A lot of deniers are simply playing a sick, sociopathic game

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

Denier behavior occurs at many levels and in many situations.

There are those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, claiming that millions of souls never perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Those are those who deny that innocent children were gunned down at Sandy Hook, claiming that the victims’ parents are participating in a big ruse.

As we are witnessing at this very moment in America, there are those who deny the realities of sexual assault, claiming that the victims are making it all up.

In my own work, I see those who deny that people can be bullied out of their jobs and livelihoods, claiming that the targets (not the aggressors) were the problems, or chalking it up to “personality differences.”

Truth is, I think that many of these deniers don’t actually believe what they’re saying. They know what’s going on.

However, they wish to perpetuate vast power differentials and dismiss suffering, abuse, and injustice by claiming that nothing happened.

For some, it provides a sort of sick, sociopathic satisfaction in watching victims, survivors, their loved ones, and bystanders experience even more anguish when their realities are denied and even mocked. It’s a next-level form of abuse.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Rumination, obsession, and the challenge of getting “unstuck”

Seeking the light

Two weeks ago, I highlighted Janice Gilligan White’s insightful and hopeful writings about recovering and healing from severe workplace mobbing. Among other things, Janice’s recollections of obsessing over the details of her experiences capture what so many bullying and mobbing targets go through:

Getting past my own personal circumstance was very difficult for me. I found myself constantly trying to piece together every last detail of my story.

I had to decide how much more time I was willing to spend on all of it.

There is a truth to workplace bullying / mobbing I had to accept; much of what happened I would never know. The destruction of my career and reputation was done behind closed doors of which I had been denied access.

It’s part of common, larger dynamic that I’ve characterized as the challenge of getting “unstuck”:

One of the biggest challenges facing many people who have experienced severe workplace bullying is getting unstuck. Some may feel trapped, helpless, or victimized. Others may be caught in a cycle of anger, defiance, or battle-like conflict. Oftentimes, these thought patterns and behaviors are associated with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

A more clinically accurate term for much of this behavior might be rumination. Here’s what I wrote in 2015:

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a click and read.

For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing. For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006 study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’ narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.

Work abuse can inflict considerable emotional harm. It’s no wonder that many targets of bullying and mobbing have trouble getting unstuck. However, finding their way toward doing so may be the key to their recovery and renewal. After all, to borrow the lyrics from a song by the band Creed, “…what consumes your thoughts controls your life.”

Related posts

Coping with workplace bullying and mobbing: Letting go of the story (but not completely) (2016)

Post-traumatic embitterment disorder as a consequence of workplace bullying (2015)

The obsessive filter of workplace bullying (2015)

 

Johann Hari on the causes of, and healing responses to, depression

Depression is one of our most significant public health challenges. And as too many readers of this blog know from first-hand experience, depression is a common result of severe bullying, mobbing, and harassment at work. Fortunately, we are gaining a stronger understanding of depression and how to treat it. Contributing to a thoughtful and provocative discussion on this important topic is Johann Hari’s Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions (2018).

Hari is an investigative journalist who has lived with depression since childhood. His own experiences caused him to dig deep into understanding depression and anxiety and how we might respond to it. In essence, he includes, but goes beyond, potential organic causes of depression and looks for possible roots in our broader society. Consequently he is helping to prompt a more expansive exploration of depression and potential healing and treatment approaches.

I’m going to borrow from the book’s table of contents to outline his proposed causes and responses to depression:

Causes of Depression and Anxiety

  • “Disconnection from Meaningful Work”
  • “Disconnection from Other People”
  • “Disconnection from Meaningful Values”
  • “Disconnection from Childhood Trauma”
  • “Disconnection from Status and Respect”
  • “Disconnection from the Natural World”
  • “Disconnection from a Hopeful or Secure Future”
  • “The Real Roles of Genes and Brain Changes”

Reconnection as a “Different Kind of Antidepressant”

  • “To Other People”
  • “Social Prescribing”
  • “To Meaningful Work”
  • “To Meaningful Values”
  • “Sympathetic Joy, and Overcoming Addiction to the Self”
  • “Acknowledging and Overcoming Childhood Trauma”
  • “Restoring the Future”

Although I’m not a clinical psychologist, I’m confident in saying that Hari is onto something here with his research, analyses, and insights. Many of the chapter headings speak directly to the impacts of work abuse. I know that I’ll be spending more time with this book in order to build my understanding of depression and how we can respond to it.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Recovery and possibilities for post-traumatic growth

What are the recovery prospects for targets of severe workplace bullying or mobbing who are experiencing psychological trauma? Can they access effective treatments and help? Can they recover and heal from their ordeals to live rich, meaningful lives?

