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October 26, 2016

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Managers and Supervisors: Beware the Myth of the “Formal Complaint.”

April 12, 2016

When you spend the better part of your professional life examining employee complaints, the subtleties of handling those complaints become a big deal.  I have written often in this blog about the importance of handling these complaints properly; listening carefully, not debating or pressing; avoiding laying blame and asking open ended questions.  Most importantly, I have described the importance of accepting the “gift” of a complaint by thanking the employee for their trust and willingness to bring it to your attention.  These fundamental practices can make the difference between an employee who remains engaged and one who becomes an adversary.

What I have discussed less is the misunderstanding that seems to persist among many leaders –at many levels — that acting on employee complaints is optional.  In the past several weeks I have encountered multiple incidents in which employees shared incidents or situations with their supervisors, managers and even executive leaders, and were asked whether they wanted to file a “formal complaint.”  When, in some cases, the employee demurred, the leader did nothing to address the concern.  In each of these instances, the conduct described was sufficiently severe that if it had happened, it would be a violation of organizational policy prohibiting harassment, discrimination or inappropriate conduct.  Let’s unpack the idea of a “formal complaint.”

Under Title VII and most state laws governing discrimination or harassment, legal exposure for an employer begins when the employer “knew or should have known” that unlawful conduct was occurring. In most cases, liability begins when the employer, having that knowledge, fails to take action to stop the conduct.  An employer “knows” about conduct when it is reported (by a target or third-party), when an agent of the organization saw it or heard it or when an agent of the organization actually did it.  “Should have known is about reasonable supervision and oversight.”  So, when an employee tells a supervisor, manager or executive that something has happened, the organization “knows.”  Whether the employee wants you to take formal action becomes rather irrelevant.  Whether the employee wants you to do nothing becomes irrelevant.  The obligation to take action has been triggered.  In fact, asking an employee if they want to make a “formal complaint” appears to place an actual obstacle in front of the employee — as though they are the ones who have to decide whether to potentially get someone in trouble.

A “formal complaint” under this fictional construct often involves a “written statement.”  Personally, I detest employers requiring employees to prepare written statements about their complaints.  From the incompatibility of the timing with the realities of human memory to limitations and variances in literacy, the utility of a written statement is quite dubious.  Nevertheless, it is a favorite of leaders who believe that a written statement will force employees to “stick to their story” or “be accountable,” the idea being that once the statement is written the employees have to stand by their account (never mind that human memory will often result in details emerging over time.)  I have been successful at persuading some leaders that the statements are gratuitous, and failed with others, but the one thing I will say with no doubt at all is that telling employees that you will not pursue their complaints without  a written statement puts you directly in harms way. The standard is not “wrote or should have written!”  It is knew or should have known.  The employee has told you.  You know.  You need to act based on what you know.

Of course, receiving complaints is a nuanced business and your ability to act is based upon the quality of the information you’ve been given, but it is always worth a reminder that with or without a “formal complaint” it is best to document employee concerns and take prompt, appropriate steps to examine and address those concerns.

Getting to Yes: Simple Leadership

January 4, 2016

It is sometimes the simplest ideas that bring about real culture change in organizations.

