Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2019: All in a week’s work

This is Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week, and here in Massachusetts, we’ve got some promising news to report: The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 1072, Sen. Paul Feeney, lead sponsor) has been reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and is now before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. Put simply, we’ve made an important step forward in the process of eventually enacting this bill. Thank you again to all of the advocates who are contacting their state legislators and helping to make this happen!

Later today, I’ll be hosting an event at Suffolk University Law School, “A Conversation about Workplace Bullying with Dr. Gary Namie,” featuring the foremost North American authority on workplace bullying. Gary and I will be discussing the past, present, and future of the ongoing movement to prevent, stop, and respond to workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse.

This weekend, Gary will be facilitating a special edition of his world-class Workplace Bullying University intensive seminar for union leaders and activists, hosted by NAGE-SEIU, one of the major public sector labor unions that has been a primary supporter of the Healthy Workplace Bill.

And yesterday, I had the honor of giving the keynote address for the Boston Bar Association’s annual employment law conference. My talk was titled “Dignity at Work and Workplace Bullying: Roles for Employment and Labor Lawyers?” Although not formally part of the Freedom Week events, this gave me a welcomed opportunity to talk about workplace bullying to a group of Boston area labor and employment attorneys. In addition to discussing how lawyers representing both management and workers can address bullying at work in their practices, I presented the basics of the Healthy Workplace Bill and what its implications would be for employment litigation.

Tackling work abuse is an ongoing commitment that is shared with many other readers of this blog. So when I say that this is all in a week’s work, I know that many of you can relate. 

 

 

 

 

 

Man faced surgery, while bullying co-workers bet on his survival chances and gave him a toe tag

His name was Charlie Bowlby. As reported by Peter Salter for the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star (link here), he was a divorced, single, middle-aged guy whose life often “revolved around music.” Bowlby shared much of his life on Facebook:

Almost daily — and sometimes several times a day — he shared photos of his turntable and whatever album was providing the current soundtrack to his life. Ozzy and KISS, Robert Plant and Pink Floyd, Donald Fagen and his favorite, a South African-born singer named Dilana Smith.

He also posted memes and cat videos and selfies, a long-haired rock star look-alike, always wearing a black T-shirt and a big grin.

A “broken soul”

Singer Dilana Smith, who had became friends with Bowlby, shared this with the Journal Star:

Bowlby would travel to watch her perform when she was back in the States, and they’d have breakfast together. They talked about once a week, she said, through calls, messages and video chats.

He had a broken soul, she said, but had a positive attitude. “Charles seemed to me a little bit of an outsider, an outcast. Charles was special. I literally took Charles under my wing and nicknamed him CharlieBoy.”

Bowlby spent many years working for the Nebraska Department of Transportation. The work side of his life was not good, and Salter’s article goes into some detail about that. Among other things, he was repeatedly bullied by co-workers. The stress took its toll on him, and friends urged him to quit. He said he couldn’t afford to do so:

“He needed his job. He needed his insurance,” his family wrote. “Although a career at the state is not a lucrative prospect, making ends meet can ironically be the fundamental thing that ultimately keeps many bound to the source of their misery.”

Facing heart surgery

Earlier this year, Bowlby faced heart surgery. His Facebook posts, according to the Journal Star article, revealed increasing fear and concern about the upcoming procedure.

Some of his co-workers decided to pile onto that fear. They took bets on whether he would survive the surgery. Soon before the procedure, they gave him a fake toe tag with his name on it.

Charlie Bowlby went in for surgery on August 23. But he didn’t make it. He died from complications following the surgery a couple of days later.

The Journal Star further reports that in the aftermath of Bowlby’s death, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (DOT) was investigating the allegations of bullying from his co-workers, but the DOT would not provide more details. The DOT did, however, claim that bullying behaviors are not tolerated.

Familiar and unique

Over the years, I’ve encountered so many heartbreaking, outrageous stories about workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, and they typically mix both familiar and unique elements.

The story of Charlie Bowlby certainly fits this description. On the one hand, we hear so often about the bullied worker who feels trapped into remaining with their employer. In addition, multiple aggressor bullying and mobbing appears to be especially prevalent in public sector work situations. It’s also quite likely that stress from the bullying contributed significantly to Bowlby’s health problems, another common element of work abuse situations.

