“Let’s leave it all out on the field”: A Gen Joneser rallying cry?

Bartlet (l) and McGarry (r) confer

Dear readers, I confess that this is a bit of a ramble, a lot of thinking out loud in digital form. It’s about my generational cohort — the one dubbed Generation Jones, i.e., late Boomers and early Gen Xers born between 1954 and 1965 — and how we might contribute to the world in the years to come.

One of my favorite television characters is Leo McGarry from “The West Wing,” the Emmy Award-winning political drama that ran on NBC for seven seasons. The late John Spencer, a supremely underrated actor, played McGarry, a politically savvy and trusted close advisor to President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

A favorite West Wing episode comes late in the series (season 6, episode 12). McGarry is returning to White House duties after a heart attack and bypass surgery, and the Bartlet Administration has only a year left in its second term. The President is fatigued due to a chronic illness, and McGarry is struggling to regain his health and his role in the Oval Office. Too often the Administration is letting events control it, rather than the other way around. Leo senses that maybe the President and his inner circle are simply running out the clock, while trying resting on their laurels.

In a great scene featuring McGarry and the President, Leo challenges his long-time friend and fellow political war horse to push hard during their last year in office: “Both of us, sir, this is our last game. Let’s leave it all out on the field.” With the President’s approval, Leo calls a late night meeting for the senior staff, during which they begin to map out an ambitious policy agenda for the Bartlet Administration’s final 365 days.

A Gen Joneser rallying cry?

I love that scene between McGarry and the President. Yeah, it is corny and doesn’t bear any resemblance to today’s Washington D.C. But for pure inspiration, it works for me.

And maybe it even speaks to me. Let’s leave it all out on the field. When I think of fellow members of Generation Jones, these words come to mind as a potential rallying cry for our (hopefully many!) remaining years.

Today’s Gen Jonesers are roughly between 52 and 64 years old. In terms of traditional age demographics, this covers a healthy span of middle age. And while our bodies may be feeling the passage of time, we also have a lot of accumulated wisdom, insight, and experience. I’d like to think that we have a lot of gas left in our tanks. In fact, in many realms we may be at or near the top of our games in terms of productivity and leadership capabilities. These qualities give us opportunities to make significant contributions to the world around us during the years to come.

In some cases, a middle-aged career shift may be part of a fundamental personal transition. Career counselors and coaches have sometimes referred to this as pursuing an “encore” career, one that may involve earning less or even no money — the latter crossing into the realm of avocation — but in any event enabling someone to make a difference in a chosen arena. A popular website devoted to the pursuit of encore careers uses the tag “Second acts for the greater good.” It’s an appealing idea: Earn enough money to secure your future, then spend a chunk of the rest of your time giving back.

Imagine, millions of seasoned, able, mature workers pursuing work and activities that help our communities, big and small. It’s about defining personal legacies, giving back, and paying it forward, right? As I wrote in 2016:

…(W)e live in a world in serious need of more joy, creativity, humanity, and compassion. Who wants to look back at a life only to see a lot of wonderful opportunities squandered and wasted?

Reality checks

But hold on, there are harsh reality checks on my generational cheerleading. Let’s start with economics and personal finances. As I wrote last year, many members of Gen Jones are getting hammered in terms of jobs, savings, and retirement readiness:

…Generation Jones has been snakebitten by broader events. During the early 1980s, many graduated into a terrible recession that limited entry-level job opportunities. This was also a time when America’s industrial jobs base went into sharp decline (a trend continuing to this day), wages started to flatline (ditto), and employers began eliminating pension plans (ditto again).

Fast forwarding, the Great Recession hit during what should’ve been Gen Jonesers’ strongest earning years, the heart of their 40s and early 50s. Many lost jobs and livelihoods during that time and have struggled to recover. Some have never recovered. Gen Jonesers are now hurtling toward what have been considered traditional retirement years; most are within 10-15 years of that time. But as I have written often on this blog…, America faces a retirement funding crisis of major proportions.

