Great Recession and the tumult associated with the election of Donald Trump has prompted some closer looks at class distinctions. For example, The Guardian newspaper has launched an ongoing investigative study of class and inequality in the U.S.:

We’re calling it On the Ground: reporting from all corners of America. The series is funded in part by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Guardian’s reporting on wealth inequality in America. The Rockefeller grant will fund a broader Guardian project called Inequality and Opportunity in America, focused on economic disparities due to work, class and inequality.

Also, Annie Lowrey, writing for The Atlantic, spotlights a new book by Richard V. Reeves, Dream Hoarders (2017), that points a finger at America’s upper middle class as a major culprit in reinforcing inequality. While recognizing the extreme wealth concentrations enjoyed by the top one percent, Reeves argues that the top twenty percent have also enjoyed considerable success in recent decades, leaving the others in their wake. He further posits that these advantages are being passed on to their children in ways that will only harden social and economic class inequalities.

I’d like to take a closer look at these commentaries in a future post, but for now let’s return to bullying and class distinctions. I did a quick search for studies examining potential relationships between workplace bullying and social/economic class and didn’t come up with much. But the more I ponder the question, the more I’m convinced that class can play out significantly in this realm. It may manifest itself in a well compensated manager or highly degreed professional who looks down at less educated, lower paid co-workers and treats them accordingly. It may involve a group of co-workers who see a peer as not being from their side of the tracks (whichever side that may be) and bully, harass, and ostracize that individual because of it.

In any event, this topic is ripe for more research and understanding. Workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse may occur due to many reasons. Class distinctions definitely belong on the list.

A dignity salon

Group shot from December 2016 HumanDHS workshop in NYC

My association with Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a global network of scholars, practitioners, students, artists, and activists committed to advancing human dignity and ending humiliating practices, has been a gratifying source of renewal, fellowship, and friendship. Until recently, however, my only opportunity to engage in face-to-face interactions with members of this remarkable community has been through HumanDHS’s annual December workshop in New York City. This wonderful event has always left me wanting for more.

Now, however, a smaller group of HumanDHS community members has started meeting on a regular basis in New York for open-ended conversations about ideas and projects on broad themes of shared interest.  I hopped on a Boston-to-NYC train to participate in the latest get-together on Saturday, and I’m very glad that I did. The planned three-hour gathering, with a dozen or so people meeting in a typically snug Manhattan apartment living room, spilled over our allotted time.

Our loose format starts with brief self-introductions that may include mentions of recent activities and life events. Sometimes the introductions themselves prompt deeper conversations. On other occasions the discussion will be gently guided by our unofficial convener. The topics vary widely, ranging from the personal to the global. For example, during an earlier meet-up, I was grateful for the opportunity to share the challenges that a dear friend of mine is facing in connection with severe interpersonal and work abuse. Saturday’s meeting, by contrast, included more talk about broader economic and political contexts and how we can promote human dignity as a chief framing concept for our society.

I realized after our latest meeting that we are creating our own version of a salon, a term commonly associated with small gatherings held at someone’s home, featuring conversations over food and drink. Salons were very much in fashion in New York City a century ago, organized by (mostly) left-leaning women who hosted discussions for intellectuals and artists, with libations offered to fuel smart and witty repartee. More recently, right before online discussion forums became so popular, the Utne Reader magazine promoted salons as a way of building community through conversation. (For more on that, see Jaida N’ha Sandra & Jon Spayde, Salons: The Joy of Conversation (2001).)

Our salon (if I may now call it that) is likely more serious in content than others, with tea and coffee supplanting alcohol as beverages of choice. It also reflects a conscious effort to grow the supportive community fostered by HumanDHS’s December workshop and social media outreach. As one participant characterized it yesterday, we are building an intentional tribe. In a world that cries out for more strong, caring connections with others, this is something to celebrate.

***

On a personal note, this was the latest in a lengthy stretch of out-of-town trips for both personal and work-related reasons. I looked back at my calendar book (yes, I still use the printed variety) and saw that I’ve been out of town during parts of almost every week since late April, and this will continue through the summer. My travel schedule and a ton of personal and work-related commitments are the main reasons why I’ve been blogging less frequently, but it’s all good. Every trip has been mainly about being with wonderful people.

