December 23, 2008

42% consider leaving!

When 42% consider leaving their job at a certain university, then you do know there is a problem - a managerial problem.

December 22, 2008

A senseless system graduates without honours

The 2008 university Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), whose results have been announced with a mixture of fear, loathing and exhaustion, is a classic example of the self-defeating performance-management drive that is overwhelming the public sector.

RAE results determine the research funding allocated to institutions by the Higher Education Funding Council, according to a formula that changes each time. The official line is that the assessment - 2008's is the sixth since 1986 - is a success. It is "important and valuable", to quote one vice-chancellor, in providing an accepted quality yardstick and a means of promoting UK universities abroad. Others argue that it helps to ensure accountability for £8bn of public funding, the largest single chunk of university income. That sounds plausible: but as usual it conveniently airbrushes out other costs and consequences.

The first and most obvious of these is colossal bureaucracy. Government blithely assumes that management is weightless; but the direct cost of writing detailed specifications and special software, and assembling 1,100 panellists to scrutinise submissions from 50,000 individuals in 2,500 submissions, high as it already is, is dwarfed by the indirect ones - in particular, the huge and ongoing management overheads in the universities themselves. As with any target exercise, the RAE has developed into a costly arms race between the participants, who quickly figure out how to work the rules to their advantage, and regulators trying to plug the loopholes by adjusting and elaborating them.

The result is an RAE rulebook of staggering complexity on one side and, on the other, the generation of an army of university managers, consultants and PR spinners whose de facto purpose is not to teach, nor make intellectual discoveries, but to manage RAE scores. As in previous assessments, a lively transfer market in prolific researchers developed before the submission cut-off date at the end of 2007, while, under the urging of their managers, many university departments have been drafting and redrafting their submissions for the past three years.

Meanwhile, the figures themselves can be interpreted in so many different ways that even insiders find them hard to comprehend. How many parents will know that, because the rules and ranking system has changed so much since 2001, it's difficult to identify performance trends? That departments nominally teaching the same subject may figure under different assessment panels, so here too direct comparison is difficult? That some numbers are bafflingly rounded, while from the figures given it is impossible to calculate how many of a department's staff have been submitted for the assessment exercise, and thus its "real" research strength?

Not surprisingly, as the monster has become increasingly unwieldy, the intervals between the ever more onerous audits has steadily lengthened. After a gap that has stretched to seven years this time, RAE 2008, the last of the present format, is expiring exhausted - although it will rise again in 2013 as a system based on 'metrics', or citations, that promises to be equally controversial.

In the meantime, though, many thoughtful academics believe that much damage has been done. On a systems view, you can't optimise one part of a system without affecting others. In the university context, what suffers from the research obsession ("publish or perish") is teaching, especially undergraduate teaching. It's not much use students choosing a university with internationally known researchers if the researchers are too busy to teach. A teaching assessment exercise turned out to be too nightmarishly bureaucratic even for this government and has been abandoned.

Within research, there is little doubt that target pressure has distorted priorities, forcing researchers to work within the tight guidelines of a few established publications, discouraging unconventional views and making unpredictable discovery all but impossible.

Somewhat ironically, the narrow horizons have a particularly perverse effect in economics and business studies, where, judging by today's melted-down financial sector, "paradigm shifts" are needed more than anywhere else. They are unlikely to emerge, however, from learned journals that effectively privilege research for research's sake over usable knowledge and are light years away from the concerns of inquiring managers.

Finally, the RAE is a potent symbol and vehicle for the bullying top-down managerial culture that has steadily eroded both the quality of working life and results in much of the public sector. This management style has given us Baby P and HM Revenue and Customs on the one hand, and General Motors and the financial collapse on the other. Universities should be part of the search for alternatives, not a reinforcement for today's bankrupt model.


December 19, 2008

About academic management...

I recently attending a bullying and harassment policy briefing session for academics in management roles at my university. The point of the session was to ensure that managers stayed just on the right side of the law, given that (in the words of the session leader) "there is a very thin line between bullying and management."

From: Poll points to distrust of 'petty' managers

December 18, 2008

Poll points to distrust of 'petty' managers...

"Wholly ineffective and probably incapable of running a whelk stall," was one of the less flattering opinions of managers expressed in a survey of higher education staff.

Other responses included a lecturer's description of university leaders as "top-down petty bureaucrats whose main interest is in making money", and a professor's complaint that "at senior level the quality of management and leadership is unacceptable - there is a serious lack of accountability".

The comments were made to researchers who investigated levels of trust in higher and further education institutions. They presented their results last week to the Society for Research into Higher Education.

Around 40 per cent of respondents identified problems with the management culture of their institution, with a majority of these feeling that their leaders had "high concern for the task, low concern for the people".

Of the 145 participants, 65 had significant concerns about poor leadership and a lack of values among managers, with one programme leader from a London university citing "countless examples of middle and senior managers who lack breadth of view and are defensive".

"They tend to miss out on opportunities, put down people with things to offer, demotivate people around them (and) foster ineffective practices," they said.

There were also a significant number of respondents who were positive, with a third of those surveyed saying their managers had "high concern for outcomes and high concern for people".

The paper, by Jill Jameson of the University of Greenwich, concludes that a significant number of academics feel they are living in an era of increasingly managerialist attitudes, while "values-based" leadership is lacking.

"Academic staff found it hard to trust coercive managers: they could, and did, by contrast, resist 'new managerialist' trends," says the report.


December 16, 2008

Why adjunct is a dirty word

If you didn’t know it was, you haven’t known any adjuncts personally. It is amazing what people will say about adjuncts, even to their faces.

