Elements of a Good Workplace

GallupMany of us have experienced the horrors of a  bad workplace but what does a good workplace look like?

Jim Clifton, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Gallup poll organization, says he knows, based upon decades of polling data.

  What follows, according to Clifton, are the 12 most important, and most predictive, workplace elements.  If these elements are in place, the employer has an engaged, healthy workforce where employees innovate, work hard  and achieve results.  If these elements are not in place, it is likely that workers are disengaged, less healthy, less productive, and less invested in the success of the company.

What’s your workplace look like? Feel free to show this article to your boss.

  1.  I know what’s expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work talked to me about my progress.
  12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

 According to Clifton, a major reason that workforces are not engaged is bad management or what he calls “management from hell.”

 Gallup research has found that the top 25% of employees — the best-managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst-managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, he says, people in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs.

Co-Workers Suffer Second-Hand Workplace Abuse

second hand smokeNote: For a related story, see Bullying Causes Coworker Stress. Pat



Bosses who bully their subordinates also  damage co-workers who see or hear about the abuse, much like second-hand smoke affects those in the vicinity of a smoker.

That is the conclusion of a study published recently  in The Journal of Social Psychology, “An Investigation of Abusive Supervision, Vicarious Abuse Supervision, and Their Joint Impacts.”   The study was conducted by Paul Harvey from the University of New Hampshire,  Kenneth Harris and Raina Harris from Indiana University Southeast and Melissa Cast from New Mexico State University.”

The study defines abusive supervision as a dysfunctional type of leadership that includes a sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors toward subordinates. The authors say abusive supervision generally  is positively related to  job frustration and co-worker abuse and  negatively related to perceived organizational support.

“Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be physically harmful as other types of dysfunctional behavior (workplace violence or aggression), the actions are likely to leave longer lasting wounds. One reason for these long-lasting “scars” is that workplace violence and aggression are often stopped quickly, whereas abusive supervisory behaviors (such as being rude or giving the silent treatment) can continue for considerable times,” the researchers state.

Vicarious supervisory abuse occurs when an employee hears rumors of abusive behavior from coworkers, reads about such behaviors in an email, or actually witnesses the abuse of a coworker.

The report posits that workers who do not experience the abuse first hand may experience similar negative effects as the worker who is being abused. They may realize they could become targets for abuse by the same  supervisor  or they could be transferred to work under an abusive supervisor.

According to the study, employees expect to be treated with respect and consideration by their supervisors. In exchange, they work hard, have positive attitudes about their work and the workplace, and treat others with consideration. When abusive supervision occurs, employees are likely to feel less positively about their work (higher frustration and lower perceived organizational support) and react negatively toward coworkers who are a “safe target” upon which to  vent aggression.

The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job frustration, tendency to abuse other coworkers, and a lack of perceived organizational support.

 The researchers queried a sample of 233 people who work in a wide range of occupations in the Southeast United States. Demographically, the sample was 46 percent men, 86 percent white, had an average age of 42.6 years, had worked in their job for seven years, had worked at their company for 10 years, and worked an average of 46 hours a week. Survey respondents were asked about supervisory abuse, vicarious supervisory abuse, job frustration, perceived organizational support, and coworker abuse.

“Our research suggests that vicarious abusive supervision is as likely as abusive supervision to negatively affect desired outcomes, with the worst outcomes resulting when both vicarious abusive supervision and abusive supervision are present,” the researchers said. “Top management needs further education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse.”

Workplace Bullying Increasing

A new study by CareerBuilder finds that workplace bullying is on the rise, with 35 percent of workers reporting they have felt bullied on the job, up from 27 percent last year.

 Sixteen percent of these workers reported they suffered health-related problems as a result of bullying and 17 percent decided to quit their jobs to escape the situation.

 The study  found the majority of incidents go unreported.  Twenty-seven percent of  targets said they reported the bullying to their Human Resources department. Of these workers, 43 percent reported that action was taken while 57 percent said nothing was done.

 The scientific  survey was conducted online  by Harris Interactive from May 14 to June 4, 2012 and included more than 3,800 workers nationwide.

