Perks at Work Alone Won’t Change Toxic Cultures

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With the spotlight brightening on the need for a return to civility in society, especially in the workplace, as the injustices pile up, as I have highlighted in my blogs, the focus must remain on the unnecessary stress employees endure. In a recent article by Alec Gewirtz in Thrive Global, a number of Fortune 500 companies are making an effort to ease these stresses by including calming activities and other recreational outlets to their employees’ while at work. After all, studies have shown that relieving stress at work increases productivity.

I would suggest, however, that before you ‘buy the ping pong table’, to be sure that the culture of your organization is psychologically healthy enough to successfully implement these perks. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the many ways bullying produces stress in the workplace. I also offer suggestions on how to handle these difficult situations.

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Harassment - Abuse - Extortion Runs Rampant in Workplaces

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In a Washington Post article, Danielle Paquette describes the depressing truth about sexual harassment in America. What is even more depressing is that this same truth holds exists for all forms of abuse, harassment, extortion and exploitation in the workplace. I have been harping about this for close to a decade. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I articulated these very points, something I have continued featuring in articles, and in blogs on my website.

Actor James Van Der Beek reveals he faced sexual harassment by ‘older, powerful men,’ in wake of Weinstein scandal. "I’ve had my ass grabbed by older, powerful men," he wrote. In yesterday’s blog, I discuss Terry Crews’ tale as well as sharing my own experience.

Alyssa Rosenberg’s Washington Post article underscores the complexity of this societal scourge in her headline, ‘For the Harvey Weinstein scandal to mean anything, it will have to get a lot worse.’ I'm disgusted by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. But if we're ever to have a shot at addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault, we have to accept that he's not an exception. Unfortunately, it’s not just Harvey Weinstein. In fact, his actions can no longer even be considered rare. He just happened to get caught. The latest top Hollywood executive under scrutiny is Amazon Studio’s chief Roy Price, suspended amid sexual harassment allegations, as revealed in another Washington Post article by Mary Hui.

Anyone who has been abused, harassed, and bullied needs to come forward. The more that do will cause the bullies and predators to think twice before they do it again.

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In a Washington Post article by Emily Yahr, actor Terry Crews says, “a ‘high level Hollywood executive’ groped him. He continued, “This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD. Why? Because this kind of thing happened to ME," the former NFL player tweeted.

Mr. Crews, in relaying his reaction to the Weinstein scandal, stated that he is still haunted by what happened to him, and has expressed what most men and women experience long after the event, sometimes for the rest of their lives. I can speak to this because, like Crews, “this kind of thing happened to ME!"

On two occasions, my former co -author, the highly regarded bullying expert Barbara Coloroso, made sexual advances towards me - one verbal and the other physical. In one of the incidences she bragged to me that she had seduced a gay Canadian Olympian, after she taught him how to kayak. Based on her aggressiveness with me I am sure we were not the only ones she harassed. She is in the same category as Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby pathetic predators.

After I rejected her physical advance, Coloroso started a campaign to discredit me, enlisting The Workplace Bullying Institute’s Gary Namie, the Toronto Star, and Google as weapons. I wrote a blog about my experience, but even now they continue to bully me.

My initial reaction was to expose what was happening to me and why. Almost everyone from whom I sought advice on this discouraged me from pursuing this course of action. Upon reflection, they were wrong, and I was wrong in following it. Rather I sought remedy through the legal process. Legally I won, but emotionally I lost. 

Until the conclusion of the court case, through my books, including From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, and in articles and blogs, I gave people who are targeted hope. I am an expert on the topic of bullying, abuse and harassment, and had deep enough pockets to fight it. As I indicated earlier, emotionally I lost; and the tragedy of this is my inability, in good conscience to continue to give those who are targeted hope. 

The Weinstein story may have a good result is giving people the courage to come forward with what happened in the past and ideally exposing bullies and predators immediately after it occurs. 

This should also motivate organizations to provide their employees with ombudspersons to as a method by which they can seek advice and support on both report and seek recourse. As indicated in yesterday’s blog Human Resources just doesn’t cut it. 

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Human Resources – Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

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An article by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times about reporting incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace provides both a real picture of what has been happening and what continues going on, as well as some sound advice on what to do if you are ever a victim.

The culprit, other than the predator, is the Human Resources Department, who according to the research I have done for my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, is part of the problem versus part of the solution in the majority of organizations. I fully concur that women do not report sexual harassment primarily because, as Ms. Miller points out, “mostly they fear retaliation, and for good reason, research shows”.

The suggestion that organizations provide an Ombuds person is one of the most effective ways for people to come forward. We should also note that this goes beyond sexual harassment. The same dynamics occur with other forms of harassment and abuse.

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In the New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, Harvey Weinstein is exposed as a sexual predator. I wrote about this same dynamic when it happened at Fox Media. These lurid activities occurred within a culture of silence.

It is encouraging that Mr. Weinstein says he is working towards mending his way, admitting that it won’t be easy, in a carefully crafted statement. The good thing that could come from this is giving those who have been targeted the courage to come forward to expose these predators who feel they can abuse with immunity. Like Fox Media - there are more ‘Foxes in the hen house’.

The Times also discusses the internal board scrambling resulting from these latest revelations. The moves came as employees and business partners of the company voiced concern about sexual harassment allegations, revealed in a New York Times investigation. It begs the question, after going on for 30 years, and the executives and the board didn’t know about it, how far removed are they, and what else is out there that they don’t know?