But here’s why:

The average adjunct is not as qualified as the average new full-timer. (I’m not addressing the folks hired back in the 60’s, when the market was entirely different.) And I’m not just talking about them receiving less institutional support, though that’s certainly true. Full-timers are recruited nationally, and vetted by search committees, deans, and vice presidents. It’s not unusual to get hundreds of applications for a single position, even at the cc level. When we hire someone to the tenure track, we’ve chosen the best of hundreds. Adjuncts are hired locally, ensuring a far smaller pool. They’re often chosen based on their availability for a given time slot. Yes, some of them are excellent instructors. Yes, sometimes we luck out and find really good people whose life circumstances steer them to us. (That was me, back in the mid-90’s.) But the idea that, on average, the best of hundreds aren’t any better than the best who live within a thirty minute drive and are available on Tuesdays at 12:30 just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Absolutely the chances are good that the best of hundreds will be better than the best who live within an hour and a half drive. (I’m in Houston, after all.) That does not mean, as Community College Dean makes clear, that some aren’t good. Some are good. Some are excellent.

But we are regularly treated as if we are “the one living within driving distance who agrees to go to X campus.”

Even when we are not. Even when we have a PhD and more teaching experience than the full-timers. Even when our evaluations are glowing and our classes fill up immediately upon opening.

It reminds me of how doctors often treat their patients. Many doctors routinely treat their patients as if they are idiots and do not recognize their own symptoms. This happens even when the patients are bright, well-educated, and self-aware. The doctors do it because they have the expectation that the patient won’t be intelligent.

Maybe the academy has that same expectation. They expect the adjuncts to be poor teachers, place holders, cogs in a giant wheel that are interchangeable… And they get those things, to the detriment of the students. Maybe the colleges should give more and expect more from their adjuncts.

If students perform well when confronted with high expectations, shouldn’t teachers work the same way? We’re just older folks (usually). If adjuncts are expected to be underqualified, high graders without significant content in their courses, then that’s who they will become.

I work at three colleges with very different community cultures.

At one college everyone is introduced as Dr. if they have received one and by their first name as not. This is even when you are giving your name to colleagues. At this college, my PhD counters my adjunct status, as does the fact that relatively few of the faculty are adjuncts.

At one college the twain do not meet. Adjuncts (60 or so) have a four computers/tables office in a building, while the full-timers have individual offices in other buildings. Both the adjuncts and the full-timers have a start-of-school meeting, but the adjuncts’ is at night and the full-timers’ is in the day. Even adjuncts who could attend the full-timers’ meetings don’t because it means coming back to campus without pay. And it just continues that way. They don’t interact. This is CC1, which has offered adjunct certification.

At my third college, the adjuncts are invited (as far as I can tell) to everything the full-timers are. The adjuncts have offices in the same area as the full-timers, though they share an office and the ft have their own. (That’s okay, though, since few of the adjuncts are in the office area at the same time.) People talk to the adjuncts, instead of ignoring them in the halls like at CC1 and CC2. It’s a much more comfortable school to be an adjunct at.

Why am I working at three colleges?

I have been away from teaching college for fifteen years, teaching my children. Now I am trying to get back into teaching. I’ve been working at the local college for a while, teaching a Saturday morning or a Thursday night class. But this year my youngest is attending the local college for dual credit, so I am teaching part-time at several places trying to beef up my experience and my skills. I know that colleges look more at presentations and publications and I have been working on those. I have eight presentations this school year and two publications.

So I am working at several places, getting my feet in doors, hopefully getting to know people, and, next time they hire, I want them to be looking at me first. But when people think of adjuncts as the sweatshop workers, as at one of the colleges I applied for a full-time position, where they never hire their own adjuncts for full-time positions, maybe more adjuncting was not a good choice.


The axe drops on Dr. Larry Reynolds: the REAL reasons

To any experienced journalist there was always a strange subtext to the abrupt removal of Dr. Larry Reynolds from his posts as Head of the Department of Family Medicine and Professor at the University of Manitoba and Head of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Family Medicine Program.

Something rang wrong in the alleged reasons his contracts were not renewed. And why he was given all of one month's notice to clear out. It took a while, but now we can reasonably conclude the real reasons he was axed. (Yes, we know, technically his contract was not renewed, but essentially he was dismissed from jobs he didn't want to leave without an explanation.)

Watching the university launch a campaign of character assassination against Dr. Reynolds was one thing. But when they breached his legal rights to privacy by leaking bits of his personnel record, it was clear something was up.

Usually institutions hide behind the privacy legislation, deflecting uncomfortable questions with the door-closing statement "It's a personnel matter. We can't comment." So when the university dropped that defence to engage in a smear offensive, a red flag went up.

The reports in the daily newspapers failed to answer the central question: why was Dr. Reynolds fired? Then we read the Manitoban.

There, in the newspaper published at the University of Manitoba, we found the best and most thorough account of the Dr. Reynolds affair.

Reporter Tessa Vanderhart not only left the mainstream reporters eating her dust, she provided us with the clues we needed to find the answers.

There's an old saying in the news business... the timeline tells the tale. And Tessa filled in that timeline.

Brock Wright, the health authority vice-president said performance reviews concluded Reynolds wasn't a "team player." Wright said WRHA evaluations of Reynolds in 2003 and 2004 raised concerns about his ability to work with others.

