UnitedHealth and Corporate Wrongdoing: Triple Jeopardy for Employees

It’s no coincidence that the business model behind the recent revelations of UnitedHealth Group defrauding Medicare is eerily familiar. They have managed to combine the toxic demand to succeed at all costs found at Wells Fargo with the heartless teachings of shareholder over stakeholders from the Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress look to gut the Affordable Care Act citing increased costs, never realizing what is contributing to those rising prices. There’s just one word for that—sick.

Benjamin Poehling, the former finance director at UnitedHealth, alerted the Justice Department to this when he realized that billions of taxpayer dollars have been stolen by big insurance companies that have been bilking the system. Now the Justice Department is suing his former employer, UnitedHealth Group, and plans to investigate other companies who are also Medicare Advantage participants.

Medicare Advantage, which is the program that’s been swindled, was supposed to be the solution to the $13 trillion funding gap in Medicare.  It was instituted by Congress to fix the gap by turning it over to the insurance companies with the expectation that they provide better care for a lower price. At this point the only ones benefiting are the insurance companies. According to the New York Times, UnitedHealth has reaped some $3 billion in profit over five years from Medicare Advantage. We still don’t know how much other insurance companies may have stolen.

As in all of these whistleblower cases, this puts employees in a terrible position. Comply and you become a crook and if caught, will be fired and possibly prosecuted. Refuse to comply and you’ll be fired. Become a whistleblower and risk your career and possibly your health and well-being. You’d think an insurance company would recognize behavior that puts people at risk. 

Trump’s Official Biographer Thinks the Bully-in-Chief Will Resign

There’s no question that Donald Trump’s self sabotage is rooted in his past. In his insightful article in the Washington Post, Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz points out how all of the behavior we’ve come to abhor from Donald Trump as president was clearly laid out years ago.

Schwartz spent almost a year following Trump, interviewing him, observing him in action and otherwise studying the man for the 1987 memoir. He says that nothing Trump has done as president surprises him. “The way he has behaved over the past week — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision and disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials — is also entirely predictable.”

I’m in complete agreement about Trump’s predictability. He behaves as a classic bully—a fragile sense of self-worth, impulsive behavior, blaming others for his own misdeeds, and a worldview that everything is a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Most notable is his use of deflection, deceit, denial and deception. That’s why he’s the definition of a bully in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

How much of Trump’s behavior came from a critical and demanding father whose abuse froze his emotional development in early childhood is best left to the experts, but the result is someone who is clearly unqualified for the highest office in the land. However, Schwartz doesn’t think that Trump will continue in that position much longer.

He told Anderson Cooper on CNN that he doesn’t believe Trump will go through the impeachment process. “There is no right and wrong for Trump; there’s winning and losing. And right now, he is in pure terror he’s going to lose.” To circumvent that, Schwartz predicts Trump will find a way to resign and then “figure out a way, as he has done all his career, to turn a loss into a victory so he will declare victory when he leaves.” 

We can only hope that happens before he takes the rest of us down with him.

Photo credit: MMM

How Theo Epstein Broke the Cubs’ Drought by Building a Stable Culture

I was in Chicago the night of the seventh game of the 2016 World Series. As a Canadian, I’m more of a hockey guy—but I couldn’t help get swept up by the excitement that night.

The Chicago Cubs used to be Major League Baseball’s punch line for any joke about perpetual losers—until Theo Epstein. Epstein, known for helping break the “Curse of the Bambino” with the Boston Red Sox at the tender age of 31, also led the Cubs to their first World Series win in 2016 after a 108-year hiatus. Clearly, Epstein knows how to win.

His extraordinary feat was lauded in Fortune, where he made the top spot on the World’s Greatest Leaders list, but what makes him truly remarkable is what he learned from his years with the Red Sox. In his book, The Cubs Way, author and Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci, describes it this way:

“Once he’d joined the Cubs, Epstein gave his scouts very specific marching orders. On every prospect he wanted the area scout to give three examples of how that player responded to adversity on the field and three examples of how that player responded to adversity off the field.”