WBI survey: Strong public support for workplace anti-bullying laws

new, scientific Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) national survey on workplace bullying shows strong public support for workplace anti-bullying legislation.

WBI’s 2017 survey is the latest in a series that includes similar polls in 2014, 2010, and 2007. On the question of support for workplace anti-bullying legislation, survey participants were asked: “Do you support or oppose enactment of a new law that would protect all workers from repeated health-harming abusive mistreatment in addition to protections against illegal discrimination and harassment?” Some 77 percent of respondents said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the enactment of such a law. Here are their specific responses:

  • 47% “Strongly support”
  • 30% “Somewhat support”
  • 15% “Not sure”
  • 4% “Somewhat oppose”
  • 4% “Strongly oppose”

It is notable that the survey question itself tracks the language of the Healthy Workplace Bill, model legislation I have authored that provides bullied workers with a legal claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors.

Other key survey info

Here are other key results from the 2017 report, as summarized by Dr. Gary Namie:

  • 19% of Americans are bullied, another 19% witness it
  • 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
  • 60 million Americans are affected by it
  • 70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women
  • Hispanics are the most frequently bullied race
  • 61% of bullies are bosses, the majority (63%) operate alone
  • 40% of bullied targets are believed to suffer adverse health effects
  • 29% of targets remain silent about their experiences
  • 71% of employer reactions are harmful to targets
  • 60% of coworker reactions are harmful to targets
  • To stop it, 65% of targets lose their original jobs

The 2017 WBI survey was conducted in conjunction with Zogby Analytics and significantly underwritten by the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.

Linking workplace bullying to workplace violence

Last week’s news included a San Francisco workplace shooting allegedly committed by a man who believed he was a target of bullying. As reported by Tara Moriarty of KTVU and the Associated Press:

The UPS worker who opened fire at the company’s San Francisco warehouse yesterday, killing three co-workers before turning the gun on himself believe[d] he was being bullied by two of those employees, sources told KTVU Thursday.

Jimmy Lam, an 18-year veteran of UPS, appeared to single out three slain drivers during the shooting rampage although police have not yet publicly disclosed a motive in the case. San Francisco police declined to comment about their investigation on Thursday.

***

Friends and colleagues recounted several personal and professional troubles that Lam had been experiencing.

Most recently, he was upset with UPS managers and had filed a grievance in March claiming he was working excessive overtime, said Joseph Cilia, Lam’s friend and an official with the union that represents UPS drivers.

In his 1995 book Violence at Work, Joseph A. Kinney, founder of the National Safe Workplace Institute, observed that workplace violence can be a consequence of bullying at work. Kinney noted that “there have been numerous instances where abusive supervisors have baited angry and frustrated employees, pushing these individuals to unacceptable levels of violence and aggression.” According to the news report cited above, none of the San Francisco UPS victims were managers, so this scenario is slightly different than what Kinney described back in 1995. However, it is the latest instance of a tragic workplace shooting tied to allegations that the shooter had been bullied at work.

Of course, there’s a difference between someone claiming to be bullied and someone being found to have been bullied under some objective, factual standard. Also, in no way am I attempting to justify deadly violence as a fair response to a lesser form of mistreatment. In addition, a murder-suicide scenario such as the one in San Francisco suggests that we need to look much deeper into underlying circumstances before we offer a confident interpretation of what happened.

Nevertheless, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for us to say that being bullied at work may, in turn, trigger violent behavior by the victim towards the aggressors. After all, abuse can become cyclical and escalate. Stopping and reversing these cycles of abuse, hopefully with compassion and understanding, must be among our core objectives in confronting mistreatment at work.

Coming attraction: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

Launching the TJ Society at a July conference in Prague

Steady readers of this blog may be familiar with my work in the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of legal philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. For nearly a decade, TJ has played a significant role in shaping how I look at law and public policy, especially as related to workplace issues.

Now I am delighted to be playing a role in forming the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ Society), a new, non-profit, learned association established to advance the field of therapeutic jurisprudence on a global scale.  The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

As of mid-June 2017, the founding trustees of the TJ Society are engaged in the following activities:

  • Planning for a panel discussion to launch and discuss the TJ Society, to be held at the July 2017 Congress on Law and Mental Health in Prague, Czech Republic, hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health;
  • Finalizing articles of incorporation and initial by-laws;
  • Creating a global advisory council of law faculty, attorneys, judges, and scholars and practitioners from complementary fields, a group that we anticipate will grow significantly over time;
  • Developing a website for the TJ Society; and,
  • Consolidating, where applicable and desired, existing TJ activities under the TJ Society rubric.

The TJ Society will be a membership organization, with annual dues set at an affordable, accessible level. During this summer, we are building the basic infrastructure of the organization. However, the following months and years will engage a lot more people and involve a lot more activities. The latter include, but are hardly limited to:

  • Inviting members of the TJ Society to form and join affinity groups based on shared subject-matter interests and geographic proximities;
  • Building our social media and web presence to offer a virtual home for members of the TJ Society and its friends; and,
  • Developing the TJ Society to support and co-sponsor TJ-related events and activities around the world.

The creation of a membership organization devoted to TJ has been a topic of discussion for several years and became more focused at a 2016 TJ workshop held at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. From there, a small group of devoted TJ adherents began establishing the groundwork for this fledgling TJ Society.

We hope to build an organization that is “flat” in nature, with a board of trustees committed to the spirit and practice of servant leadership and the fostering of a TJ community that is grounded in participation, exchange, and mutual learning. The TJ Society should not be an end in itself, but rather a conduit and steward for supporting and expanding the reach and influence of TJ, while offering a friendly and engaging “home base” for those who identify with it.

The initial members of the board of trustees are, in alphabetical order (with some additional board-related designations listed):

  • Astrid Birgden, forensic psychologist, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, law professor, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, law professor, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo, attorney, USA (board director)
  • Martine Evans, law and criminology professor, France
  • Michael Jones, law professor and judge (ret.), USA
  • Shelley Kierstead, law professor, Canada (board vice chairperson)
  • Michael Perlin, law professor, USA
  • Pauline Spencer, magistrate judge, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, law professor, Australia
  • David Wexler, law professor, USA
  • Michel Vols, law professor, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada, law professor, USA (board chairperson).

In addition, these four distinguished individuals will be serving as Honorary Presidents of the TJ Society, in recognition of their signature, core contributions to this field:

  • Peggy Hora, California state court judge (ret.) and international authority on creating solution-based courts
  • Michael Perlin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School and leading mental health & disability law expert
  • David Wexler, law professor at the University of Puerto Rico & the University of Arizona and co-founder of the TJ movement
  • The late Bruce Winick, University of Miami law professor and co-founder of the TJ movement.

***

(July 2017: This post was slightly revised to reflect new additions to the board of trustees.)

For more about therapeutic jurisprudence, click here to visit the Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog.

If you’re interested, here are links to four law review articles I’ve written that have strong TJ-oriented themes:

Human Dignity and American Employment Law — University of Richmond Law Review (2009) — Sets out the theoretical frameworks and arguments for making human dignity the centerpiece of American workplace law, including incorporating TJ principles.

Employment Law as If People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the WorkplaceFlorida Coastal Law Review (2010) — Makes the case for applying TJ to the law of the workplace.

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship — University of Memphis Law Review (2010) — Dissects the modern culture of legal scholarship and proposes TJ as a framing perspective for engaging in scholarly work.

Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest LawSouthern California Review of Law and Social Justice (2016) — Discusses how legal scholarship can shape law reform initiatives, with reflections on my work concerning workplace bullying and unpaid internships and how perspectives like TJ have informed those efforts.

Coming attraction: “Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States”

Scheduled for publication in December 2017 is Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (Praeger/ABC-CLIO), a two-volume, multidisciplinary book project, edited by Dr. Maureen Duffy and me, and featuring chapters authored by some twenty contributors.

Here are some highlights from the publishers’ book webpage (still in progress):

Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States provides a comprehensive overview of the nature and scope of the problem of workplace bullying and mobbing. By tapping the knowledge of a breadth of subject experts and interpreting contemporary survey data, this resource examines the impact of bullying and mobbing on targets; identifies what constitutes effective prevention and intervention; surveys the legal landscape for addressing the problem, from both American and (for multinational employers) transnational perspectives; and provides an analysis of key employment sectors with practical recommendations for prevention and amelioration of these behaviors.

The contributors to this outstanding work include researchers, practitioners, and policy and subject-matter experts who are widely recognized as authorities on workplace bullying and mobbing, including Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, cofounders of the U.S. workplace anti-bullying movement; Drs. Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry, internationally recognized authorities on workplace mobbing; and professor David Yamada, leading expert on the legal aspects of workplace bullying. The set’s content will be of particular value to scholars and practitioners in disciplines that overlap with American labor and employee relations, industrial/organizational psychology and mental health, and law and conflict resolution.

Features

  • The first comprehensive, multi-contributor book on workplace bullying and mobbing grounded in American employee relations
  • An ideal starting place for anyone seeking to better understand the breadth and depth of research on workplace bullying and mobbing in the United States
  • Features contributions from leading researchers and subject-matter experts on workplace bullying and mobbing, including some who are founding members of the U.S. Academy on Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Abuse
  • Summarizes and analyzes leading research for scholars and researchers in industrial/organizational psychology, clinical and counseling psychology, organizational behavior and communications, business management, law, and public health

We will be sharing more about the specific chapters and authors in the months to come. The two volumes will total approximately 600 pages. Alas, this will be a pricey acquisition, aimed toward academic and professional audiences and libraries, with the list price of $131 set by the publisher.

The U.S. focus of the book set is not an attempt to be parochial or insular, but rather a recognition that American employee relations with regard to bullying and mobbing behaviors has unique characteristics, not all of them positive. Accordingly, we wanted to offer research and commentary written by a primarily American group of contributors, using — whenever available — research and analysis grounded in U.S. workplaces.

This project traces its origins to the publisher’s invitation to Dr. Duffy to submit a proposal for a two-volume set on workplace bullying and mobbing. Maureen, in turn, enlisted me as a co-editor. During the past year and a half, I have learned tons from Maureen about the care and feeding of such an ambitious project. We’re very excited about this book set, and we believe it will be a meaningful and comprehensive contribution to our understanding of workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors and how we can respond to them.

Male targets of workplace bullying

Many of us in the workplace anti-bullying movement have understood that men who face workplace bullying are less likely than women to talk about their experiences and to seek assistance. However, thanks to the work of Dr. Sue O’Donnell (U. New Brunswick, Canada), we have an excellent seven-minute video that captures a cross section of the male experience of being a bullying target. I had the privilege of watching the video as part of her presentation at the 2017 Work, Stress and Health conference currently underway in Minneapolis.

A nursing school professor, Dr. O’Donnell worked with New Brunswick colleague Dr. Judith MacIntosh to conduct interviews of men who had experienced workplace bullying and then teamed with Nick Wilson Videography to turn those interviews into a form of live testimony. It’s a powerful video that will resonate specially with men who have struggled with workplace bullying and how to talk about it. This is no small subset of targets. To illustrate, the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 U.S. national prevalence study found that among survey respondents, some 40 percent of workplace bullying targets were male.

Drs. O’Donnell and MacIntosh have co-authored “Gender and Workplace Bullying: Men’s Experiences of Surviving Bullying at Work” (Qualitative Health Research), their underlying research study for the video. Here’s the abstract of the piece:

Although men are targets of workplace bullying, there is limited research focused on their experiences. To address this gap, we used a qualitative grounded theory approach and interviewed a community sample of 20 Atlantic Canadian men to explore and explain their experiences of, and responses to, bullying. The main problem identified by men was a lack of workplace support to address and resolve the bullying, a challenge named abandonment. Men addressed this problem by surviving, a process that involved efforts to manage persistent bullying and the associated consequences. Men experienced physical, emotional, and social health consequences and, contrary to prevailing assumptions related to men’s help-seeking behaviors, men want support and many sought help to address the problem and its consequences. Responses to abandonment and the associated consequences varied according to a number of factors including gender and highlight the need for research aimed at understanding the gendered nature of bullying.

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