U.K. report: Health care whistleblowers experience retaliatory bullying

In a recent article for The Guardian newspaper, Denis Campbell and Matthew Weaver highlight an independent investigative report finding that British National Health Service workers “who blow the whistle on substandard and dangerous practices are being ignored, bullied or even intimidated in a ‘climate of fear.'”

The investigation, led by Sir Robert Francis QC at the request of the Health Secretary, “reveal[s] how staff who have sounded the alarm about dangerous practices have found themselves shunned, suspended and sacked by hospital bosses instead of having their concerns taken seriously.”

Campbell and Weaver quoted Francis in a BBC interview, acknowledging the severe human costs of this retaliation:

“I’ve spoken to people who have not only lost their jobs, their livelihood, they’ve not been able to find other jobs to do. And I’m afraid in some cases have felt suicidal and become ill as a result.”

Recommendations

According to the official report website (which provides links to the executive summary and full report), Francis “sets out 20 Principles and Actions which aim to create the right conditions for NHS staff to speak up, share what works right across the NHS and get all organisations up to the standard of the best and provide redress when things go wrong in future.”

These include fostering a healthier organizational culture, better handling of individual complaints, and stronger legal protections.

Lessons reinforced

This report reinforces at least five lessons about whistleblowing, workplace bullying, and workplace retaliation:

First, even in a nation with more extensive worker protections, including some that address workplace bullying, bullying and intimidation are significant problems. The U.K. generally has been ahead of the U.S. in recognizing workplace bullying through its legal and labor dispute resolution systems, but the problems continue to exist.

Second, this is one more example of the heavy prices that some whistleblowers pay for raising concerns about improper, illegal, and/or unethical behavior. Workplace bullying is a common form of retaliation for whistleblowing.

Third, Francis’s observations about the effects of severe, bullying-type behaviors on individuals validates what we’ve known for years about the human costs of sustained, targeted work abuse. This includes the possibility of suicidal ideation.

Fourth, this underscores ongoing concerns about bullying behaviors in the health care sector, something we know a lot about here in the United States. Health care workers too often toil in stressed out, hostile, and bullying work environments.

Finally, the report’s recommendations remind us that reform and problem solving must be a multifaceted endeavor. This includes broader questions of organizational culture, specific measures and best practices, and effective legal protections.

Federal workers: If you blow the whistle, will you get new “office space”?

If you’re a federal employee who wants a new office, engaging in a bit of whistleblowing may be one way to get it. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the corner window office on the top floor.

David Fahrenthold, reporting for the Washington Post, describes a common form of retaliation toward whistleblowers in the federal government, leading with the story of Paula Pedene, an administrator with the Phoenix office of the Veteran’s Administration:

Pedene, 56, is the former chief spokeswoman for this VA hospital. Now, she is living in a bureaucrat’s urban legend. After complaining to higher-ups about mismanagement at this hospital, she has been reassigned — indefinitely — to a desk in the basement.

In the Phoenix case, investigators are still trying to determine whether Pedene was punished because of her earlier complaints. If she is, that would make her part of a long, ugly tradition in the federal bureaucracy — workers sent to a cubicle in exile.

In the past, whistleblowers have had their desks moved to break rooms, broom closets and basements. It’s a clever punishment, good-government activists say, that exploits a gray area in the law.

The whole thing can look minor on paper. They moved your office. So what? But the change is designed to afflict the striving soul of a federal worker, with a mix of isolation, idle time and lost prestige.

The last point is worth comprehending. It looks minor on paper. It gives Uncle Sam plausible deniability, an out to claim that being relocated to the basement is simply a routine change in office real estate.

Fahrenthold does a nice job of putting Pedene’s situation in the broader context of how whistleblowers are treated in the federal government, so his full article is worth your while if the subject interests you.

Tip of the iceberg

The bottom line remains: Whistleblowers often pay a price for exercising their consciences, sometimes a big one.

We know that retaliation for whistleblowing can get worse, much worse, than being moved to the dungeon. Various forms of bullying, harassment, and intimidation, as well as wrongful discipline and discharge, often enter the picture. Although a lot of our focus on whistleblower retaliation tends to be on the public sector, it also occurs frequently in the private and non-profit sectors.

Legal protections may exist for a given situation, but establishing the causal link between the whistleblowing activity and alleged acts of retaliation can pose a challenge. Furthermore, if the retaliation appears to be mild in severity, it may not be legally sufficient to prevail on a claim.