 Who Are the Bullies?

 Of workers who felt bullied, 48 percent pointed to incidents with their bosses and 26 percent to someone higher up in the company. Forty-five percent said the bullies were coworkers  while 31 percent were picked on by customers. 

 More than half (54 percent) of those bullied said they were bullied by someone older than they were, while 29 percent said the bully was younger.

 Weapons of a Workplace Bully

 The most common way workers reported being bullied was getting blamed for mistakes they didn’t make followed by not being acknowledged and the use of double standards. The full list includes:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes – 42 percent
  • Ignored – 39 percent
  • Used different standards/policies toward me than other workers – 36 percent
  • Constantly criticized – 33 percent
  • Someone didn’t perform certain duties, which negatively impacted my work – 31 percent
  • Yelled at by boss in front of coworkers – 28 percent
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings – 24 percent
  • Gossiped about – 26 percent
  • Someone stole credit for my work – 19 percent
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 18 percent
  • Picked on for personal attributes – 15 percent

Standing Up to the Bully

 About half (49 percent) of victims reported confronting the bully themselves, while 51 percent did not. Of those who confronted the bully, half (50 percent) said the bullying stopped while 11 percent said it got worse, and 38 percent said the bullying didn’t change at all.

The company offers the following tips for workers who are feeling bullied:

  1. Keep record of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.
  2. Consider talking to the bully, providing examples of how you felt treated unfairly. Chances are the bully may not be aware that he/she is making you feel this way. (Personally, I disagree.  Most bullies know exactly what they are doing. A small percentage are actually psychopaths ,completley lacking in empathy.  Use your judgment when confronting a bully – it may work but it also could escalate the problem or the bully could lay low until he/she sees the opportunity to finish the job.) 
  3. Always focus on resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, center the discussions around how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

Surveys consistently show that between a quarter and a third of workers have felt bullied on the job. Furthermore, there is overwhelming research  that workplace bullying can lead to potentially severe mental and physical health problems. Yet, efforts to address the problem in the United States over the past decade have proved fruitless up to now. Meanwhile, many other industrialized countries have adopted regulations or laws to address workplace bullying which place the responsibility upon the employer to insure a safe bully-free workplace for employees.

Readers can sign a petition calling up the Secretary of Labor to take action to address the epidemic of workplace bullying by going here.

CareerBuilder’s on-line site, CareerBuilder.com®, is the largest in the United States with more than 24 million unique visitors, 1 million jobs and 49 million resumes.


Lost in Discussion: Employers that Bully

 They Use Strategic Harassment and Exploitation

Most people who think of workplace bullies invoke the image of the combative boss played by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross or the passive-hostile magazine editor played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.

But some workplace bullies are not individuals but the employer itself – a fact that often gets lost in the discussion of workplace bullying. Some employers use strategic harassment tactics on workers to avoid legal obligations, such as the payment of fair wages, workers compensation or unemployment insurance.

Employers that bully promulgate policies that take advantage of their workers. For example, they steal wages from their employees by intentionally misclassifying them as exempt and thus ineligible for overtime.

The Progressive States Network estimates that low-wage workers lose $51 per week to wage theft, or $2,634 per year.  That amounts to approximately 15% of their annual income

Some employers use strategic harassment to get rid of good employees. This occurs when an employer targets one or more workers for harassment to achieve an organizational goal.  Some employers, for example, make life miserable for workers when they want to downsize without paying unemployment insurance. Or they harass a “troublemaker” who has asserted a legal right to fair compensation or overtime, essentially forcing him or her to quit.

Other employers knowingly tolerate bullies in their employ for crass economic reasons – athough that strategy can backfire.

Ani Chopourian filed at least 18 complaints with the Human Resources Dept. of Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, CA, during the two years she worked there as a physician assistant. She was fired after the last complaint. A federal court jury in March awarded Chopourian $168 million in damages, believed to be the largest judgment for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

Many of Chopourian’s complaints involved a bullying surgeon who she said once stabbed her with a needle. Another surgeon, she said, would greet her each morning with “I’m horny” and slap her bottom. Another called her “stupid chick” in the operating room and made disparaging remarks about her Armenian heritage, such as asking her if she had joined Al Qaeda.