Three simple questions. Three simple answers. The result is a harbinger of everything important to employers. It’s very simple to create a respectful workplace if you boil it down to this: if you can get one hundred percent of your employees to answer three questions with “yes” every single day, you will have a workplace where employees are engaged, they are productive, they are self-correcting (because they are giving and getting honest feedback) and they are showing up and staying with your organization. What are these magical questions?
Does my employer value me?
• Do the people I work with and for treat me fairly and humanely?
• Does my work matter?
Of course, the converse is true. If only some of your employees say “yes,” the rest are saying “no.” Negative answers to these questions bring about behavior, attitudes and performance issues that take time, energy and emotional investment away from the organization’s mission.
If it’s that easy, why is it so hard to find employees who love what they do? Because we focus on too many metrics, we make organizations unnecessarily complicated, and we don’t measure leaders on the happiness and engagement of their employees. If, instead of complex performance matrices or numerical fictions, we simply told leaders that they would be evaluated, rewarded and compensated on how many “yesses” they got to these three questions, how would they be spending their time? Teaching, coaching, praising, guiding, communicating and collaborating. Try it. Put these questions on your wall and every day ask yourself, “How can I get my people to yes?” Challenge other leaders to do the same. If the experience of one of my clients is indicative, your people will notice the difference immediately. In three months of “getting to yes,” theft was reduced, productivity improved, conflict was handled at a lower level, attendance improved and injuries were reduced. Supervisors began to post their ideas for getting their employees to “yes.” No complicated training, no lectures. Three simple questions, one big payoff.

I’m Back

September 22, 2015

It’s been some time since I’ve posted.  It has been a busy year of travel, speaking, fact finding and immense professional growth.  Last week, I had the honor of traveling to Washington,DC to testify before the EEOC’s Select Committee on Harassment as part of a panel of fact finders.  They asked us to comment on industries and organizations most susceptible to harassment.  My written testimony can be found at the following link. Fran Sepler Testimony EEOC Task Force

Back to Basics In Workplace Investigations: Tips, Techniques and Reminders

January 7, 2014

ImageI’ve run into some situations lately that compel me to write about some basics of workplace investigation.  Yes, I tend to wander into the weeds of workplace bullying, coaching harassers and subtle discrimination, but at my core, I am a workplace fact finder.  I come to my investigations as a neutral and my job is to get to the bottom of things, while doing so in a way that makes my work both defensible and least disrupts the operations of the organization.

Some of you, readers, rarely do investigations and others do so with some frequency.  The missteps I most commonly see are what I would refer to as bad habits or non habits; faulty practices that frequent investigators use and keep using, and big attempts to use sophisticated techniques by those who have little opportunity to hone them.  With this in mind, I will offer up a few thoughts, theories and recommendations for all workplace investigators.

  • Remember that the majority of people who are the subject of your investigations will NOT be terminated, and your approach will affect their future engagement

This is as fundamental as we can get, and what makes an employment investigation completely different in tone and technique than a criminal investigation.  We are attempting to discern whether misconduct has taken place.  In some cases, if the facts show serious misconduct, the organization will terminate the employment of the bad actor because of the severity and the factual support for the the conclusions.  Most of the alleged misconduct that happens in the workplace falls into the category of “bad judgment,” “single moderate offense (remediable),” “good long term employee made a mistake,” “the complainant overstated the nature of the conduct,” or “violated a policy, but so have others without consequence.”  I could probably come up with more, but these are the ones at top of mind.  In each of these circumstances, there may be discipline, remedial action or both, including the dreaded “final warning,” but the employer may find the misconduct does not rise to a level where termination is justified or supportable.  Just last month I dealt with a fabulous manager who inadvertently gave one employee an advantage over another.  It was serious and called for remediation, and the manager was warned he’d be demoted if it happened again.  Classic.

My point with all this?  We must treat each person we interview with respect and dignity, and come at each interview with an open mind.  We should always start by assuring the person we are talking to understands who we are, what our process is and what their rights and responsibilities are, and we should begin by either asking general questions or allowing them to provide us their narrative about a situation.  Using interrogation techniques that involve threatening people with termination, telling them how much trouble they are in, using legal terms like “theft” and “harassment” or asking them if they think what they did was right or wrong do not belong in employment investigations.  We can be firm and direct in confronting statements we think are untrue, but not by telling people we think they are lying. We can make credibility assessments without labeling people in shaming ways. These are company human assets, and we do not want to destroy them in the process of getting information from them.  The gold standard for us is, “I was treated fairly.  The investigation was unbiased.  The outcome was fair, even if I don’t like it.”  These employees, while unnerved by being asked tough questions, or unhappy with the ultimate outcome will know they were treated fairly and humanely, and when this crisis is over, they will have a decent chance of being able to go back to work and reengage, whereas those who were verbally “slapped around” will have an enduring disdain for and resentment of their employer and whichever entity conducted the investigation.