If you search terms such as “report on whistleblowing,” you’ll also see that whistleblower retaliation is a widespread, global phenomenon, even in nations where employment & labor laws are generally more favorable to workers. In essence, it’s part of the ongoing tale of how some people in power respond when they called on their wrongful behavior.

Resources

Those who are in potential whistleblowing situations should seek out legal guidance. They may wish to check these sites for information, advice, and legal referrals:

Government Accountability Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Whistleblowers Center

***

Hat tip to Susan Thomas on the Washington Post article.

The legal implications of online whistleblowing

In Monday’s news, the Golden Corral discount buffet chain got some unwanted national publicity when the YouTube video above, showing how raw meat and other foodstuffs to be served to customers was stored outside near a dumpster at one of its Florida restaurants, went viral. The video was taken supposedly during a health inspection(!) and posted by one of its own chefs. (For details about this incident and similar instances involving the retail food industry, see Olivia Waxman’s article for Time, here.)

Online whistleblowing

The posting of the video to YouTube was a classic example of online whistleblowing.

Websites, blogs, and social media in general have given rise to workers sharing stories of illegal and unethical behavior online, sometimes in lieu of pursuing internal reporting and legal complaint options that they believe will be ineffective. With the ready availability of public forums such as YouTube and Facebook and work-specific sites such eBossWatch and Glassdoor, workers can take their concerns directly to a broader audience.

Some forms of online whistleblowing involve self-identification; others are anonymous. Some mention specific employers and bosses; others do not.

Legal implications

Such online expression should be undertaken with caution, because questions of whether or not it is protected under the law are far from settled.

The Golden Corral chef who posted the video apparently has not lost his job. If he’s fired, it’s possible he’ll have a legal claim under some food safety law, or perhaps a state-based claim for wrongful termination on grounds that his termination violated public policy.

Nevertheless, we need to start with the fact that most U.S. workers are hired at will, which means that they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Finding an exception to this broad rule would be the main challenge facing any lawyer representing  a client who was fired for online whistleblowing.

Don’t count on claiming First Amendment protections. Private sector workers are not covered by the First Amendment’s free-speech protections, with one exception (Connecticut); public sector workers are covered only in limited instances when the expression relates to a public concern.

Various whistleblower laws and anti-retaliation provisions are most applicable when someone has filed a formal complaint or at least reported illegal or unethical behavior internally. These protections, on the whole, are less to cover reports posted to various Internet sites.

During the past two years, media coverage of National Labor Relations Board decisions concerning social media has led some people to believe (erroneously) that they have a more or less absolute right to criticize their boss on Facebook. It would take a legal memo for me to explain all the reasons why this is not true. Some workers, mostly union members and non-management employees acting as a group, would be covered. Most other employees would not.

It is worth adding that not all unethical behavior raises a direct legal issue. Also, a wrongful accusation of illegal or unethical behavior posted publicly could lead to a defamation claim, especially if it receives widespread attention.

For more

For those interested in learning about the legal and public policy implications of online whistleblowing concerning employment conditions, Professor Miriam Cherry of St. Louis University School of Law has authored a 2012 law review article, “Virtual Whistleblowing” (link to pdf). Here’s the abstract posted to her Social Science Research Network page:

With the advent of YouTube, blogs, social networking, and whistleblower websites such as WikiLeaks, the paradigm of whistleblowing is changing. The new paradigm for “virtual whistleblowing” is increasingly online, networked, and anonymous. While whistleblowing can take place in many contexts, this symposium article concentrates on the impact of technological changes on employment law whistleblowing. My contention for some time has been that existing regulation has been inadequate to cover existing forms of whistleblowing. Therefore, it is not surprising that existing whistleblowing laws have also failed to keep pace with the changes brought by modern technology. If older laws cannot be made to fit the new paradigm of virtual work, it is necessary to reassess and determine what changes in the law might fit new forms of whistleblowing more appropriately. This article hopes to begin that conversation.

As Prof. Cherry’s article indicates, this is a murky area under current employment laws for workers and their employers alike. Those who contemplate engaging in some type of virtual whistleblowing should not blithely assume that their identities cannot be discovered or that the law protects them from retaliation. In situations where these factors matter, it would be prudent to obtain legal advice.