In other words, Epstein realized the importance of character and wanted to build a psychologically healthy workplace. His previous approach with the Red Sox, which was similar to the obsession with statistics, number-crunching and little-known niche talents similar to the movie Moneyball, wasn’t sustainable. By the end of his tenure the team was falling apart. He realized that no amount of data could account for character and chemistry.

So when Epstein started his term as the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, he did what I describe in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire – he built a stable work culture. As he explained to Verducci, “If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed.” Here’s the proof: the video of the 2016 World Series parade.

When will it take for the rest of the business world get the message?

Photo credit: Chicago Cubs

From Canada’s National Symbol to Canada’s National Shame: The RCMP

There comes a time when a dysfunctional police force puts the very people they have sworn to serve and protect in danger. For the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it’s gone beyond even that—the officers in the ranks and their support staff are suffering from decades of bullying, abuse, harassment and reprisals against whistleblowers. Under this regime, the very notion of upholding the law has become a national disgrace—and a danger to national security. It’s time to completely remake the RCMP.

I’ve been following the toxic culture at the RCMP for more than a decade. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss how the RCMP typifies a dictatorial culture and the damage they are doing to their officers and the public. I’m not alone in my concerns. CBC News ran a report today calling for civilian governance of the police force. The sad truth is that the millions of dollars spent thus far settling harassment suits, and on evaluations and investigations, haven’t changed the dictatorial culture of the RCMP one iota. In fact, things have actually gotten worse. This brings little hope to people working in toxic workplaces. If the full force of the Canadian government, independent commissions and academic scholars can’t improve things—what hope does the average person have when it comes to bullying in the workplace?

As I’ve written before, in order to reform the police the force needs to be taken apart and rebuilt. The recommendations to the RCMP to add civilian governance is a good start, but it requires nothing less than a total transformation from A to Z. Adding a civilian police commissioner is nothing more than applying a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. It might shield our eyes from the ugliness for a time, but it does nothing to save the patient.

Illustration credit: Greg Perry/Toronto Star

The Bully-in-Chief Strikes Again—Very Predictable!

Donald Trump’s behavior and beliefs constantly befuddle everyone—the news media, pundits, academic experts and the average person are constantly trying to decode what he’s really saying and what he really believes. There’s a good reason that this is impossible, which David Roberts makes crystal clear on Vox in his insightful article, “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer.”

According to Roberts, there’s a simple reason that Trump defies logic—he doesn’t believe anything.  Roberts writes:

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, “views” that reflect his assessment of the facts, “positions” that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

He goes on to explain that when Trump speaks, it’s to position himself as dominant in the culture’s social hierarchy.  He has no interest in, or ability to share, an exchange of ideas; he only uses language to assert his superiority. “This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind,” Roberts writes.

This is also why Trump is so very predictable. There are no deeper traits; he fits the bully archetype to a T, never digressing for a moment from this persona. This is why, as I wrote on Monday in my post, “Donald Trump: Bully, Coward and Traitor,” you don’t need to be an oracle or an expert to figure out what he will do next. This is why I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, to Trump as the very definition of what it means to be a bully.  And this is why I’ve been such a vocal advocate for psychological evaluation of senior executives before putting them in positions of power. That’s just as true for the C-suite as it is for the highest executive office in the land. Any company thinking of doing less should ask itself this—could you really afford to have a Donald Trump run your company?

Photo credit: Notey

Mental Health is a Major Challenge in All Environments

One of the unique features of the university setting is that it often doubles as educational institution and place of employment for students as well as staff. Like workplaces all over North America, providing mental health care is a major challenge. According to statistics from Mental Health America, one in four adults live with mental illness. And yet colleges are just now waking up to the pressing need for services on campus, according to a recent series in USA Today.

