Recycling: Five years of July

Each month I’m reaching into the archives to highlight a piece from that month of each past year. Especially for those of you who missed them the first time around, I hope they provide interesting and useful reading. For each piece I’m including a short excerpt; you may click on the title for the full article.

July 2013: Triple jeopardy: Workplace bullying at midlife — “Although ‘middle aged’ is a term that few in their 40s and 50s are eager to embrace, this phase of life typically is marked by high levels of personal and occupational achievement and productivity. The specter of workplace bullying during the ongoing economic crisis, however, tells a very different story.”

July 2012: Memo to self: “I’m swamped” may be a self-imposed condition — “We continue to ratchet up expectations for occupational and professional success. We worship the mantra of ‘work hard, play hard.’ If you don’t keep doing more, you’ll fall behind and never catch up — or perhaps miss out on that ‘big opportunity,’ even if it’s something you don’t necessarily want.”

July 2011: How well does your organization respond to employee criticism and feedback? — “In reality, organizational leaders who have the confidence to solicit and listen to worker feedback generally also are likely to have the integrity to treat allegations of wrongful behavior fairly and responsively. Poor leaders, however, are more likely to fall short on both measures.”

July 2010: Graduating into a recession — “Comparisons between the current recession and that of the early 1980s are frequent, but this one is worse.  In terms of severity, the Great Recession lies somewhere between the 80s recession and the Great Depression of the 1930s. We appear to be looking at structural changes in the labor markets, with the term “jobless recovery” frequently invoked to suggest a sluggish comeback for the stock market with little or no corresponding improvement in the employment situation.”

July 2009: Workplace bullying as a public health concern — “Transnational bodies such as the World Health Organization and International Labour Organisation have recognized the costs of workplace bullying to workers and employers, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has hosted roundtable discussions of experts on workplace bullying, linking it to workplace violence.  Hopefully these are signs that we are closer to classifying the widespread and destructive effect of workplace bullying as a legitimate public health concern.”

Corliss Olson on workplace bullying — WMTV interview

Corliss Olson, director of and professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School for Workers, has been a long-time supporter of the anti-bullying movement. This week she was interviewed about workplace bullying and the need for the Healthy Workplace Bill by Madison’s WMTV NBC15. To watch her interview, go here. [Update October 2010 — the interview is no longer available.]

During her interview, Corliss shared a brief piece of a conversation with a boilermaker who observed that when it comes to the workplace, we’ve gone from “lean and mean” to “anorexic and vicious.” It struck me as a sadly apt characterization of what the Great Recession is doing to too many workers.

By the way, UW’s School for Workers is one of a dwindling number of university-affiliated labor education programs. I’m a big fan of these schools, as they help to counterbalance the overwhelming management presence of business schools and MBA programs. You can learn more about the school and its programs from its website.


Hat tip: Wisconsin Healthy Workplace Advocates

Shout out to SUNY-Empire State College

Many thanks to the folks at SUNY-Empire State College (where I earned a Master’s degree in Labor and Policy Studies in 1999) for running this generous interview by Helen Susan Edelman, profiling my work on workplace bullying in the Spring 2010 issue of Connections, the ESC magazine:

Workplace bullying is a problem wherever there are human beings, says David Yamada, and he is dedicated to redressing this destructive phenomenon.  A lawyer and law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Yamada is inspired by a vision of a work environment that affirms and dignifies individuals; he promulgates this ideal in efforts to encourage the legal system, institutions and individuals to address workplace bullying.

Empire State College: A higher education pioneer

Empire State has been and remains a pioneering institution in developing and offering innovative degree programs. I have been an active alumnus because I believe wholeheartedly in its mission as a public, flexible learning college for adults who want to make a difference in their workplaces and communities.  Recently I joined the Graduate Dean’s Advisory Board, and for several years I have sponsored a modest scholarship for a graduate student pursuing studies in labor relations.

Top global thinkers and think tank lists: Where are the voices of labor?

Although work and workplaces are central experiences in countless numbers of lives, the world of employment relations is somewhat invisible in two recent lists of leading global public policy thinkers and think tanks.

Foreign Policy‘s 100 Top Global Thinkers

In December, Foreign Policy magazine published its list of the 100 top global thinkers (link below), which included scholars, writers, elected officials, policy analysts, and advocates from around the world who have impacted thinking and action on significant public policy issues.

Several economists whose work inevitably overlaps with employment policy make the list, Joseph Stiglitz (ranked 25th) and Paul Krugman (29th) being prominent among them. And Barbara Ehrenreich (59th), author of influential books and articles on the low-wage workforce, unemployment, and the state of work in America, is listed “for her relentless efforts to understand the root causes of poverty and inequality.”

