Monday, December 28, 2009

Going to Battle with a Bully? Think Post Traumatic Growth

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with major life events such as going to war and domestic violence. It includes a list of feelings and behaviors such as high levels of insomnia, apathy, anxiety, depression, aggression, and lack of concentration, to name a few. Although perhaps lacking in the attention it deserves, targets of workplace bullies also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004 for more information).

With record numbers of Army soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD and committing suicide, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum came up with an idea. She wanted to know the difference between a soldier who returns from war suffering from PTSD and one who returns stating they have better leadership and decision-making skills. According to Cornum the answer is Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). How you come out of an experience depends on how you go into it.

She figured the Army is sending its soldiers off to war physically prepared – handling a gun, physical fitness, etc. But, they aren’t being mentally prepared.

So with the help of Martin Seligman, the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Army is rolling out a new program to build emotional strength. According to him, the difference between PTSD and PTG is optimism. Optimists see setbacks as temporary, and something they have the power to change.

Seligman is also an advocate for the concept of resiliency. Resilient individuals are optimistic and energetic, curious, and demonstrate positive emotionality. Resiliency is about being flexible in stressful experiences and bouncing back when they are over.

What does all this have to do with workplace bullying? Well, if the Army thinks they can help ward of PSTD with PSG, shouldn’t workplace bullying scholars be paying attention?

Ultimately, it's clear that people have very different reactions to workplace bullying. One person might perceive behaviors as bullying, while others are annoyed but do not find themselves so emotionally wrapped up in the aggression. What's the difference between these people? I'm thinking optimism and resiliency has something to do with it.


Matthiesen, S.B., Einarsen,S. (2004). Psychiatric distress and symptoms of PTSD among victims of bullying at work. BRITISH JOURNAL OF GUIDANCE & COUNSELLING, 32(3), 335-356.

New Army program aims for emotional fitness and 'post-traumatic growth', Retrieved December 28, 2009 from:

The eBossWatch Worst Bosses of 2009

It's finally here! The eBossWatch Worst Bosses list for 2009!

Click here to read it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taming a Type-A Culture Gone Wild

I found this interesting sort of case study on BNet about Method, the household supply company with the quirky packaging. When their culture went from fun and wierd to mean and angry, the 30-something founders had to make changes. They did so by creating 5 cards that lay out the values of the company, including collaborate, care, innovate - and "keep method wierd" and "what would MacGyver do?"

They also ask interviewees to answer the question, "How would you keep Method wierd?" - a perfect example of an interview question that ensures new hires fit within the corporate culture. This article ultimately provides some great insight into using culture strategically to keep bullies out.

Here's the article... enjoy

San Francisco-based Method is one of those quirky companies where the halls bustle with smart, opinionated hipsters who, compared to most of us, actually love their jobs. Employees conduct meetings while knitting in the “craft pod,” playing ping pong in the Astroturf room, or just sitting in the middle of an open, office-less floor plan and writing their many ideas on whiteboards that span entire walls. The vibrant atmosphere has helped propel the nine-year-old company to more than $100 million in sales and put its laundry detergent, hand soap, and other products onto the shelves of stores like Target, Lowe’s, and Safeway.

But several years ago, after a period of rapid sales growth and frantic hiring, the free flow of ideas started to get a little too free. Arguments were breaking out in the middle of the very public encampment of cubicles. People were hurling insults at each other, and employees who should have been talking with one another weren’t. For a cleaning products company composed of “people against dirty,” things were getting messy.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Top 10 Tips for Ringing in the Bully-Free New Year

Workplace bullying is damaging to targets, witnesses and the organization as whole. Targets become depressed and they lose their luster for work. Witnesses lose their loyalty to management. Organizations lose good employees and positive bottom line results.

Meanwhile, organizations that focus on maintaining positive and healthy workplaces have motivated and inspired employees, invest in success, increase retention and reduce turnover, have effective internal communication, demonstrate quality work product and customer service, attract better talent, and minimize costs on workers comp and potential litigation.

That said, here are 10 tips to help your organization have a bully-free 2010:

1. Understand that workplace culture is a business strategy. Strategic culture adjustments can only be made after obtaining buy-in from as many employees as possible. To do this, get them involved in developing a vision of positivity and the corporate policies that back it up. When employees feel included, they are more likely to take heed simply because they are personally invested.

2. Use communication strategically. Leaders and management can use language to deliver a healthy workplace culture, and encourage open discussions and employee empowerment. Develop rituals that applaud interpersonal communication skills, empathy, optimism, conflict resolution and positive attitudes as a part of the routine.

3. Use anti-bully corporate policies as a nail, not as a hammer. I’ve seen a lot of stuff out there claiming the answer to your bully problem is a corporate policy. We can implement policies all day long, but if they don’t have management’s transparent support and employee back up, then who cares. Policies are meant to help the process, but they won’t fix your problem.

4. Use training programs, but they only work if they are backed by performance measurements. Trainings should include topics such as conflict resolution, negotiation, interpersonal communication, assertiveness, empathy, stress management, leadership, optimism and self-examination. Now, just like corporate policies, we can train all day long, but if these programs don’t have performance measurement attached to them then they don’t matter. So expectations regarding proficiency in these areas should be tied to performance and career advancement, and show up in employee goals and awards programs.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to create strong bonds in the workplace

It’s common sense that good relationships with family, friends and co-workers must contribute to psychological health and good work performance. Research now confirms our good sense with scientific evidence and is transforming theoretical models of happiness.

Martin Seligman’s original happiness model focused on three pathways: pleasure, meaning, and flow. Now the importance of positive relationships has been recognized and given a place in the model (although whether they constitute a pillar or a foundation is debatable – read more here).
Small things make a big difference

The theory behind positive relationships in the workplace is quite broad, and includes Dutton and Heaphy’s work on High-Quality Connections. A selection of useful positive psychology based findings on the benefits of strong relationships includes:

■The only difference between the top 10% of happiest people and everyone else is their rich and satisfying social lives.
■People who have a best friend at work are more highly engaged and significantly more likely to engage their customers.
■Social support at work is essential to psychological well-being and increases feelings of personal control at work.
■Expressing gratitude helps develop positive relationships.
■Helping your partner capitalize on good news by responding enthusiastically builds positive relationships.
■Positive emotions are important to organizations: high performing business teams demonstrate a ratio of positivity to negativity of approximately 6:1.
■Positive emotions can undo negative emotions, lead to virtuous circles and build new resources, all of which are important in maintaining good relationships.
■Happiness is infectious therefore your good mood and positive emotions can influence those around you.
■Happy endings are important: people’s memories are influenced by how events turn out so it’s important to try to end on a high note.

What does this mean for you as a manager or leader in an organization? Consider the implications of these theories from a “relationship life cycle” perspective, and ask:

■How can we form positive work relationships, and make sure that they get off to a flying start?
■What do we need to do to develop and maintain positive work relationships over the medium to long term?
■Is there a way of continuing to have positive interactions with former co-workers and bosses, even when the formal work relationship has come to an end?

Building relationships even before you put a foot through the door:

T-Mobile, the UK telecoms company which is owned by Deutsche Telekom AG is developing ways to use new technology to build good relationships. They set up an internet-based social network to enable recent graduates to get to know each other better during the recruitment process, and then to keep in touch once they start work. This has benefited both the company and the graduates themselves. The company retains all the new recruits when normally they would experience some attrition. The graduates have a ready-made support network from their very first day in the office. They settle in faster and can start making a contribution more quickly.

Developing and maintaining strong bonds

As a manager or leader, one of your most important tasks is to get to know your team as individuals. This means finding out what motivates them, practicing active listening and Active Constructive Responding (see top right hand quadrant in Fig 1 below) and expressing your appreciation for what they do. (See the Active Constructive Responding Model in the actual article on Positive Psychology News Daily.)

Here are some other tips and tools:

■Try using a personal profile introduction. This is a simple way to add a human touch to meetings – especially when people don’t know each other well. Rather than go round the table giving your name, role, department or location, try introducing yourself as a person: tell people who you are not what you are – give some personal information about your family, how you spend your spare time when you’re not at work, or even what your favorite music is. I learned a great deal about my own team with this exercise. I discovered that Navin took part in amateur light opera, Christie ran a local youth club, and Declan was an avid hill climber. Knowing these snippets of information makes it much easier to relate to people as people, rather than just as the Financial Accountant, the Sales Executive and the Marketing Director.