There are a number of reasons for the significant increase in the need for mental health services. For one thing, thanks to better treatments and therapies young adults living with mental illness are now able to attend college, something that was unobtainable a generation ago. But old stigmas die hard, and college students can be reluctant to get help if it means that their parents might find out. And for those willing to reach out, there are often too few services and those services are poorly conceived for this complex population. Sadly, many times little or improvement is made until a campus is turned upside down by tragedy.

Another issue is how to fund mental health programs on campuses. Charging students for services can be a deterrent to seeking help when issues are being kept from parents. There are grants in some states, but these may not be enough to increase services to needed levels.

All of this is why I’m working with Mental Health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Our need for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces can and must extend to higher education.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Donald Trump: Bully, Coward and Traitor

Any soothsayer will tell you that there is no pleasure in seeing negative predictions come true. I’m no oracle, but it’s been frighteningly clear to me from observable data and research just how predictable Donald Trump’s bullying behavior is. As I discuss in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, a bully who has gained power will do anything and everything to hold onto it. This latest episode with the firing of FBI Director James Comey continues to prove this. It comes as no surprise that this action was taken just days after Comey requested a significant increase in resources to further the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, according to the New York Times. Or that there were reports that he had grown outraged over the probes in to Russia.

It’s all very predictable. Trump continues to reveal himself as a bully, a coward in his dealings with subordinates (especially the firing of Comey and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates), and a traitor. It doesn’t take a forensic investigator to figure out that Trump is in deep with Russia. Today Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov into the Oval Office. The photos of their meeting were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, not the White House.

In Congress, Democrats—and just three Republicans—are demanding a special prosecutor or independent investigation, in order to get to the bottom of Trump’s Russian ties. Meanwhile, a whopping 57 members of the GOP are neutral or even supportive of eliminating Comey and have nothing to say about investigating Russia. I would like to remind them of the need for checks and balances against the executive branch. They remind me of the character Seymour in the horror comedy Little Shop of Horrors who kept feeding the monstrous plant Audrey II the blood it craved never realizing that one day, Audrey would try to eat him, too. Beware feeding the bully: his hunger is insatiable and he doesn’t care whom he consumes.  

Photo credit: Little Shop of Horrors

How to Leave a Toxic Legacy

Bully bosses are notorious for being short-sighted—most can see no further than their immediate objective. Given how they manipulate and torture people, it might come as a surprise that many want to be liked—even loved. For a perfect example of this look no further than Donald Trump. In spite of his toxic tweets and abusive statements, he often displays the demeanor of a small child who is aching for adoration.

Ada Brunstein explores a similar type of boss in her recent New York Times essay, “In a Law Office, Coping With a Boss’s Toxic Trail.” In it, she discusses the daily abuse she and other young, female paralegals received from the estate attorney who employed them. The lawyer, whom she calls “Mr. S,” couldn’t understand why his employees disliked him and never stayed long. It couldn’t be the blatant disregard for his staff, his incessant smoking in the office, his temper tantrums or name calling, could it? In fact, his inability to retain staff ultimately hurt his business and did nothing for his legacy.

Leaders should ask themselves how they would like to be remembered. Their behavior reflects directly on how employees feel and why they feel that way and any issues on the boss’s part that impacts the workplace negatively needs to be addressed immediately. Leadership is no place for people who don’t understand—or care—how feelings drive organizational behavior.

Andrew Faas is the author of

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK


Why Being a Revolutionist is Critical Now

The image may forever be seared into the collective consciousness—Republican members of the House boarding buses to the White House to have a beer to celebrate passage of the American Health Care Act of 2017. Never mind that the AHCA has an enormous list of pre-existing conditions that unconscionably includes cesarean section and PTSD brought on by sexual assault, or that it makes it possible to charge people over 50 more than five times the rate of younger people, or that it included an exemption for Congress. And ignore that in their zeal to defeat the national healthcare safety net created by an African-American president, many Republicans admitted to never having read the thing or that they refused to wait for the cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. Just remember this: This may be the moment when the average American becomes a revolutionist.