Working notes: Bullied bus monitor update, whistle blowing books, and massive U.S. job dislike

Here are three work-related stories worth a look:

Bullied bus monitor retires and pays it forward

Last year, video of a group of 7th graders mercilessly taunting and ridiculing 68-year-old school bus monitor Karen Klein went viral. The Rochester, NY students subjected her to a humiliating stream of insults and profanities, all caught on tape by a classmate. I wrote about it here, including a link to the video, which still is hard to watch.

In the aftermath of her experience, a good samaritan named Max Sidirov used a social media site to raise money intended to provide Klein and her family take a needed vacation. But a rush of pledges totaling some $700,000 poured in, enabling her to take the retirement she thought was impossible in view of her $15,000 annual salary. At the time, Klein said that she would use some of the money to address problems of bullying and suicide.

Today she’s making good on that intention. Carolyn Thompson, reporting for the Associated Press (here, via Boston.com), details how:

Klein used $100,000 as seed money for the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, which has promoted its message of kindness at concerts and through books. Most recently, the foundation partnered with the Moscow Ballet to raise awareness of cyberbullying as the dance company tours the United States and Canada.

‘‘There’s a lot I wish I could be doing, but I don’t know how to do it,’’ Klein said.

‘‘I’m just a regular old lady,’’ she added with a laugh.

Books on whistle blowing

Sunday’s Boston Globe included Katharine Whittemore’s welcomed review essay on books about whistle blowing, the first time I’ve seen such a piece in a major newspaper. She begins by saying, “When it comes to whistle-blowers, we may be living in a kind of strange, explosive golden age.” Here’s more:

There’s now a self-help book on the topic. Seriously, I give you “The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself”(Lyons, 2011). It’s vastly shrewd and practical, but it also offers an astute long view of American whistle-blowing. Author Stephen Martin Kohn knows about precedents: He’s one of the lawyers who helped procure the biggest whistle-blower reward ever.

Whittemore mixes overviews of the topic with personal accounts:

Then there’s Cynthia Cooper, a vice president of internal audit for WorldCom, who in 2002 harnessed a team of accountants that worked clandestinely to uncover the company’s $3.8 billion in fraud (the biggest in US history up to that time). Her “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower” (Wiley, 2008) jumps (not always successfully) between her WorldCom experience and the moral upbringing that created a whistle-blower “decision by decision, and brick by brick.”

Most Americans aren’t happy with their jobs…and their bosses

Timothy Egan, blogging for the New York Times, writes about “an exhaustive and depressing” Gallup study indicating that American workers are seriously unhappy with their workplaces:

Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs, about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

And while lagging pay and benefits have something to do with this state of affairs, the main culprits are bad bosses, who are costing their organizations plenty in lost productivity:

But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss. . . . The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job. Ever.

“The managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually,” wrote Jim Clifton, the C.E.O. and chairman of Gallup.

Working Notes: Kennemer on firing bad bosses, Rutgers fires an abusive coach, and more

Some interesting items that may catch your fancy:

1. 7 Good Reasons to Fire a Bad Boss — Kevin Kennemer of The People Group cites seven reasons why bad bosses should be terminated. Here’s No. 6:

Bad bosses create toxic work environments, jeopardize employee health. Employees who are stuck working for a bad boss are more susceptible to chronic stress, depression, anxiety, strokes and heart attacks.

Kevin is an HR guy who gets it: Bad bosses are bad for business. The ones who can’t or won’t change should be shown the door. It’s about productivity and dignity.

2. Rutgers fires head men’s basketball coach — Public outcry basically forced Rutgers University to terminate basketball coach Mike Rice when videotape documenting his repeated verbally and physically abusive treatment of players during practices went viral. ESPN reports:

Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice.

The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” prompted sharp criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and the head of the New Jersey Assembly called for Rice to be fired.

With mounting criticism on a state and national level, the school relieved Rice of his duties after three largely unsuccessful seasons at the Big East school. There will be a national search to replace him.

Rutgers does not come out looking good on this one. It imposed only light discipline on Rice when these events first became known several months ago. Now there’s talk of relieving the Athletic Director and even the university President.

3. Medical intern not covered by Wisconsin whistle blower law — The state’s Court of Appeals held that an unpaid medical intern was not protected by a whistle blower law for workers in healthcare fields. Bruce Vielmetti reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A psychologist who was fired after reporting ethical breaches at the Medical College of Wisconsin has no claim for unlawful retaliation because she was an unpaid intern, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

But in a sharp dissent, one judge called the decision Orwellian and that “Sadly …exiles health-care interns beyond the pale of the statute’s protection even though they may have critical information to safeguard
patients.”