■As the leader or manager, you set the emotional tone. Your bad moods will cast a long shadow over the team, so if you’re prone to anxiety, anger or irritation, you might try Emotional Intelligence or meditation training to better regulate your emotions. If you can create an atmosphere of positivity, people will feel more engaged and able to contribute without fear of upsetting the boss.

■Make time to be sociable. Create opportunities to get to know colleagues outside of work, and allow them to get to know you. This could include brown bag lunches, or a trip to the pub after work. A word of warning however: you have to really want to do the social thing: Bob (ironically, a manager of the Corporate Relations Department) would schedule regular times to take his team out for drinks after work. These gatherings were well attended until it slipped out that Bob used his expense account to pay for the drinks. After that, people started giving excuses not to go; when they bought a round of drinks, they didn’t claim it as a work expense. They interpreted Bob’s actions as a sign that he wasn’t spending social time with them for the love of it.

The end of the affair

Until recently, the end of a contract often meant the end of those work relationships. The only reason for getting back in touch with a former employer would be to ask for a reference. Recent advancements in social networking technology has changed how we stay in touch professionally, though few organizations are actually managing relationships with former employees in a structured way.

Some companies taking so-called ‘corporate alumni relations’ seriously include professional services, consulting and high tech firms, such as McKinsey, Deloittes, HP and IBM. All of these companies run highly successful web-based alumni relations programs. Benefits of doing so include:

■More effective talent management in terms of lower cost, and higher quality and reach
■Strengthening their employee corporate culture by increasing trust and loyalty
■Creating new business
■Acquiring knowledge, innovation and market intelligence
■Extending their brand value and influence

There are enormous benefits for the alumni too, including access to job opportunities, professional development and expertise. Those companies which aren’t managing their relationships with their former employees are definitely missing a trick or two.

It’s never been easier to keep up with current and former co-workers and friends, and to make new connections with people all over the globe. It’s possible to track down and keep in touch with people you used to work or go to college/school with –just by googling them, or using networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Friends Reunited. There really is no excuse for losing contact with former colleagues, or letting friendships lapse, other than lack of effort.

Two other great resources for creating positive relationships in your workplace are the Appreciative Inquiry model (see here), and Tom Rath’s book “Vital Friends.” In that book, Rath includes the case study of Carolyn, a female plant manager presiding over male-only production lines. The story is a great example of how to build momentum toward transformational change in an organization. Sharing Carolyn’s story could introduce key theories and concepts and highlight the importance of positive relationships. Even small changes can make a big difference to your relationships. ”If it worked with these old blokes” said Carolyn, “it should work for anyone”.


Algoe, S.B., Haidt, J. & Gable, S.L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8(3), 425-429.

Diener, E. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13(1), 81-84.

Dutton, J.E. & Heaphy, E.D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton & R.E. Quinn (Eds.) Positive organizational scholarship (263-278). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Fowler, J., & Christakis, N. (2009). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 338 (7685), 1-13.

Fredrickson, B. (2000). Extracting meaning from past affective experiences: The importance of peaks, ends, and specific emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 14(4), 577-606.

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

Fredrickson, B., & Losada, M. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686

Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R.(2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245.

Rath, T. (2006).Vital friends: The people you can’t afford to live without. New York: Gallup Press.

Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S., & Grant, A. (2005). A socially embedded model of thriving at work. Organization Science, 16(5), 537-549.

This article is © 2009 The original article was authored by Bridget Grenville-Cleave on October 26, 2009, and can be seen here. To join the discussion about this article, click here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Towards Positive Relationships with Workplace Bullies

Outcomes of Workplace Bullying
I was a victim of workplace bullying, along with 70% of the American workforce according to Schat and colleagues. After five years of abuse I’d lost much of my self-esteem and desire to go to work. My thirst for success had drained, and only a tattered piece of paper hanging over my alarm clock that said, “Get up!” motivated me – but not very well. After days of showing up late and a major drop in work product and quality, I was asked to leave the organization. As it turns out my experience is no different than most. According to Namie, 70% of victims are asked to leave their company while only 13% of bullies are disciplined by management.

Now, years later, I am still left with an unanswered question. Why me?

Common Response to Bullying
Unfortunately current academic research and main stream thinking in the area of workplace bullying proscribe this sort of thinking. Rayner and colleagues, for example, warn that “assigning targets a positive role” in bullying may remove focus from bullies and the organizations that reward them; and incorrectly allocate responsibility to the victim. Einarsen posits that “the victim is accidentally in a situation where a predator either is demonstrating power or in other ways is trying to exploit an accidental victim.” Interestingly enough, I have even received emails from other “experts” and counselors who claim my ideas are simply not appropriate.

Bullying as Part of a Relationship
All of us absolutely play an active role in any relationship, whether with a bully or an extraordinarily nice co-worker. Ignoring that fact leaves us with no empowering options when attacked by a tyrant. Communication competence, optimism and resiliency all offer opportunities for us to build a more positive relationship with ourselves and the bullies we battle at work. All three can be learned.

Communication Competence
Communication competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in any given context. That is, a competent communicator has the capacity to get his or her intended point across with messages that are suitable to the situation. During any communication interaction we experience negative (fear) or positive (desire) motivation to actually be competent; and will either posses or lack the knowledge and skills of an adept communicator. The ability to overcome fear is one example, along with assertiveness, facial expressions, appropriate word choice and proficient conflict management. Luckily, competence can be taught.

Optimism, a trait that mediates external events and one’s perception of them according to Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, may also present an opportunity for targets to develop positive relationships at work. Optimism relates to an individual’s explanation of positive and negative events. Peterson links it to perseverance, success, popularity, and positive mood. Fortunately empirical evidence by Kluemper and colleagues indicates that individuals can also learn optimistic values.

Finally, resilient individuals are energetic, curious, and experience positive emotions. Resiliency is about being flexible in stressful experiences and bouncing back when they are over. According to the broaden-and-build theory, negative emotions narrow the options of thought-action and result in wanting to escape fearful situations. According to Tugade and Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden the repertoire and expand the range of behavioral options to include more healthy ones. As such, positive emotions can push out negative responses. This is important to people who are or have been bullied at work because they describe the experience as “feeling ‘beaten,’ ‘abused,’ ‘ripped,’ ‘broken,’ ‘scarred,’ and ‘eviscerated” according to Tracy and colleagues. One can assume, however, that a resilient individual will, in contrast, replace these types of self-destructive assessments with more positive assertive ones.

The Tool Shed
Ultimately, development of tools to facilitate a victims’ quest for positive change at work is imperative as the corporate world continues to ignore workplace bullying and the damage it causes both targets and the organization itself. If we fail to acknowledge the active part targets play in an interaction, they remain helpless bystanders in their own lives. Instead, let’s provide the targets of bullying with the tools needed to develop better relationships with their tormenters. Positive psychology is the tool shed.

This article is © 2009 The original article was authored by Catherine Mattice on November 2, 2009, and can be seen here. To join the discussion about this article, click here.

-Einarsen, S. (1999). The nature and causes of bullying at work. International Journal of Manpower, 20, 16-27. Quotation is on page 23.
-Kluemper, D.H., Little, L.M., & DeGroot, T. (2009). State or trait: effects of state optimism on job-related outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 209-231.
-Namie, G. (2003). Workplace bullying: Escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal Online, Article # 9B03TF09. Retrieved October 15, 2009, from
-Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 55, 44 -55.
-Rayner, C., Sheehan, M., & Barker, M. (1999). Theoretical approaches to the study of bullying at work. International Journal of Manpower, 20, 11-15.
-Schat, A.C.H., Frone, M.R., & Kelloway, E.K. (2006). Prevalence of workplace aggression in the U.S. workforce: Findings from a national study. In E.K. Kelloway, J. Barling & J.J. Hurrell (Eds.), Handbook of workplace violence (pp. 47-89).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
-Seligman, M.E.P, & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology – An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.
-Tracy, S.J., Lutgen-Sandvik, P., & Alberts, J.K. (2006). Nightmares, demons and slaves: Exploring the painful metaphors of workplace bullying. Management Communication Quarterly, 20, 148-185. See page 160 for specific reference.
-Tugade, M.M. & Fredrickson, B.L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 320-333.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Beyond Benefits

You deserve equal benefits in your job. Given. But what is your company doing to truly create a gay-supportive work atmosphere?

