Maryland Drops Healthy Workplace Bill And Seeks New Approach Against Bullying

A growing number of states are following Vermont‘s lead and deleting the original language of the Workplace Bullying Institute’s legislation (the Healthy Workplace Bill) and instead asking for a state-based team to draft their own bill. While it’s true that  HWB advocates have invested a great deal of time and passion in their singular bill, Maryland’s proposed Senate Bill 999 would bring together a dream team that includes; the Secretary of Budget and Management, different union leaders, state employees, supervisors and a practicing attorney. Passing a legislative response for abusive work environments irregardless of protected class status is something all of us have struggled hard for and this solution holds real promise for Maryland’s state workers.   The bill, which shows Senator Muse as the SOLE sponsor, passed unanimously in the Senate’s third reading on April 3, 2012 so it is now in appropriations.  Below is the section that describes the work study group: Continue reading

Bullied Federal Workers May Get Help

Below is a great article from Patricia Barnes, author of SURVIVING BULLIES, QUEEN BEES AND PSYCHOPATHS IN THE WORKPLACE.  She is also one of the people who created the Care2 petition asking for a national answers — please help bring attention to this petition!  Sign it and pass it on :

Federal Agencies Urged to Address Workplace Bullying

When an incident of assault, harassment, intimidation, or bullying occurs in a federal workplace, it is usually caused by an employee rather than a customer, criminal, or someone who has a personal relationship with the victim. Continue reading

Guide To Kicking B*tt In The Workplace

In the struggle to combat workplace bullying it’s important to admit that we worker bees aren’t always perfect.  Weak managers can quickly lose the respect of their team only to watch them spiral hopelessly out of control and even mob up on their leader.   In the interesting Businessweek article below,  Jeff Schmitt tells bosses how to “kick ass” without being psychologically abusive:

A guide to reading your employees the riot act: Time to lay down the law? Some points to consider before you do

[Article by Jeff Schmitt, 10/13/2011 Bloomberg Businessweek/]

“If I go down, you’re all going down with me.”

Our manager had finally crossed the line with this comment. She had delivered fire-and-brimstone speeches before. But this was different. Suddenly, she wasn’t Vince Lombardi Light, looking to get back to basics. Instead she had degenerated into a narcissistic despot who’d stoop to using us as human shields. She was passing the buck and covering herself. She may have considered it motivation. We saw it as a meltdown.

At some point, every manager must unload a kick-in-the-ass speech. Even the best teams get cocky and careless; they forget what’s important and what got them there. But here’s a reality check: If you have to deliver “The Speech,” you’re probably failing as a manager. Before you let loose with the grand oration, maybe you need a wake-up call. Sure, there’s truth in the adage about tearing people down to build them back up. But getting your team back on track requires more than threats and cursing. Want to really get their attention? Read the following recommendations.

1. Consider if The Speech is merited
Sure, you’re disappointed with performance. Before you go Knute Rockne, consider if the situation warrants an explosion … or coaching. Are you nearing a tipping point where financials or expectations dictate an intervention? Is there a broader motif, such as slow service, that could spill into critical areas such ascustomer retention? Should this diatribe be public and include everyone or could it be handled privately with certain members? Most important, what do you want to achieve? Bottom line: Weigh the offense against your options and the desired response.

2. Come with a plan
You’re probably tempted to graphically challenge their commitment and competence. But you’ll only look clumsy if you ad-lib The Speech. You want your team squirming, stomachs sinking, minds racing. That requires strategy: a bolo-punch opening, unassailable arguments, and a call to action that echoes for weeks. Even more, it demands rehearsing to get tone, pace, posture, and gestures just right. Fact is, you only get one or two speeches before your team tunes you out. Make this one count.

3. Don’t fly off the handle
A loose cannon. That’s how you’ll be labeled if you can’t control your emotions. They’ll snicker and lampoon you to everyone within earshot. Your anger, however genuine, must be calibrated for effect. Before you venture into the lion’s den, step back, breathe, and relax. Remember, an icy resolve often commands more attention than a rant. A pause can be as lethal as a pejorative.

4. Prep them
Surprise! Surprise! No, your speech shouldn’t come as a shock. In fact, it should hark back to previous fireside chats, where you focused on listening and understanding. Back then, you expected that your coaching would establish how important the task at hand was. But the time for such niceties has passed. A hands-on approach is needed. They can’t say they didn’t see it coming.

5. Cite specific examples
The Speech is no time for generalizations. Be specific: What actions and underlying sentiments are creating tensions and why are they unproductive and inappropriate? How has it affected customers and other departments? Of course, outline how these shenanigans have hit the radar of those above you — and what consequences will follow if they continue.