In announcing the appointment of Dr. Reynolds in 2001, the University of Manitoba noted he had " received the Ian McWhinney Teaching Award for Excellence in Resident Teaching." A quick Google search for the award tells us "This award, named in honour of Dr Ian McWhinney, the first Professor and Chair of a Canadian University Department of Family Medicine (University of Western Ontario, 1968 to 1987), is presented to an outstanding family medicine teacher deemed by peers to have made a substantial contribution to family medicine education."

Obviously Dr. Reynolds played well with others at he University of Western Ontario. His problems with co-workers appear to have surfaced in Winnipeg.

Wright huffed that "a number of people complained Reynolds breached the WRHA's respectful workplace policy." The Black Rod found the WRHA's respectful workplace policy whose essence is this:

2.2 Harassment – abusive and unwelcome conduct or comments that are inappropriate, demeaning or otherwise offensive behaviour that creates an uncomfortable, hostile and/or intimidating work environment. Types of behaviour that constitute harassment may include, but are not limited to:
2.2.1 Unwelcome remarks, slurs, jokes, taunts, or suggestions that are related to a person’s ancestry, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, source of income, political belief, physical or mental disability;
2.2.2 Unwelcome sexual remarks, invitations, or requests (including persistent, unwanted contact after the end of a relationship);
2.2.3 Displays of sexually explicit, sexist, racist, or other offensive derogatory material;
2.2.4 Written or verbal abuse or threats;
2.2.5 Leering (suggestive staring) or other offensive gestures;
2.2.6 Unwelcome physical contact, such as patting, touching, pinching, hitting;
2.2.7 Patronizing or condescending behaviour;
2.2.8 Humiliating staff in front of co-workers;
2.2.9 Abuse of authority that undermines someone’s performance or threatens her or his career;
2.2.10 Bullying;
2.2.11 Vandalism of personal property; and,
2.2.12 Physical or sexual assault.

Nobody has alleged Dr. Reynolds was accused of pinching his secretaries' asses or praising them on their mini-skirts. Nobody has claimed he told politically incorrect jokes. "So a priest, a rabbi and a GP go into a bar..." Or that he stole anyone's lunch money, keyed anyone's car or bitch-slapped anyone in the washroom.

In fact, a quick look at his public writings demonstrates the exact opposite. He's written about "Improving interpersonal skills" in the context of doctor-patient interactions.

"Effective communication is the hallmark of effective clinicians. When confrontations arise, it is natural to become defensive. Unfortunately, this usually shuts down the conversation."

Here's some of his advice to new doctors on "Coping with family medicine put-downs"

"In crafting responses to put-downs, we should acknowledge the issue but challenge the stereotyping or injustice and promote dialogue."

So it looks like Brock Wright is talking about sections 2.2.7, 2.2.8, and 2.2.9. That means Dr. Reynolds made some enemies powerful enough to affect his career.

It didn't take long to identify some suspects. And with the WHO came the WHEN.

In 2003, a student was failed by the University of Manitoba School of Medicine. The reason? He informed his Obstetrics and Gynecology instructors he would refuse to perform or refer for any abortive procedure. He appealed the denial of his degree three times without success. The matter became public in March, 2004 when his final appeal was denied.

A story in sa, "He is being supported by several pro-life doctors in Manitoba, who are concerned about the university's intolerance."

It's not hard to imagine that one of those doctors was Dr. Larry Reynolds.

Reynolds was a regular contributor to pro-life publications. He sat on the editorial board of Vital Signs, the newsletter of Canadian Physicians for Life. And while still with the University of Western Ontario he was quoted in a story in Vital Signs headlined "No Duty to Refer."

"Dr. Larry Reynolds, Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Western Ontario, has often experienced the tension of counseling a woman requesting an abortion. He explains that as he believes abortion to be harmful to both mother and baby, he cannot participate in any way, including referring the woman to another physician who performs abortions.

"Some have argued that this means that we are imposing our beliefs on vulnerable women. Of course, this is not the case. We are maintaining our own moral conscience in refusing to become a mere instrument of someone else's moral decisions. If we do anything less than this, we allow ourselves to become mere objects. That same argument also promotes the idea that women are helpless victims dependent on physicians to rescue them. Women are strong independent moral beings and deserve to be treated as such, as do physicians."

CJOB Radio News reported on the student's fight for a degree, including this explanation from the University.

"Dr. Brian Magwood Associate Dean at the Faculty of Medicine told CJOB that university policy states that students are obligated to tell patients about all treatment options which fall within the medical standard of care."

Who's Dr. Bryan Magwood? We asked the same question.

Bryan Magwood is the Associate Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education, at the U of M's Faculty of Medicine. He directs the Medical Humanities Program. A pediatrician, his specialty is Intensive Care Medicine and Clinical Ethics.

He would be a powerful enemy to someone whose ethics are in direct opposition to his.

As the storm clouds of abortion gathered over Dr. Reynolds, he stepped further into the abyss. The Summer, 2004, issue of Vital Signs published the agenda for the:

Annual National Pro-life Conference
Life 2004 – Alive and Loving It
October 14 – 16
Delta Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Scheduled to speak between 2 and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, was Dr. Larry Reynolds. His topic: Issues of Conscience.

If Dr. Reynolds was fighting internal battles within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba, he was engaged in a more public fight war elsewhere.

The WRHA had decided to close the low-risk maternity ward at the Victoria General Hospital. Their argument---the number of deliveries at the Vic was declining and doctors couldn't keep up their skills.

Reynolds saw the move for what it was, another slap in the face for general practitioners. Reynolds has always argued that natural childbirth is exactly what GP's should be involved in.