Equal benefits are the bedrock of any business espousing true support of its LGBT employees. A transgender man denied access to mental health services under his employer’s insurance, a lesbian mother who can’t get coverage for her partner in a conservative state that doesn’t recognize same-sex unions—these are the commonplace stories that bring inequities into focus.

The Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which has rated private-sector companies on gay-friendly policies since 2002, has gradually evolved its standards to press employers for greater accountability beyond the usual medical, dental, and vision care imperatives. In fact, the new corporate index standards (unveiled earlier this year for implementation in 2011) will now require companies to include other crucial benefits, such as transgender-inclusive health care. Bottom line: Companies seeking to retain their coveted 100% ratings may soon have to work a little harder.

Read the rest of this article from The Advocate here.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Healthy workplaces go beyond corporate policies: Civility is a business strategy

I've been reading a lot of online articles lately that claim the answer to your bully problem is the implementation of a corporate policy. Even BusinessWeek is guilty.

We can implement policies all day long, but unless they are in alignment with the organization's overall vision and have leadership buy-in it will be like they don't exist at all. Corporate policies are only as good as management and employee support for them.

That means we must adjust the corporate culture and obtain buy-in from everyone (or at least as many people as possible) before we can create a corporate policy that fits within the new, and nice, way of doing things. If the anti-bully/healthy workplace policy is to be effective, it will decidedly be designed to achieve the newly established vision and culture. (In other words, corporate policies do not adjust corporate culture, but they can be used as a tool in the process.)

One sure fire way to gain employee support is to get them involved in developing the vision of a healthy culture and corresponding policies. If staff helps create the vision, it's easier to hold them accountable to it. And when they feel included in the process, they are more likely to take heed to it anyway simply because they have a vested interest in doing so. In addition, when employees are involved their personal values are involved, thereby individual values and corporate values become one in the same.

Asking departments to develop action plans surrounding the new vision is also useful in obtaining support. Action plans are documented procedures directly related to meeting the new business strategy; and list the actual steps, responsible individual, resources required, measures for success, due date and actual date of completion. For example, a department might decide to perform a specific project as a pointedly collaborative team; tracking their success, how well they work together, and the accountability of each team member. The results would then be reported to management and perhaps the entire organization for accountability.

Appointing organizational champions can also be helpful. Employee assistance professionals, ombudsman, and even plain ol' employees can fill these positions. Organizational champions would then be responsible for ensuring people are treating one another with civility, respect and encouragement. Champions should also be part of the policy roll-out process in order to obtain their full support of these new responsibilities.

So, don't add an anti-bully corporate policy to the policy handbook and expect the bullying behavior to stop. If no one supports it, then who cares. Bullying behavior will stop when the corporate culture doesn't allow that type of behavior to thrive anymore... and that goes way, way beyond anything a corporate policy can do. Adjust the company vision, and then implement a policy in-line with the new way of doing things.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Powerful Questions to Ask at a Job Interview (In Order to Avoid a Workplace Bully)

Last month, I received a request from a reader to discuss what to say in a job interview if you left your last job because of a bully.

I came across this article by Kathryn Britton, which is a nice second part to that post. It discusses what questions to ask in an interview in order to avoid another toxic workplace.

Janet is about to interview for a new job. She wants to leave a toxic work environment where her boss stands so close when he yells that she can feel his spit hit her face. Her peers rarely greet her, and she feels vaguely in competition with them for opportunities, advancement, maybe even the job itself. She knows that she and her cubicle partner would both be happier and more productive if they swapped some tasks so that both could do what they do best, but she has gotten the message: that’s not the way work gets done here.Janet took that job with high hopes that were soon dashed, and it wasn’t her first experience with unwelcoming work environments. How does she avoid yet another?

This is the dilemma Alan Foster described to an audience of junior and senior leaders in the Wharton program at the University of Pennsylvania. Janet had asked Alan for advice, after observing his good fortune working at Bain & Company. Alan proposed six questions that she could ask in an interview to see what the job environment would really be like.

These questions were so good that I got Alan’s permission to share them on PPND. If you use them, ask potential employers and peers for specific examples so you can figure out what they mean by words like teamwork and collaboration. Do these terms represent strongly held cultural values, or do people just give them lip service?

1. Who will I learn from and how? Is career development outsourced to training companies that know little about the specific environment? Does the company tell employees “You’re responsible for your own career,” avoiding involvement?

Or does the employer have a mentoring culture where more experienced people gracefully accept the responsibility of helping new people develop? Does it have a peer learning model where people are expected to take time to help each other learn? Do managers share the responsibility for career development with employees? Is mentoring ever tipped upside-down so that senior people learn new skills, such as computer proficiency, from younger people?

Jane Dutton describes a related key strategy, task enablement that can involve teaching, designing tasks effectively, advocating, and accommodating individual differences. Some of the references below explore the value of mentoring to the workplace, mentor, and protegé.

2. Who is held up as a hero here? What for? Bandura’s serial dramas are based on the theory that people learn from role models whose behavior they wish to emulate. In similar fashion, workplace culture is conveyed to new members through the stories of its heroes. What behaviors are valued here? Are those behaviors that you wish to emulate?

Are the heroes people who deliver on very aggressive commitments, no matter what — even if people leave their organizations burned out and demoralized? Or are the heroes people well known for collaborating and bringing opposing sides together?

Are heroes always individuals, or are particular teams held up as examples because of the ways they’ve pulled together?

3. How do you resolve conflict here?There will be disagreements in any work environment. So how do they get resolved? Are corrosive, threatening behaviors tolerated? Or are there procedures for giving everybody a voice but coming to agreement, either through explained decision-making or consensus?

Dutton, Frost, Glendinning, Sutton, and others write about corrosive workplaces where bullying is tolerated. According to Pearson, Andersson, and Wegner, people who instigated incivility were three times as likely to have more power than their targets than to be peers or subordinates.

This is the question that Janet most wished that she had asked in her last interview.

4. How willing are people to help each other?Are people pitted against each other in job evaluations so that there is a feeling that helping someone else will put a person at a disadvantage? Or is helping others both valued and expected? How is work divided up? Are people given assignments and expected to complete them by themselves? Justin Berg suggests that the Job Crafting Exercise could be used by a team to divide up work so that people spend more time with tasks that line up with their strengths, motivations, and passions. How much flexibility is there for people to divide work and swap tasks?

5. How do you celebrate what’s working?It is so easy for organizations to focus on problems and negative events and then take victories, large and small, for granted. Gable and colleagues have demonstrated that people get much more benefit out of positive events when they take time to talk them over with trusted others who respond actively and constructively. At an organizational level, do people have an opportunity to capitalize on achievements? Are questions asked that highlight what’s working? Alan mentioned that people in his company became much more willing to fill in employee surveys when the first question changed from “What is going wrong on your project?” to “What is going well on your project?

6. What keeps you going when things get stressful? Fear or a sense of purpose? Competition or comradeship?

By this point, many of you are probably thinking, “Jobs are so tight right now, I won’t have any choice.” Even if that is so, you can go into the job with your eyes open and perhaps with your armor on. But the job market won’t be like this forever. I remember the late 90’s when we couldn’t find people to fill jobs, and those times will come again.

These questions are important, not just for people looking for jobs, but for companies that want to be employers of choice when the job market turns up again. Job environments matter to people. Even now, there are people wondering if they’d rather starve than go to work in their toxic work environments. Whetten and Cameron justify the study of management skills by citing a study that revealed that “one factor—the ability to manage people effectively—was three times more powerful than all other factors combined in accounting for firm financial success over a five-year period!” (p. 6). Wouldn’t it be better if employees felt a deep sense of purpose, inclusion, and celebration at work so that they want to stay, even when economic times improve?

This article is © 2009 The original article was authored by Kathryn Britton on April 7, 2009, and can be seen here. To join the discussion about this article, click here.