Gen Jonesers are in the bull’s-eye of that retirement funding crisis, as will become evident during the next decade. In terms of its entrance into the labor market, this age group is the first to fully experience the widening wealth gap that began in the 1980s and continues to this day. Absent dramatic changes in the American economic structure — likely through some combination of civic leadership, public policy, and political voice — we are a preview of things to come.

Overall, the march of time brings a mix of ordinary and extraordinary life challenges. Job losses and career setbacks have emotional as well as financial impacts. Illnesses and deaths are a part of life, but no less difficult because of their inevitability. As many regular readers of this blog know, various forms of abuse can exact a significant toll and have cumulative effects.

Looking ahead

So what is it to be? A rich midlife with impact-making encore contributions, or remaining years spent pinching pennies and recovering from setbacks? Of course, the reality for most Gen Jonesers will be somewhere in between, replete with individual stories and circumstances. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all playbook for midlife and beyond.

With all that said, here is a cluster of framing ideas for our consideration, some possible ways for us to leave it all out on the field:

Legacy work — It starts with legacy work. Again from 2016:

By “legacy work” I mean our core contributions and accomplishments, the stuff we’d like to be remembered for in the longer run and by people we care about. In the realm of vocation, it may involve creative or intellectual work, achievement in business, service to others, building something, activism and social change work, or some type of innovation or invention.

…(O)ne’s legacy work need not be vocational in nature. It can include parenting, caregiving, an engaging avocation, a deeply meaningful hobby, or charitable work. For some, a “day job” may pay the bills, but an unrelated project or endeavor brings the deeper meaning.

Community — In recent years, loneliness has been labeled an epidemic and a public health crisis by health experts. (See recent pieces in the Washington Post and New York Times for more.) Part of the answer is to build and maintain genuine communities. These communities can be grounded in geography (e.g., neighborhood), shared interests and activities (e.g., vocations, avocations, hobbies), or shared values (e.g., social and faith beliefs). The care and feeding of communities and those within them require intention and commitment.

Recovery — By the time midlife hits, a lot of folks find themselves recovering from setbacks small and large. The big hits often involve fear, stress, and even trauma. Fortunately, for many there are paths to recovery. For example, even those experiencing post-traumatic stress, once thought to be extremely hard to treat, may heal via new healing modalities and even enter a phase known as post-traumatic growth.

Scarcity, generosity, and choices — Some very smart people are telling us that we face a long-term era of scarcity. Accordingly, our challenge may be to find ways to live good and meaningful lives during a time when resources (personal and global) are limited. As I see it, it will require letting go of some the values that led us to this place and reorienting our lives and lifestyles so that we are less about stuff and more about humanity. It will mean giving back and paying it forward, while defining abundance differently from the ways we have done so before.

Instructive on these points are the words of my late friend and pioneering adult educator John Ohliger (1926-2004), which appeared in a 1981 issue of his newsletter Second Thoughts:

My picture is of a future where we live more relaxed and more modest lives with an abundance of unmeasurable and infinitely available non-material (or better, trans-material) resources. All the travail and pressure we’re going through right now may be paving the way for that future. This future could be one where we will have a choice of “goodies”; not ones requiring scarce energy, minerals, or dollars; or ones permitting some people to get rich while others go hungry, but choices that we create with our own hearts and heads and hands among people we know and care for.

Related posts

Obviously there’s a lot to contemplate here, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. For those who would like to explore some of these themes a bit deeper, I’ve collected a bunch of past entries relating to midlife, transitions, vocations, avocations, and community building:

Work, savings, and retirement: Generation Jones is getting hammered (2017)

From hoop jumping to legacy work and places in-between (2016)

Charles Hayes on the ripples of our lives (2016)

David Brooks and his “moral bucket list” (2015)

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

Tribes for brewing ideas and engaging in positive change (2015)

The power of face-to-face dialogue for change agents (2015)

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

Hard looks at joblessness, retirement funding, and Generation Jones (2014)

Personal reinvention: Take a look at “50 over 50” (2014)

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

“The Shift: Ambition to Meaning” (2014)

Transitions and inner callings (2014)

Inauthenticity at work and the fast track to a midlife crisis (2013)

“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)

The “butterfly effect” and working as an educator (2011)

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010)

Will our avocations save us? (2010)

Does life begin at 46? (2010).