On the other hand, the abuse perpetrated by these co-workers took on a uniquely horrible spin. Imagine betting on the likelihood that a co-worker will survive serious surgery. Fathom the cruel nature required to give him a fake toe tag days before his operation. I found myself reading this article and wondering, what the hell is wrong with these people?

I hope you’ll read the full Journal Star article here. It provides a lot more context and background to Charlie Bowlby’s story and the people who cared about him.

Here in the U.S., October has been deemed National Bullying Prevention Month. Next week, we’ll be observing Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, while at the same time, our Canadian neighbors will be observing Workplace Bullying Awareness Week. Obviously the vital need for us to prevent and respond to bullying and mobbing behaviors remains strong, so let’s use these observances to redouble our commitment.

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For those in the Greater Boston area, just a quick reminder that on Friday, October 18, I’ll be hosting a free talk about workplace bullying featuring Dr. Gary Namie, a foremost authority on workplace bullying and co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The event will start at 4 p.m. at Suffolk University Law School in downtown Boston. You may go here for registration details.

MTW Newsstand: October 2019

Every month, the “MTW Newsstand” brings you a curated selection of articles relevant to work, workers, and workplaces. Whenever possible, the materials are freely accessible. Here are this month’s offerings:

Eric Kuelker, “How Psychological Injuries Cause Physical Illness — And How Therapy Can Heal It,” Mad in America (2019) (link here) — “You and your loved ones now have a new future. Whether the psychological injury was early in your life or recent, whether your boss bullied you, or your business partner stole from you, whatever the nature of your emotional wound, a healthy new future is possible. Torn DNA can be woven together again, blood pressure can drop, gray matter in the brain can grow, and you can greatly reduce the risk of 7 of the 10 leading causes of early death.”

Michelle R. Smith, “Why many employees feel devalued even in booming job market,” AP News (2019) (link here) — “Economic research, government data and interviews with workers sketch a picture of lagging wages, eroding benefits and demands for employees to do more without more pay. The loyalty and security that many say they once felt from their employers have diminished, and with it some measure of their satisfaction.”

A. Pawlowski, “Why older women will rule the world: The future is female, MIT expert says,” NBC News (2019) (link here) — “Older women can sometimes feel like they’re invisible to workplaces and businesses, but they’re actually the trailblazers others should be watching, says Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the new book, “The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.” As people get older, the future is female, he argues, with women better prepared for life after middle age than their male peers.”

Karen Weese, “America’s fastest growing jobs don’t pay a living wage,” The Week (2019) (link here) — Over the next 10 years, the occupations with the most job growth in America will not be the techy jobs that most of us think of as the jobs of the future, like, say, solar-panel technicians or software engineers. Instead, they’ll be the jobs held by the women in Hyde-Miller’s community center neighborhood: home health aide and personal care aide. More than one million new aides will be needed over the next decade, in addition to the 3.2 million already in the field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. What’s more, six of the 10 occupations providing the most new jobs over the next decade will pay less than $27,000 a year. That’s more than 15 million people, working hard at jobs that simply don’t pay the bills.”

Sherri Gordon, “6 Reasons Why People Are Bullied at Work,” verywellmind (2019) (link here) — “If you have experienced workplace bullying, you may be asking yourself “why me?” And you are not alone: workplace bullying impacts 54 million Americans every year. Here are some common reasons why people are targeted by workplace bullies.”

Bill Chappell, “U.S. Income Inequality Worsens, Widening To A New Gap,” NPR (2019) (link here) — “The gap between the richest and the poorest U.S. households is now the largest it’s been in the past 50 years — despite the median U.S. income hitting a new record in 2018, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. . . . While many states didn’t see a change in income inequality last year, the income gap grew wider in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia.”

Applying Psychological First Aid to workplace bullying and mobbing

Is Psychological First Aid a useful tool for coaches, union representatives, employee assistance program specialists, lawyers and legal workers, peer group facilitators, and others who are providing support to those who have experienced workplace bullying and mobbing?