This June he was interviewed by the health reporter for Canadian Press where he let loose on the new attitudes to having a baby. (Record high caesarean rate raising concerns among Canada's obstetricians, Sheryl Ubelacker, Health Reporter, THE CANADIAN PRESS,
Jun. 25, 2008)

"Dr. Larry Reynolds, a Winnipeg family doctor who has been delivering babies for about 30 years, said the number of primary-care physicians who provide maternity care has been declining for the last two decades, especially in urban centres.

Much of that decline can be blamed on a culture of fear that has grown up around childbirth as it has become increasingly medicalized - affecting not only mothers-to-be but also doctors, nurses and other care providers, he said.

"Pretty well everyone's afraid to get involved ... because you're really developing a system based on fear - something bad is going to happen. So why would you want to get involved in something that's risky or where bad things are going to happen?"

Maternity wards used to be places where doctors and nurses enjoyed working, he said, "but they've sort of become 'intensive scare units,' where everybody is often at a higher level of anxiety."

Reynolds, a member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada's maternity and newborn care committee, believes more of his colleagues would embrace maternity care if a shift in societal attitudes were to occur.

A key change would be to stop perceiving birth as a disease to be conquered, "where pregnant women are unexploded bombs and we're the bomb-disposal unit, moving away from that model to birth as a celebration, birth as a life event with appropriate uncertainties."

Dr. Reynolds was passionate about the closing of the Victoria Hospital maternity ward. He took his concerns up the ladder, then off the ladder and directly to the Minister of Health.

With that, he made more enemies. Powerful enemies. Enemies who now could ally themselves with his enemies at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Reynolds lost the battle of Victoria Hospital. The maternity ward was closed in the spring of 2005. By then, Reynolds knew he was in the eye of a storm.

Tessa Vanderhart filled in the missing pieces in her piece in the Manitoban.

"In 2005, Reynolds was considering whether to seek a second term. He conducted an anonymous survey of his colleagues, who overwhelmingly wanted him to continue. When Reynolds told the dean about the survey, he says they were “less than enthused.” A few days later, a colleague of his saw an advertisement in a newspaper for the position of the head of family medicine at the U of M in a newspaper."

Then she added something curious.

"Reynolds then took a year-long sabbatical, and when he returned he assumed his position. Medicine appointments continue on unofficial one-year terms." He took a year-long sabbatical in his last year of a five year contract? Did he return to finish Year Five? Or was he on year-to-year appointments in '07 and '08 both?

Dr. Reynolds could not be dismissed in 2007.

There was a little something that year called a provincial election. Getting rid of the head of family medicine could turn into an election issue.

And the next year?

From Oct. 11 to 13, 2007, Winnipeg was the site of the Annual Scientific Assembly of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. It was their 50th anniversary.

"It is poetic that its golden anniversary will be held a stone’s throw from The Golden Boy, one of Canada’s most famed landmarks, perched atop of Manitoba’s Legislative Building.
Each year, Family Medicine Forum (FMF), with the ASA as its central activity, brings together hundreds of family physicians, residents, medical students, other specialists, and colleagues from other health professions who work with family doctors. With a program planned by CFPC members, FMF has become a highly recommended stop on the continuing professional development highway for Canada’s family physicians," read the ASA news release.

Imagine welcoming the country's family doctors celebrating their 50th anniversary and announcing you've just fired the province's chief family doctor.

Uh huh. A one year extension of that contract. But by Thanksgiving, 2008, Dr. Reynolds' luck had run out.

The University of Manitoba wanted him gone because of his high profile in the pro-life world. Imagine how galling it was to see his every article ending with "Dr Reynolds is a Professor in and Head of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Correspondence to: Dr J.L. Reynolds, Department of Family Medicine, University of Manitoba."

There had to be an end to that. The WRHA wanted him gone because he had committed the cardinal sin, he opposed Kim Il- Sung--oops, sorry, Dr. Brian Postl.

Nobody, but nobody is allowed to embarass Dr. Postl in public. Steps had to be taken.

The confusion over the dismissal of Dr. Larry Reynolds stems from the fact there were two separate attacks --- from two separate powerful fiefdoms. The U of M, and the WRHA.

Both turned on stifling his right to speak out on issues of conscience and professionalism.

And the way to stifle him was to attack the credibility he has earned among colleagues and students by painting him as having some sort of personality defect, and by removing him from standing in front of medical students as a role model for family medicine.

And this is what passes as ethical treatment of doctors under the NDP in Manitoba, at the University of Manitoba and WRHA which they fund.

In their haste to eliminate Reynolds, they showed their disregard for family physicians, just as he had always warned. As reported in the Manitoban "the residents he was training are without a professor until the university hires a replacement."


December 10, 2008

Join our Facebook group

Join our Facebook group. Anyone can see the group description, but only members can see the Wall, discussion board, and photos.

The group is called: Bullying of Academics in Higher Education

You can also access the group through: Facebook me!

University of KwaZulu-Natal

We, friends of the University of KwaZulu-Natal,

Affirming our commitment

* to Academic Freedom as a freedom fundamental to the existence of Universities as institutions of critical research and learning, enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa
* to the transformation of universities in the context of post-apartheid South Africa;

Noting that

* the University management instituted disciplinary action against two Professors, Nithaya Chetty and John van den Berg, both highly valued academics, as a result of their publicly initiating a debate about academic freedom at UKZN
* on 11 November a constitutionally mandated Science and Agriculture Faculty general meeting to discuss this issue was cancelled after intervention by the University management
* the University has employed a team of advocates and attorneys, and an outside lawyer as adjudicator, using public funds to prosecute these staff members
* the normal legal costs of an internal disciplinary inquiry at UKZN would bankrupt any university employee;

Believing that

* this disciplinary action was unjustifiable, divisive, and immensely damaging to the reputation of the university
* Professor van den Berg has signed an apology which does not accord with our interpretation of what he is alleged to have done
* the cancelling of the Science and Agriculture faculty general meeting is an unprecedented attack on academic freedom at the University
* this cancellation of a meeting called in accordance with the constitution of the faculty appears to be in line with other attempts to silence members of our university community who are critical of the current climate at UKZN
* the UKZN management has enacted a concerted and long standing campaign to silence any opposition lodged against the University administration or leadership;

Call upon the University Management:

* to withdraw the charges against Professors Chetty and van den Berg
* to remove outside legal representation from the prosecution and adjudication of disciplinary inquiries
* to allow academics, students and other groups to freely meet and to freely express opinions and concerns
* to uphold the internationally accepted standards of academic freedom, the constitutional rights of South Africans for freedom of expression and affirm the role of academic freedom in fostering collegiality, and critical debate, within the university
* to recognize, in accord with the 1997 Unesco declaration on the rights of higher education teachers and the recent Chetty vs Adesino decision, that Academic Freedom must include the right to criticize the management of the University and to discuss these criticisms with the wider interested public and the media


* call on our fellow academics and students, in South Africa and abroad, to support us in creating an open, active and responsive environment at UKZN.


Also read: Newspaper Coverage

December 09, 2008

Workplace Bullying — State of the Science, 2008

Anybody seeking an overall picture in 2008, of research and scholarship on workplace bullying, mobbing, harassment and abuse, need look no further than the Sixth International Conference on these topics, held in Montreal, Quebec, in the first week of June. It was an extraordinary event, drawing major researchers from about thirty countries.

Have a look at the conference website.

Study the presentation titles on the conference program.

Read the following independent reports on the conference by three members of the research team on workplace mobbing at the University of Waterloo:

"Language Barriers and Bullying," by Hannah Masterman, Research Assistant;

"Theoretical Dialects and Conflicting Perceptions," by Rachel Morrison, Research Assistant; and

"The Birth of a Learned Society," by Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology.

Learn from retrospectives on the conference by leaders of the anti-bullying movement in the United States:

"The WBI Report," by Gary and Ruth Namie, Workplace Bullying Institute, Bellingham, WA (external link);

"Immersion in the Twisted World of Abuse at Work," by David Yamada, Professor of Law, Suffolk University, Boston.

Even if you don't read Spanish, you will enjoy the pictorial record of the conference posted by the delegation from Mexico on the rich website of Marina Parés, Acoso Moral.

Ponder the provocative assessment of current research in Kenneth Westhues's presentation at the conference, "Critiques of the Anti-Bullying Movement and Responses to Them."

Study the outcomes of Court Cases on Moral Harassment in Japan, as reported by the Association Against Workplace Moral Harassment, half a dozen of whose members took part in the Montreal conference.


Coming soon...

All about Kingston University...

Coming soon, a few tales about a certain public official who could not tell the truth when asked a simple question by a reporter: - What did you know and when did you know it?


December 07, 2008

Fairy Tales...

During my studies for my M. Sc., there were rumours about my supervisor having published data obtained by one of his Ph. D. students without that student's knowledge or permission, let alone giving him credit.

During my thesis research, I read some papers written by that supervisor. He could have produced one excellent publication with the data he had but, instead, half of it went into one paper, half into another, and half the data from each of these papers went into a third. Amazing: three papers for the price of one!

The supervisor died a few years ago. His obituary described him in glowing terms, emphasizing his generosity and the sacrifices he made for his students. When I was his student, he was nothing of the sort. I knew him as a work-shy incompetent who freely exploited others to maintain his reputation. Either he underwent a miraculous transformation or somebody wrote fairy tales about him.

El Cid

Bosses admitting that there's a problem? Only in one's dreams

Bosses admitting that there's a problem? Only in one's dreams.

Most of my supervisors, both in industry and academe, saw themselves as perfect as only those who were perfect became supervisors.

At the place where I used to teach, my last supervisor and I had an on-going dispute which lasted several years, a dispute which *he* started and maintained. One year, he conducted a survey in our department about his management style. The questions were posed in such a way that the results could only portray him in the best terms. Mark Twain's observations on statistics were, thereby, verified.

El Cid

December 06, 2008

Survey of HR Professionals - Trends and Remedies

...When asked to identify the factors which impair their organisation's ability to deal effectively with bullying, the most commonly cited factors were management's unwillingness to acknowledge a problem and prevailing management style...


December 02, 2008

Not accountable

... not accountable? A Professor at a reputable university and a recipient of the Brian Mercer Award for Innovation uses his PhD students to do work relating to the commercialisation of his invention but claims in the annual PhD reviews, sent to the Dean of the faculty, that the students did work of academic quality. He then asks one specialist researcher, towards the end of the PhD student's research, to act as a co-supervisor. This gives him the incentive to include the specialist researcher's own work in the PhD student's theses. He spreads the academic work done among the PhD students. An old story, No?!


November 29, 2008

Developments at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

I write to you to inform you of some developments at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and to ask for your support. I write to you as people who I believe share my concerns and have an interest in defending academic freedom.

Increasing numbers of UKZN staff believe that the University is close to collapse, threatened by the specific instance of disciplinary measures being taken against two staff members Associate Professor John van den Berg (Mathematics) and Associate Professor Nithaya Chetty (Physics). The process if far advanced and there is a fear that they will be dismissed when the disciplinary process begins with a 'trial' on 8 December. I am attaching Nithaya's CV here in the belief that it will establish his academic credentials. I should add that he was also a UDF activist in the days of apartheid and has been a tireless defender of democracy, non-violence and social justice.