H/t to Intern Labor Rights for providing yet another reason to support the emerging movement against unpaid internships.

4. Paula Parnagian on workplace bullying and the Healthy Workplace Bill — Paula Parnagian, an organizational consultant and principal of World View Services, wrote a terrific piece for NEHRA Insights, the magazine of the Northeast Human Resources Association.

Here she quotes attorney Ellen Cobb of The Isoceles Group, an international consulting firm and author of Bullying, Violence, Harassment, Discrimination and Stress: Emerging Workplace Health and Safety Issues (2012), a comprehensive global summary of relevant laws:

Not that long ago, sexual harassment was accepted as part of what happened in the workplace. It isn’t anymore — it still occurs, but less, and public perception has changed. The view of bullying may well be on this course.

5. APA launches Center for Organizational Excellence — The American Psychological Association has created a new Center for Organizational Excellence, an outgrowth of its popular Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP).  Dr. David Ballard, founder of the PHWP, is the founding Center director. Here’s a brief description from the Center’s website:

The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence works to enhance the functioning of individuals, groups, organizations and communities through the application of psychology to a broad range of workplace issues.

This is an exciting initiative. I’ll be writing more about the Center’s work in future posts.

6. NPR gives thumb up to the new “Mad Men” season — “Mad Men,” the AMC drama set in the high stakes advertising game of 1960s Manhattan, isn’t just about work (not by a longshot), but it sure does give us a fascinating interpretation of the business world back in the day. If you want to get the full story, you need to start from Season 1 and go from there. But for loyal viewers, NPR’s David Bianculli tells us that Season 6 has been worth waiting for:

Now we come to the spring TV season — which, as in nature, is a time to rejoice in the spirit of rebirth. . . . And best of all, there’s AMC’s Mad Men,which begins Season 6 on Sunday, delivering all the pleasures that today’s most ambitious drama series can bring.

Meltdown Follies continue at Goldman Sachs

In a New York Times op-ed piece that has gone viral, departing Goldman Sachs partner Greg Smith issued an ethical broadside against his now former employer, reinforcing some of the worst public impressions of the high-flying financial sector:

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm . . . I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. . . . The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

According to Smith, many clients are referred to derisively, and their financial well-being can take a low priority:

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail.

Smith calls upon Goldman to jettison the “morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm,” and to reset the firm’s organizational culture.

Predictable response I

The Times reports that “Goldman Sachs took issue with the opinion piece, defending the investment bank’s practices and its treatment of clients”:

“We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business,” said a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs. “In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves.”

Predictable response II

Christine Harper reports for Bloomberg that the stock market reacted immediately to the op-ed piece:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) saw $2.15 billion of its market value wiped out after an employee assailed Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein’s management and the firm’s treatment of clients, sparking debate across Wall Street.

The shares dropped 3.4 percent in New York trading yesterday, the third-biggest decline in the 81-company Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index, after London-based Greg Smith made the accusations in a New York Times op-ed piece.

(Now, before we stick a fork in Goldman, let’s remember that a 3.4 percent stock decline isn’t exactly the end of the world. Let’s see how things are going at the end of the month.)

Not so predictable response

It appears that Smith was one of the good guys within the firm. For example, Business Insider reports that a former Goldman intern and analyst, Aveneesh Singh Saluja, vouches for Smith:

“I worked for GS both as an intern in 06 and as a full time analyst from July 07 to March 09. …I hold him in very high regard – he took care of us junior guys, gave us great pieces of advice, and in general came across as one of the more personable, friendly, and genuine guys on the floor.”

Saluja isn’t the only former colleague publicly vouching for Smith’s character. It’s good to see that Smith isn’t being tossed under the bus by everyone who worked with him.

When will we ever learn?

Wow, shades of 2008. Smith’s op-ed suggests that one of the world’s biggest investment houses has learned very little from the meltdown of the financial services industry. In the meantime, powerful business interests continue to lobby Congress and federal enforcement agencies, claiming the financial sector doesn’t need to be strongly regulated. (I beg to differ…)

Marshall Auerback puts this in a broader context for AlterNet:

Greg Smith’s mea culpa about Goldman should not come as a surprise to anybody who has a remote connection with the financial services industry. But to suggest that the allegations made by Mr. Smith are unique to Goldman’s culture is ludicrous. They are symptomatic of a much broader problem embedded in Wall Street culture as a whole. Goldman’s major sin was being more astute at exploiting this system than most of its competitors.