  • It should now be the exception to tell or suggest to a witness to refrain from discussing our interview or the investigation.

From an earlier post: Banner Health Care 358 NLRB No. 93, the National Labor Relations Board found that blanket “gag rules” requiring all participants in an investigation to refrain from discussing the investigation while it was ongoing, with the rationale of protecting the integrity of the investigation was a violation of Rule 7, which allows employees to discuss the “terms and conditions of their employment.”    The NLRB indicated that an employer has to have a legitimate business interest that outweighs that rule, including the need to protect a specific witness, danger of evidence being destroyed, testimony was being fabricated or there was a need to prevent a cover up.  A blanket practice to require all employees to refrain from discussing the matter was deemed too broad to meet these criterion.

Well, that was bad enough, but if you have been paying attention, things got even harsher.   A recent NLRB ruling, THE BOEING COMPANY and JOANNA GAMBLE, an Individual ,Case 19-CA-089374, JD(SF)-34-13 NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD found that even suggesting that an employee refrain from discussing investigations in a routine checklist was a violation of their right to engage in concerted activity in the workplace.  The implications here are very important, in that if as an investigator you are going to either suggest or instruct witnesses to refrain from discussing any part of the process, you must have a SPECIFIC justification, such as a witness with a substantive reason to anticipate reprisal, specific evidence that is vulnerable, evidence of falsehood or a credible basis to think there will be a cover up.  This should be documented specifically before issuing confidentiality instructions.  While many of us grimace at the challenges these rulings create for those of us who’d like tidy statements and limited discussion, we must be aware of our requirements and comply with them.

And, despite my having sent the appropriate citations to tens of people who disagreed with this, let me be clear again that this applies NOT JUST IN UNION SETTINGS, as the rule is precisely formulated to ensure that people have the opportunity to discuss the terms and conditions of their workplace in order to form, or attempt to form unions.

  • Scope Creep is a Dangerous Thing

We all come across things during an investigation that force us to decide whether to fold the new allegations into our investigation or whether to pass them on.  One of the most important evaluative standards here is very simple; if the new allegations represent a more serious set of possible infractions than the investigation you are doing, create a separate inquiry.  Thus, while investigating possible isolated misuse of a company vehicle, you gather data from corporate information systems that reveals widespread misuse of corporate credit cards, finish the limited inquiry and conduct the broad, more serious one separately.  There are several reasons for this, the most pertinent of which is to avoid the minimization or escalation of the initial allegations.  If the alleged misconduct is unrelated (those allegedly misusing the vehicle are not implicated in the credit card allegations) the facts in their “story” should not be conflated with the facts of the allegedly more widespread conduct.  Similarly, if there is overlap in the parties involved, those parties should all be treated equally, rather than have one set of allegations lay deeper suspicion on the others.  More practically speaking, when a series of minor infractions mount up as an investigation is conducted, it is important that the investigation not be prosecutorial, and that minor infractions that would not otherwise have been addressed be given their proper weight.  When, for instance, an incidentally reviewed employee’s email to a colleague indicated that on a particular day she would be “slipping out ten minutes early” for a child’s concert, the investigator wanted to add this to findings as “misusing time.”  This was in an organization that did not maintain time clocks and was known for their focus on productivity over face time.  It was my rather challenging job to convince her that while this could be shared as part of her report, it was prudent to stick to the allegations that were being investigated in her findings of fact, avoiding a “piling on” of things best referred to in credibility or narrative portions of her report.  If she had concerns about repeated infractions, I suggested, a separate investigation would be warranted.

  • Your notes are your notes.