A few short decades ago, many psychological trauma experts were pessimistic about our ability to treat PTSD and related conditions. Yes, they were learning a lot about trauma, its symptoms, and its effects. However, their growing body of research and understanding had yet to yield many answers on treatment and healing.

We have come a long way since then. Today, we are at a point where the term post-traumatic growth is becoming a reality for many of those who have faced deeply traumatic experiences. This, in turn, allows us to be optimistic about recovery prospects for workplace bullying and mobbing targets who are dealing with trauma.

YES! magazine

In a feature for the latest issue of YES! magazine, journalist Michaela Haas examines the latest research on post-traumatic growth, opening with the story of an army surgeon:

WHEN ARMY SURGEON RHONDA CORNUM REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS AFTER HER HELICOPTER CRASHED, she looked up to see five Iraqi soldiers pointing rifles at her. It was 1991 and her Black Hawk had been shot down over the Iraqi desert. Dazed from blood loss, with a busted knee and two broken arms, the then-36-year-old medic was subjected to a mock execution by her captors, sexually assaulted, and kept prisoner in a bunker for a week.

Her crisis included textbook causes for post-traumatic stress — a near-death experience, sexual assault, utter helplessness — and yet, after her release and medical rehabilitation, she surprised psychiatrists by focusing on ways she improved. “I became a better doctor, a better parent, a better commander, probably a better person,” she says.

One might suspect Cornum was suppressing the real toll of her ordeal, but her experience is far from unique. “Post-­traumatic growth,” a term coined by University of North Carolina psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, describes the surprising benefits many survivors discover in the process of healing from a traumatic event.

Haas then identifies and discusses seven “strategies trauma psychologists have found particularly helpful to turn struggle into strength”:

  • “Mindfulness”
  • “Vulnerability”
  • “Self-compassion”
  • “Finding meaning”
  • “Gratitude”
  • “A holistic approach”
  • “A team effort”

She elaborates upon each of these strategies, such the value of team support:

“Nobody ever does it alone,” civil rights icon Maya Angelou recognized, years after being raped at the age of 8. Resilience is always a team effort. Moving forward after a crisis depends not only on the individual’s resources and their genetic makeup or upbringing, but also on their connections to the people around them and the quality of support. The best kind of support encourages survivors to focus on their strength but doesn’t gloss over their wounds. Nothing is as powerful as knowing we are not alone.

It’s an excellent article, with plenty of useful content for folks who are recovering from the trauma of work abuse.

An exemplar

Janice Gilligan White, a survivor of workplace mobbing in the aviation industry, is emerging as an insightful and compassionate voice on recovering from abuse at work. In a series of guest pieces posted to Dr. Sophie Henshaw’s Free Spirited Me blog, Janice takes us through her journey of experiencing, understanding, and recovering from mobbing at work. In the process, she exemplifies a path of and toward post-traumatic growth.

I’m going to highlight her second entry, “How To Find Closure After Workplace Bullying,” as I believe it speaks to many readers who have experienced severe work abuse:

Closure after workplace bullying; it’s what every target desperately searches for. The elusive treasure chest filled with peace.

If not found, we risk our health. We can lose our connection to people and our ability to find fulfilling work. We can find ourselves stuck in a current state of discord, unable to move forward. 

At least, that’s what was happening to me.

She then examines her steps towards recovery, explaining each one:

  • “Leaving”
  • “Naming My Experience”
  • “Finding The Right Therapist/Coach”
  • “Getting Past The Obsession”
  • “Countering The Power Of Bullying By Reconnecting”
  • “Finding My Voice Again”

Janice’s closure is a work in progress. She finishes this post with “Final Words” that mark where she is and where she sees herself going:

While there is still a bit more work to do, I am getting closer than ever to finding closure after workplace bullying.

I need to discover what’s next after leaving my job, naming my experience, finding the right therapist / coach, getting past the obsession, countering the power of bullying by reconnecting and finding my voice again.

I don’t know what that is yet, but I see something beautiful glistening in the distance…

It’s the treasure chest. Unburied, unlocked, and filled with peace… And a far better life than I could have ever imagined prior to this event.