Are You a Marathoner or a Sprinter? (2009)

Workplace perks don’t replace respect & honesty

In a piece for Workforce magazine, Paul McDonald urges employers to remember that fancy perks and benefits don’t replace treating employees with genuine respect and honesty:

Faced with a red-hot job market, employers are offering perks like free ski passes, complimentary e-readers and on-site acupuncture to attract and retain quality employees.

…But there are organizations where once the luster wears off, employees begin to see that these benefits are simply camouflage over a toxic work environment.

…Workplaces with low employee morale see constant churn, and right now, the number of U.S. workers quitting their jobs is the highest it’s been in more than a decade. Seven in 10 American workers are not engaged in their jobs, according to Gallup’s recent “State of the American Workplace” survey.

All the bells & whistles, McDonald suggests, don’t substitute for a strong foundation of good employee relations. To attract and keep good workers, “employers must work to develop positive, healthy workplaces.”

Disconnects

Indeed, I’ve written about how some employers offer fancy employee wellness programs while simultaneously ignoring their own toxic work environments that fuel employee health problems, lower morale, and reduce productivity. It’s as if one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.

After all, if someone needs 30 minutes to slug away at the in-house health center’s punching bag to work off anger and frustration over how poorly they’re being treated by their boss, then there’s a fundamental disconnect between the everyday experience of work and employer-provided perks to reduce stress and anxiety.

APA Center for Organizational Excellence

For employers that want to take this stuff seriously, a great starting place is the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, which offers a wealth of practical resources and information. Among other things, their site includes a resource page devoted to workplace bullying, which I helped to organize and assemble.

Overall, it’s the best one-stop-shopping site around for employers that want to create and maintain psychologically healthy workplaces. It will help you avoid turning this Onion parody piece into your organizational reality.

Yeah, it’s an Onion parody, but still….

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect”

Dr. Robin Stern’s The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, first published in 2007, has just been reissued in paperback for 2018 with a new Introduction. Especially for those interested in more manipulative forms of workplace bullying and abuse, this is a very useful and important book.

Dr. Stern defines gaslighting as:

a type of emotional manipulation in which a gaslighter tries to convince you that you’re misremembering, misunderstanding, or misinterpreting your own behavior or motivations, thus creating doubt in your mind that leaves you vulnerable and confused. Gaslighters might be men or women, spouses or lovers, bosses or colleagues, parents or siblings, but what they all have in common is their ability to make you question your own perceptions of reality.

According to Stern, gaslighting is a “mutually created relationship” involving a gaslighter who wants “the gaslightee to doubt her perceptions of reality,” and a gaslightee who is “equally intent on getting the gaslighter to see her as she wished to be seen.”

For those who are new to the term, gaslighting draws its inspiration from a 1944 film, “Gaslight,” in which a husband is trying to drive his wife insane, including the periodic dimming of gaslights in a house where her aunt was murdered years before.

Stern has played a major role in popularizing the concept of gaslighting, with her main focus being on such behaviors in interpersonal relationships, especially as experienced by women. This emphasis remains in the re-issued edition, but the new Introduction explains how gaslighting is now being applied to additional scenarios, including bullying. In fact, I was flattered to read a reference to this blog:

Meanwhile, an increasing number of blogs linked gaslighting to bullying, both in personal relationships and at work. “Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying?” asked David Yamada on his blog, Minding the Workplace, while numerous dating and self-help blogs talked about the importance of identifying and standing up to your gaslighter. 

I’m happy to recommend The Gaslight Effect. In addition, you can check out past blog posts about gaslighting at work and in society:

Gaslighting at work (2017)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012)

Appearing 1/31/18: “Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States”

Dr. Maureen Duffy and I are delighted to report that our co-edited, two-volume book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (ABC-CLIO, 2018), makes its appearance at the end of the month! Booksellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) are taking advance orders. An Amazon Kindle version will be available as well.

With over two dozen contributors (including a Foreword by Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute) and some 600 pages packed into two volumes, we believe this will be an important, comprehensive contribution to the growing literature on workplace bullying and mobbing, useful for scholars and practitioners alike. The project deliberately takes a U.S. focus in order to take into account the unique aspects of American employment relations.

From the publisher’s webpage for the book, here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

  • “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”; and,
  • “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”.

With a $131 publisher’s retail price (the Kindle edition is currently set at $104), we realize this purchase is not to be taken lightly and may be beyond the budgets of many readers. This book set is aimed at academicians and practitioners who want an encyclopedic treatment of this topic, as well as specialized and general libraries.

Table of Contents

Here’s what appears inside the volumes:

VOLUME 1

Foreword
Gary Namie

Preface
Maureen Duffy and David C. Yamada

PART I: UNDERSTANDING WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING

Chapter 1
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing: Definitions, Terms, and When They Matter
David C. Yamada, Maureen Duffy, and Peggy Ann Berry

Chapter 2
Prevalence of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing among U.S. Working Adults: What Do the Numbers Mean?
Loraleigh Keashly

Chapter 3
Risk Factors for Becoming a Target of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Gary Namie and Ruth Namie

Chapter 4
Organizational Risk Factors: An Integrative Model for Understanding, Treating, and Preventing Mobbing and Bullying in the Workplace
Len Sperry

PART II: EXAMINING THE IMPACT OF WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING

Chpater 5
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing and the Health of Targets
Melody M. Kawamoto

Chapter 6
The Psychosocial Impact of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing on Targets
Maureen Duffy

Chapter 7
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing: A Neuropsychotherapeutic Perspective
Pieter J. Rossouw

Chapter 8
Vicarious and Secondary Victimization in Adult Bullying and Mobbing: Coworkers, Target-Partners, Children, and Friends
Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik

Chapter 9
When Workplace Bullying and Mobbing Occur: The Impact on Organizations
Renee L. Cowan

PART III: PREVENTION OF WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING

Chapter 10
How Awareness and Education Can Help with Recognition of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Gary Namie, Ruth Namie, and Carol Fehner

Chapter 11
The Role of Human Resources in Bullying and Mobbing Prevention Efforts
Teresa A. Daniel

Chapter 12
Innovative Practices in Workplace Conflict Resolution
John-Robert Curtin

VOLUME 2

PART IV: UTILIZING EFFECTIVE INTERVENTIONS IN RESPONDING TO WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING

Chapter 13
Best Practices in Psychotherapy for Targets of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Maureen Duffy and Jessi Eden Brown

Chapter 14
Best Practices in Coaching for Targets of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Jessi Eden Brown and Maureen Duffy

Chapter 15
Best Practices in Coaching for Aggressors and Offenders in Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Benjamin M. Walsh

Chapter 16
The Role of the Consultant in Assessing and Preventing Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Gary Namie and Ruth Namie

Chapter 17
The Role of the Ombuds in Addressing Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
Tony Belak

PART V: THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE IN THE UNITED STATES FOR WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING

Chapter 18
The American Legal Landscape: Potential Redress and Liability for Workplace Bullying and Mobbing
David C. Yamada

Chapter 19
Comparing and Contrasting Workplace Bullying and Mobbing Laws in Other Countries with the American Legal Landscape
Ellen Pinkos Cobb