John van den Berg has fearlessly sought to represent his constituency's interests in University processes. Almost alone, he has challenged the rights of the Vice Chancellor to do as he pleases in Senate and is now suffering the consequences. Apart from the emotional distress they have endured, both have now paid substantial sums in an attempt to defend the charges against them. The University, however, has deep pockets and a willingness to use its resources to the maximum in this matter.

I briefly describe the developments thus far.

1) A member of the university council, Professor Nithaya Chetty, and a university senator face dismissal on December 5 for discussing with the media and on a listserver their efforts to have an official Science Faculty proposal on Academic Freedom included in the Senate agenda. If you read the charges against them you will see that there was nothing inflammatory or destructive about their protests.

2) Chetty and van den Berg have agreed to submit to the recommendations of a mediating panel. The Vice Chancellor is insisting on carrying the matter to a disciplinary hearing where a team of advocates, instructing attorneys and a specially imported external judge -- all on University funds -- will decide the fate of the academics. The two professors must pay for their own defence out of their own funds. The University will spend something in the region of R500,000 prosecuting them.

3) On November 11 a group fifty academics in the Science Faculty appealed to their Dean, as stipulated in the Faculty constitution, to hold a special meeting to discuss the charges leveled against their representatives. The meeting was cancelled on the instruction of the Director of Human Resources.

4) A similar call for a special meeting of the Faculty of Humanities was also prohibited on November 12.

5) In recent correspondence between the Science academics the HR Director we have been told: "Employees are required to act in the interests of their employer at all times, and to show due respect. The matter of disciplinary action against employees is the employer's prerogative, and not that of the employee. Every employment relationship has boundaries, and perhaps if they are respected by all, it would not be necessary to have to implement disciplinary action."

Attached here are: the official charges against Chetty and van den Berg, a statement from NTESU (one of three trade unions representing staff at UKZN), a press statement by the South African National Editor's Forum and reports from the Mail and Guardian. The whole process is documented in detail on an archive at

The issue here is really very simple: Academic freedom cannot survive at the university if the managers hold the threat of dismissal over the heads of its academic critics. Academic freedom must also include the right to discuss criticisms of the university managers, internally and with the press--UKZN is a public institution, funded publicly.

It is no exaggeration to say that this case has already done terrible reputational damage to the university -- dozens of the finest scholars have left or are making plans to do so. But the struggle is not yet lost, and I must please ask you to do what you can to help us. The destruction of this institution will be a loss felt far beyond South Africa .

Writing to the Chair of the University Council, Mr Mac Mia at may be the most direct way to influence the University executive.

I attach one example of letters already sent to the Chair of Council and the Vice Chancellor, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba ( Some writers have chosen to write to these individuals in an open way, including the change listserv in the list of addressees (<>).

The matter is urgent and anything you can do may help to stop this disaster from unfolding further.

Example of a letter already written:

Professor Malegapuru Magkoba

Vice Chancellor, UKZN

Dear Vice Chancellor,

As international academics with a long history of involvement with the University of KwaZulu Natal we are most disturbed to learn that two senior members of staff at the University of KwaZulu Natal are facing a disciplinary hearing and possible dismissal for attempting to have an official Science Faculty proposal on Academic Freedom included in the Senate Agenda, and speaking to the media about it when they found their attempts blocked by the administration. From the evidence before us it would appear that neither were doing more than assert their rights to free speech and academic freedom as set out by UNESCO, and accepted in the democratic world.

Since freedom of speech is also enshrined in South Africa's constitution, these proceedings are surely extraordinary. That the administration should seek to take such action against two senior members of staff strikes at the free intellectual enquiry which is at the heart of the university and all academic work. It also seems to us a patent abuse of power and waste of public money.

There can be no doubt that the handling of this matter is already seriously damaging the reputation of the university both nationally and internationally, and it will make it increasingly difficult to recruit high calibre staff to UKZN and maintain its hitherto high standard of research in the future. We appeal to you in the hope that wiser counsels will prevail and the matter be taken to mediation, as has already suggested by the faculty and many of those with the interests of the university at heart.

Yours sincerely,
Shula Marks, Professor Emeritus, London, FBA,
Hon.D.Litt (UCT) Hon D. Soc.Sci. (Natal)
Alan Jeeves, Professor Emeritus, Queen's Univerity, Kingston, Ontario
Marcia Wright, Professor Emerita, Columbia University, New York

November 27, 2008

Stress and strain blamed on 'bullying culture'

A culture of strained working relationships is endemic in UK universities, according to a survey of almost 10,000 academics by the University and College Union (UCU).

One third of UCU members questioned agreed with the statement that "relationships at work are strained", and fewer than 3 per cent of respondents said that there was "never" any friction or anger between colleagues.

The UCU blamed a bullying culture in academe for the sense of discord, as more than half of a total of 9,700 respondents to the survey reported having been subjected to some form of bullying or personal harassment during their career.

Gill Evans, project leader for the Improving Dispute Resolution programme funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said that the results should not come as a surprise.

"The root of the problem is the shift from the old collegial assumption that academics were all essentially equals and free to express their view to (one of) top-down line management," she said.

"With line management you get patronage and mutual mistrust. Without old-fashioned tenure people can lose their jobs, so they try not to rock the boat. But then they feel resentment that they dared not say what they thought, and that poisons the atmosphere," she said.

Professor Evans said a collegial working environment "involves lots of discussion and it can make decision-making slow", but added that "speedy decision-making is not necessarily good decision-making".

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Good institutions are ones that are aware of the problem and (are) proactively trying to tackle it. Poor ones are those who refuse to accept there may be a problem or try to place the blame elsewhere."

November 25, 2008

Bad bosses may damage your heart

Inconsiderate bosses not only make work stressful, they may also increase the risk of heart disease for their employees, experts believe.

A Swedish team found a strong link between poor leadership and the risk of serious heart disease and heart attacks among more than 3,000 employed men. And the effect may be cumulative - the risk went up the longer an employee worked for the same company.

The study is published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Stressful environment

Experts said that feeling undervalued and unsupported at work can cause stress, which often fosters unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, that can lead to heart disease.

Previous work has shown that unfair bosses can drive up their employees' blood pressure, and persistent high blood pressure can increase heart disease risk.

For the latest study, researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University tracked the heart health of the male employees, aged between 19 and 70 and working in the Stockholm area, over a period of nearly a decade.

During this time 74 cases of fatal and non-fatal heart attack or acute angina, or death from ischaemic heart disease, occurred.

All the participants were asked to rate the leadership style of their senior managers on competencies such as how clearly they set out goals for their staff and how good they were at communicating and giving feedback.

The staff who deemed their senior managers to be the least competent had a 25% higher risk of a serious heart problem. And those working for what was classed as a long time - four years or more - had a 64% higher risk.

The findings held true, regardless of educational attainment, social class, income, workload, lifestyle factors, such as smoking and exercise, and other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The researchers, which included experts from University College London in the UK and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said that if a direct cause and effect was confirmed, then managers' behaviour should be targeted in a bid to stave off serious heart disease among less senior employees.

They said managers should give employees clear work objectives and sufficient power in relation to their responsibilities.

Cathy Ross, cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, said: "This limited, male-only study suggests that a good, clear working relationship with your manager may help to protect against heart disease.

"Feeling undervalued and unsupported can cause stress, which often leads to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, eating a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough exercise - adding to your risk of developing heart problems.

"Being fit and active can give you the double benefit of busting work stress and boosting your heart health at the same time."


A public enquiry into the working practices of universities

The question I would ask after my experiences in a prestigious research university is whether the public would agree that universities should continue to be autonomous bodies?

I would suggest a public enquiry... as a growing body of research and surveys (both internal and external) are raising very serious concerns about the state of affairs in our universities... with regard to working practices...

...there is a feeling that things are getting out of control...

Aphra Behn
The only problem with this wish is that the government and bodies such as HEFCE will find out how much money is wasted... and they will have to hold some HEIs accountable... we can dream...

From the HEFCE web site - but please don't laugh (we are being sarcastic):

Our vision is that higher education institutions should have such excellent governance and management processes that they can easily demonstrate to their stakeholders, including HEFCE, proper accountability for the use of public funds... The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) distributes public money for teaching and research to universities and colleges. In doing so, it aims to promote high quality education and research, within a financially healthy sector. The Council also plays a key role in ensuring accountability and promoting good practice.

It is their 'vision'... we suspect that HEFCE is also part of the problem... after all, who runs HEFCE...

Members of the HEFCE board:

Alastair Balls, CB Chairman, Centre for Life
Rob Douglas, CBE Business Advisor, Douglas Associates Ltd.
Jackie Fisher, CBE Principal, Newcastle College
Dame Patricia Hodgson Principal, Newnham College, Cambridge
René Olivieri Former Chief Executive, Blackwell Publishing
Professor Peter Rubin Division of Therapeutics, University of Nottingham
Ed Smith Senior partner PricewaterhouseCoopers (retired)
Ann Tate Vice-Chancellor, University of Northampton
Professor Paul Wellings Vice-Chancellor, University of Lancaster
Professor Dianne Willcocks Vice-Chancellor, York St John University
Professor Tim Wilson Vice-Chancellor, University of Hertfordshire

We spoke with a friend last night... the prominent professor is having a breakdown because the prominent Uni is wasting a fortune on fighting him/her... this is after the prof. was excluded from RAE... the ritual continues... universities are not accountable to anybody... nobody... and so we fight on... it is high culture to expect anyone of these bastards to understand or comprehend the impact of workplace bullying upon the targets, to acknowledge the damage it causes...

November 24, 2008

Thank you for nothing...

Dear Mr XXXX

Thank you for your e-mail of XXXX, addressed to XXXX and copied to Bill Rammell, about the bullying of academics in Higher Education (HE). I do hope that you understand that due to the large amount of correspondence that Ministers receive they are, unfortunately, unable to answer all letters and e-mails personally. I have been asked to respond on this occasion.

I can assure you that the Government abhors any form of bullying in education and we would expect that HE institutions will have policies and procedures in place to address any allegations of this type of behaviour.

As you will be aware, universities are autonomous bodies who are responsible for determining their own administrative and academic affairs, including ensuring that their staff contracts and conditions of service comply with the law. The Department has no remit over staffing matters in HE. Staff will enjoy the protection of their contract of employment which will be drawn up in accordance with the general law and any specific provisions in the University’s Articles of Government.

As Government Ministers cannot be arbiters in staffing disputes between HE employers and their staff, I would suggest that you pursue your complaint with the University. I would also recommend that if you are a member of a HE union, you seek their advice, or legal advice on this matter if you feel that the University has not fulfilled its contractual obligations with regard to your employment.

I would hope that in your particular circumstances your difficult situation could be resolved to the satisfaction of the parties involved.