There’s a lot of wisdom, humanity, and hope in these words. I’d suggest checking out Janice’s other posts if they resonate with you.

***

Note: After I published this piece, Dr. Henshaw did a 24-minute interview with Janice, which they posted to Facebook.

Have we entered an “era of empathy” at work? (Uh, well, at least not yet)

Four years ago, business school professor Rita Gunther McGrath (Columbia U.) suggested in a piece for the Harvard Business Review that we are entering an “era of empathy” at work. I wasn’t sure what to make of that assertion when I first read her commentary, so I kept the article on file and told myself that I’d return to it someday. I figured this Labor Day weekend is a good time to revisit it.

According to Dr. McGrath, “we’ve seen three ‘ages’ of management since the industrial revolution, with each putting the emphasis on a different theme: execution, expertise, and empathy.”

The rise of an industrial economy prompted the era of execution, focussing on “execution of mass production, and managerial solutions such as specialization of labor, standardized processes, quality control, workflow planning, and rudimentary accounting were brought to bear.”

Then came the era of expertise, signaled by the emergence of university business schools and the establishment of journals such as the Harvard Business Review during the late 1800s and early 1900s. These developments marked “progress toward the belief that management was a discipline of growing evidence and evolving theory.”

Now, wrote McGrath, we have entered a third era, that of empathy:

Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences. I would argue that management has entered a new era of empathy.

This quest for empathy extends to customers, certainly, but also changes the nature of the employment contract, and the value proposition for new employees. We are also grappling with widespread dissatisfaction with the institutions that have been built to date, many of which were designed for the business-as-machine era. They are seen as promoting inequality, pursuing profit at the expense of employees and customers, and being run for the benefit of owners of capital, rather than for a broader set of stakeholders. At this level, too, the challenge to management is to act with greater empathy.

The era of empathy hasn’t reached the workplace yet

As Dr. McGrath suggests, all the research, knowledge, and analytical tools are in place to usher in this age of empathy into the workplace: We’re aware of burgeoning income and wealth inequality. We’re aware of negative changes in employment relations, especially the demise of unions. We’re aware that bullying, mobbing, sexual harassment, and other forms of worker mistreatment continue to inflict huge individual and organizational tolls.

We’re also aware that treating employees with a baseline of dignity is a great way to grow and maintain a stable, productive, and loyal workforce.

But here’s the disconnect. Despite all this research, knowledge, and analysis, too many employers are preserving the status quo, or doing even worse. On this Labor Day weekend:

  • Income and wealth inequality continue to expand, especially as measured by the widening gap between highest and lowest paid employees in organizations;
  • Employers, backed by inadequate enforcement of labor laws, continue to vigorously oppose unions and collective bargaining;
  • Work abuse in the forms of bullying, mobbing, and harassment continues to ignored and sometimes fueled by too many senior managers and executives.

I don’t think the era of empathy is going to become a reality without workers demanding so. While certainly there are employers who do the right thing by their employees and reap the benefits (Costco comes to mind), all too many of their counterparts operate in a much different manner. The latter includes some of the giants of our labor market (e.g., Amazon and Walmart), who set the pace for others and can do better.

Put simply, we need a revived, energetic, inclusive, and creative labor movement to usher in these needed changes. Unions will be a big part of that revival, but so will other worker advocacy, civil rights, and religious groups, as well as networks of individuals connecting in person and online. It will also require electing to office those who value the interests of everyday workers over the interests of those vested in concentrations of wealth and power.

It’s a big, challenging task. Labor Day is a good time to rededicate ourselves to it.

Hopeful, informed dialogue on workplace bullying, mobbing, and incivility at FMCS conference

Lunch always tastes better after you’ve done your program! With co-facilitators and FMCS Commissioners Denise McKenney and Ligia Velazquez.

This week it was my pleasure to participate in a workshop, “Understanding the Civility Spectrum in the Workplace,” at the annual National Labor-Management Conference of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Chicago. The FMCS is an independent federal agency whose mission is to support labor-management peace and cooperation through mediation and conflict resolution services. My fellow co-facilitators were two FMCS Commissioners, Denise McKenney (also the agency’s Director of Equal Employment Opportunity) and Ligia Velazquez.

We opened with a framing of a “civility spectrum” that starts milder forms of incivility at work and runs all the way to bullying and mobbing behaviors. Our “formal” presentations quickly gave way to a very interactive discussion with a full room of practitioners from labor unions, management/human resources, and neutrals (mediators and arbitrators).