Aguilera, M. B. (2002). The impact of social capital on labor force participation: Evidence from the 2000 Social Capital Benchmark Survey. Social Science Quarterly, 83(3),, 853-874.Berg, J., Dutton, J., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2008). Job Crafting Exercise.Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Feeney, M. & Bozeman, B. (2008). Mentoring and network ties. Human Relations, 61(12), 1651-1676.Fisher-Blando, J. (2008). Workplace bullying: Aggressive behavior and its effect on job satisfaction and productivity. Dissertation, University of Phoenix. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences Vol 69(4-A), pp. 1283.Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87,, 228-245.Gentry, W., Weber, T. J. & Sadri, G. (2008). Examining career-related mentoring and managerial performance across cultures: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior. Vol 72(2), pp. 241-253.Glendinning, P. (2001). Workplace bullying: Curing the cancer of the American workplace. Public Personnel Management, 30(3), 269-286.Horvath, M., Wasko, L. & Bradley, J. (2008). The effect of formal mentoring program characteristics on organizational attraction. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 19(4), 323-349.O’Neill, R. (2005). An examination of organizational predictors of mentoring functions. Journal of Managerial Issues, 17(4), 439-460.Pearson, C., Anderson, L. & Wegner, J. W. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54, 1387-1419.Smith, D. (2002). The theory heard ’round the world: Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory is the foundation of television and radio shows that have changed the lives of millions.Sutton, R. (2007). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Business Plus.Whetten, D. & Cameron, K. (2007). Developing Management Skills , 7th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, Prentice-Hall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flourishing in the Paradox of the Positive

By Robert Quinn

I was recently invited to run a retreat for a business school in another part of the country. I was to make a presentation and organize a series of exercises that would help the people design their future. A year ago one of my colleagues played the same role with this group. During his day he made an extensive presentation of empirical findings from POS. He also presented tools they could use to apply the principles he taught.

As I visited with people it was clear that they were very impressed with the previous presentation. One professor told me he was intellectually “awed” by it.
Yet it was also clear that few of the POS tools or suggestions had actually been applied. It had been a tough economic year and there were also some conflicts going on in the organization. While some good things had happened, few seemed to be connected with the application of POS.

As I considered the tension in the organization and the fact that there was relatively little application from the previous year, I became increasingly apprehensive about what I was supposed to do. I was to go on in 30 minutes. I felt fear and a knot began to form in my stomach.

Positive Emotions

As I sat there I thought of the research by Barbara Fredrickson. Her work demonstrates the importance of positive emotions. Positive emotions:

• Lead to thoughts that are unusual, flexible, integrative and efficient.

•Broaden visual attention, increase bonding, help regulate negative arousal, improve coping with adversity, increase the likelihood of finding positive meaning in negative events and facilitate the development of plans and goals.

•Increase the likelihood that we are able to play, to explore, envision the future, savor experience and integrate new views into the self.

She states that, “Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” [1]


For people in organizations this claim is particularly important. She indicates that positive emotions are contagious and spread through groups and organizations. Positive emotions give rise to sequences of events that create new meaning. Such changes can reduce conflict and give rise to more integrity, trust, vision and creative mutual support. The culture can become more compassionate and creative and can take the group or organization to a more optimal level of functioning.

Click here to read the entire article.

I thought this part was particularly of use in dealing with workplace bullies:

“Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” As we apply principles that cause of us to feel more positive, authentic and courageous, we then engage in more positive, authentic and courageous acts. We thus become emotionally contagious in that we inspire more positive, authentic and courageous feelings and action in others. They then do things that inspire us and our relationships become a virtuous cycle. As we live in such a virtuous cycle, we flourish in the paradox of the positive.

6 steps to creating a healthy workplace, saving your bottom line

A study published in the Handbook of Workplace Violence (2006) indicated more than 70% of employees are victimized by a bully at work. Bullies use ongoing negative, aggressive, unprofessional, inappropriate and hurtful tactics against subordinates, peers and even superiors; creating a power imbalance and inviting serious damaging consequences to targets, witnesses and organizations.

Targets experience distress, humiliation, anger, anxiety, discouragement, hopelessness, depression, burnout, reduced quality and quantity of work, lower levels of job satisfaction, increased absenteeism and turnover and in some cases even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In turn, a single American business could spend thousands, if not millions, in absenteeism and turnover, workers' compensation claims due to stress, reduced quality and quantity of work, lower levels of job satisfaction, communication breakdown and even a bad reputation within the community.

Bullying is not a simple case of a bad behaving employee. It is a systemic problem caused by many organizational factors, including the organization's culture, changes (e.g., downsizing) and bureaucratic management styles.
Identifying, fixing and preventing bullying can make the difference between a successful organization and one that fails. For example, companies that openly promote civility among employees earn 30 percent more revenue than competitors, are four times more likely to have highly engaged employees and are 20 percent more likely to report reduced turnover, according to a study conducted by Watson Wyatt in 2003.

Here are six keys to successful implementation of a healthy, and bully-free, workplace.

1. Use internal communication strategically. Organizational success depends on a climate of fairness and supportiveness; where members are listening and being sensitive to one another's needs and aware of how comments might be perceived by others. Leaders and management can use language to deliver a healthy culture and encourage open discussions and employee empowerment. Developing rituals and employee reward systems that applaud interpersonal communication skills and compensate positive attitudes will solidify management's intentions.

2. Perform periodic audits of internal processes. Audits offer a comprehensive review of communication patterns that provide information about the structure of the organization, effectiveness of communication, and employee support for the organization, leaders, superiors and each other. This facilitates strategic planning and learning the success with which internal information is conveyed, and of course detects whether some employees feel others are bullies (or bottlenecks, buck-passers, know-it-alls, chronic complainers). Outside consultants are the most effective people to conduct the audit because organizational members often say things to external auditors that they would not say to internal auditors.

3. Roll out an anti-bully policy. An anti-workplace bully prevention policy must be implemented and include management's commitment to a healthy workplace, a definition of bullying, management and employee responsibilities for maintaining the policy, a training program schedule and a formal grievance procedure that includes investigation of complaints and appropriate disciplinary actions. The policy should also stress the importance of written documentation from all parties involved in any complaints; including target(s), bullies, witnesses and investigators. Of course, the policy is only as effective as management's commitment to it.

4. Conduct management and employee training. Establish training programs for all levels to occur during new hire training and at scheduled intervals thereafter. At the very least, training should remind employees and managers that they have a responsibility to contribute to achieving a healthy and civil work environment that does not tolerate bullying. Offering conflict management and leadership skills training will complement these trainings nicely.

5. Take grievances seriously and investigate them immediately. When a grievance is filed, the target should present written documentation and precise details of each incident of bullying. Human resources should follow appropriate disciplinary procedures as laid out in the policy, and is encouraged to continue to keep the situation under review.

6. Use 360-degree reviews. A 360-degree review provides every organizational member with reviews from everyone they work with, including peers, managers and subordinates. This provides an avenue for managers to learn from the people they direct, rather than only those who direct them. If done right, 360-degree reviews receive high employee involvement, have the strongest impact on behavior and performance, and greatly increase effective internal communication.

Bottom Line
By addressing workplace bullying and developing techniques for sustainable change, you can increase employee retention and reduce turnover, reduce absenteeism and medical leaves, manage and leverage organizational brand, motivate, inspire and develop staff, minimize workplace politics, improve communication among staff and managers, protect your company's reputation, increase the quality and quantity of work product, improve community awareness, reduce workplace stress, and improve the health of employees and your organization.

On a final note, be weary of the anti-workplace bully law in our midst. David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University, wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill that has been under review in 15 states, including California in 2003. Only the government of Ireland (since as early as 1997), and the province of Quebec, Canada (since 2003), currently have specific laws against the act of bullying at work, but all that is soon to change.

Schat, A.C.H., Frone, M.R., & Kelloway, E.K. (2006). Prevalence of workplace aggression in the U.S. workforce: Findings from a national study. In E.K. Kelloway, J. Barling & J.J. Hurrell (Eds.), Handbook of workplace violence (pp. 47-89).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dear Reader

I received the following email from a blog reader. I thought I'd post my response for anyone interested in empowerment.

I need advice on how to deal with jealous bullies who will not respect personal space. I have no tolerance as I have tried to be nice and assertive but they are thick and stupid and as a result I snapped and told one to f%^& off.
How does one tolerate and be assertive when it is constantly ignored?

Dear Reader,

I am going to say some things that you may or may not like, but I feel that I need to be real and honest with you here. It is clear based on the tone of your email that you are extremely frustrated with the situation you have found yourself in. I’m certain most people respond to your question with empathy, and sympathy even. I on the other hand, am going to give you advice that might be a little hard to swallow at first.

Bullies have one motivation – to overpower you.

So take a look at yourself. This is hard. It’s hard to look at ourselves when we feel attacked by someone else. But you cannot control what others do. You can, however, learn to control your own reactions.

In order to do that, you will first need to acknowledge that while you don’t deserve to be treated this way you have indeed allowed the bully to push your buttons. Ask yourself why. Why is this person pushing your buttons? Why do you let him or her push your buttons? After all, you are in control of your own buttons aren’t you?