I recently completed an online, continuing education course in Psychological First Aid (PFA) (link here), offered by Johns Hopkins University via Coursera, one of the most popular providers of open enrollment, university-level online courses . The Johns Hopkins course is taught by psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor George Everly, a leading authority on PFA and co-author, with Jeffrey Lating, of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid (2017). The course itself takes about 8-10 hours to complete, ideally over a span of a few weeks. The course itself is free of charge, with an added fee for a certificate of completion.

Dr. Everly developed his PFA model to provide first responders who are not trained as counselors with knowledge and training to assist those who have experienced traumatic events, such as displacement due to wars, severe weather events, and other man-made and natural disasters. His model is called “RAPID PFA.” Here are the sequential steps covered in the course:

  • R — “Establishing Rapport and Reflective Listening”
  • A — “Assessment/Listening to the Story
  • P — “Psychological Triage/Prioritization
  • I — “Intervention Tactics to Stabilize and Mitigate Acute Distress”
  • D — “Disposition and Facilitating Access to Continued Care”

The final piece of the course relates to the importance of self-care for those providing PFA.

At no time does PFA call upon someone to render a clinical diagnosis. (That would be wrong on so many levels!) Rather, PFA is designed to help non-clinical individuals facilitate emotional and practical support for those who have experienced traumatic events. This may include, when necessary, referrals to professional mental health and medical care, as well as other tangible forms of assistance.

PFA for workplace bullying and mobbing?

I’ve given a lot of thought as to how Dr. Everly’s RAPID PFA model can be deployed to help those who have experienced severe work abuse. I think it’s a very helpful model for non-clinical folks who are providing support to targets of workplace bullying and mobbing. RAPID PFA not only offers a useful, simple framework for providing support and guidance, but also sets markers for when referrals to professional mental health care may be needed.

Research examining the RAPID PFA model has validated its effectiveness as an early intervention tool, especially when rendered soon after a precipitating event. Herein lies a challenge toward applying PFA to workplace abuse situations: All too often, the mistreatment builds over time, especially in the more covert or indirect forms. In such cases, there may be no single, major traumatic event that prompts someone to seek help. Accordingly, targets frequently wait to seek assistance, as work abuse can take an inordinately long time to process and comprehend. In such instances, a lot of emotional damage may have taken place before someone seeks help.

Finally, the RAPID PFA model is designed to help care providers make fairly quick assessments under scenarios where large numbers of people may suddenly need help. By contrast, we know that many targets of work abuse feel the need to share their stories in significant detail. It is a natural and understandable dynamic, but it can make the process of identifying next steps anything but, well, rapid.

Nevertheless, the RAPID PFA model holds a lot of promise as an early intervention protocol for helping people deal with workplace bullying and mobbing situations. For those who want to provide initial support and guidance to targeted individuals, it provides a straightforward, evidence-based approach for doing so, while helping us to understand appropriate boundaries between lay assistance and professional mental health care.

MTW Revisions: September 2019

In this regular feature, each month I’m reviewing some of the 1,700+ entries to this blog since 2008 and opting to revise and update several of them. I hope that readers find the revised posts useful and interesting. Here are this month’s selections:

Professional schools as incubators for workplace bullying (orig. 2012; rev. 2019) (link here)  — “It has long been my belief that the seeds of workplace bullying are planted in professional schools that prepare people to enter occupations such as law and medicine. You start with ambitious young people who (1) are used to being heralded as academic stars; (2) do not have a lot of life experience; (3) disproportionally come from privileged backgrounds; and (4) tend to be driven, Type A achievers. You then put them in high-pressured, competitive educational environments that emphasize technical knowledge and skills and a lot of analytical thinking. . . . You then unleash them into the world of work.”

Are calls for more resilience and “grit” an indirect form of victim shaming & blaming? (orig. 2016; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Bottom line? Resilience and grit are good. Targeted bullying, mobbing, and abuse are bad. Let’s strive for less interpersonal mistreatment and more individual resilience. And let’s take more personal and social responsibility for our actions and the state of the world.”

After Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl saw only two races (orig. 2017; rev. 2019) (link here) — “When Viktor Frankl reflected upon his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner, including time spent at Auschwitz, he concluded that humanity basically can be divided into two races: ‘From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.'”