Ms. Chopourian speculated that hospital administrators put up with misbehavior in the cardiac unit and tolerated the surgeons’ outsize egos because cardiac surgery tends to bring in the most money for any hospital facility.

Surveys show that workplace bullying is epidemic in the United States, where at least one in four American workers reports being bullied in the workplace.  Workplace bullying can cause a target to experience potentially severe psychological and physical illness, including clinical depression, post traumatic stress syndrome and stress-related chronic disease.

Much of the focus on the problem in the United States has involved a state-by-state campaign to pass a civil law that would allow targets of workplace bullying to seek damages from individual employers. However, such a law would do nothing to combat the systemic problem of employer bullying and abuse in the United States.

This blog is part of a loose-knit coalition of workplace anti-bully advocates that is calling upon the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the Obama administration to promulgate a comprehensive national solution to the problem of workplace bullying and abuse that would  address the problem of bullying employers.  If you agree, sign our petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/protect-us-workers/?cid=FB_TAF.

I Will Ruin … Who?

NOTE:  State College of Florida President Lars Hafner subsequently  resigned on Oct. 30, 2012 with a $363,000 settlement agreement.  The board  voted 7-0 in January 2013 to hire a new president,   Dr. Carol Probstfeld,  formerly vice president for business and administrative services at the college.  Carlos Beruff, a realtor, remains on the board.  Sigh.

Go quietly or I will ruin you

That alleged threat is at the heart of what promises to be a costly battle between two titans at State College of Florida (SCF) in Manatee-Sarasota.

The Bradenton Herald reports that the college’s board of trustees voted  5-2 this week to ask Florida’s Attorney General to investigate an allegation of forgery against SCF President Lars Hafner.

Hafner says the vote stems from a campaign of bullying by SCF board chairperson Carlos Beruff.  He recounted a private conversation with Beruff about nine months ago in which Beruff allegedly told Hafner, “If you don’t go quietly, I’m going to ruin you and ruin your reputation.”

Beruff has accused Hafner of forging former board president Steve Harner’s name on a 2010 state grant application for SCF’s Collegiate School charter school. Hafner contends he signed Harner’s to the document with Harner’s permission.

Hafner accused Beruff of risking the college’s reputation for the sake of what Hafner called Beruff’s personal and political agenda against him.

“This has been nine months of, basically, a witch hunt, and of you bullying me,” Hafner said to Beruff. “You’ve been doing it in private so other board members were not aware of what you’re saying or doing.”

At a special board meeting called by Beruff , Beruff presented an affidavit from attorney Greg Porges, whom Beruff had hired privately to research the forgery question, in which Porges said Harner did not authorize Hafner to sign the grant application in his stead.

Hafner presented an affidavit directly from former president Harner, in which Harner stated he believed that in up to four instances he had authorized Hafner to sign his name on Harner’s behalf and with Harner’s “direction and instruction.”

Meanwhile, board member Jennifer Saslaw, one of two board members to vote against taking the case to the attorney general, said Harner told her that Hafner’s signature on the application was made with Harner’s approval.

Joe Miller, the other board member to vote against involving the attorney general, questioned whether Beruff was attacking Hafner at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, whose has proposed eliminating tenure for university employees and cutting the pay of university and college presidents.

Judge Ed Nicholas, a member of the SCF Foundation, accused the SCF board of “destroying the morale of this school” and driving away donors.  “Ever since you’ve been chairman, you’ve done nothing but attack this college or attack the staff,” Miller said. “I’m not sure who’s running things, the governor or this board.”

Hafner also said he was exploring whether Beruff violated state statutes by sharing information about Hafner’s evaluation.

One can’t help but wonder whether at any point the above officials considered other options to settle their difference? Say, mediation?  Counseling about the proper role of the administration versus the board? A duel?

Avoidance Increases Target’s Stress

Most targets try to avoid contact with an abusive supervisor but this tactic may backfire because it increases the target’s stress, according to research published in the American Psychological Association’s  International Journal of Stress Management.