Next, think about your reaction to the bully. What are you communicating by doing things like using foul language? In addition, be aware of your nonverbal behavior when you are in the same room with the bully. What does your nonverbal communication say? Are you being proactive by standing with your head held high and your confidence-cap on? Or are you being reactive by blurting out unprofessional words?

Once you’ve been able to identify what part you play in the interaction with the bully, think about how you help the bully meet his or her goals. Again, the bully’s goal here is to overpower you. So how do you help the bully meet that goal? The answer is certainly not “nothing” – you are definitely doing “something”. What is it?? Once you figure that out, you can change your behavior accordingly.

Finally, you’ll need to find a way to detach yourself from these emotions you are feeling. Remember, nobody makes you feel anything – feelings are a choice. They are your choice.

You are not an innocent passerby in your own life. You absolutely have the power to change your situation. Change is a choice. Feelings and emotions are a choice. Your response to the bully is a choice. Choose wisely. The bully is playing mental games with you and you have the mental capacity to win this war. I know you do.

And, if in the end, you can’t seem to get past your anger, then it’s time to leave. Your dignity is worth way more than anything your employer is paying you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Regaining Productivity Lost to Workplace Bullying and Abuse

By Hugh Kingsley

In respectful workplaces, employees are more productive because they are more focused in their work. In non-respectful workplaces, the employees’ productivity may suffer as they become distracted by job security, personal financial issues, and the emotional symptoms associated with bullying and abuse. This article introduces a game to help avoid workplace bullying.

DURING an economic downturn when organizations are forced to restructure in order to survive and grow, it is easy to lose sight of the human side of change. Imposed change can lead to a dramatic increase in workplace bullying and abuse as employees become fearful of job security and changes to their job descriptions. When organisations are looking for cost savings, it would be disappointing to see those cost savings lost to the costly negative effects of workplace bullying and abuse.

A study by the United States Bureau of National Affairs concluded that the loss in productivity due to workplace bullying is five- to six-billion United States dollars a year, and a study in the United Kingdom put the number in that country at 1.3-billion pounds.

Instead, organisations could look to increasing productivity and generating competitive edge by developing respectful workplaces. These are workplaces where employees look forward to coming to work and performing the duties they are paid to do.

In respectful workplaces, employees can be more productive because they are more focused in their work. In non-respectful workplaces, the employees’ productivity is likely to suffer as they become distracted by job security, personal financial issues, and the physical and emotional symptoms associated with bullying and abuse.

This article presents a case for reducing workplace bullying and abuse through positive intervention utilising game-play and "The Respectful Workplace Game", which teaches and promotes workplace respect. Game-play is shown to be an excellent method for addressing bullying and abuse in the workplace because it offers exceptional learning transfer, is non-confrontational, non-threatening, and is cost effective.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

One rude worker poisons a whole office, study finds

OTTAWA — Rudeness aimed at just one person can spread its damage “like fire” through a workplace, causing large numbers of workers to do a lousy job and even harbour dark, murderous thoughts.

Psychologists knew a blast of rudeness would distract the immediate victim. But second-hand rudeness?

Witnesses to rudeness also suffer a loss of cognitive powers and the ability to be creative, says a study by Amir Erez, a psychologist at the University of Florida’s school of management.

It’s just bad business, he says: One toxic employee can poison a whole office with a few angry outbursts and four-letter words.

“Managers should be very concerned because the negative consequences of rudeness on the job are not limited to the person who happens to be the victim,” he said. “If five other people are watching, the effects are going to spill over into the rest of the organization.”

Three separate experiments all confirmed the same effect.

The psychologists gathered volunteers to do cognitive tests (rearranging scrambled letters to form words) and a creative test (thinking of unusual uses for a brick).

The person supervising the test was rude to one volunteer who was secretly part of the plan. “What are you, stupid? Get on with it!” he snapped, and called the volunteer unfit to hold a job in the “real world.”

After this, the rest of the volunteers had trouble unscrambling words and thinking of creative uses for a brick.

Worse, their dark sides took over.

One of the scrambled words was “demure,” but several volunteers rearranged the letters to spell “murder” — even though the letters weren’t quite right. And the new ways to use brick? “Kill people,” one suggested. Trip someone, said another. Throw it through a window, or beat people up, said others. And as they thought about attacking people, they came up with fewer useful ideas.

Their short-term memories also suffered. They were less likely to help with teamwork.

All this stunned Erez, though now that he has published the results, everyone he talks to says: Sure, I’ve seen that happen at work.

“Everybody recognizes that it happens all the time,” he said.

He calls the results “very, very disturbing because it means they (people who witness rudeness) are being hostile themselves, and they’re not aware of it. Which means it can spread like fire. They watch as somebody is rude, and they themselves are primed to be rude.

“It affects mostly the ability to do complex tasks. And in the modern organization, that is what people do. They need to do complex problems; they need to be creative.”

The study is published in a research journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Erez is moving on to the retail world, measuring how rude customers damage a worker’s ability to count money, react quickly and remember a customer’s order.

“This all surprised me, because I thought the effects would all be emotional,” he said. “But pretty much, it’s cognitive.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why is it always about you?

I just finished reading the book, Why Is It Always About You? by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW, and it is a great book. Highly recommended.

Below are some excerpts. Go forth and feel empowered to change your situation.

Our number one tool for dealing with the Narcissist is to examine our own experiences and recognize how our reactions contribute to our discomfort. The goal is to understand what is happening and interrupt the process to protect ourselves (pg. 62).

Narcissists constantly dump – or project – unwanted parts of themselves onto other people. They then begin to behave as if others posses these unwanted pieces of themselves, and they may even succeed in getting others to feel as if they actually have those traits or feelings. What it means is that you end up being treated like the dirt they’ve brushed off their own psyches, or feeling the anger, the vulnerability, and the worthlessness that they cannot tolerate in themselves. They lob onto you, you suck it in, and for an icky while, it’s yours (pg. 64).

You cannot control what others do, but you can learn to contain your own reactions once you understand what is going on. Understanding where your feelings originally came from and accepting them as your own is the first step in protecting yourself against the toxic effects of narcissism. When you become comfortable with your own feelings, you will be able to deflect the shame that is triggered by the Narcissist.

Guidelines for Survival

1. Be aware of your feelings when in the company of someone who repeatedly evokes shame, discomfort, anger… These feelings can be excellent indicators you are in the presence of a Narcissist. Once you have recognized whom you are dealing with, you will be in a better position to defend yourself.

2. When you have uncomfortable or intense feelings in the presence of a Narcissist, ask yourself what buttons of yours are being pushed. Remember times past when you have felt this way and, from this more emotionally distant perspective, consider why you respond as you do. Don’t be afraid to look at your own narcissistic vulnerabilities, because this is exactly what will make you stronger.

3. Once you’re pretty sure you’ve identified the piece of the action that is yours, think about how your feelings help the Narcissist manage shame in some way. Try not to personalize what is happening. Although it couldn’t feel more personal, it really is not. You are just a means to an end.

4. You need to find a way to detach from the feeling of diminishment the Narcissist evokes in you. Sometimes if helps to think of this person as being two years old on the inside.

5. When deflecting the shame projected by the Narcissist, resist the urge to retaliate. Don’t try to challenge or enlighten this person either. The Narcissist has a lot at stake in keeping unconscious processes unconscious. If you try to tamper with this, you may escalate the situation to your own detriment or discomfort.

6. It needs to be enough for you to know that you have put the projections back where they belong in your own mind, regardless of how the Narcissist sees the situation. If you have trouble letting that be enough, you may need more personalized assistance to work on this in greater depth. A competent therapist can help.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Invite to attend our complimentary webinar

Create a Healthy Workplace: Understand Workplace Bullying & Combat the Damage They Cause
September 17, 2009
9 am – 10 am PST
Cost: $0
Obtain more information and register at

Learning Objectives:
•An understanding of workplace bullying, damage caused to targets and the organization, and why it’s legal
•Insight on bullies’ and their targets
•Knowledge in the system of bullying and why it happens at work
•Knowledge in how to determine how much a bully is costing the organization
•Techniques for dealing with the bully on an interpersonal level
•Techniques for a sustainable organizational culture shift

Who Should Attend: Human resource professionals, workplace learning and performance professionals, business owners, managers, team leaders, supervisors, coaches, EAP’s, union leaders and representatives, conflict management professionals and consultants.

In Partnership with The Vianova Group

Monday, August 10, 2009

National Bullying Helpline campaign will continue
Mike Berry
10 August 2009

The National Bullying Helpline has said it will continue to spearhead anti-bullying awareness campaigns following the closure of fellow charity The Andrea Adams Trust due to lack of funding.

The Andrea Adams Trust shut last month after its funding arrangements became unsustainable. The trust said it was forced to scrap a £65,000-a-year national awarness campaign to ban bullying at work after some of the UK's largest companies ignored pleas to provide funding.

But The National Bullying Helpline charity insisted National Ban Bullying day on 7 November and National Ban Bullying week commencing 16 November, would proceed.

Christine Pratt, chief executive and founder of The National Bullying Helpline, said: "Just because The Andrea Adams Trust has failed to secure funding does not mean this is an end to the national ban bullying campaigns across the UK in November each year - in memory of the late Andrea Adams and the late Tim Field who were the first two pioneers who campaigned against workplace bullying."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What to say in an interview when you left your last job because of a bully

I received the following question from one of my readers. I thought it was a great question so I'm sharing it with you.

I quit my job because I was bullied. Before I did though, I wrote the owners a letter describing my experience with my supervisor and they put her on warning. There is some satisfaction there, but I still could no longer work for her. I need to know what to say in a interview about the experience. Can you help?


As a former HR professional I can tell you that interviewers are always looking for a few things, no matter what position and no matter what industry. Those things are:

* that you can demonstrate you have initiative and company loyalty
* you are solution-oriented and forward thinking (that means when you have a problem, you attempt to find a solution before bringing the problem to your manager)
* you have a long list of accomplishments, rather than job tasks, to share during the interview and on your resume
* you can work in a team

During the entire interview you should be focusing on these four things. Every answer you give should provide proof that you hold these credentials. This is important because if you can prove you have initiative, are solution-oriented, are goal oriented (can achieve things), and can work in a team, what happened at your last employer won't really matter to the prospective employer because you'll make a good looking candidate.

Now comes the part during the interview where they ask about why you left your previous employer. There are a few ways you can handle it.

The first is to simply say that you weren’t receiving growth opportunities and needed to move on. This is not a very informative answer and may lead to more probing from the interviewer. It could also communicate that you are hiding something or holding back. Not good.

The second option is to provide some other reason un-related to the bully. This is unethical however, and therefore not a desired response either.

The third choice is a bit more intricate, but it demonstrates you meet the four universal criteria for a potential employee, and above all shows that you are honest. You didn't provide details of your own abuse at your previous employer, so I don't know your particular situation, but here's an example of how you might answer the question: Can you tell me why you left your previous organization?

I am a go-getter. I really like opportunities to do new projects and learn new things, and unfortunately my previous employer wasn't offering those types of opportunities to me anymore (demonstrates initiative).

For example, during my first year at the organization I developed a new procedure for handling, documenting and tracking customer complaints; conceived and was responsible for the internal company newsletter; and created and managed a file clerk position (demonstrates accomplishments). After awhile, however, these opportunities to contribute positively to the organization seemed to get taken away by one manager in particular.

I really believe I put effort into resolving this manager’s and my differences directly. I enjoyed my job and working for the company, and of course I wanted to be sure I was getting along with my manager (demonstrates you are a team player). When talking with the manager about our relationship didn’t seem to work I spoke to the company owners about it (demonstrates initiative and that you are solution-oriented). I suggested to them that I move teams so our relationship didn't get in the way of production and customer service (demonstrates company loyalty).

Unfortunately, the owners didn't seem to think this person's behavior was all that bad and only put her on warning for her behavior once I’d left the company. But, ultimately, while I got along with everyone else at the organization (demonstrates you are a team player) this particular individual really made working for that organization difficult and I decided leaving was my best option.

In my current job search I am really looking for an organization that appreciates and even praises initiative and hard work, because those are two of my best qualities (demonstrates initiative).

There are a few other things I’d like to add here.

It is ALWAYS a good idea to avoid bad mouthing your previous employer. Your response to the question about why you left must be polite, eloquent and honest. Talk around any negative feelings you have about the company and the bully, the new employer doesn’t need to hear it. And, they’ll wonder what will happen if they rub you the wrong way and you leave – are you going to bad mouth them too?

Second, always, always, always make a point of building rapport with the interviewer from the time you meet and shake hands. The interview should flow more like a conversation than an interview, and if it does, then you know you have built rapport. You can do this by being relaxed and conversational, and by asking the interviewer questions about themselves. If you spot a picture on his or her desk from Lake Tahoe, for example, mention that you’ve always wanted to go there and ask him or her how the trip was.

Also, mirror the interviewer’s body language slightly. This builds a subconscious liking for you because you seem similar to the interviewer – something we look for in everyone we meet. If he takes a sip of water, you take a sip of water. If she crosses her legs, you cross yours. Don’t be a copy cat, obviously, but follow along every once in a while.

If you build rapport with interviewers then they will find you to be a positive person that they like, and one that couldn’t possibly be responsible for what happened at the last company.

Monday, August 3, 2009

GreatPlaceJobs Q2 Employment Study: Great Workplaces Continue to Outperform and Weather the Recession Better

GreatPlaceJobs is excited to share the updated results from our ground-breaking study comparing layoff trends between top-rated and other Fortune 100 companies. The new findings, which consist of data from the first half of 2009, continue to clearly demonstrate that the biggest employers are not necessarily the best.

The study shows that the nation’s largest companies conducted layoffs at a rate of almost twice that of a group of companies recognized as great workplaces. Only 44% of excellent employers laid off workers from the beginning of 2008, while a shocking 86% of the Fortune 100 companies have laid off employees in the past year and a half.

The revenue growth rate at great workplace companies in Q1 2009 was 2.3% better than the rest of the Fortune 100, and the average stock price of the excellent employers was 1.1% higher as of June 30, 2009 (compared to January 1, 2009) than typical Fortune 100 companies.

“Despite the fact that the award-winning employers have also been hurt by the current recession, most remain committed and loyal to their employees and have not included layoffs in their cost-cutting actions,” said Miriam Salpeter, co-founder of GreatPlaceJobs. “I always advise my job-seeking clients to focus on identifying an organization to target, and this new information further confirms the fact that great workplaces, such as those who post opportunities on GreatPlaceJobs, are a terrific choice.”

The GreatPlaceJobs Great Workplace Employment Study compared the employment, financial and operating data of the Fortune 100’s largest U.S. companies with the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. Though both groups suffered lower revenue levels in Q1 2009 compared to Q1 2008, the average year-over-year revenue growth rate in Q1 2009 was 2.3% better at the great workplace companies. The excellent employers saw their Q1 2009 revenues decline by 7.1% from the previous year’s quarterly revenues, while revenues at the Fortune 100 largest companies decreased by 9.4% from Q1 2008.

A clear sign of the great employers’ competitive advantage and resilience is evident in the fact that nine of the Fortune 100 largest companies from 2008 filed for bankruptcy or were bailed out by the U.S. government in 2008, while none of the great workplace companies failed on this magnitude.
A complete copy of the GreatPlaceJobs Great Workplace Employment Study and additional information about the methodology may be requested via email: For more information about GreatPlaceJobs, visit To receive regular updates about new and interesting data and reports, visit and/or subscribe to the GreatPlaceJobs blog ( and follow us on Twitter (

About GreatPlaceJobs
GreatPlaceJobs offers the largest collection of job listings exclusively from award-winning companies that have been recognized as “great workplaces.” The database currently includes tens of thousands of open jobs from excellent employers from across the U.S. GreatPlaceJobs offers job seekers both free and premium subscriptions to its database of job listings.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Using Powerful Words to Regain Power

In his book, The Articulate Executive in Action, Granville Toogood discusses the use of something he calls CVA (communications value added). The rule of CVA is this: what you say and how you say it can determine your success. Once you get the hang of it, it can become your greatest asset.

Practitioners of CVA use the hi-C's: concept, conviction, clarity, candor, credibility, character, coolness, concentration, color, competence, crispness, civility, consistency, continuity, creativity, cohesion, caring and communication. In contrast, those who lack CVA may exhibit emptiness, uncertainty, fuzziness, doubt, fear, absentmindedness, drabness, blather, indifference, and alienation.

Users of CVA speak to "primal mind" - that gut reaction in people. In other words, be innovative; find an opportunity to offer something beneficial to the company, save the company thousands (if not millions) of dollars, or improve productivity; and march right into the next meeting and tell everyone at the table what it takes to make this thing happen. Muscular language has a lot more impact than abstract explanations about your plan.

And finally, use powerful words. Here are some examples.
cut instead of reduce
slash instead of lower
keep instead of maintain
yet instead of nevertheless
so instead of therefore
but instead of however
grab instead of acquire
strike instead of delete
give instead of donate
big instead of significant
hot instead of fashionable
launch instead of implement

And most of all, don't let that bully steal your confidence away!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why bullying happens at work: Transforming research with a transactional model

Today’s workers face the costs of insecurity and incivility. Indeed, an abundance of research indicates bullying is prevalent in the workplace and invites serious damaging consequences for victims, observers, and the organization – including depression, reduced quality of work, increased absenteeism and turnover, and resulting loss to the bottom line.

Scholars agree that bullying is caused by a variety of factors working together that ultimately include organizational factors, and target and bully personality and predisposition. Relatively few models however, have addressed the role targets play in the process of bullying and most even advise against taking such perspectives. For example, Einarsen (1999) posits that “the victim is accidentally in a situation where a predator either is demonstrating power or in other ways is trying to exploit an accidental victim” (p. 23). Leymann (1992, 1996) notes that victim personality is irrelevant and that work conditions are the primary cause of aggression. Rayner, Sheehan and Barker (1999) warn that designating targets a role in the process of bullying may remove focus from bullies and the organizations that reward them; and incorrectly allocate responsibility to the victim. Salin (2003) purports that the individual and organization exert influence on each other thereby eradicating the victim of any role in the process of bullying at work.

Certainly blaming victims is unprincipled, but ignoring the active role they play in a relationship with a co-worker is erroneous and precludes victims from taking empowering action against their abusers.

We need a fresh and more realistic view than current scholarship offers and should explore bullying as an ongoing relationship and communication transaction rather than a one-sided exchange. Organizational norms and stressors, culture, and colleagues are ongoing factors in the process of bullying rather than antecedents.

As businesses continue to ignore the problem of bullying at work, it becomes particularly important that we arm victims with the resources needed to successfully maneuver through work. Counseling (read: reactive) is not the answer, communication competence is (read: proactive). But we cannot provide these tools without a more ingenuous understanding of the phenomenon - and one that advocates victim accountability and empowerment. This provides the opportunity to develop tools to facilitate a victims’ own quest for positive change at work.

Otherwise, the victim remains a helpless passerby in his or her own life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Common Management Mistakes in Dealing with a Bully

Unfortunately, the organizational response to bullying behavior is fairly predictable and not always on target. Following are some typical management mistakes encountered when dealing with a bully at work (Namie & Namie, 2000; Hornstein, 1996):

• Management often seeks to appease the bully by assuming that his or her
aggressive behavior will cease when the bully is given what he or she desires. This often results in a short-term elimination of the behavior, but the bully usually resumes and sometimes escalates the aggression when he or she wants something else.

• Management often blames both of the parties involved in the situation, with the target being blamed for not getting along with the bully. Usually there is no
credence given to the possibility that the bully may be purely to blame.

• Sometimes management will blame only the target in an effort to stop the target from complaining. As a result, the target is made to suffer twice—once at the hands of the bully and once at the hands of management.

• Management may mistakenly believe that the problems will go away if the bully’s behaviour is ignored—if this is the response, the bully goes unpunished and is likely to escalate his or her aggressive behaviors since there is no logical reason to cease and desist.

• Managers will often emphasize teamwork and ignore individual effort. This strategy makes it easy for the bully to accuse the target of “not being a team player.”

• Believing the group means taking the word of multiple employees over that of the target. With this response, the assumption is that the majority is always right; however, the group may be lying about the target or acting out of fear or
ignorance. The manager may take this approach because it is easier to discipline one employee than to take a stand against multiple employees.

• Stereotyping often skews management’s judgment, and prejudices are prevalent in the workplace despite corporate policies to the contrary. Less overt forms of discrimination are often practiced based on common stereotypes (e.g., women are weaker, men are tougher, etc.).

“Bullying is the sexual harassment of 20 years ago; everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to admit it”.
- Lewis Maltby (Russell, 2001)

This is an excerpt from a white paper by the Society for Human Resources Management entitled Bullies in the Workplace: A Focus on the "Abusive Disrespect" of Employees by Teresa A. Daniel (2006). I don't have the link to post here, but am happy to send the white paper to anyone who requests it. Please email me at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Building Self-Confidence

Self confidence is the difference between feeling unstoppable and feeling scared out of your wits. Your perception of yourself has an enormous impact on how others perceive you. Perception is reality — the more self confidence you have, the more likely it is you’ll succeed.

Although many of the factors affecting self confidence are beyond your control, there are a number of things you can consciously do to build self confidence. By using these 10 strategies you can get the mental edge you need to reach your potential.

Build Self Confidence

1. Dress Sharp
Although clothes don’t make the man, they certainly affect the way he feels about himself. No one is more conscious of your physical appearance than you are. When you don’t look good, it changes the way you carry yourself and interact with other people. Use this to your advantage by taking care of your personal appearance. In most cases, significant improvements can be made by bathing and shaving frequently, wearing clean clothes, and being cognizant of the latest styles.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot on clothes. One great rule to follow is “spend twice as much, buy half as much”. Rather than buying a bunch of cheap clothes, buy half as many select, high quality items. In long run this decreases spending because expensive clothes wear out less easily and stay in style longer than cheap clothes. Buying less also helps reduce the clutter in your closet.

2. Walk Faster
One of the easiest ways to tell how a person feels about herself is to examine her walk. Is it slow? tired? painful? Or is it energetic and purposeful? People with confidence walk quickly. They have places to go, people to see, and important work to do. Even if you aren’t in a hurry, you can increase your self confidence by putting some pep in your step. Walking 25% faster will make to you look and feel more important.

3. Good Posture
Similarly, the way a person carries herself tells a story. People with slumped shoulders and lethargic movements display a lack of self confidence. They aren’t enthusiastic about what they’re doing and they don’t consider themselves important. By practicing good posture, you’ll automatically feel more confident. Stand up straight, keep your head up, and make eye contact. You’ll make a positive impression on others and instantly feel more alert and empowered.

4. Personal Commercial
One of the best ways to build confidence is listening to a motivational speech. Unfortunately, opportunities to listen to a great speaker are few and far between. You can fill this need by creating a personal commercial. Write a 30-60 second speech that highlights your strengths and goals. Then recite it in front of the mirror aloud (or inside your head if you prefer) whenever you need a confidence boost.

5. Gratitude
When you focus too much on what you want, the mind creates reasons why you can’t have it. This leads you to dwell on your weaknesses. The best way to avoid this is consciously focusing on gratitude. Set aside time each day to mentally list everything you have to be grateful for. Recall your past successes, unique skills, loving relationships, and positive momentum. You’ll be amazed how much you have going for you and motivated to take that next step towards success.

6. Compliment other people
When we think negatively about ourselves, we often project that feeling on to others in the form of insults and gossip. To break this cycle of negativity, get in the habit of praising other people. Refuse to engage in backstabbing gossip and make an effort to compliment those around you. In the process, you’ll become well liked and build self confidence. By looking for the best in others, you indirectly bring out the best in yourself.

7. Sit in the front rowIn schools, offices, and public assemblies around the world, people constantly strive to sit at the back of the room. Most people prefer the back because they’re afraid of being noticed. This reflects a lack of self confidence. By deciding to sit in the front row, you can get over this irrational fear and build your self confidence. You’ll also be more visible to the important people talking from the front of the room.

8. Speak up
During group discussions many people never speak up because they’re afraid that people will judge them for saying something stupid. This fear isn’t really justified. Generally, people are much more accepting than we imagine. In fact most people are dealing with the exact same fears. By making an effort to speak up at least once in every group discussion, you’ll become a better public speaker, more confident in your own thoughts, and recognized as a leader by your peers.

9. Work out
Along the same lines as personal appearance, physical fitness has a huge effect on self confidence. If you’re out of shape, you’ll feel insecure, unattractive, and less energetic. By working out, you improve your physcial appearance, energize yourself, and accomplish something positive. Having the discipline to work out not only makes you feel better, it creates positive momentum that you can build on the rest of the day.