PART VI: WORKPLACE BULLYING AND MOBBING WITHIN SPECIFIC EMPLOYMENT SECTORS

Chapter 20
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the Health Care Sector
Susan Johnson

Chapter 21
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in K–12 Settings: School Principal Mistreatment and Abuse of Teachers
Jo Blase and Joseph Blase

Chapter 22
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in U.S. Higher Education
Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman

Chapter 23
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the Public Service Sector and the Role of Unions
Gregory Sorozan

Chapter 24
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the Corporate Sector
Kelly H. Kolb and Mary Beth Ricke

Chapter 25
Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the Nonprofit Sector
Vega Subramaniam

Epilogue: An Agenda for Moving Forward
David C. Yamada and Maureen Duffy

About the Editors and Contributors

Index

Endorsements

We’re also proud to share the following endorsements from valued colleagues:

Michael L. Perlin, Esq., Professor Emeritus of Law, New York Law School; Cofounder, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates: “With each day that passes, the need for these volumes grows. This is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary major work looking carefully at issues of workplace bullying and mobbing, asking hard questions, and offering a multifaceted agenda for interventions, law reform, and behavioral changes. It calls out for an infusion of much-needed dignity into our offices, factories, and universities. If only this were to be read in the White House. Bravo!”

Linda M. Hartling, PhD, Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: “Finally, a comprehensive, reader-friendly, research-based text examining the full spectrum of interpersonal cruelty that poisons productivity and creativity in the American workplace. This book is not only an essential resource for anyone who has experienced workplace bullying or mobbing, it is a vital guide for professionals at all levels seeking practical approaches to prevent, reduce, and reverse the risks of aggression in today’s hyper-competitive world of work.”

Loree Sutton, MD, US Army Ret. Brigadier General: “Bravo! In this two-volume book set, Maureen Duffy and David Yamada have provided a most timely and essential resource for policymakers, practitioners, advocates, employers, and workers seeking to advance and accelerate desperately needed changes affecting the health, wellbeing, civility, and productivity of American society. This pioneering work, representing the collective expertise of cutting-edge legal, employment, therapist, human resources, and public policy professionals, is destined to serve as the tipping point of our country’s awareness concerning the devastating impact of workplace bullying and mobbing. As importantly, the knowledge, insights, and strategies outlined in these volumes identify what each of us, inspired by the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ must do to create a workplace whose culture and contributions are imbued with dignity, pride, and respect for all.”

Suzanne L. Walker, MS, CCMHC, LCAS, LPC, American Mental Health Counselors’ Association (AMHCA) Current Past President: “As a seasoned mental health professional of 35 years providing clinical mental health and psychotherapy to scores of traumatized people, I never imagined that I would be ‘that person’: a victim of workplace bullying and discrimination for more than 13 months. My friends, family, and professional colleagues still have trouble understanding how workplace bullying could exist in the public sector despite scores of potential legal protections. This book is a critically needed, seminal piece of well-written and researched professional literature—long overdue and so desperately needed.”

The new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence is taking members!

I’m delighted to report that we have launched the website of the new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ) and that we are now enrolling founding members for 2018! Much of the following is taken from the ISTJ website:

Co-founded in 1987 by law professors David Wexler and Bruce Winick, therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is an interdisciplinary field of 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 many years, the therapeutic jurisprudence community has existed as an informal, growing global network of scholars, practitioners, judges, and students. With the formation of the ISTJ, we are now consolidating a variety of TJ initiatives and building an organizational framework for this community.

The ISTJ is a non-profit, tax-exempt, learned organization dedicated to advancing TJ by:

  • supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship;
  • identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices;
  • sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars;
  • engaging in continuing professional education and public education activities;
  • and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

We spent much of 2017 assembling our founding board of trustees and global advisory council, drafting and filing our incorporation papers and application for tax-exempt status, and creating this website. The ISTJ held its founding meeting in July 2017, at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Prague, Czech Republic.