But no readily identifiable labor leader or employment relations scholar appeared on the list.

The Global “Go-To Think Tanks”

In January, the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program released its annual survey of leading think tanks, covering U.S. and non-U.S. institutions (link below).

The list did include prominent think tanks that have conducted important labor-related research and analysis, including the Brookings Institute (ranked 1st overall), Human Rights Watch (23rd overall), and the Economic Policy Institute (46th in the U.S.).

However, similar to the Foreign Policy ranking, there was no readily identifiable labor-centered think tank on the list.

Labor’s decline

The absence of a prominent employment policy and labor relations presence on these lists is especially reflective of the decline of the labor movement.  During the decades that followed the end of the Second World War, labor sat at the table with management and government in shaping employment policy and public policy in general.  However, during the past 30 years, labor union density around the world has been on the decline, and transnational corporations have grown enormously in power and influence.

Ripple effects

The less prominent labor voice manifests itself in several ways:

In the media, few newspapers assign reporters to a “labor beat,” and coverage of employment issues is usually in the context of business and economics.  Very few public intellectuals have built their identities around labor issues — Barbara Ehrenreich is a definite outlier here.

In politics, labor all too often has been relegated to “special interest” status, even if labor unions themselves represent some of the most diverse swaths of the population.  The list of elected officials who court labor union support at campaign time but then fail to take a strong stand on pro-labor legislation would fill a small phone book.

In academe, work issues typically are shoehorned into management and organizational behavior elements of MBA programs, a sprinkling of sociology and labor economics offerings, and a handful of law school elective courses. Labor studies programs have been on a steady decline.

Voices and visibility

There is no shortage of creative research, thinking, and advocacy on labor issues.  However, the workplace and workers’ interests do not receive the attention they merit in our contemporary discussions of public policy.  The challenge for all of us working in this realm is to do what we can to raise the visibility of these issues in the public eye.


Foreign Policy global thinkers article

University of Pennsylvania global “go-to” think tanks report (pdf)

When workplace bullying enters academe in a good way

Experiencing workplace bullying in academe is a bad thing, but the entry of workplace bullying into academic dialogue is a big step in the right direction.  I had an opportunity to witness the latter twice during the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a conference at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, California, a tiny storefront college devoted to social change and community activism.  I’ve been pursuing graduate studies at WISR via distance learning, and this conference was an opportunity to present some of the work I’ve been doing on workplace bullying and intellectual activism.  Overall the conference was terrific, and my presentation was greeted with an array of thoughtful, insightful comments and questions.  Many of the participants shared stories about workplace bullying drawn from their own employment experiences.

At the end of last week, I visited the main center of Empire State College — the adult learner-centered college of the State University of New York system — in Saratoga Springs, New York, for a series of meetings and events built around the 25th anniversary of the school’s graduate programs.  (I earned a master’s degree in labor and policy studies from ESC in 1999.)  From the many discussions I had with faculty and administrators, I could tell that workplace bullying registered with them as a topic worthy of attention.  My former thesis adviser told me how pleased he was to see one of his current students citing my work on workplace bullying, and I was interviewed at length on the topic for the alumni magazine.

It is noteworthy that within academic circles, the attention given to workplace bullying is bubbling up mainly from the grassroots.  Many of the leading researchers are from state colleges and regional universities, not from elite private schools. Their research often embraces, rather than avoids, practical applications. Among the graduate students who are researching and writing about workplace bullying, many have returned to academe after some time in the real world. It makes eminent sense that many are enrolled in distance learning and flexible degree programs that accommodate their busy schedules, support independent study, and encourage them to draw inspiration and insight from their own work experiences.

A Visit to The Labor Guild

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting The Labor Guild ( in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to facilitate a discussion on workplace bullying as part of the Guild’s School of Labor Relations.  The discussion went very well, with lots of shared experiences and good ideas, thanks to the lively and engaged group of union members who joined us for the session.

Visiting the Guild was a special treat for me, as it was my first opportunity to become more familiar with a venerable Catholic-affiliated labor school started some 60 years ago.  In addition to its base of union activists and leaders, the Guild counts among its members a wide array of people involved in labor and employment relations, including management and neutrals.  Over the years, the Guild has evolved into a multifaceted labor relations center that offers labor education classes, manages union elections, and offers meeting space for labor and management negotiators.

The Guild is housed in an old Catholic high school, and thanks to a lot of volunteer work contributions from its members and supporting trade unionists, its offices and classrooms have a wonderfully homey feel to them, which was more than matched by the warm and down to earth folks I met there.  I’d like to offer a special thank you to AFSCME’s George Embleton, who served as my host and went out of his way to introduce me to so many of the fine people associated with the Guild.

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