6. Keep it short
Your job is to shake them up and leave a lasting impression. The less said, the better. Let their imaginations run wild; it’ll keep your message on top. Don’t go off on tangents or pile on, either. It will only dilute your message. Cut quickly and deeply, then move on.

7. Set expectations
You’ve identified the problem. Now what? Start by leaving no ambiguity with the takeaways. Specify exactly what you expect, along with when and how. Don’t forget to spell out the repercussions for failing to meet these expectations. Hammer home that the time for second chances has long passed.

8. Monitor your own behavior
Their eyes will probably glaze over during your speech. Why? They’ve been mirroring your behavior. Is it any wonder you haven’t been getting through? Address it in your speech. Accept some blame and summarize how you’ll change. Then hold yourself as accountable as you hold your team for the result.

9. Rebuild bridges
You go to battle with the people you have, not necessarily the ones you want. Afterward, your team will make excuses and entertain mutiny. That’s why you need to quickly reel them back. Reach out, one by one, to tutor, praise, and motivate. You’ve shared what needed to be said. Now convey through action that there are no hard feelings. Don’t let them confuse you with the message.

10. Follow up
You’ve thrown down the gauntlet. But the weeks following The Speech will ultimately determine its success. That’s why you need to stay on the issue. Address it in interactions and meetings and constantly collect results. And when the time is right, celebrate. You may have devised the plan, but your team will ultimately win the battle.

HR Response to Mental Health in the Workplace

Suzanne V. Benoit,  LCSW, SPHR often writes about toxic employees and workplace bullying.  She reveals a personal side in her recent post addressing Carol Kilner’s article Responding to Mental Illness in Your Workforce: Leading a Culture Change [PsychCentral].  I tweeted her right away for permission to repost:

HR Response to Mental Health in the Workplace

by Suzanne V. Benoit

A unique perspective

I came to the practice of HR from a business background and then Clinical Social Work. My views on mental illness and HR arise from a very different place than my HR peers mostly because of my exposure to severe and chronic mental illness. The sigma Ms. Kivler discusses is very powerful indeed. Because of my experience, I am not afraid of individuals with mental illness. I know that these are fellow human beings with a variety of personal values and styles. I know that only a very small percentage of people with mental illness are violent. It’s just that when a person with mental illness commits a violent crime, the media, especially fringe media, bombard the general public with disturbing images and sensationalized information. I also know that most mental health issues in the workplace are mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorders which respond well to medical intervention.

Finally, I know that the mentally ill were not all raised in chaotic or abusive homes. I was raised in a lovely family by good parents (not perfect, but good enough) and had a brother who suffered from bipolar mood swings and psychoses from the age of 20 until his death at 48. The voices he heard told him that he, and not others around him, were bad. I know first hand that the essence of who he was as a person, was not the paranoid, odd behavior and religiosity my brother expressed, but it was the sweet, creative and sensitive individual who worked part-time while well on medication. He would never have harmed anyone.

The American workplace is in need of good information like the tips covered in Ms. Kivler’s article, particularly making information on mental health a part of wellness programs. If only employers could take this information and adopt it freely. I think it is possible but HIPAA presents a psychological and legal barrier to some of the actions suggested in the article. The discipline of HR tends to be generally risk averse. It doesnt’ make them mean or uncaring, just cautious. Let me explain this.

HR is naturally cautious

Employers are responsible for removing the appearance or fact of ADA discrimination. In addition, employers are required to protect the privacy of employee personal health information. To do this perfectly, employers would never want to know if someone has a mental illness. Once you know, you are open to accusations of misusing it in order to keep people from promotions or other employment opportunities. For this reason, medical benefits information or other employee-employer correspondence regarding the diagnosis of mental illness are kept in separate “medical files” and not in the personnel file to which supervisor’s have regular access. Employers must also try to prevent this information from being casually released and discussed amongst co-workers. As such, they may ask employees to refrain from discussing their conditions with their peers.

What is the right balance?

I believe that the answer is to emphasize compassion and inclusion a bit and loosen the mentality of “eliminating” risk to more a risk management posture. Ms. Kivler’s article is timely because presenteeism is an emerging HR issue. It’s like absenteeism in that productivity is negatively impacted. However in presenteeism, the employee is at work but distracted by stress and other matters. Mental illness appears to be one of the growing reasons for this distraction. I would conduct training as Ms. Kivler suggests – fold this into the wellness program. I would make sure that the HR department is a safe and informed place for any employee to go if he/she needed support for time off or accessing counseling benefits. This requires that HR staff be held to a high standard of listening, seeing this in the same nonjudmental way that they see say, diabetes, and well versed in the ways in which mental illness can affect employee performance.

I would make sure my performance evaluation system focuses strictly on what and how the employee performs the essential functions of the job and NOT extraneous and irrelevant information like: age, race or disability. I would encourage the company to sensitively approach employees whose performance seems to be impaired by a personal issue in the same way whether it is divorce, an ill relative or their own mental illness. I would ensure that these individuals receive referrals for EAP or mental health counseling. And finally, I would ensure that my HR staff are comfortable responding lawfully and respectfully to requests for accommodations for a bona fide disability whether it represents a physical or mental impairment.

Staff training and stereotypes

Part of the role of sexual harassment statutes is to prevent harassment in the workplace. The practical effect however, is staff training and development. Employers are comfortable conducting training about how employees should behave when they encounter harassment in the workplace. This means no sexual innuendo jokes, slang, etc. Ms. Kivler suggests that use of the word “mental” should be more comfortable (I agree 100%). I would add that we could also support employees to be more sensitive about comments that could be harmful: crazy, loony or even worse “lazy” as applied to those suffering from depression when they can’t get out of bed.

I am grateful to Carol A. Kivler for writing about this topic. It is timely and very important. I also look forward to @psychcentral’s thoughtful tweets each day on topics of individual mental health.

About Suzanne V. Benoit

Suzanne V. Benoit, LCSW, SPHR is a human resource consultant and author providing strategies to improve workplace culture and quality business outcomes. Striving for corporate excellence means a no-compromise posture on workplace abuse and intimidation as well as creating supporting structures that reward candor, respect and accountability. Her book: “Toxic Employees: great companies resolve this problem, you can too!” provides details about the source, motives and tactics used by toxic employees and is used by managers struggling to shift negative dynamics in the workplace. Suzanne’s workshops on principled approaches to workplace challenges are “both entertaining and valuable” including tools for attendees’ immediate use. To contact Ms. Benoit can be please visit


Employees who don’t report workplace abuse are more likely to resolve it…

Workplace Bullying And The Things We May Control

When I was still being bullied at work I did speak up to management and the response was so frustrating that it wasn’t hard to conjure up fantasies of purposely making mistakes or other similar actions.  My older sister, who became my best mentor, counseled me repeatedly not to give in to these desires.  Instead she argued for what she calls the “Girl Scout Approach” [GSA].   Always there ready to slog through any job issue no matter how repetitive, unnecessary, demeaning or delusional.   Personally I draw the line at giving anyone a cookie when they are systematically trying to destroy me.  While this tactic did not prevent the devastating impact on my health or finances, I did survive with my resume intact and actually won in the end.  In no small part because I was able to remain a positive team player able to attract and build a support system of co-workers.  Wayne Hochwarter, a Professor at Florida State University,  conducted research that found that employees who remain silent about abuse were “three times more likely to proactively fix problems, including perceived abuse, than those who reported mistreatment.”   That’s a startling finding:

  • Thirty percent of those who reported abuse slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • Twenty-seven percent of those who reported abuse purposely hid from the boss, compared with 4 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • Thirty-three percent of those who reported abuse confessed to not putting in maximum effort, compared with 9 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • Twenty-nine percent of those who reported abuse took sick time off even when not ill, compared with 5 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • Twenty-five percent of those who reported abuse took more or longer breaks, compared with 7 percent of those not reporting abuse.

Changing Our Work Environments

So, if you’ve reported to HR or your superiors that your boss is a bully and the investigation is going nowhere – if it’s happening at all – and you find yourself in your work cubicle plotting passive/aggressive revenge you definitely aren’t alone.  But, it’s just as easy to imagine that acting out these fantasies can wreak havoc on careers and resumes.  This month Channel 10 in Tampa reported that while findings indicate that our workplaces have become more toxic “Professor Hochwarter does see hope for the employee-boss relationship.”

An improving economy could shift expectations for employees from daily benchmarks to yearly output, and that, he says, could help make horrible bosses a little more human.”

Hochwarter is hopeful that creating a work environment that fosters “civility” and “a commitment to active communication, may cure many of these problems.”   It would be interesting to see how the types of behavior above are reflected in the responses and actions of HR, Arbitration, Mediation, and  Ombudsman services in their attempts to resolve these types of issues.

EEOC Takes Aim at Age Discrimination!

It’s important to know your rights…in many cases bullying IS already illegal

[Press Release from EEOC]

EEOC Explores Plight Of Older Workers In Current Economic Climate

Commission Hears Poignant Testimony of Employee Discharged After 31 Years, Panelists Discuss Scope of Age Discrimination

WASHINGTON— At a meeting held today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission heard testimony that age discrimination is causing the nation’s older workers to have a difficult time maintaining and finding new employment, a problem exacerbated by the downturn in the economy. The number and percentage of age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC have grown, rising from 16,548 charges — 21.8 percent of all charges — filed in fiscal year 2006, to 22,778 —24.4 percent — in fiscal year 2009.  Continue reading