Feedspot tags MTW a top workplace and bullying blog

Feedspot, a popular online content reader, has named Minding the Workplace a “Top 75 Workplace Blog” and a “Top 20 Bullying Blog.” MTW was listed 39th among the top 75 workplace blogs and websites and 9th among the top 20 bullying blogs and websites.

I’m very grateful to be included in both of these listings. This is my ninth year of writing this blog, and it remains one of the most rewarding parts of my work. Over the years I’ve received very positive feedback on many articles. I’m especially aware that MTW has helped many  targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse to understand their experiences and, when possible, develop strategies for responding.

I didn’t know what to expect when I began this blog, but the experience has been very meaningful. Of course, it all starts and ends with you, my readers, and I thank you for your ongoing interest.

“Post-truths” at work and management messaging

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Alison Flood reports for The Guardian newspaper that “Oxford Dictionaries has declared ‘post-truth’ to be its international word of the year.” She continues:

Defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”.

I couldn’t help but think of popular “post-truths” circulated by some employers to their rank-and-file workers:

  • “We’re all in this together.”
  • “Each and every employee matters to us.”
  • “We’d hate for a union to come in and interfere with the direct communications we enjoy with our valued employees.”
  • “We’re absolutely committed to equal opportunity.”
  • “Don’t worry, you can trust the HR office with all of your concerns.”
  • “Think of us as one big family here.”

I’m sure that readers can add their own post-truths to this list.

Of course, at some workplaces, many of these statements actually apply. But in too many places of employment, the more you hear them, the less truth they happen to carry. 

Conversations and the construction of knowledge

(image courtesy of ClipArtBest.com)

(image courtesy of ClipArtBest.com)

Okay, dear readers, I’m about to get a little academic geeky on you, but please stick with me on this: In InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing (3rd ed. 2014), co-authors Steinar Kvale and Svend Brinkmann examine the notion of “conversation as a construction site of knowledge.” Invoking this phrase in the context of conducting formal research interviews, they posit that the interactive nature of good conversations can create new knowledge.

This brilliant turn of words was introduced to me by Dr. Maureen Duffy, a leading authority on workplace mobbing and most recently co-author, with Dr. Len Sperry, of the deservedly praised Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014). I’m probably guilty of oversimplifying, but in essence Drs. Kvale and Brinkmann are wrapping some theory around how conversations over ideas, information, insights, and experiences can build and expand our understanding of the human condition.

I have found this to be profoundly true when it comes to learning about the nature of work, workers, and workplaces.

The “new math” of conversation

I’m no math whiz, but I do understand that one plus one equals two. However, a good conversation may yield a different, more powerful equation, whereby one plus one may equal three…or five…or ten, at least when it comes to potential new understandings. And when even more people get into a good mix of conversation, then all bets are off.

My recent phone conversations with Maureen have centered on a book project (see below), but because we’re both immersed in the world of workplace bullying and mobbing, we sometimes discuss our work generally. I can attest that sharing our respective expertise has led to knowledge constructing moments for both us, with insights emerging from the back and forth of attentive conversation.

This is among the reasons why I have written in praise of conferences and workshops that allow for genuine exchanges during formal sessions, break times, and enrichment events. As frequent conference goers know well, there’s a huge difference between gatherings that are interactive, friendly, and engaging, and those that are stuffy, hierarchical, and pretentious. With the former, you wish it could go on for a few more days. With the latter, you can’t wait for it to be over. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this stuff, here are several blog posts of possible interest:

Conferences as community builders (2015)

Workshopping human dignity (2014)

Inspiration in Amsterdam (2013)

Why conferences? (2013)

Stay tuned: A cool book project is in the making

I’ve been on the phone with Maureen a lot in recent months because she invited me to join her as co-editor of an exciting book project on workplace bullying and mobbing. The two-volume book set will feature a comprehensive, multidisciplinary collection of chapters by leading and emerging U.S. experts on bullying and mobbing at work, with a focus on American employment relations. We have a very supportive publisher and a great team of chapter contributors, and we’re looking at a 2017 publication date. I’ll be sharing more news about the project in the coming months.

Workplace bullying: From target to subject matter expert

Do your homework

Part of your homework

On occasion I receive inquiries that go something like this: I’ve been a target of workplace bullying. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and want to help make sure that others don’t go through what I did. In fact, I’d like to do some work in this area. How can I go about this?