I titled this post “hopeful, informed dialogue” because that’s exactly what I came away with by participating in an exchange among labor relations professionals from different backgrounds. The discussion was insightful, knowledgeable, and respectful. People implicitly recognized that creating healthy workplaces requires an awareness of, and accountability for, individual behaviors, as well as effective policies and procedures at an organizational level. 

No, we didn’t develop any magic, one-size-fits-all answers on how to deal with incivility, bullying, and mobbing in the workplace. This stuff is too complicated and varied for easy fixes. But when I think back to my first forays into workplace bullying as a topic of study and research back in 1998 with Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute, I can see how far we’ve come in terms of public education and understanding.

Planning and presenting this program with the folks at FMCS was a very collaborative experience. It was great to co-facilitate with Commissioners McKenney and Velazquez. Their ability to encourage dialogue and discussion contributed mightily toward the interactive nature of the session. In addition, Javier Ramirez (FMCS Manager of National/Field Programs, Initiatives and Innovation) and Heather Brown (FMCS Director of Education and Training) were instrumental in helping to put this together. I also appreciated the warm welcome extended to me by FMCS Director Richard Giacolone and his staff.

***

To Learn More

Here are some of the resources I listed in my handout for the FMCS program:

Articles

Many of my articles on workplace bullying and related topics are freely downloadable from my Social Sciences Research Network page, including:

  • David C. Yamada, Workplace Bullying and Ethical Leadership, Journal of Values-Based Leadership (2008)
  • David C. Yamada, The Phenomenon of “Workplace Bullying” and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection, Georgetown Law Journal (2000)
  • David C. Yamada, Emerging American Legal Responses to Workplace Bullying, Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review (2013)

The Workplace Bullying Institute (Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie)

I have worked with WBI on a pro bono basis since 1998. Their website is a treasure trove of information and resources.

American Psychological Association, Center for Organizational Excellence

I served as a subject matter expert to the APA on the development of this resource webpage on workplace bullying, including an animated educational video, links, and book list.

Recommended Books

  • Maureen Duffy & David C. Yamada, eds., Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2018) (two-volume, multidisciplinary, multi-contributor book set).
  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace (Wiley, 2011) (for employers)
  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (Sourcebooks, rev. ed. 2009) (for bullying targets)
  • Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (Oxford U. Press, 2014)
  • Shelley D. Lane, Understanding Everyday Incivility (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)
  • Christine Porath, Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace (Grand Central Publishing, 2016)

On being restlessly patient in advancing positive law and policy reforms

A piece in the current issue of the Economist, the venerable British news magazine, resurrects the tax policy positions of Henry George, an author and political economist who built a worldwide following during the last half of the 19th century:

ON A trip to New York in the late 1860s the journalist Henry George was puzzled. He found the rapidly growing city to be a place of unimaginable wealth. Yet it also contained deeper poverty than the less-developed West Coast. How could this be? George had an epiphany. Too much of the wealth of New York was being extracted by landowners, who did nothing to contribute to the development of the city, but could extract its riches via rents. The problem could be solved by a tax on land values.

George’s subsequent masterpiece, “Progress and Poverty”, sold more copies in America in the 1890s than any other book except the Bible. It spawned campaigns for land-value taxation around the world. It also inspired a board game, “The Landlord’s Game”, a precursor to “Monopoly”. The game was designed to show how property markets naturally tend towards monopolies in which one player can extract all the rent.

Examining the current state of tax policy, the Economist concludes that a stronger reliance on land taxation might be a good thing.

I’ve been interested in George’s land tax proposal ever since reading about it in Robert L. Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers back in college. (Heilbroner has passed, but his book — last revised in 1999 — remains, in my opinion, the most engaging, lucid, and accessible introduction to the history of economic thought.) As the Economist piece suggests, Henry George’s ideas would fade into obscurity. They have been kept alive by a small but determined band of economists and social activists, coalescing around a group of independent Henry George Schools dedicated to providing continuing education and scholarship about Georgist economic principles.

But the purpose of this writeup isn’t to convince you, dear readers, on the merits of Henry George’s taxation theories, even though I believe they are worth considering. Rather, it’s to point out that important ideas about law reform and public policy sometimes take years to percolate, in some cases beyond our lifespans.