Harvey Weinstein embodies a culture whose power is on the wane, as discussed in Ann Horniday’s Washington Post article. The sexism Weinstein embodies has been reflected in the ‘male gaze’ of Hollywood movies. But that gaze is beginning to wander.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I explain how a toxic culture creates cover-ups and denials around sexual harassment. I also advise on what specific steps employees facing these horrendous situations can and should do.

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The Queen Bee in the Workplace

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Olga Khazan’s updated article on women who bully, published in The Atlantic last month, is reflective of the dynamics I outline in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, where I explain how a toxic culture creates and supports bullying.

Women are often singled out as being difficult to work for or with, but the dynamics that cause this are based in fear, just as they are with men.

The way that these situations can be made healthy is for upper management to agree that the culture of their organization must adopt the ethic of reciprocity in all of their interactions with all stakeholders, especially fellow employees. This paves the way for the creation and sustainability of psychologically safe workplaces.

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Just like a breath of fresh air, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria firmly reminded his audience of some 4000 cadets of the Air Force’s staunch belief in “the power of diversity”. He further insisted that “small thinking and horrible ideas” had no place there. His actual remarks, included in Jonah Engle Bromwich’s New York Times column, are very powerful and should be studied by everyone in a leadership position. His message was very well framed, open, honest and direct. Although he occasionally referred to his crib notes, the message came from his heart - something that those who heard it will remember for the rest of their lives.

This belief system is in sharp contrast to the toxic cultures that have been exposed and about which I have written at such companies as Uber, Fox News, Wells Fargo and Volkswagen in terms of dealing with critical situations. In all of those cases, as in most that we see related to wrongdoing, discrimination, and harassment, they first deny, deny, and deny again; and then leadership claims no knowledge of the issue and/or they cover it up, versus tackling it head-on in an open direct non-threatening way. But these companies must espouse a psychologically healthy workplace, where there are ground rules that must be followed; and if you don’t like them, get out.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss how strong leadership from the top is essential for creating and maintaining psychologically healthy organizations.

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The Importance of Learning to Civilly and Effectively Communicate Disagreement

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With all of the noise about the National Football League, the message in Bret Stevens lecture published in the New York Times is that the most effective way to resist, protect and defend democracy and a civilized society is to effectively communicate disagreement. Today, most of what we are hearing is the ranting of polarized positions.

Whenever I engage in a debate I ask myself if there is a one percent possibility that my position is wrong. If the answer to this is yes, then I owe it to myself and to the people implicated by the debate to consider the opposing view. What is required here is the ability of people to have critical discussions when they disagree, as discussed in N. Gregory Mankiw’s article in the Times. Unfortunately, this is outside of most people's comfort zones. I believe that if more of us used the power of Emotional Intelligence, coupled with the Golden Rule, they can revive the art of disagreement. Not having constructive debates puts at risk the voices of reason, and gives licence to the loudest belligerent voice in the room, which undermines the very essence of democracy.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I explain how taking civil action is critical to changing a culture. The NFL exemplified this action as they knelt down during the playing of the National Anthem.

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I returned to work after my psychotic break, but my bipolar disorder did, too.

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In his article in the New York Times, Zack Mcdermott shares the story of his challenging return to work after a psychological leave of absence. This experience happens to more people than we like to think. My book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, is a story of hope for so many people who suffer symptoms of mental illness with virtually no support in the workplace.

Given that one in five people have a mental health condition in any given year, everyone has someone close to them who is affected. Empathy, support and appropriate interventions are the prerequisite keys to being able to overcome most conditions. Workplace culture is also critically important, where the signs of a problem are usually always evident. Rather than just be a bystander to this, we must take action because early interventions can and do save lives.

To understand the magnitude of this reality, consider the 2016 Harvard/Stanford University study, which found that 120,000 deaths annually could be attributed to workplace stress. Given the fact that these are premature deaths, workplace stress is the number one killer.

Saving lives, for example, means sending people to the hospital when a heart attack is occurring or symptoms are present. In one company, I heard from an employee who was actually contacted while in the hospital being checked for a possible heart attack by HR to reschedule for the next day for the time lost while in the hospital. This went against the company’s own policy, but nonetheless was the action they chose. If this insulting behaviour were not bad enough, they followed up by penalizing the person with graveyard shifts for the next month despite the employee being their top producer. My hopes for the future for this company and companies like it are dim. They will likely lose their best employees and suffer above-average turnover.

If your situation resonates with either of these stories, it’s time for you to take action, which may mean standing up for what is right or possibly changing employment. The ethic of reciprocity suggests that we do unto others, as we would have them do unto us. Enacting this principle into the workplace works wonders!  

Predator Bullies Turn the Victim Into the Villain

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Whenever someone, in this case a man, makes someone else, in this case a woman, feel unsafe in any way, they have crossed the line. When confronted about this act and told that you are a liar, it reminds you of all the people who have ever doubted your word before. By calling the victim a liar, the predator bully is attempting to turn the victim into the villain - a very common tactic used by bullies. This dynamic has reached epidemic proportions in workplaces across North America.

Finally, Amber Tamblyn is taking the bull by the horns. In her opinion piece in The New York Times, she articulates what people who are abused go through. My advice to people who feel vulnerable is to invest in a discrete body camera with a listening device. It is legal to record as long as one of the parties agrees; and, they are one of the parties.

As unconventional as this may sound, this is the kind of action that is required when such injustices occur. There may be discomfort transitioning from being a bystander, where you are expected to endure this abuse, to becoming an activist, where defending your dignity is the right thing to do despite the fear of retaliation.

Stories like Amber’s serve to give hope to women who have been beaten down for generations. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I encourage women to stand up for what is right. As she reiterates, “The women I know, myself included, are done, though, playing the credentials game. We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons