toxic workplaces

Federal Reserve Board Suggests Terrifying Action


In one of the most terrifying and perplexing moves to date, the Federal Reserve Board proposes to relieve banks’ boards of directors of “excessive regulatory duties,” which makes no sense at all. Although I am not a proponent of over regulation, boards must be held accountable and provide oversight on important bank decisions that influence the long-term sustainability and reputation of the bank.

At a time when Wells Fargo is under intense scrutiny, and for good reason, Donald Trump is attempting to lessen accountability rather than increase it. How is a board expected to effectively fulfill their fiduciary responsibility, including advocating for a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace, if it is kept in the dark about the inner workings of their organization? Toxic cultures are perpetuated when boards are uninformed or misinformed about important organizational actions. When the board is kept in the dark about such actions, their ability to function effectively ceases to exist.

I maintain that if the boards of directors of Wells Fargo and Uber had been better informed earlier, the companies’ gross mistakes in judgement could have been avoided. As it now stands, both companies are in great peril and their very survival hangs in the balance.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the importance of good board governance and the dangers associated with its demise. Without supporting bank boards to improve their oversight capabilities, the Federal Reserve Board is essentially removing a basic and essential tool from their proverbial toolbox.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK


Ignorance is No Excuse for Bad Leadership

When it comes to CEOs, ignorance of the culture in your workplace is unacceptable. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently came to the defense of Uber’s Travis Kalanick saying that she didn’t think Kalanick knew about the toxic culture at his company: “I just don’t think he knew. When your company scales that quickly, it’s hard,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is like Donald Trump defending Vladimir Putin. To say that Kalanick didn’t know about toxic culture puts him in the same league as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his infamous comment in the New York Times expose on his workplace’s culture: “That’s not the Amazon I know.” Mayer’s defense of Kalanick as a “great leader” reflects the general attitude of organizational leaders today—their only concern is shareholders and they just don’t care about their workplace culture and, by extension, their employees.

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

Photo credit: Observer

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

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


Why Do the Big Tech Companies Drive Away Women and Minorities?

There are toxic workplaces and then there are toxic workplaces in the tech industry. Up until now the evidence was heavily anecdotal. There was the female employee who revealed sexual harassment at Uber, followed by the heart-wrenching tragedy of the African-American engineer at Uber who took his own life as the stress became unmanageable. There is the gay employee taking on the Omnicom Group for horrific abuse and the well-known story of Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination suit made national news.

At last we have some data to support the chorus of diverse voices begging us to pay attention to the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll just conducted a study to explore the reasons why people leave tech companies. What they discovered was that the outpouring of first-person stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias is borne out by the numbers: eight in 10 employees who left tech said they did so due to unfair behavior or treatment.  Eighty-five percent observed such behavior and 37 percent left their jobs because of it.

Women experience and observed far more toxic behavior than men, with women of color being most likely to be passed over for promotion. In addition, LGBT employees endured the most bullying and public humiliation leading to the decision by 64 percent to leave their company.

Given that employee retention problems due to toxic workplaces are costing $16 billion a year, one would think that the tech companies would use their brain power to work harder at a solution. However, Facebook, whom we recently praised for its new policy about gender-diverse legal teams, has been cited in the Wall Street Journal for its hidden biases against female engineers. Perhaps Cheryl Sandberg might want to figure out how to help her company lean in. Right now it’s not getting the job done.

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

Illustration credit: Womena/

Instead of Blaming the Victim; Practical Advice for Whistleblowers

I’m often appalled at the bad advice the media gives to people who are being bullied in the workplace. The latest example comes from the Globe and Mail’s Rob Magazine on Corporate Governess where a reader asked what to do about senior executives who were up to something unethical and possibly illegal. The headline? “Why you probably shouldn’t snitch on your employer.”

After pointing out that Canada has no whistleblower protection laws like the U.S., the magazine’s writer put the onus on the reader. After pointing out that almost any course of action could lead to unemployment, it urged him to keep it anonymous and do his own investigation first.

Suggesting that it should all be up to the employee is absurd. Here is the advice I share in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

1.     Reach out to your company’s external auditor to see if you will be protected if you report wrongdoing.

2.     If it’s safe to do so, make your report to the company’s external auditor.

3.     Keep your report free from emotional response and state just the facts. Don’t embellish, assess or be judgmental.

4.     Don’t become the investigator. The investigation is the responsibility of the organization.

5.     Know the laws where you work. Different states have different protections for whistleblowers and some have none at all.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK 

Hundreds of Former Employees Expose Jewelry Chain’s Open Secrets

Another employer has been accused of promoting a culture that condoned, and even encouraged, sexual harassment. Sterling Jewelers, the parent company of such well-known shopping mall jewelry stores as Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry has been accused of rampant harassment and discrimination by hundreds of former employees.