“Let’s run it more like a business” (The problem with many non-profit boards) (orig. 2014; rev. 2019) (link here) — “If running a non-profit group ‘more like a business’ means empowering effective, inclusive, and socially responsible leaders and holding them accountable, then I’m all for it. . . But all too often, the ‘more like a business’ mantra translates into the same authoritarian, top-down, command & control model that at least some board members who are drawn from the private sector may embrace in their respective roles as executives and managers.”

3 Questions for Linda Crockett, founder of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc.

Linda Crockett, Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc., Canada

Linda Crockett is the founder of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources, Recovery Centre, Inc. (ABRC) in Alberta, Canada.  She is a clinical social worker, therapist, trainer, and advocate with a deep commitment to the workplace anti-bullying movement.

I had the pleasure of meeting Linda last April at the Workplace Bullying Institute’s “All-Star edition” of its well-known Workplace Bullying University training and education seminar. Because of her important work and deep dedication to helping those who have experienced bullying and abuse at work, I thought she would be an ideal subject to revive the “3 Questions” interview feature that I had done back in 2012-13. 

  1. Linda, please tell us a bit about ABRC and what prompted you to create it.

David, I started ABRC after I experienced bullying in my workplace. It wasn’t the first time for me, but it was the time I hit rock bottom. I had been in social work for 22 years and I knew how to assess, investigate, and address all kinds of abuse. I was highly experienced with complex, politically sensitive cases of abuse. I trained child abuse investigators. I had hundreds of cases of domestic violence, addictions, and sexual abuse. I knew the signs and the systems in place to assist with abuse; medical teams, legal, criminal, insurance, human resources, unions, and recovery services.

Yet when I hit rock bottom, I was in shock that I could be the one being abused. I worked in a hospital for cancer patients and I was being abused by my supervisor and manager. There was no language or training for me to identify this insidious, confusing, passive aggressive nightmare. It was so crazy making, with everyone telling me to keep my head down. I began to doubt my own natural ability to ‘see, hear, think, sense, and feel.”

When I came to terms with the shame I felt, I went looking for help, but there was nothing. Therapists made me feel worse because neither of us knew what we were dealing with. After some healing, I created this resource to help others, build awareness, and offer appropriate services. If I could not identify it, how would others manage? Especially if English was not their first language!

I completed a master’s degree specializing in this area, attended training at the Workplace Bullying Institute, joined the International Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, and began collaborating with others doing this work. In 2012 I started ABRC and so far, I have won two awards. I train leaders, staff of all professions, and offer needs assessments, consultations, and coaching. I’ve lobbied for legislative changes, and as a trauma therapist, I offer specialized counselling or clinical therapy for those harmed, and for those identified through investigations as harming others.

  1. What projects and initiatives are you concentrating on right now, and how might readers want to learn more?

I offer training all year round and customize my training for each organization’s unique needs. As you know, the Workplace Bullying Institute has “Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week” each year. This year it is Oct 13 – 19. This is my 6th year joining WBI by having “Workplace Bullying Awareness Week.” I have invited all Provinces in Canada to join me and hope that in time, this will become worldwide! I believe we need to address this as a worldwide issue. There is power in numbers and you can’t get any bigger than that!  

I put on trainings, post blogs, stories, articles, or videos, and posters.  My colleague Pat Ferris and I are launching a 1-2-day specialized training for counselors and therapists around the world. This will be the first such training of its kind! It will be an amazing training opportunity to help professionals working with individuals or groups of people harmed by workplace bullying. With our growing awareness and changes in legislation, we will need more helping professionals trained to offer skilled and appropriate support and treatment.

Readers can go to my website, join social media, and share my posts so others can see they are not alone. People can also email me if they would like more information or a consult, or counselling.  We offer sessions via skype or zoom so locations won’t limit us.

  1. Where do you see the workplace anti-bullying movement going in Canada, and how would you like to be involved in the years to come?

Sadly, we still have Provinces in Canada that do not have laws against bullying in the workplace. I am confident they will join us. My hope is that they will not waste time trying to reinvent the wheel.  I and Pat Ferris are available to help other Provinces implement new legislation and learn from our Provinces’ mistakes.

Also, within each of our Provinces we have many unions, human resource workers, medical teams, insurance companies, investigators, mediators, lawyers, and many more, who are not taking in-depth training. Some are just checking boxes taking a one-hour webinar, but this is not sufficient. ABRC’s training offers a holistic perspective that includes the “human experience” of this issue. This includes the employee targeted, the bystander who struggles with reporting, the employee who is harming others, the difficulties for leadership, and the impact on the organizations.

Most importantly my training offers “what to do about each of these aspects.” Bottom line, we need a team of experts willing to work collaboratively to provide services for all levels involved.  This is a complex issue with multiple layers. A holistic understanding and approach is the only way to restore a work culture, prevent further harm, ensure early intervention, and offer a variety of restorative or repair options.

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Linda also wishes to share her contact information:

Website         www.abrc.ca

Email              lrmcrockett@gmail.com

Twitter           @BullyingAlberta

LinkedIn        http://www.linkedin.com/in/LindaCrockettABRC

Facebook        @workerssafety

Instagram     Alberta_bullying_resources

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With this post, I am reviving an interview format from 2012-13. “3 Questions” will be a regular feature presenting short interviews with notable individuals whose work and activities overlap with major themes of this blog. Go here to access earlier interviews in the series.

MTW Newsstand: September 2019

Every month, the “MTW Newsstand” brings you a curated selection of articles relevant to work, workers, and workplaces. Whenever possible, the materials are freely accessible. Here are this month’s offerings:

“Study shows workplace bullying rivals diabetes, drinking as heart disease risk factor,” Safety + Health (2019) (link here) — Employees who are bullied or experience violence at work may face an additional stressor – an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a recent study of Scandinavian workers suggests. . . . ‘The effect of bullying and violence on the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the general population is comparable to other risk factors such as diabetes and alcohol drinking,’ lead author Tianwei Xu, a doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a Nov. 19 press release.”

Jeffrey M. Jones, “As Labor Day Turns 125, Union Approval Near 50-Year High,” Gallup (2019) (link here) — “Sixty-four percent of Americans approve of labor unions, surpassing 60% for the third consecutive year and up 16 percentage points from its 2009 low point. . . . The current 64% reading is one of the highest union approval ratings Gallup has recorded over the past 50 years, topped only in March 1999 (66%), August 1999 (65%) and August 2003 (65%) surveys.”

Paul E. Spector, “Why Is Job Satisfaction Important?,” Professor Paul E. Spector, Ph.D. (2019) (link here) — “Job satisfaction is the extent to which people like or dislike their jobs. People vary in how much they like their jobs, even when the hold the same job with the same job conditions. This means that satisfaction is as much determined by the individual as by the job. But why should organizations care about it, in other words why is job satisfaction important?”

Patricia Cohen, “New Evidence of Age Bias in Hiring, and a Push to Fight It,” New York Times (2019) (link here) — “The shadow of age bias in hiring, though, is long. Tens of thousands of workers say that even with the right qualifications for a job, they are repeatedly turned away because they are over 50, or even 40, and considered too old. The problem is getting more scrutiny after revelations that hundreds of employers shut out middle-aged and older Americans in their recruiting on Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. Those disclosures are supercharging a wave of litigation. But as cases make their way to court, the legal road for proving age discrimination, always difficult, has only roughened.”

Debate and Dialogue

The first piece listed below by Arthur C. Brooks has prompted a lot of discussion. I’ve included a sampling of responses.

Arthur C. Brooks, “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,” The Atlantic (2019) (link here) — “In sum, if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.”

Elizabeth MacBride, “Successful Women Are Starting Businesses. Yes, Even After 50.,” Forbes.com (2019) (link here) — “While I was reading it, drawn by the fear-inspiring headline “Your Professional Decline Is Coming Sooner Than You Think,” I felt how little the bleak worldview and the sense of loss reflect the reality of women I know as they near and pass 50.”

Chris Farrell, “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think? Bunk!, Next Avenue (2019) (link here) — “But the tight link Brooks makes between aging and decline is a false one. Research by noted economists, sociologists, neuroscientists, scholars of creativity, students of innovation and other disciplines is inclined towards a very different narrative about the second half of life than Brooks’ declinist view.”

The Conversation, The Atlantic (2019) (link here) — “Readers respond to our July 2019 feature on professional decline and more.”

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