Displays (literally) of progress for the workplace anti-bullying movement

Deb Falzoi and Torii Bottomley holding sign near the MA State House

Deb Falzoi and Torii Bottomley holding sign outside the MA State House (photo: MA Healthy Workplace Advocates)

Hey, it’s about time that we made a big display about ending workplace bullying!

Recently I wrote about Massachusetts: Face Workplace Bullying, an artistic photo display designed to raise public awareness about workplace bullying and to voice support for the Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771, currently before the MA legislature). The display features photographs of 14 individuals who have been targets of workplace bullying, along with their names and statements about the circumstances surrounding their experiences. It made its official debut on the 4th floor of the Massachusetts State House.

Last Friday, advocates met at the State House to commemorate the display’s two-week run and to take it down, packing it for its next port of call. Later that afternoon, Torii Bottomley and Deb Falzoi, staunch supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill and participants in the Face Workplace Bullying project, took to the street outside the State House to display their homebrewed sign “End Workplace Bullying.”

The photo display in the State House and the big sign outside are just what we need to shine a public light on workplace bullying and the damage it causes. In order for the Healthy Workplace Bill to become law, we need more advocates to be out front with this messaging.

I have been privy to communications between the individuals who allowed their images and stories to be included in the Face Workplace Bullying display, and they have invoked terms such as healing and empowering to describe how they feel being a part of it. I think their brave actions are making a huge statement: Enough of the silence and shame surrounding this form of interpersonal abuse. We need our legislators to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill. Let’s get on with it.

Interviews and documentary footage in the State House

Media interest and documentary footage in the State House (photo: MA Healthy Workplace Advocates)

Non-conformists as change agents

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ProPublica, the non-profit public interest news organization, recently did a neat little feature on Dr. Adam Grant’s (U.Penn/Wharton) new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (2016). Here’s the lede by Cynthia Gordy:

In his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant examines the circumstances that give rise to truly original thinkers and groundbreaking ideas. Throughout Originals, the Wharton School of Business professor shares stories from the fields of business, politics and sports, and his chapter exploring the psychology of speaking truth to power – whether it be federal whistleblowers, or a middle-level employee with an innovative idea – holds several lessons for investigative journalists and the people on which they report.

The feature includes a podcast with Dr. Grant interviewed by ProPublica reporter David Epstein. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On lower-level workers facing backlash for making suggestions: “People often confuse power and status, but power is about being able to influence others. . . . You see a really strong backlash when people try to assert their authority when they haven’t yet earned respect.”
  • On whistleblowers using internal channels: “We need much better internal channels that make it safe for people to blow the whistle. One of the most important steps that you can take is to model openness to that kind of information, and I think that means whistleblowers sometimes need to be called out and recognized for having the courage to speak even if they end up being wrong.”
  • On advocating for change internally vs. externally: “This is a tightrope walk. If you refuse to conform at all and you don’t buy into the system, it’s really hard to get taken seriously. . . . On the other hand, if you adapt too much to the world, then you never change it.”

Impossible

Okay folks, it’s impossible for me to be objective on this topic. I naturally identify with the role of non-conformist and have done so for as long as I can remember. In years past, this role was all too often accompanied by attitudinal rebelliousness. I am not completely free from such instincts, but I think I am much more constructive and mature about it than I was before.

Grant’s characterization of the “tightrope walk” specially resonates with me. It overlaps with the idea of what author and coach Judi Neal calls the “edgewalker,” an individual who builds bridges, works at the boundaries and soft edges, and operates in a visionary way.

Of course, it’s not all about starry-eyed idealism. As Grant’s work suggests, non-conformists can pay a price for being out front, with ridicule, pushback, and retaliation being among the costs. For this reason and others, I’m looking forward to spending some time with his book. I hope it will yield some lessons on how to be an “Original” as smartly, safely, and effectively as possible.

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More to come: The experience of everyday wealth differences

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A guest contributor to The Guardian‘s “What I’m really thinking” column — apparently a female student — writes about the awkwardness of making social plans with friends who have a lot more money than she does:

“I’ll meet you there,” I say. “I’ve got something to do first.” That’s a lie. I just don’t want to take an hour-long taxi with you; the fare for that is outrageous. No, better to take public transport and spend an extra hour and half to save the money.