Typically such inquiries come from folks who would like to be more deeply involved in public education, consulting and coaching, and advocacy work about workplace bullying. They run the gamut of professional backgrounds and age ranges. Although I’ve written about how people can respond to workplace bullying as individual activists, I haven’t fully explored this question for those who want to pursue a vocation or serious avocation in this realm. For purposes of discussing possible roles, I will use the term “subject matter expert” (SME), the specifics of which, of course, will vary with individual circumstances and interests. 

The transition from workplace bullying target to SME is a challenging one. Some who want to make this transition proceed under two misconceptions. First, they overgeneralize from their experience, sometimes to the point of regarding themselves as an expert on workplace bullying because of what they endured. The experience of being bullied at work may yield many valuable (albeit very difficult) lessons that can benefit others. But one’s own experience of work abuse is not necessarily universal or even representative. Variations on bullying are seemingly endless. Thus, I wince when I read or hear bullying targets offering what I believe is questionable advice, drawn largely from their own experiences.

Please don’t get me wrong: Experience can be a great teacher, and many people who are doing research on workplace bullying and who are taking active roles in the workplace anti-bullying movement were informed and inspired to move in those directions by personal experiences. However, workplace bullying is a complex and complicated topic, and gaining both a depth and breadth of understanding about it requires time and effort. (Indeed, even after some 15 years of being immersed in this general subject area, I’m still learning.)

Second, some targets seeking to transition into SME roles may enter the fray when their own bullying experiences are still too raw. Emotionally, they aren’t ready. Perhaps they will never be, and there is no shame in that. Some are empowered by becoming change agents regarding bullying at work; others are re-traumatized. My observation is that those who use their experiences as their primary “texts” for understanding bullying at work and who dive into various SME roles before they’re ready may give bad guidance and advice to others, may overlook evidence-based findings about workplace bullying, and may embroil themselves in an emotional stew that consumes them from the inside.

With that said, here are two general clusters of advice for people exploring these possibilities:

1. Get schooled

Above all, a serious course of study — independent or formal — is necessary. For starters, and with a slight nod to American readers, I’d recommend:

  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (rev. ed., 2009);
  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace (2011);
  • Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing (2014);
  • Stale Einarsen, et al., eds., Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace (2nd ed., 2011); and,
  • Sheila M. Keegan, The Psychology of Fear in Organizations (2015).

Additional resources abound. The Workplace Bullying Institute website includes an invaluable research portal. WBI’s Workplace Bullying University is an intense, interactive, and content-rich three-day seminar facilitated by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie. The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence has created a webpage of resources on workplace bullying, especially for employers. (I worked with the APA in developing this page.)

Some may benefit from or need more formal training and education, including the possibility of an advanced degree or certification in fields such as psychology (clinical, social, or industrial/organizational), social work, coaching, business management, human resources, labor studies, or law.

2. Get ready

As I’ve suggested above, you need to be able to step out of the emotions of your own experience. That’s not easy. Workplace bullying can seep into the bones. All too often, I’ve seen people jump into this arena, only to discover that they’re still too close to their own experiences. Especially if a counselor or therapist recommends that you’re not ready, it would be wise to heed that advice.

Also, you need to identify where you can make your contribution. Those who seek an avocational role may want to engage in activism and advocacy, social media outreach, and public education work. Many who support the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill are involved in these ways. For those who seek a more vocational focus — in other words, to earn a living addressing these behaviors — it usually will be necessary to pursue work in a given profession. Formal, advanced training in one of the fields suggested above may be appropriate.

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Related post

“I want to help stop workplace bullying” (2014) — “Periodically I get e-mails and voice mails from people who would like to get involved in addressing bullying at work. More often than not, they have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying firsthand, and now they’d like to do something on a broader scale to prevent bullying and help others who have been targeted. Here are my thoughts on this topic….”

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Trying out Brené Brown’s “Living Brave Semester”

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For some time I’ve wanted to explore more deeply the work of Dr. Brené Brown, one of the most interesting thinkers and writers around today. Her work on courage, vulnerability, and bouncing back from life’s setbacks is very intriguing to me.