As someone who has been a revolutionist for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces for almost a decade, it gives me hope to see Americans fired up. It’s this energy that I hope to direct to employment issues, which differ from your rights as a citizen in an important way—the freedom of expression that you are guaranteed under the Constitution does NOT apply to the workplace.  This is why keeping an eye on workplace issues is extremely important—the man currently in the White House wants to run the government like one of his workplaces.

Examples of how employees lack rights abound. Donald Trump’s friends at Fox News continue to be in the headlines with new lawsuits and federal investigations due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations. Most of the women who were harassed had no recourse at work. One of the most pernicious aspects of the culture at Fox News is the practice of human resource departments to encourage employees to come forward then use that information to facilitate retaliation. As I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, this is far from unusual. I would even argue it’s the norm; in toxic workplaces human resource departments are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Far too often they suffer from what I call “Sean Spicer Syndrome”—zero credibility, zero courage.

One of the most egregious examples of employees lacking rights at work come from Wells Fargo. I’ve written a lot about the bank’s improprieties and I’m not fooled by the assurance of its new CEO, Timothy J. Sloan, that retaliation against whistleblowers won’t be tolerated. Or, according to a recent New York Times article, that it’s “critically important” that all employees feel safe at Wells Fargo. It does nothing for the employees who were fired for reporting the bank’s abuses and then show up only as a footnote in a 110-page report by an outside law firm. In order for there to have been abuse at the levels that took place and the whistleblowers silenced, the exploitation by Wells Fargo had to be deep and systemic.

That is why I take being a revolutionist so seriously and you should, too. Fighting on against depressing odds is difficult, but we don’t have the luxury of sitting back. Trump has tried to silence the press, boost religious extremists and roll back protections for the LGBT community, in addition to that outrageous bill that masquerades as health-care reform. But it’s not over. Not only does the AHCA still need to pass in the Senate, but 2018 midterm elections are coming up quickly. Use your anger to fuel your resolve to resist. Record donations yesterday poured into sites that will fund Democratic candidates in 2018. There are marches planned, including the June 11 Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, DC. I predict we will see record crowds for Pride around the world this year. As my 98-year-old mother, a veteran of the Dutch underground during World War II told me, “you don’t want to feel as you grow older that you should have done more.” Take action now.

Photo credit: CSPAN






When Workers Sign Non-Compete Agreements, No One Benefits

On the surface, it seems like common sense: keep your employees from taking what you’ve taught them and bringing it to your competition by making them sign non-compete agreements. Logical, right?

Not so fast.

Every analysis of this burgeoning practice is showing that not only is this a terrible thing to inflict on workers—who are ensnared in a kind of servitude where they must stay with a bad job or risk leaving their profession entirely—but it destroys innovation, economic growth and entrepreneurship.

Employment and labor law Professor Orly Lobel of the University of San Diego School of Law wrote in today’s New York Times just what non-compete clauses really mean to the burgeoning ranks of the 30 million employees who have signed them. According to Lobel, instead of just requiring non-competes from the top echelon of employees, now one in six workers without a college degree are also forced to sign them. “By including them in employee contracts, employers can use the threat of litigation to constrict wages and employee mobility,” she says.

The effect this has on the workplace can’t be underestimated. Psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces don’t shackle employees’ ability to freely leave their jobs for better wages and benefits, to advance a career, or to accrue working capital. Parents are especially penalized when they can’t move to a state that doesn’t enforce non-competes because of the need to live near family, their children’s education or their spouse’s employment.

For the clearest proof as to how non-competes hurt industry, Sobel cites the example of California and Massachusetts, both of which benefited from an early boom in high-technology. California, which does not enforce non-competes, is now a thriving hub of tech innovation. Massachusetts on the other hand, which enforces them, had its tech boom die out. If employees wanted to stay in the industry they had to leave the state—much to the state’s detriment.

In From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire I discuss how psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces are fertile breeding grounds for creativity, innovation and productivity. If you want the exact opposite of all these things, introduce a non-compete agreement. But beware. The employee you exploit the most may wind up being yourself.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK