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.