So I’ve signed up for her online course that starts this Monday, the “Living Brave Semester,” built around her two most recent books, Daring Greatly (2012) and Rising Strong (2015). Here’s a description from the course webpage:

The Living Brave Semester is a unique, online learning experience that provides participants with the opportunity to explore what it means to fully show up in our lives – to be brave, lean into vulnerability, and to rumble with the challenges that come with living a daring life.

I quoted a brief passage from Daring Greatly last month in a post about shame-based organizations, and I liked how Dr. Brown doesn’t pull her punches in discussing how shame can be used by management:

When we see shame being used as a management tool (again, that means bullying, criticism in front of colleagues, public reprimands, or reward systems that intentionally belittle people), we need to take direct action because it means that we’ve got an infestation on our hands. And we need to remember that this doesn’t just happen overnight. Equally important to keep in mind is that shame is like the other “sh” word. Like shit, shame rolls downhill. If employees are constantly having to navigate shame, you can bet that they’re passing it on to their customers, students, and families.

I’m looking forward to this course! It feeds the lifelong learning junkie in me, and I’m sure that I’ll gain some insights worthy of sharing with readers of this blog as well.

Understanding the Holocaust (and why I’m writing about it in a blog about workplaces)

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Over the weekend I read Elie Wiesel’s Night (1958; new translation 2006), a defining personal account of life and death in Nazi concentration camps. Even with a Preface, Foreword, and Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech included, the book comes out to less than 150 pages, so this hardly counts as a reading marathon. Nevertheless, my intention was to start it on Saturday evening and to finish over the coming days. But once I began reading, I kept going until reaching the end early Sunday morning.

As an amateur student of history, I’ve read a lot of books and watched many films and documentaries about the World War II era, including the Holocaust. However, what should’ve been so self-evident to me beforehand finally sank in as I read NightWe need to understand the Holocaust because there is no more documented, memorialized, and analyzed chapter of widespread, deliberate, orchestrated human atrocity in our history. If we want to grasp how human beings in a “modern” era can inflict horrific cruelties on others  — systematically and interpersonally — then the Holocaust is at the core of our understanding.

I know there are many other episodes of genocide and oppression that we must consider. The Armenian Genocide of 1915. Rwanda in 1994. America’s history with slaves and Native Americans. The list goes on. But for a variety of reasons, the scale and driving hatred of the Holocaust, and the body of remembrance, documentation, and interpretation about it, are singular.

About bullying, mobbing, and workplaces

Allusions to the Holocaust, Nazis, Hitler, and the like must be offered carefully. This includes discussions involving employee relations. Even terrible workplaces are not concentration camps. But I respectfully suggest that these comparisons are important and useful when severe workplace bullying and abuse are under examination.

Barbara Coloroso is an internationally recognized authority on school bullying whose work also has extended into the general realm of human rights. She recounts in her 2007 book Extraordinary Evil: A Short Walk to Genocide how she used a talk at the University of Rwanda to explain “how it was a short walk from schoolyard bullying to criminal bullying (hate crime) to genocide,” invoking the roles of aggressor, bullying target, and bystander.

In 2010, when Coloroso spoke to a group of South Hadley, Massachusetts, residents and school officials in connection with the much-publicized bullying-related suicide of high school student Phoebe Prince, she referenced this theme and distinguished bullying from ordinary conflict. As reported by Hannah McGoldrick:

“Bullying is the dehumanizing of other human beings with intent to harm,” Coloroso said yesterday during her third talk in South Hadley.

Coloroso, who did work in Rwanda during the mass genocide, explained that genocide “dehumanizes” people in the same way bullying does to “targeted” children.

“There is no remorse [in bullying]; it’s contempt for another human being,” she said. “As adults, we fail to distinguish the difference between conflict and bullying.”

Coloroso then explained that bullying, like genocide, cannot be resolved through conflict resolution.

Kenneth Westhues, the University of Waterloo sociologist whose case studies of mobbing in academe are worth the concentrated study of any serious student of workplace abuse, uses the term “elimination” to describe the process of removing targeted professors from their jobs. Ken also draws comparisons between severe mobbing behaviors at work and perpetrators of larger-scale eliminations and genocides, including the Nazis.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt invoked the phrase “banality of evil” to describe how Adolf Eichmann served as one of Hitler’s architects of the Holocaust. Since then, the phrase has come to represent — in more generic terms — how ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and participate in terrible behaviors that seemingly are unthinkable in civilized society. These insights teach us a lot about how bureaucratic enablers of abusive bosses can help to facilitate the destruction of a bullying target. These professional handmaidens (usually HR folks and employment lawyers) are more than simple bystanders; rather, they are complicit in the abuse.