Honestly, whether you type out things verbatim on your PC or scribble lines with a crayon, the notes you take contemporaneously are your notes.  Save them.  You can type them up, you can clarify them, you can correct your grammar and spelling, and you can add the questions you asked to them if you like, BUT SAVE YOUR RAW NOTES.  There is no such thing as “draft notes,” because notes are by nature contemporaneous.  If you choose to make changes, as most of us do (mine are fairly illegible unless I do a quick “clean up” after I interview) make them in a way that is transparent; for instance, if you take notes on a computer, save the originals and then make any adjustments in a different font or a different color.  Save both versions.  If you type them up and “fix” grammar and spelling as you go, staple the originals to the new ones.  Why?  It is a fair question for someone scrutinizing your work to ask if the notes that formed the basis for your report or findings were contemporaneous.  If the answer is “no,” you want to demonstrate that any changes you made were for purposes of clarification, readability or future recall and that you did not substantively change the notes.  Honestly, I recently came across someone who crossed out one thing and wrote another, and when I asked why it had been changed, the answer was, “Because I felt bad I said that.”  Ouch.

Thanks for reading my blog.  If you find it helpful, please share it with others.  Happy New Year.

Four End of Year Gifts: Insights from the Frontlines

December 4, 2013

ImageIt’s gifting season. When I talk to groups about trying to effectively prevent and address unwelcome behavior at work, I talk a lot about gifts — those things people give us voluntarily. Like feedback.  When we get a gift, most of us have been taught, we don’t necessarily respond authentically (what the heck did you give me THAT for?) Instead, we thank the person, show appreciation and say something like “I know just what I’ll do with it.” We don’t throw gifts back at people, because that makes them hurt or angry.  We are gracious and we accept the gift.  Applying this little analogy has really helped me to  take feedback that doesn’t feel great, and  by their accounts,has  helped scores of people who realized being told their behavior was a problem by the person bugged by the behavior was MILES better than getting “that call” from HR and being told they had been the subject of the complaint.

So today, I get to give my readers some gifts.  Lessons learned from 2013’s investigations, consultations and mediations.  These are lessons for managers and employers, employees and organizations, and while they may not be the gift you were hoping for, they are offered in the spirit of lessons learned that can hopefully prevent problems for you in the future.

1) Employees and Bosses can not be friends. 

 Go ahead and be social.  Discuss your favorite TV shows and stories about your kids.  Have a team dinner periodically.  Have conversations, even disagreements about sports, music and celebrity gossip.  Travel together to conferences and enjoy one another.  This is what professional relationships look like.  Do not cross the line into sharing marital or relationship issues, confide in one another about your deepest fears or childhood traumas, or spend time together on the weekends “just to hang out.”  Why?  Well, if you are the employee, you are going to develop an unrealistic sense of comfort with this-person-who-manages-and-evaluates-you, and you may reach a point where you have “overshared,”  There will be no magic signal to tell you this, but what happens is that your “friend” starts worrying about how things in your personal life might affect your job (If he can treat his mother that way…)  Or, the day will come when you come in late and smile lamely at your “friend,”  who realizes they have to write you up, and rather than being irked at your boss, you are going to feel wounded because your “friend” wasn’t, well…your friend. 

For you boss, the risks are greater.  You risk, at least, concerns about favoritism.  Nothing stokes the green-eyed monster in employees than a perception of favoritism. Since you likely aren’t “friends” at an equal level with all of your reports, one friendship is going to look closer than another, and the assumption WILL BE MADE that the employee closest to you gets special treatment.  That is the LEAST problematic.  More problematic is that you are going to develop a blind spot with this employee, and something will happen in which you discover you have been taken advantage of.  Perhaps the employee shares information about you with someone else in the workplace, or represents that you were okay with something you never knew about.  Well, boss-person, what is going to happen is this; you are going to feel betrayed or hurt.  It will sting. Maybe you will have a little chat with the employee, or maybe you’ll just “let it go,” but the fact is, that employee’s little errors or omissions, or failure to meet deadlines is now going to seem somehow a bigger deal than before.  You are going to decide it is time to draw some limits, and you are going to communicate that to the employee, who is going to get upset.  Now, instead of an employee-boss performance issue to be managed professionally and appropriately, you have a personal conflict.  Hurt feelings.  Attempts to mend them. Anger, tears, resentment.  The other employees?  They’re tired of the drama and they lose respect for you.Or they take advantage of the chaos and go after your “friend.”  Honestly.  It goes this way far more than you think.  You just cannot be friends.  At best, you look unfair.  At worst, you are unfair.