Sadly, this is an all too pervasive problem in toxic workplaces, as I recently wrote in regards to the Uber allegations. The Sterling accusations are not isolated incidents. More than 250 women, and some men, filed a private class-action arbitration case in 2008 alleging incidents of groping, demeaning behavior and demand for sexual favors that happened in the late 1990s and 2000s. This is on the heels of an even larger case of some 69,000 employees alleging widespread gender discrimination. According to testimonies just released, top male managers of this company bullied women with ridicule, “scouting parties” to find attractive sex partners, and demands for sexual favors in exchange for raises, promotions or protection from reprisal.

Because many employees waive their right to bring suits in public court as a condition of their employment, it’s difficult to get transparency in cases like these. The system is set up to protect the company at the cost of the employees instead of creating a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace.

As I discuss in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, workplaces of this sort are often an open secret. That was certainly true at FOX News and Uber. Until companies create an ironclad rule to punish any violators regardless of their position or contribution to the company, this behavior will continue. Throwing billions of dollars at harassment awareness workshops and diversity seminars have not, and will not ever make a dent. Only accountability will do that. Let’s hope as the Women’s March empowers women to speak out against injustice accountability becomes the new normal.


How ‘Brilliant Jerks’ Can Ruin a Workplace

Yesterday I discussed the revelation by a former Uber employee that reporting incidents of sexual harassment to the human resources department was useless. This really hit a nerve with readers, who left many comments about how futile that still is. It’s no surprise that this behavior continues. In his article in the New York Times, Mike Isaac reveals how the “focus on pushing for the best result has also fueled what current and former Uber employees describe as a Hobbesian environment at the company, in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.” 

In my work for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces I am often challenged by executives who claim my findings and assertions are too extreme and do not reflect the real world. Clearly, they reflect what is going on at Uber, and Uber is not alone. In 2015, Amazon was exposed for their brutal culture. I discuss these sorts of toxic workplace cultures, how to recognize them, and how to change them, in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Change may be coming at Uber. The exposé by the brave former employee captured the attention of CEO Travis Kalanick, top management and the board. Perhaps with solid leadership a healthier culture could be implemented. I applaud board member Ariana Huffington's vow that company will no longer hire “brilliant jerks.”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Silent Workplace Epidemic that Endangers Millennials

Millennial employees get a bad rap—often chastised as being lazy and self-involved, they are actually the largest current generation and swiftly eclipsing baby boomers in the workforce. While they bring plenty to the table—innovation, creativity, technological know-how, inclusiveness—they are also vulnerable to toxic workplaces. The medical journal Pediatrics reports that not only are they more likely to become clinically depressed than any other generation, more young women are struggling with the disease. Clearly they need psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces to make the most of their potential and maintain their physical and mental health.

Not meeting this standard has dire consequences for individuals as well as the nation. This is why I’m working with Mental Health America (MHA) to improve psychological health in America’s workplaces. MHA has studied this problem and found that mental health issues cost $51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

My fear is that the current atmosphere of divisiveness, bigotry and bullying promoted by the current administration will compound the problem of mental health in the workplace. Adult bullying in the workplace can cause even more havoc on a person’s well-being than school bullying—many adults need their jobs so they and their families can survive. In a tough economy they may have no other option, so they are forced to endure negative treatment, which gone unchecked can lead to physical and mental illness and even suicide. With one in five Americans afflicted with a mental health issue at any given time, this is a serious consequence. For more information on how to create psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces and maximize the potential of millennials—and all employees—see my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

If you have coworkers—especially millennials—who are suffering, I urge you to reach out to them. As I indicated in recent articles about suicide resulting from workplace bullying and living with a person with mental illness, no one has to go this alone. There are resources for help. Choose to be an ally and advocate instead of a bystander. You can make a difference in someone’s life.


Can Wells Fargo’s New Plan Save the Day?

Based on research I have done in workplace dynamics, how employees are assessed is the single biggest determiner of an organization’s culture. Wells Fargo provides a classic case study, validating this assertion.

In my book From Bully to Bull's-Eye I describe how performance management systems can either motivate people to perform to full potential or create toxic environments where people are pitted against each other and or have to resort to unethical and illegal behaviors to meet expectations.

Wells Fargo in rolling out a new plan based on customer experience to replace sales goals, a good step in their initiative to regain the trust of their customers. But to be successful the new plan must be part of an overall initiative.

 The new plan should not be considered a magic bullet, but must be in agreement with everything an organization does, including how it is governed and its structure, decision making, risk management, communication, and intelligence gathering.  All of this determines the outcome of value exchanges with various stakeholders and aligns the company with values, beliefs, principles, purpose, visions and initiatives. 

Based on my experience, if Wells Fargo takes the approach I suggest they will regain the trust of their employees first—who will then become positive ambassadors to regain the trust of their customers. In this I wish them the best of luck.