Cassandra calling: Margaret Heffernan’s “Willful Blindness”

It’s one thing to miss an iceberg when you’re sailing in the pitch dark, but how do you explain ignoring an iceberg straight ahead of you, in broad daylight?

Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril (2011) examines how individuals and organizations become blind to obvious risks, sufferings, and failures. Ignoring what’s right in front of us sometimes comes at a terrible cost. She writes:

Whether in the Catholic Church, the SEC, Nazi Germany, Madoff’s funds, the embers of BP’s refinery, the military in Iraq, or the dog-eat-dog world of sub-prime mortgage lenders, the central challenge posed by each case was not harm that was invisible — but harm that so many preferred to ignore.

Financial Times book of the year finalist

I’ve been guilty of some willful blindness myself! I’ve had Margaret’s book on my shelf for a couple of months, fully intending to read it, but not until spying an announcement of its finalist status for the Financial Times 2011 Business Book of the Year did I spend some quality time with it this evening.

Now that I’ve had a good taste of the book, I’m hungry to finish off the whole meal. This is an insightful, fact-filled, well-written work, blending full-blooded stories with scholarly insights. If you want to understand why people and institutions make monstrous errors of commission and omission, this will give you some explanations.

The lessons of Cassandra

The most resonant chapter to me is “Cassandra,” drawing upon the figure from Greek mythology who was granted a gift of prophecy and then cursed by a “fate that no one would believe her.” Writes Heffernan:

The world is full of Cassandras, individuals whose fate it is to see what others can’t see, who are not blind but compelled to shout their awkward, provocative truths. That’s why, after any industrial or organizational failure, individuals inevitably surface who saw the crisis coming, warned about it, and were mocked or ignored.

This surely explains why whistleblowers typically face ostracism and retaliation!

We often distance ourselves from the Cassandras of the world, but Heffernan urges us to heed them. “Cassandras,” she notes, “show us that we don’t have to be blind.”

Validation vs. revelation

For anyone who has spent an appreciable stretch working for a dysfunctional, top-down organization, Willful Blindness may be more of a validation than a revelation. I’m sure a lot of Heffernan’s readers are nodding their heads in agreement as they move from chapter to chapter.

And therein lies the challenge: How do we get those who are prone to willful blindness to heed the lessons of this important book?

Personal note

I’ve known Margaret since she and her husband spent several years in the Boston area roughly a decade ago. (We met in a weekly singing class at the Boston Center for Adult Education and even joined up to form a small group that sang at senior homes!) She brings to her writing a wealth of common sense and CEO-level leadership experience, and she has emerged as a thoughtful opinion leader on organizations and business life.

I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from and about Margaret in the years to come.

***

For Margaret Heffernan’s website, go here.

Erase and forget: “Unpersons” and institutional memory

image1-12

(image copyright Aaron Maeda)

Last week I referenced the Orwellian concept of unpersons, those (in the words of Wikipedia) “whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments.” Though Orwell saw the making of unpersons through the lens of totalitarian governments, many of us can comprehend how the practice applies equally to private and non-profit organizations.

In fact, it was an online exchange with a friend regarding the creation of unpersons in the non-profit sector that led us to consider the role of institutional memory, defined as (and thanks again to Wikipedia for this):

a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. Elements of institutional memory may be found in corporations, professional groups, government bodies, religious groups, academic collaborations and by extension in entire cultures.

The two ideas are closely related. Bad organizations choose to “forget” less flattering events of their institutional history, especially those that conflict with their self-generated mythologies. Sometimes that process requires them to create new unpersons out of individuals associated with those events.

Those who try to remind organizations of these transgressions are criticized for talking about “the past,” even if the events in question occurred very recently. If they bring up that past too frequently, they risk being turned out and rendered unpersons themselves.

Rinse and repeat

Of course, any discussion of institutional memory should recall the Santayana chestnut that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Bad organizations often fail to heed that advice. In fact, when less-than-wonderful events do repeat, the purging of institutional memory often guarantees that no one will remember the original disaster.