Membership is open to anyone who shares the general mission of therapeutic jurisprudence, not just lawyers and law professors! Our standard membership fee is only $25 USD, and currently enrolled students may join for free. Please click here to join us!

ISTJ Leadership

I’m privileged to be serving as the ISTJ’s first board chairperson, and we’ve assembled a wonderful board of trustees to help us get off the ground:

  • Astrid Birgden, Consultant Forensic Psychologist and Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor, Deakin University, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Institute for Health Law & Policy, University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Memphis, TN, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, Professor of Law, Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo (ISTJ board director), Director, Online Mental Disability Law Program, New York Law School, New York, NY, USA; Principal, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates
  • Martine Evans, Professor of Law and Criminology, Law Faculty, University of Reims, France
  • Shelley Kierstead (ISTJ board vice chair), Assistant Professor and Director, Legal Research and Writing Program, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada
  • Michael Perlin, Professor of Law, Emeritus, New York Law School, New York, NY, USA; Principal, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates 
  • Pauline Spencer, Magistrate Judge, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, State of Victoria, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
  • David Wexler, Professor of Law, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Arizona, USA
  • Michel Vols, Professor and Chair in Public Order Law, Faculty of Law, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada (ISTJ board chair), Professor of Law and Director, New Workplace Institute, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA, USA

You can learn more about the ISTJ leadership, including members of our Global Advisory Council, here.

Personal note

I discovered the therapeutic jurisprudence movement roughly a decade ago. As my work concerning workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse increasingly led me into different branches of psychology, I saw TJ as an ideal framework for what I was doing. Since then, my involvement in the TJ community has deepened considerably. In fact, the seeds of the ISTJ were planted during a 2015 workshop on therapeutic jurisprudence that I hosted in Boston. It took several years of meetings, discussions, and planning for things to come together, but we’re now excited about going public with this new organization.

Telling stories about work abuse

Lots of folks have shared their workplace bullying stories with Massachusetts legislators

The #MeToo movement challenging sexual harassment and assault has been built on the stories of (mostly) women who have courageously shared their experiences in a public way. Some have gone into considerable detail, others have not. Some have named their harassers or abusers, others have not. Regardless of the choices they have made about what and how much to disclose, the stories themselves are driving this movement and empowering those who have faced identical or similar types of abuse.

Just as our understanding of workplace bullying and mobbing has been informed by the dynamics of sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment, we can learn from movements such as #MeToo about how to confront all types of abuse at work. The concept of storytelling is at the heart of this. Although facts and figures about workplace bullying are helpful in painting the picture, the human impacts and costs are more vividly illustrated by the growing body of individual stories.

Over the years, I’ve written a number of blog pieces about storytelling and workplace abuse. I’ve gathered links to five of them here because they continue to be relevant, and I’ve included snippets to give you an idea of what I was writing about. (There’s some overlap in points made, but that is the nature of blogging.) I hope you will find this collection helpful and enlightening. 

Workplace bullying and mobbing stories: “Do you have a few hours?” (2017) — “Countless public speaking appearances about workplace bullying have taught me that covering the essential basics about work abuse is doable in about 15 minutes or so. . . . However, what I can’t do in the typical short presentation is adequately convey the twisted, sick, and utterly disturbing narratives of the worst individual bullying and mobbing experiences, where the abusive behavior has been ongoing, targeted, malicious, multidirectional, and often suggesting an absence of conscience on the part of the main perpetrator(s).”

Stories can drive change, but workplace bullying stories often defy quick summaries (2016) — “But the bigger challenge is how to convey narratives of more insidious, covert, and multi-layered forms of workplace bullying that defy quick summaries. They can take hours of patient listening and attention to grasp the full context and detail of what occurred, even when the person recounting the story is relatively concise and specific with his or her words. However, once understood, they can be among the most bone chilling examples of workplace bullying, often revealing the deft minds and malicious intent of the abusers.”