With that reality in mind, I have favored an attitude of restless patience in advocating for desired changes in law and public policy. In this context I think of restless as being dissatisfied with the status quo. I think of patience as being smart, persistent, and determined. I have had to give myself this advice on at least three areas of law and policy reform very dear to me:

Workplace bullying and law reform

Some 20 years ago, my first law review article on the legal and public policy implications of workplace bullying was accepted for publication, and it would be published by the Georgetown Law Journal in 2000. Among other things, it surveyed potential legal protections for targets of workplace bullying under American employment law and found them wholly wanting. I proposed the parameters of what would become a model workplace anti-bullying statute, eventually dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).

For some 15 years, the HWB has been the main template for law reform efforts concerning workplace bullying, but it has not yet been enacted in its full form by any of the 30 states in which it has been introduced. However, in recent years we have had some breakthroughs, with several states and municipalities enacting workplace bullying legislation and ordinances drawing heavily from the language of the HWB. Unions and government entities are also using the HWB language to collectively bargain over workplace bullying concerns and to design internal agency employment policies.

Here in Massachusetts, we continue to work hard to make our state the first one to enact comprehensive workplace anti-bullying legislation. The HWB once again stalled in the just-completed session of the MA legislature, despite dozens of legislative sponsors and a positive report out of the committee overseeing it.

Advocacy work can be frustrating and sometimes demoralizing. But if you believe deeply in something, you keep going. Maybe you change strategies or tactics, but you persevere. And come January, when the 2019-20 session of the legislature begins, we’ll be ready to go.

Like an unwanted holiday fruitcake

In 2002, the Connecticut Law Review published my article on the legal status of interns, in which I looked at the burgeoning intern economy and concluded that many unpaid internships are running afoul of minimum wage laws. I hoped that the piece would quickly stir some interest, but for many years it pretty much sat there, like an unwanted holiday fruitcake.

This changed when a writer named Ross Perlin authored the first comprehensive examination of the explosive growth of unpaid internships, Intern Nation (2011). He referenced my 2002 law review article and called it “the single best source of information for American internships and the law.” (Thank you again, Ross, for pulling my article out of depths of Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis.) One of Ross’s readers, Eric Glatt, chased down my law review article and concluded that his unpaid internship with Fox Searchlight Pictures just might’ve been in violation of minimum wage laws. Eric would become the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for that internship.

To our disappointment, federal courts have not been friendly to these claims brought by unpaid interns, adopting a very pro-employer legal test for exempting interns from the minimum wage. However, the door has not been completely closed on such legal claims, and the considerable publicity generated by these cases has caused many employers to opt to pay their interns. The debate over unpaid internships, once a non-existent one, continues to reverberate in business and legislative settings.

Should law be therapeutic?

In recent years I’ve allied myself with a much broader effort to change our laws and public policies, an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice called therapeutic jurisprudence. “TJ,” as it is commonly referred to, examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws, legal systems, and legal institutions. It favors outcomes in legal disputes and transactions that advance human dignity and psychological well-being.

TJ was founded in 1987 by two American law professors, David Wexler and Bruce Winick. Although it has grown into a global network of scholars, lawyers, judges, and other practitioners, it has yet to enjoy a mainstream presence in legal academe or legal practice. To help expand TJ’s influence, we have formed a new non-profit, membership organization, the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence. I am serving as the ISTJ’s first board chair.

I hope that someday, sooner than later, TJ will be recognized as a primary framing theory for the design and application of the law. In the meantime, I find myself inspired by that cohort of scholars, educators, and activists who have kept the flame of Henry George’s ideas alive for so many years.

On being restlessly patient

Indeed, I’d like to think that the spirit of Henry George is pleased to see his ideas about land taxation knocking on the door of greater mainstream reception. Of course, in my case I’d rather not wait for some 130 years to see workplace bullying laws widely enacted, interns being paid for their work, and our laws and public policies embracing human dignity and psychological well-being. But at least it’s a reminder that good ideas can’t be suppressed forever.

As I find myself urging upon those who are understandably frustrated with the pace of social progress and justice, we cannot control outcomes, we can only try to influence them. This is an especially important reality for the times in which we live. Buoyed by a spirit of restless patience, our job is to dig in, plant the seeds for positive change, and take part in moving our society toward something better.

***

You may freely download my law review articles on workplace bullying, intern rights, and therapeutic jurisprudence from my Social Science Research Network page. At the risk of being immodest, I have been told by many folks who are not lawyers or academics that they are very readable and accessible, which I consider to be a supreme compliment.

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