10. Focus on contribution
Too often we get caught up in our own desires. We focus too much on ourselves and not enough on the needs of other people. If you stop thinking about yourself and concentrate on the contribution you’re making to the rest of the world, you won’t worry as much about you own flaws. This will increase self confidence and allow you to contribute with maximum efficiency. The more you contribute to the world the more you’ll be rewarded with personal success and recognition.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bullying may be more harmful than sexual harassment

Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment, say researchers at the “Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health.”

“As sexual harassment becomes less acceptable in society, organizations may be more attuned to helping victims, who may therefore find it easier to cope,” said lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, of the University of Manitoba. “In contrast, non-violent forms of workplace aggression such as incivility and bullying are not illegal, leaving victims to fend for themselves.”

Both bullying and sexual harassment can create negative work environments and unhealthy consequences for employees, but the researchers found that workplace aggression has more severe consequences. Employees who experienced bullying, incivility or interpersonal conflict (86 of 128 participants) were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed (46 of 128 participants). Furthermore, bullied employees reported more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

“Bullying is often more subtle, and may include behaviors that do not appear obvious to others,” said Hershcovis. “The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction.”

Bullying is not new

The idea that bullies exist at work is not a new one; articles and workshops on “dealing with difficult people” and “mean bosses” are abundant. However, “bullying” only recently became of interest to social scientists in the areas of organizational psychology and business management within the last 15 years, and within organizational communication within the last five. Bullying is different from these other topics because it is about under-the-radar and power-seeking behavior and communication tactics that are sincerely and severely destructive to the targets and the organization.

While harassment and sexual harassment are certainly illegal and therefore against any company’s policy, if the harasser is an equal opportunist victims find they have no managerial or legal recourse. In fact research indicates most often the victim is seen as the problem and either punished or let go for speaking up. This is a shame - victims are often besieged because they are high producers, and therefore a threat to the bully and thus singled out as a target. In an attempt to close the legal gap, David Yamada, Professor at Suffolk University, wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill. Under review in 15 states, including California in 2003, the bill has yet to pass into law in any of them. Only the government of Ireland (since as early as 1997), and the province of Quebec, Canada (since 2003), have specific laws against the act of bullying at work.

In addition, research indicates workplace bullying is far more harmful to victims than harassment and sexual harassment. It might be safe to assume that because harassment and sexual harassment is against the law it generally would not be allowed to go on for prolonged periods of time. Yet bullying often lasts between six months and five years, with the average victim leaving an organization after two years.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Working with you is killing me

Check out this little gem on YouTube... by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't think there's a bully in your organization? Take this test and find out.

Research indicates that reports of being bullied are somewhere around 50%; and some studies indicate this number can be as high as 90%.

But most managers and human resource professionals would say that they don't have a bully in their organization and they do foster a very healthy workplace. With that many people feeling bullied, either these victims all work for the same company or there's some serious denial out there about behavior within our own organizations. Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help you determine if there's a bully in your workplace. See below regarding your answers.

1. Does your organization acknowledge or give public awards for demonstrating empathy, openness to feedback or effective communication skills?

2. Do items such as, "Demonstrates excellent reflective listening skills and an ability to outwardly exhibit cognitive comprehension", and "Motivated to appropriately respond to internal and external communication from all levels" appear in your job descriptions?

3. Do company meetings start with an open forum, where free thinkers, innovators and commentators are allowed to openly share ideas, thoughts, questions, and concerns?

4. Does your employee satisfaction survey ask employees if they are satisfied with internal communication flow and with the communication of their superiors? If it does, do your managers actually act on negative responses?

5. Do themes of openness, candidness, honesty and candor run through employee stories? (Or are employee stories about micromanagement, evil managers and keeping things quiet?)

6. Are contributions to organizational processes encouraged by employees at all levels?

7. Are bonuses and other rewards directly related to evaluations of communication from others in 360° reviews?

8. Have you received reports from employees that other employees are bullies?

9. Does your organization (or some of its managers) insist on following the rules right down to the dot above the "i" and the cross on the "t"?

10. Is there unhealthy organizational competition (within a specific department, or even across departments or department managers)?

11. Is your organization going through major changes (e.g., downsizing, restructuring)?

12. Have any of your managers changed personalities with a new promotion (e.g., seemingly become more power thirsty, aggressive, or untrusting)?

Questions 1-7: If you answered three of these seven questions "no", then it is very likely your organization is harboring a bully.

Questions 8-12: If you answered even just one of these five questions "yes", then it is very likely your organization is harboring a bully.

Remember that bullying is not a simple case of a bad behaving employee - it is systemic. Removing it from your organization requires the commitment of management and a well thought out and well executed plan. Organizations that value internal relationships and understand their positive impact on the bottom line will see employee individual success and greater organizational victory.

Don't forget to read the rest of my latest edition of NoWorkplaceBullies e-news.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oldie but goodie

This little jewel came in my e-news from The Happiness Institute in Australia.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

How often we are faced with a choice about how to react to each day's challenges. Do we rail at the outrageous winds of "fate" that pound us from time to time, falling into the pit of self-pity; or do we look upon these moments as opportunities to learn and grow, and broaden the humanity within us?

The good news is that we do have a choice. We can choose to feed the wolf of envy and resentment, or feed the wolf of humility, benevolence and compassion. We can choose to be happy or to be miserable. The choice we make colors our days, our work and our relationships to those around us.

Which wolf do you choose to feed today?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Toxic Workplaces

At last month’s IPPA Congress in Philadelphia, I was inspired by Lord Richard Layard’s comment “the highest thing in life is to uplift the spirit.”

Unfortunately, not everyone we work with uplifts our spirits. Harvard Business Review recently featured a short article, “How toxic colleagues corrode performance.” Authors Porath and Pearson have been researching incivility for more than ten years and have found that “common (and generally tolerated) antisocial behavior at work is far more toxic than managers imagine.”

They report that in response to incivility, people:
48% decreased their work effort
47% decreased their time at work
38% decreased their work quality
66% said their performance declined
80% lost work time worrying about the incident
63% lost time avoiding the offender
78% said their commitment to the organization declined

Incivility may be loss of control
Professor Robert Sutton’s “No Asshole Rule” caught my eye in Harvard Business Review’s 2004 article “More Trouble Than They’re Worth.” Sutton received such immense support for his ideas that he published a book on the subject in 2007. He also has a popular blog.

Sutton’s work, as well as Peter Frost’s on toxic emotions at work, is particularly appropriate in a business world increasingly interested in creating more positive, humane organizations — where people are treated well and with respect, and where a positive workplace culture abounds.

What Is Incivility?
Incivility includes glaring, rolling eyes and other unpleasant expressions, teasing, putting people down, treating people like they’re invisible, back stabbing, micromanaging, insulting, belittling, deflating, disrespecting, de-energizing, rudely interrupting, being mean-spirited, nasty, and tyrannical.
Bob Sutton’s ideas are about eliminating the behaviors which bring others down. “The difference between the ways a person treats the powerless and the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.”

Sutton has two tests for spotting whether a person is acting like a jerk:

Test One: After talking to the alleged jerk, does the ‘target’ feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

Test Two: Does the alleged jerk aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

Implementing the Rule
Sutton suggests a range of ways to deal with such people:
don’t hire them
do not tolerate them just because they are the extraordinarily talented or difficult to replace
deal with them immediately
fire them if they don’t change
teach people to learn how to have constructive positive confrontations
“resist the temptation to apply the label to anyone who annoys you or has a bad moment” or are temporary jerks
“say the rule, write it down and act on it,” make it part of the rules of engagement

Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces
Sometimes fighting back is not successful, and can be high risk. If you have to work with jerks, Sutton suggests these tactics:
create a personal coping strategy
reframe, change your mindset: avoid self-blame, hope for the best but expect the worst, develop indifference and emotional detachment, do not allow their behavior to touch your soul
limit your exposure
build pockets of safety support and sanity: ‘a secret social network’
seek and fight the small battles that you have a good chance of winning’
See also “Neutralize Your Toxic Boss,” Annie McKee’s May 3rd blog post at

Positive Psychology in Action
While reading Sutton’s work, I am heartened by fields such as Positive Psychology and Positive Organizational Scholarship. These fields teach us how to neutralize toxicity and build strong cultures which minimize the possibility of ‘jerk-like’ behaviors. Focused attention on human decency and uplifting and energizing others are ways in which we can, in Lord Layard’s words, “uplift the spirit” of workers and organizations.

By Amanda Horne - July 3, 2009