2.  Covert Workplace Relationships are rarely covert and almost never end well

Trust me on this. You think you’re seamless.  You think no one notices the little looks, the separate entrances and exits, the small exchange of gifts or the coordinated business travel.  THEY DO.  They know about it, they talk about it, and they resent it.  Even if you are truly careful, people can smell this stuff at work.  No your employer has no business telling you what to do in your personal life, BUT WORK IS NOT YOUR PERSONAL LIFE.  See above on the favoritism, see above on the friendship, and be aware that when your relationship goes bad and suddenly working with this person-who-is-the-world- to- you- now feels a lot like being embalmed in toxic waste, your employer is not going to be sympathetic…oh and if the relationship goes bad, there is a teeny little chance that your former lover might go to HR and claim that your attentions were never welcome to begin with.  Or your former lover might decide to start shirking on his or her assignments, and when you try to “hold them accountable,” they might point out that you never did that when you two were in the grips of passion…so you are now holding them to different standards because you are no longer having sex. No JD required to figure out where that might go. 

3.  If you manage people, and you have ever been annoyed that an employee is a) insufficiently grateful for all you have done or b) should just be happy to have a job, you should probably either quit managing people or take a psych course.

We come to work.  We know what we do has some value, because someone is willing to pay us to do it.  If we do it well, we assume, we will be rewarded.  If you are rewarding us to do something, we think it probably has significant value (are you seeing a theme here?)  We come to work and we give what we can.  Not everyone is a great employee, but 90 percent of employees think they are in the top 20 percent of performers.  I have never, ever met an employee who described themselves as “in the bottom 20 percent.”  And, let’s face it, employees go through a lot to do their work.  They come in to work on days they don’t feel great, they put aside personal stuff happening in their life, they deal with coworkers with issues from halitosis to psychopathy, they have to attend meetings characterized by honchos barking platitudes, they have to jump through hoops, get ideas shot down, manage up, grind out productivity, deal with weak supervision and limited feedback, do parts of their jobs for which they have inadequate training or equipment…let’s just say not all of employment, even great employment, is a walk in the park.  While employee’s self assessment may be highly inaccurate, the vast majority of them believe they are giving you more than your money’s worth, and that you, as an employer, should be recognizing, rewarding and promoting them more than you are.  Sure, they see you have given them opportunities and may be truly appreciative, but they also believe those opportunities came because you knew they would step up and their success would reflect well on you.

Another thing?  Employees don’t complain, especially about you, without giving it a whole lot of thought.  Fear of reprisal or job loss is a very big deal.  Most employees who are unhappy with their boss wait months before they say something,  They have tried to cope and found that they can’t.  Maybe their performance has suffered, and maybe their reputation.  They perceive themselves as risking everything to get a problem solved.  At that point, whatever is bugging them has become such a big deal in their life it is probably following them home.  So if an employee has the temerity to come to you with a concern about something going on in their workplace…well, they aren’t thinking how nice it was that you promoted them two years ago, or that they are “lucky” to be giving you the best work they can (in their opinion,) they are actually thinking that there is a contract of sorts, whereby they give you their talents and skills and productivity and commitment, and you give them a safe place to do that and compensate them appropriately.  Thank them.  Listen to them.  Let them know their concerns are being taken seriously. Do something. If the employee went to someone else, it’s not a sign of ingratitude…it’s a sign that something needs fixing.  Humility is a pretty cool part of the human condition.

4) “Managing Performance” is about trying to make it better. “Bullying” is about trying to make it worse.

Image  Look, I’ve been around HR a long time.  Some of my best friends and clients are in HR.  This is a place our HR colleagues sometimes get it wrong.  You have someone with a performance problem.  Maybe you have inherited them from a previous supervisor or manager, or maybe you have finally thrown up your hands because your coaching hasn’t worked.  You meet with HR, who tells you it is time to start “managing performance.”  Awesome.  That means you sit down with the employee and have a frank discussion about your concerns and their concerns.  You listen carefully to what they think has gotten things off track.  You give them specific examples and listen to their perspective, they listen to yours.  You try to get to root cause.  Is it out of work stuff?  Is there a need for EAP? Is it something about a skills gap or job design?  You clarify expectations and work with the employee to try to fill the performance gaps.  You set short term checkpoints and provide the tools or assistance needed to help them succeed.  Lather, rinse, repeat…and if those short term objectives are not being met, you foreshadow the ultimate determination of a non fit between the job and the employee.

No?  What HR is advising is to begin documenting each and every one of the employee’s errors, failure to comport to policies, attitude issues and more?  That the employee should be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan drafted by HR and presented to the employee for signature, which essentially says that they situation will not change but the performance is expected to?  By being abrupt, cold, unavailable, or straight out rude to the employee from that point forward?  To write up the employee for infractions in as high a volume as possible?  To make sure the employee can figure out that the employer does not want him or her there, but lacks the will or skill to simply say that?  To take away supervision, tools, and human warmth until the employee quits?  Nah, that’s not managing performance.  It’s bullying, and it kills the soul of an organization and the people in it.  Really, if someone is that destructive or problematic in a work environment, isn’t it better to just call it a day and give them their notice than to drag them through the dehumanizing ritual of “death by documentation?”

Employees?  If your employer is taking the time to really give you performance feedback, and is telling you specifically where you are falling short, you are lucky.  It is one of the least happy moments in a good leaders life to have that conversation.  They hired you, invested in you, trained you, and something is going off the rails. It’s nothing personal, and it’s not too late.  Listen to what they are telling you.  Engage in the process.  Be honest about what’s getting in your way.  No one sat back and said “let’s take the time to really listen to this employee so we can screw him or her.”  If they are treating you like a human being, it’s a sign they really do care and want you to succeed.  Rise to the occasion, and hopefully everyone will grow as a result.

Here is wishing everyone a holiday season characterized by moderate alcohol use at company gatherings, company gatherings that remain businesslike and festive, and tons of opportunities to engage in charity and community service for employers and employees alike.


The NFL, Bullying and The Next Big Thing

November 7, 2013

In 1998, 1999 and 2000 I went to the NFL Camps of the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings, and I talked about behavior.  We discussed sexual assault and date rape.  The players were unusually frank and raucous in each case, and the youngest players seemed amazed that they now had a public persona to master.  What struck me was that each year, one of the veterans (and marquee players) stood up when the less experienced players began to argue with the idea of respect and consent, civility and empathy and put a stop to the silliness.  I remember feeling profoundly moved when one Viking (whose picture was on my child’s wall as part of a trio of much-lauded players) stood up and said, “This is for real, guys.  We have a responsibility to the team, to each other and to the people we care about.”

I can’t speak for other teams, but I know there was hazing.  Late to the Ravens due to a bomb threat in downtown Baltimore, I learned they made use of the time by having the freshman players stand on  chairs and sing. I was curious and asked about the extent of the hazing. The coach chuckled about it, and told me how it used to be.  Brutality and humiliation.  No more under him he said.  Maybe carrying the equipment but no cruelty.

The headlines this week about the Miami Dolphin’s situation and the culture of hazing that exists in all or part of the NFL is not new news.  Statements in the media suggest that the degree of hazing varies from team to team, as does the involvement of coaches in setting the tone and calling out the limits.  In fact, several former players have discussed their experiences with hazing varying from silly initiation rites to outright cruelty; those who have survived them often claim the experiences have “bonded them,” or “made them stronger.”    Things get more interesting when you read the quotes from “the personnel men” at the NFL;

“”Locker room culture will never be understood unless you’ve lived or have been around it,” said a personnel man. “This is another ploy in the league’s ‘player safety’ book. Incognito knew who to try. You never heard anything like this come from John Jerry or Mike Pouncey. Instead of being a man and confronting him, he acted like a coward and told like a kid.

Aha.  Now we are getting to the dirty little secret behind bullying.  It is often attached to a visceral sense of exceptionalism and a pattern of enabling.  Once exposed, there is wringing of hands and claims it won’t be tolerated, but that history of enabling renders the organizations’ decrying incidents of bullying wholly unbelievable.  And it is not just the NFL.

The worst bullying cases I have encountered in the last twenty years have occurred in the professions, in academia and in other enterprises that involve super stardom.  The superstars may not live on posters in my child’s room, but they have marquee status on the firm’s letterhead, the university’s endowed chairs, the surgery suite and the charity’s boards.  These are the people who recognize their authority and power and abuse it. The organization, rather than demanding leadership, cowers in response to their misbehavior.  Bullying becomes a badge of success and is passed from generation to generation as a privilege of accomplishment. Those who survive are rewarded with promotions, tenure or other status and dollar-driven rewards. The ability to inure oneself to bullying behavior becomes part of the DNA of success, and the DNA of the organization.  Rather than condemn the rituals and behavior that probably thwarted their best work, targets who thrive through it simply emulate the behavior and denigrate those who cannot or will not survive it.  It becomes a badge of courage.

The hardest part of my work, which at times involves uncovering and at other times involves trying to intervene with, workplace misconduct, is that despite the rush of fear that organizations feel in the face of a complaint,  many of them have become inured to a culture based on an erroneous belief that people will do better when they have been subject to some “toughening up.”  One physician recently told me she cannot respect new doctors because they are protected by rules that limit the number of hours they can be asked to work consecutively in their training; “We would operate under conditions that seemed second only to death in the pain they caused, and I think that made us better,” she said.

There is nothing that actually supports the value of humiliation, abuse, embarrassment, exploitation or terror as a positive source of bonding, motivation or future performance.  There is nothing to be found that suggests that any positive organizational metric is associated with the countenance of bullying or negative hazing.  There is no literature that says being screamed at, called names, threatened, publicly criticized or having things thrown in your direction make you a better employee.  Rather, what emerges when we look at these patterns is a terrible dose of inadequate leadership, lazy ethics and a dull acceptance of the status quo.  This is where the work of combating bullying needs to focus.  It is well established that engagement and a sense of safety and dignity go a long way towards creating innovative, creative and productive employees, whether it is in pro sports or the corporate world.  To all of the organizations that say that this behavior is unacceptable, I issue the following challenge; make bullying behavior a toxin to success.  Make it clear by your words and actions that bullying behavior will block even a super star from further rewards, including promotion.  Expand your harassment policies to include non-protected class bullying and charge the folks at your highest level with promoting those policies and walking the talk.  Protect your whistle blowers and recognize that crawling out under the crushing weight of abuse to report it is an act of profound courage and bravery. Live up to those lofty mission statements that always include “respect” and “dignity.”

The next big thing?  A hard stop on bullying. A commitment to a culture where we name it and we rush to support it’s targets. A decision, collectively and organizationally that it really is as old and useless as a canister of DDT.  It’s a poison we can all now condemn and replace with smarter, safer alternatives.

For those not in the know, there is a bill floating around that would bring US states to the level of civility of most other first world nations. The Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in 23 states and passed in none. While opponents continue to throw out arguments that it is vague and bad for business, it is clear the law’s time has come.  It is time for a hard stop, and if the law can help, it should.

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