A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel found that direct communication with a bully boss results in more positive emotions for the target than avoidance. An example of direct communication is: “I tell the supervisor directly that he/she must not treat me like that.”

“It is understandable that employees wish to reduce their contact to a minimum.  However, this strategy further increases the employee’s stress because it is associated with a sense of weakness and perpetuates their fear of the supervisor,” said Prof. Dana Yagil, a member of the university’s Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences who headed the study.

According to the study, abusive supervision is a major organizational stressor yet little is known about how employees cope with such stress. The study examined five types of strategies for coping with the stress factor of abusive treatment:

  • Directly communicating with the abusive boss to discuss the problems.
  • Using forms of ingratiation such as doing favors, using flattery and compliance.
  • Seeking support from others.
  • Avoiding contact with the supervisor.
  • Reframing or mentally restructuring the abuse in a way that decreases its threat.

The most widely-used strategy reported by the 300 employees who participated in the study was avoiding contact with the abusive supervisor, disengaging from the supervisor as much as possible, and also to seeking support from others.  The least used strategy was direct communication with the abusive supervisor — the strategy that was most strongly related to employees’ positive emotions.

The study shows that managers should be alert to signs of employee detachment – as it might indicate that their own behavior is being considered offensive by those employees.

Lessons for Ebenezer Scrooge

*** As we read about the one percent who own 40 percent of our nation’s wealth, the millions of unemployed, the plague of home foreclosures, the failure of schools, and the GOP’s insistence upon extending Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans, let us remember the lessons of the original bully boss. PGB

 Lessons for Ebenezer Scrooge

Spirit of Christmas Past: “And as your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart, as Alice said it would.”


Ebenezer: “I suppose you’ll be wanting the whole day tomorrow.”

Bob Cratchit: “If quite convenient, sir.”

Ebenezer: “Every Christmas you say the same thing. And every Christmas it’s just as inconvenient as the Christmas before. Good night.”


Jacob Marley: “In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!”

Ebenezer: ” But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!”

Jacob Marley: “BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!”


Spirit of Christmas Present: “My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts?”

Ebenezer: “I don’t know, how can I promise!”

Spirit of Christmas Present: “If it’s too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson!”

[opens his robe, revealing two starving children]

Ebenezer: [shocked] “Spirit, are these yours?”

Spirit of Christmas Present:  “They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!”

Ebenezer: “But have they no refuge, no resource?”

Spirit of Christmas Present: [quoting Scrooge] “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”


Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

*From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Maybe someone should fire his ass?

Workplace bullying is not always confined to the office in the age of technology.

A worker for the state of Nevada believes she was the victim of bullying by a supervisor writing on his Facebook page because she took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the Las Vegas Sun:

Steven Zuelke, a unit manager for the state’s unemployment benefits anti-fraud unit, used his personal Facebook page to complain about an unidentified employee he thinks uses too much sick time.

 “Why is it that for some people FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act and for others, it should stand for Fire My Lazy Ass?” Zuelke wrote on his Facebook page last month, hours after one of his employees left work early because she said she was sick.

Zuelke engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with a group of his Facebook friends — including another state staffer who works in the same division — in which he initially mocks his employee and then rants about how difficult it is for the state bureaucracy to deal with problem workers.

The rant was specific enough that one of the two employees Zuelke has had on FMLA status thinks Zuelke was talking about her.

“I had to read it a few times because I was shocked and confused,” said Sherry Truell, a claims examiner who works in Zuelke’s unit and has used FMLA time extensively this year. “I was being referred to as lazy, an anchor, that other people have to do my work, stuff that related to my personal business … I was extremely embarrassed. My co-workers can see this information.”

 Truell said she used FMLA heavily last month because of what she described as a stress-related medical condition and because her son needed surgery. She added that she usually takes two or three days off a month.

Truell has sought the help of her union representative to address the issue and is considering filing a grievance.

“He’s discussing his employees, his work environment, he has friended multiple other employees in the same office. … There are so many problems with this,” said Priscilla Maloney, labor representative for Truell’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local.

Instead of offering an apology, Zuelke alludes to his First Amendment’s right to free speech.  He says he did not post during working hours or using a state computer.

Nevada doesn’t have a specific written policy on Facebook use, which could end up costing the state.

If an employee takes legally appropriate medical leave, it is not acceptable for a manager to penalize, demean or harass her. In fact, it is never acceptable for a supervisor to publicly demean and harass an employee.  Most importantly for his employer, however, Zuelke’s actions subject the state of Nevada to potential legal liability.

The FMLA provides that eligible employees of covered employers have a right to take job-protected leave for qualifying events without interference or restraint from their employers. The FMLA also gives employees the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit under the Act (or cause a complaint or lawsuit to be filed), and to testify or cooperate in other ways with an investigation or lawsuit without being fired or discriminated against in any other manner.

If  Zuelke”s  subordinate at the Nevada Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department actually did take FMLA time, the state may find itself defending a retaliation lawsuit. Also, Zuelke inferred that an employee, who apparently was easily identifiable, engaged in fraudulent behavior by taking sick leave under the FMLA when she was not sick. He published his remarks on a Facebook page for all the world to see.   Hello … defamation, slander, libel.

Research shows that between a quarter and  third of workers are the victims of health endangering bullying, most by a supervisor.  This problem costs American employers billions every year in unnecessary turnover, absenteeism, higher health care costs, and needless litigation.

Discriminating Against the Unemployed

Since this blog was written, President Barack Obama in September 2011 sent a new bill to Congress that incorporates a provision that employers may not refuse to hire persons on the basis of their being unemployed. 

Fair Employment Act of 2011

July 14, 2011 – Kudos to U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who have  introduced legislation that would block employers from discriminating against out-of-work applicants.

The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, H.R. 2501, would keep both employers and recruiters from refusing to consider unemployed workers for available positions, and  from including language in any job postings indicating that the unemployed should not apply, the representatives said in a statement.

It is morally reprehensible that employers discriminate against unemployed people.  Workers may have good reason to quit their jobs or they can be fired through no fault of their own.    At present there is no law that specifically addresses workplace bullying, which overwhelming research shows causes the target to suffer potentially serious physical and psychological damage.

A 2007 poll by Zogby International on behalf of the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 64 percent of targets of workplace bullying quit or are fired.  When employers are notified of bullying, most (62%)  do nothing or make matters worse. Why? The vast majority of bullies are bosses (72%) who enjoy support from executive sponsors, peers and human resources.

Specifically, the proposed law would make it illegal for employers and employment agencies to do things like:

  •  consider unemployment status and history in making hiring decisions;
  • publish in job posting that unemployed workers can not apply; and
  • block unemployed people from accessing information about job openings.

The only time it would be lawful for an employer to consider the unemployment status or history of applicant is “where an individual’s employment in a similar or related job for a period of time reasonably proximate to the hiring of such individual is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to successful performance of the job that is being filled.”


Horrible Bosses (Not the Movie!)

Survey finds almost half of employees have worked for unreasonable managers

A new movie is being released this month, a dark comedy called “Horrible Bosses,”  in which three workers plot to kill their employers.

In real life,  a new survey  shows that almost half (46 percent)  of employees say they have worked for an unreasonable manager and it’s no laughing matter. Thirty-eight percent of the workers said they ended up quitting their jobs.

The survey results were announced on July 5, 2011 by OfficeTeam, which specializes in the placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. OfficeTeam states in a press release that the survey was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on telephone interviews with 441 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in an office environment.

Workers were asked, “Have you ever worked for an unreasonable boss?”  Their responses:






Workers who have had an unreasonable boss also were asked, “How did you respond?” They said:

Stayed put but tried to deal with the issue


Quit my job eventually once I had another job lined up


Stayed put and suffered through the torment


Quit my job immediately without having another job lined up


Don’t know/no answer



OfficeTeam identified five types of “challenging bosses”: the micromanager, poor communicator, bully, saboteur and the “mixed bag” who has unpredictable moods.

Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, said individuals are often promoted because they excel in a given job but “that doesn’t mean they have the skills to be effective leaders.”