I have distinguished a form of mistreatment that I call “puppet master” bullying from situations that appear to be mobbings. In 2012, I wrote:

Let’s start with…puppet master bullying. In these situations, a chief aggressor’s power and influence over a group of subordinates may be sufficient to enlist their participation in mistreating a target, creating what looks and feels like a mob. For example, if the aggressor is a mid-level manager, he may recruit HR to help out with the dirty work and encourage the target’s peers to shun or bully her.

…By contrast, genuine workplace mobbing occurs when the malicious energy is shared among the many, who proceed to go after the few. It may have started as puppet master bullying, but regardless of its origins, this is now a mob, with individuals owning that animus in ways that fuel each other’s antipathy toward the target.

In cases of puppet master bullying, removal of the “master” has a dramatic effect: “Typically, much of the malicious energy that fueled the puppets fades away, and so with it much of the bullying behavior.” Surely conditions in Nazi Germany help us to understand this line between bullying and mobbing, even though the behaviors differ significantly in scale and impact.

And back to Night

Wiesel experienced Nazi concentration camps as a teenaged boy, yet the stories he shares do not require a more mature moderator beyond the author’s voice. In Night you will see extreme cruelty, calculated psychological terror, bystander inaction, the breakdown of civility and society, and willful ignorance and denial, along with acts of kindness, love, bravery, and self-sacrifice. It is good that this book is a short one; anything more might be overwhelming.

In any case, Night is definitely worth the time of anyone who wants to understand how the extreme realms of cruelty exist in modern society, in small and large ways. I wish that I could say that our workplaces are free of such behaviors, but that would not be true.

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Related posts

“Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (2012)

Cassandra calling: Margaret Heffernan’s “Willful Blindness” (2011)

Does the Holocaust help us to comprehend targeted, malicious workplace bullying? (2011)

 

 

Duffy & Sperry on the organizational life cycle: When the wheels are coming off, do bullying/mobbing behaviors follow?

In their new book, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014), co-authors Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry present a trenchant, insightful description of the typical life cycle of organizations:

  • “Stage I: New Venture”
  • “Stage II: Expansion”
  • “Stage III: Professionalization”
  • “Stage IV: Consolidation”
  • “Stage V: Early Bureaucratization”
  • “Stage VI: Late Bureaucratization”

It’s Stage V, Early Bureaucratization, where serious organizational problems start to arise. Status seeking and turf wars become common. As negativity builds, the better workers start to leave. Leadership morphs into poor administration, and passive-aggressive behaviors increase while morale decreases.

The wheels start coming off in Stage VI, Late Bureaucratization. Miscommunication and poor communication become the norm, as well as helplessness and a lack of shared direction. Workers avoid rocking the boat and safeguard their own job security, while leaders simply try to keep the place going. At this point, absent major, positive changes, “the eventual demise of the organization seems inevitable.”

How does this relate to bullying and mobbing at work?

I suggest that you spend some time with this excellent book to see how the authors relate this life cycle to bullying and mobbing behaviors at work, but we can also ponder the question here.

We have known for a long time that interpersonal abuse at work is usually enabled by an organization’s culture. The Duffy-Sperry conceptualization of the organizational life cycle helps to clarify when these behaviors may become more frequent, especially varieties of mobbing that are focal points for their work.

Over the years, I’ve heard many descriptions of workplace cultures associated with bullying & mobbing that seem to correlate with the Early and Late Bureaucratization stages described by the authors. Status-seeking, turf wars, dropping morale, poor leadership, passive-aggressive behaviors, lousy communication, self-protective and play-it-safe strategies…the list goes on and on.

Bullying behaviors thrive in such institutional settings. Fixing such a toxic work environment calls for wise, inclusive, and open-minded stewardship — very likely the opposite of the brands of “leadership” that brought the organization to its crisis point in the first place.

I’m curious if readers recognize these latter stages of the organizational life cycle in bullying & mobbing situations they’ve experienced or observed.

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