Workplace bullying, psychological trauma, and the challenge of storytelling (2016) — “Why is it that some targets of severe workplace bullying and mobbing have difficulty telling or jotting down their stories in a straightforward, chronological manner? And why do they often launch into what sounds like a War and Peace version of their story, when all that’s needed (for now) is the quick elevator speech? It can make for a long, rambling account, laden with emotion. We should not blame this on the target. Work abuse situations are often complex and hard to summarize. Equally significant, the effects of psychological trauma may have a lot to do with the ‘word salad’ narrative.”

Coping with workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse: Letting go of the story (but not completely) (2016) — “Wait a minute, let go of the story?! As a law professor and activist, my knee-jerk response is that it’s all about the story. In fact, just two months ago, I devoted a blog post to the topic of storytelling for social change. And our campaign to enact workplace anti-bullying legislation is built upon the stories of abuse at work shared by people who want stronger legal protections against this form of mistreatment. But that’s not what Hamilton is talking about, and I know many of you understand that. She’s saying that we have to break the feedback loop of letting the story of injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment rule our emotions in a toxic, 24/7 sort of way, for the sake of our own health if nothing else.”

Storytelling for social change (2015) — “The best stories, including those intended to drive positive social change, are natural and authentic, not contrived and formulaic. That said, stories need planning, shaping, and editing in order to connect with others. After all, raw, scrambled recitations of events, experiences, impressions, and facts are much less likely to hold someone’s attention in any medium. That’s why I was pleased to stumble upon A Changemaker’s Eight-Step Guide to Storytelling: How to Engage Heads, Hearts and Hands to Drive Change (2013), published by Ashoka Changemakers. It’s freely accessible as a 14-page pdf booklet.”

Boston Globe goes front page on workplace bullying

The Boston Globe‘s decision to put Beth Teitell’s excellent feature on workplace bullying on its Dec. 30 edition front page was a welcomed development to close out 2017. Among other things, it may be the first time that a major newspaper has given front page status to a piece on workplace bullying. Here’s the lede:

As workplaces of every imaginable kind are rocked in the national reckoning over abuses of sex and power, some say another, related issue waits in the shadows.

Experts say it can be more common and as damaging to its victims as sexual harassment, but with no clear definition in the law or widespread social recognition, it remains largely out of the public eye.

It’s called workplace bullying, although victims say the term doesn’t fully capture its power.

Of course, those of us who have become closely familiar with workplace bullying might quarrel with the article’s characterization of it being “in the shadows” and lacking wide recognition, but the underlying truth is that we’re talking about a very common and destructive form of workplace mistreatment that still doesn’t receive sufficient attention. Pieces like this one help to bring it out of the shadows and put a label to behaviors that too many have suffered with in silence.

Teitell gives a few snapshot examples of bullying at work:

…A former public school instructor who spoke to the Globe says she was denied the opportunity to sign group birthday and condolence cards after she challenged an administrator. Another person, a high-level state administrative assistant, said she was reassigned to reorganize a storage room, endlessly, according to an attorney she contacted.

In yet another case, a longtime state employee with peanut and tree allergies alleges her supervisor or one of two co-workers smeared peanut butter on a folder sitting on her desk. “They just thought it was a joke,” she said. “One day they stood outside my office door and sang a stupid song they made up about how much they love Almond Joys.”

The article doesn’t get into the more drawn out and deeply malicious accounts of bullying and mobbing that send shivers up our spines. Nevertheless, it covers a lot of ground and also gives a nod to the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, which is currently pending before the Massachusetts state legislature.

Equally important, of the 80+ comments left by readers, many understand what workplace bullying is all about, and many shared bits of their stories. It’s one of the few times that I’ll say the comments following a posted news article are worth reading.

This one of several articles on or mentioning workplace bullying that have been inspired by the numerous public revelations of workplace sexual harassment. I’ll have more to say about these linkages in a post this month.

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