Easy as 1-2-3

Today, with websites often serving as the public face of an organization, the creation of unpersons and the emptying of institutional memory is as easy as editing a web page. Entire biographies and histories can be deleted in a few keystrokes. One day, all links lead to your page; the next, you don’t even exist (at least virtually)!

From abstract to concrete

Okay, this discussion has been rather abstract. But I’m guessing that many readers familiar with workplace bullying, sexual harassment, whistleblowing retaliation, and other forms of mistreatment can identify readily with the ideas here. Hopefully I’ve provided a modest backdrop for understanding the accompanying institutional responses.

Cardiff Workplace Bullying Conference, Day 2

The second day of the 7th International Conference on Workplace Bullying & Harassment in Cardiff, Wales, was an exhausting, exhilarating day for many of the conference delegates.  It started with a keynote address by yours truly on workplace bullying and the law at 9 a.m., and ended with the conference dinner that finished up at around 11 p.m.

I’m a bit too tired even to try to summarize the many great presentations I heard, but let me highlight two of them:

Bullied out of the Army

In a compelling session on whistleblowing and bullying, retired Irish Army captain Tom Clonan shared with us the disturbing story of how he was retaliated against after submitting a report to his superiors about extensive levels of bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault directed at female soldiers by their male colleagues.  Tom had done the report as part of his doctoral research. As a result of this research project, he was subjected to an ongoing campaign of ostracizing by fellow officers and publicly accused by the military of fabricating his study.

It took an inquiry by the Irish Minister for Defence and Tom’s own libel suit against the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff for the Irish Defence Forces (eventually settled) to vindicate his name.  Nevertheless, his military career — until these events on an upward trajectory — was in shambles. He now is the Security Analyst for The Irish Times and a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology School of Media.

What a loss for the Irish Army.  This principled, understated man sought to do nothing more than to bring to his superiors’ attention a set of horrible conditions facing female soldiers that by any measure should be deemed unacceptable.  For doing this, he basically was bullied out of his military career.

On Confidence

Imagine being the closing speaker at a conference dinner that already has run nearly four hours.  That was the unenviable task for lawyer Eleanor Williams, Head of Legal and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in Wales.  And yet, by the end of her brief, witty, poignant, and lyrical remarks, she had brilliantly won over a tired crowd.

Her theme was confidence, and she took us through a short historical tour of how famous Welsh denizens had succeeded because of a spirit of risk taking.  It wasn’t altogether clear where she was taking us, until — boom — she hit us with the closing: Workplace bullies, who often lack confidence themselves, rob others of their confidence. The message to conference delegates was that our work can help to restore the confidence of bullying targets and lead them to reclaim their right to pursue great things with their lives.

I wish I could summarize Eleanor’s talk with the elegance with which she delivered it, but I won’t even try.

Good people

After their respective talks, I had a chance to chat with both Tom Clonan and Eleanor Williams.  It’s gratifying to be able to report that not only are they compelling speakers with something important to share, but also they are darn good folks.  The character and authenticity they exhibited during their remarks came across just as easily on a one-to-one basis.

I could go on and on, but we start up again at 9 a.m. sharp.  However, I did want to share with readers these two moments from today’s proceedings, among the many that deserve mention.

***

Short report on Day 3 of the Conference

Short report on Day 1 of the Conference

Don’t assume that HR is your buddy

Time and again I learn about situations where employees erroneously believed that the human resources office was their friend in helping to resolve a workplace conflict or problem.  The truth is maybe yes, quite possibly no.

Understanding the multifaceted roles and true loyalties of HR is an important starting place.  Toward that end, from SmartMoney.com via Yahoo!, here’s an interesting piece by Jim Rendon, 10 Things Human Resources Won’t Say:

1. “We’re Squeezed Too.”
2. “We’re Not Always Your Advocate…”
3. “…But We Can Help Your Career.”
4. “Want the job? Then You’ll Want to Get to Know Us.”
5. “Yes, Facebook Can Get You Fired.”
6. “In Some Companies, We’re Not Very Useful at All.”
7. “You’re Not Paranoid — We are Watching You.”
8. “Read the Fine Print.”
9. “We Know More About You Than You think.”
10. “We Love Tests.”

It echoes some of the observations made in one of this blog’s most popular posts, “HR was useless”, which discusses some of the realities of relying on HR to help workers.

Targets of workplace bullying, sexual harassment, etc., and potential whistleblowers, take heed.

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