. . . Make no mistake, I am by no means poor, but by your standards I might as well be. When we go out for dinner, I scream inside at the cost. Often I don’t eat, saying I’ve had something already or I’m not hungry. Some people ask if I’m anorexic, because they never see me eat a proper meal outside school.

Iceberg ahead…and we’re steaming into it, full throttle

Of course, the socially awkward dilemmas confronting a younger person with less disposable cash than her friends are one thing, while deep inequalities in income and wealth are quite another. At least here in the U.S., I believe those inequalities have been, and continue to be, intentionally baked into our economic and political infrastructure. And they are becoming evident across the generations.

For example, here’s a piece of writer Sarah Kendzior’s insightful take on the “post-employment economy” that confronts many recent graduates:

A lawyer. A computer scientist. A military analyst. A teacher.

What do these people have in common? They are trained professionals who cannot find full-time jobs. Since 2008, they have been tenuously employed – working one-year contracts, consulting on the side, hustling to survive. They spent thousands on undergraduate and graduate training to avoid that hustle. They eschewed dreams – journalism, art, entertainment – for safer bets, only to discover that the safest bet is that your job will be contingent and disposable.

On the other end of the generational spectrum, you have late Boomers and early Gen Xers — a cohort that just missed out on the golden era of employer-provided pensions — hurdling into middle age and beyond with scant retirement savings. For example, a 2015 study by the non-profit National Institute on Retirement Security concluded, among other things:

The average working household has virtually no retirement savings. When all households are included— not just households with retirement accounts—the median retirement account balance is $2,500 for all working-age households and $14,500 for near-retirement households. Furthermore, 62 percent of working households age 55-64 have retirement savings less than one times their annual income, which is far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

My prediction? Without significant changes, we are going to see more and more instances of everyday inequality staring us straight in the face. For some, this will mean quietly bowing out of pricier social activities due to a money crunch. For others, it will mean trying to maintain appearances of “middle class” status while opting for a dinner of macaroni & cheese from a box. And these will be among the folks who actually have “choices.”

I haven’t yet said a word here about climate change.

Saving ourselves from a dystopian future

Yes, I know I’m sounding overwrought. But too many indicators are suggesting that (1) we have yet to pay the full price for our inequalities and excesses, especially during the past thirty-five or so years; and (2) we have not come to a reckoning about the mess we’ve made.

For those who can afford it, there are things that can be done on an individual level: Be generous. Give to good charities. Pick up the check. Leave a nice tip. To help someone dear who is in a financial bind, give, don’t loan, and do it without fanfare. Instead, be grateful that you can afford it. (I try to hold myself to these standards, while confessing that I sometimes fall short.)

More broadly, all of us, regardless of financial status, must grasp how our economic, political, and social systems have stoked massive inequality, nationally and globally, and then help to do something about it. 

I’m not sure of all the answers, but I believe they will be a combination of changing how we live, building a more robust yet inclusive economy, and repairing our social safety net. We will have to be smarter and kinder in creating a society that places greater value on human dignity and the common good.

Servant leadership in the contemporary workplace

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Imagine a world where most leaders see their roles as serving their constituencies, imbued with a sense of the broader good, rather than simply adding bullet points to their resumes in preparation for the next climb up the greasy pole. Imagine professional cultures where ambition and the desire to advance in our careers are balanced with values of care and responsibility.

How can we grow leaders who hold themselves to these higher standards?

Massachusetts educator and organizational consultant Steven Lawrence is an emerging voice on the virtues of servant leadership, a topic that deserves much greater attention. In an essay posted to his Ground Experience site, Steve introduces servant leadership by citing the seminal work of the late Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the Center for Applied Ethics:

Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture. Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

…Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second. Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, and boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large. They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

My connection with Steve has been through our common interest in preventing and stopping workplace bullying. He discussed servant leadership in this context at the Workplace Bullying Workshop that I hosted last fall in Boston. Suffice it to say, the presence of more servant leaders in our workplaces would sharply reduce the prevalence of bullying and other forms of interpersonal mistreatment on the job.

I find the concept of servant leadership to be enormously appealing and life affirming, especially amidst professional cultures where raw ambition, private agendas, and naked ideology too often prevail. As a denizen of the academic workplace, I have witnessed and experienced the destruction wrought by self-serving administrators and board members. Looking at academe from a distance, one might visualize it as an idyllic work setting, fostered by leaders who share a love of learning, research, and ideas. All too often, this is not the case. In fact, servant leadership is increasingly rare in higher education.

So herein lies the rub: For more servant leadership, you need the presence of — yup — more servant leaders. To me this means that the philosophy and practice of servant leadership should be part of the training and orientation of future and present leaders. This doesn’t require us to cast aside our career goals and aspirations. Rather, we should treat opportunities to lead as privileges that enable us to make a difference, guided by a spirit of service.

The joys of publish or perish

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English and environmental studies professor Christopher Schaberg (Loyola-New Orleans) addresses the old academic chestnut of “publish or perish” in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In graduate school, when I first heard the saying “publish or perish,” I remember it uttered as a dire warning: If you want to make it as a professor, you have to publish, publish, publish — and never stop, no matter what. It made publishing sound awful (at best, a miserable fate to be endured) and necessary.

Now, as an associate professor, it recently occurred to me that I don’t think that way anymore, and haven’t in a long while. I have come to think about “publish or perish” in an entirely new light. It doesn’t have to be a threat or a gloomy mandate to live or die under. It can actually be a spirited affirmation of a certain kind of academic life.

I’m delighted to read someone turning that famous phrase on its head! 

Many years ago, when I began what has turned out to be an academic career, I was more attracted to teaching than to scholarship. In fact, I regarded the writing of law review articles — a law professor’s typical scholarly currency — as more of an obligatory burden in order to earn tenure than a core point of my engagement.

However, within a few years of embarking upon a tenure-track appointment, I began to see how scholarship allowed me to write about compelling issues of law and public policy, sometimes even breaking new ground. Two of the subjects addressed in my earlier law review articles — workplace bullying and unpaid internships — have become focal points of my academic career. This work has led to further academic publications, legal and legislative advocacy, speaking engagements and public education programs, blogging and other less formal writings, and media interviews.

In other words, my early scholarship has opened the door to potentially difference-making opportunities. Now, with the gifts of hindsight, I have used the term “intellectual activist” to characterize my approach to scholarly work. So when I hear the words “publish or perish” today, I think of them differently. If I don’t publish, then I will surely perish as an academician. Scholarship joins with teaching as the two most important tasks of my work as a professor.

I have written two law review articles setting out my practice and philosophy of scholarly work, and those who want to dive further into those weeds are invited to check them out by clicking the titles:

“Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (forthcoming, Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice) — I recently posted a revised draft, and here’s a snippet from the article abstract:

How can law professors, lawyers, and law students use legal scholarship to inform and inspire law reform initiatives that advance the public interest? How can we bridge the gaps between academic analyses that sharpen our understanding of important legal and policy issues and practical proposals that bring these insights into the light of day and test their application? How can we bring an integrated blend of scholarship, social action, and evaluation into our professional practices?

I explore these and related questions by invoking a simple framework that I call intellectual activism, which serves as both a philosophy and a practice for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation.

. . . This is a very personal piece, grounded in extensive scholarly, public education, and advocacy work that I have done in two areas: (1) researching and authoring proposed workplace anti-bullying legislation and building public awareness of the phenomenon of bullying at work; and (2) playing a visible role in an emerging legal and social movement to challenge the widespread, exploitative practice of unpaid internships.

. . . The article closes with an Appendix containing a short annotated bibliography of books related to intellectual activism, public intellectualism, and the uses of scholarship to advance social change.

“Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship” (University of Memphis Law Review, 2010) — Here’s the article abstract:

The culture of legal scholarship has become preoccupied with article placement, citations, and download numbers, thus obscuring a deeper appreciation for the contributions of scholarly work. This article proposes that therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), a theoretical framework that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law and legal practice, provides us with tools for understanding and changing that culture.

More prescriptively, the article applies a TJ lens to: (1) identify a set of good practices for legal scholarship; (2) examine the TJ movement as an example of healthy scholarly practice; (3) consider the role of law professors as intellectual activists; and, (4) propose that law schools nurture a scholar-practitioner orientation in their students to help them become more engaged members of the legal profession.

 

Reflections on power and change agentry

Writing as power (Anne Frank House, Amsterdam)

Writing as power and change agentry (Anne Frank House, Amsterdam)

This week I’m devoting a couple of posts to collecting reflections on power, change agentry, intellectual activism, and the like. Especially if you, too, are thinking “big picture” right now, I hope you will find these pieces interesting and insightful.

10 ways to make a difference (2015) — “Let’s say you’ve got a cause you care deeply about, and you want to move it forward. It may be an initiative at work, a political issue, a community concern, or something else that matters. You may be at the beginning, in the middle, or tantalizingly close to success. I deliberately gave this post a somewhat breezy title, but you’ll see my intent is to be more ‘big picture’ as opposed to ‘checklist’ or ‘plug-and-play.’ What follows are hardly the first or last words about making a difference, but perhaps you’ll find them useful. In no particular order . . . .”

“I am powerless” (Probably not, but let’s talk about it) (2014) — “Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken note of essays and blog posts where individuals have shared a sense of powerlessness to change things for the better. . . . They come from good people who care about making the world a better place, yet who have reached a place of deep exasperation, frustration, or hopelessness. . . . I want to think about this out loud for a few minutes.”

Dialogues about dignity, Part III: Claiming and using power to do good (2013) — “I submit that those of us who have witnessed excesses of power may be wary or downright fearful of it, and with good reason. All too often, power is exercised by those who use it to hurt others. Consequently, many of us have come to associate power with abuse. . . . (S)uch ambivalence can cause us to cede our own power to make positive change. . . . But I think we need to face down the beast. We need to build our individual and collective power, exercise it effectively and judiciously, and keep it in check when we are tempted to use it excessively.”

The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary human need (2013) — “I’m at the biennial Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where I’m presenting a couple of short papers and attending various panels and presentations. . . . On Monday, I presented on the topic of intellectual activism, the term I use to represent the ongoing process of using scholarship and research to inform law reform, social change, and public education efforts on compelling issues of the day. . . . Those who are privileged with the protections of tenure and academic freedom should embrace a social responsibility to be researching, understanding, and speaking out on matters of importance.”

Insiders, outsiders, and change agents (2013) — “It’s an ongoing, never settled debate: To create positive social change, is it better to work from within the established system, or to challenge the status quo from the outside? I think about this often, and here are a few quick thoughts, with a gentle warning that I will engage in some abstract, academic-type reflection . . . .”

The world is getting better, so let’s keep making it so

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In a neat little feature for Vox, Dylan Matthews summons a variety of graphics and charts indicating that, over time, certain critical measures of quality of life around the world are getting better, not worse. For example:

  • “Extreme poverty has fallen”
  • “Child labor is on the decline”
  • “More people have access to malaria bednets”
  • “Violent crime in the US is going down”
  • “More people are going to school for longer”
  • “Access to the internet is increasing”

Okay, so maybe it’s the classic glass-is-half-full perspective, and the more curmudgeonly among us may frown and shake our heads. (Hey, I feel that way virtually every time I leave a faculty meeting….)

But perhaps this isn’t about a clash between the World as Great Place versus the World Sucks & Then We Die scenarios: Most of this progress did not occur accidentally. These social and economic improvements are largely the result of smart, dedicated initiative, innovation, enterprise, and policy, topped with generous dollops of care and humanity.

In other words, it means that those who are trying to make a difference potentially can do so, sometimes even dramatically.

So if you are engaged in some effort, big or small, to make the world a better place, and that work fuels your passion for life, keep going, be a change agent. And if you never meet many of those who are benefiting from your good works, be grateful, for it means that your efforts have caused ripple effects that are transcending your time and place.

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