Yours sincerely

Department for Education and Skills

November 23, 2008

...They have done it again, and again, and again... and they keep doing it... bastards!

...They have done it again... they are doing it again and again... this time it was the prominent professor, the envy of his/her department... last time it was the academic who was a whistle blower... Ah... yes, the latter tried to kill herself five times after they fired her...

And so they have done it again... they did it to XX and he took them on after they fired him... the pattern is always the same, formulaic... and as Kenneth Westhues tells us, this happens to the good academics, the ones that are the pride of their department, the ones that the students love... it does not happen to the lazy ones, to the unproductive ones... no, they get away with everything, they are part of the cliques, they are part of the machine that appointed them, that approves their behaviours...

And so I found myself talking to a colleague last night... many hours... and I recognised the pattern again, the formula... it happens again, and again, and again... and the victim has to cope with the pressure, with the hostility, with the anguish, with the pain, while they take on Goliath, while they take on the crude, rough, vindictive letters of a posh, top 100 employment law company... the top lawyers that the employer has, the thousands upon thousands of pounds wasted to defend the indefensible, and so it happens again and again, and again...

Only the best are bullied, the incompetent are part of the mob... and the silent collaborators, they watch, they know, they participate... Members of the Secondary Mob have to secondary mob. It is their function. No Mob - No Job...

And some of these stories do come out, some brave souls have taken on the system... Ah, yes, we must not forget the useless and pathetic union and the union reps that fill a space, a space that goes only that far and not further for to go further for the union would be to take on the employer, now then why would a union want to do that? Also part of the formula, the part that says that unions are hopeless when it comes to workplace bullying... and so it happens again and again and again and again... and again...

The wasted millions, mean nothing... the taxpayer pays... HEFCE does not give a shit... the local MP at best will write a letter of support... and so it goes... The more tenure these bastards get, the less they keep their skills up, the less employable they are elsewhere, the more likely they are to be lord to the dark side... some of them have never taught, they would have no clue how to teach, they are paper-masters, slaves to regulations and procedures which they choose when to follow...

These are the stories we do hear about, what about the ones we never know about? Where does it end? Does it end? No, it does not, it goes on and on and on ... a well-predicted ritual, a well-formulated ritual... and so we chatted with her last night for hours and hours... and so the pattern evolved, unfolded, all very predictable... the nice letters the students wrote to the managers of the posh university... No, these bastards have closed eyes, have closed ears, are beyond human emotions... there is no remorse. The victim needs to be eliminated. The terror continues, the pain continues, the anguish continues... closure never comes, closure can never come for what they take away they can never give back to you...

These are the bastards who know as much about planning, budgeting, human relations, and conflict resolution as a pit bull...

Remember those that went public, they did so at huge personal cost... visit Skorupski's Law, visit Sir Peter Scott, visit the shenanigans at Wolverhampton University, check what happened to Prof Linda Archibald... check the bad apple bullies...

Never forgive and never forget the bastards that did this to you... hate with passion... yes, hate takes a lot of energy, it is an all-consuming feeling... it gives you as much pain if not more, it pre-occupies you forever... I did meet that teacher that never recovered, he was working in his garden while the bully got promoted and moved to another job, my dear unknown teacher never went back to work, never recovered from the bullying... and the ritual continues... I did meet that man holding his bundle in the Employment Tribunal and staring at the wall, his wife abandoned him when he lost his job, when they fired him... I did meet that academic who keeps talking about genocide, his wife lost the chance of becoming a mother when they fired him... Ah, our lovely colleague down there who deserved promotion and is bullied every day, they give her tasks that they hope she will not deliver, but she does...

My soul stand up, have power, take them on, fire... fire... expose the bastards for what they are... we are ruled by ignorance and arrogance... never forgive, never forget.

Σήκω ψυχή μου δώσε ρεύμα
βάλε στα ρούχα σου φωτιά
βάλε στα όργανα φωτιά
να τιναχτεί σαν μαύρο πνεύμα
η τρομερή μας η λαλιά...

November 22, 2008

What workplace mobbing means

If you understand the four quotations below, you already have an intuitive grasp of what workplace mobbing means:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— William B. Yeats, 1920


And we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with and not experienced in matters of that nature.

— The jurors of Salem, MA, in 1697, five years after finding 150 men and women guilty of witchcraft


You read your history and you'll see that from time to time people in every country have seemed to lose their good sense, got hysterical, and got off the beam. . . I don't know what gets into people.

— U.S. President Harry Truman, in M. Miller, Plain Speaking (Berkley Medallion 1974, p. 447).
There are strange games played,
and careers unmade,
In the quest for wisdom's pearl;
There are tales of power,
In the ivory tower,
That can make your toenails curl.

— pace Robert Service


November 21, 2008

Quotes on Bullies

"Most organisations have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person's divisive dysfunctional behaviour can permeate the entire organisation like a cancer."

"One would not expect a victim of rape to have to single-handedly identify, trace, catch, arrest, prosecute, convict and punish the person who raped her. Targets of bullying often find themselves doing all of these whilst those in positions of authority persistently abdicate and deny responsibility."

"The serial bully, who in my estimation accounts for about one person in thirty in society, is the single most important threat to the effectiveness of organisations, the profitability of industry, the performance of the economy, and the prosperity of society."

"Bullying consists of the least competent most aggressive employee projecting their incompetence on to the least aggressive most competent employee and winning."

"Nothing can prepare you for living or working with a sociopathic serial bully. It is the most devastating, draining, misunderstood, and ultimately futile experience imaginable."

"The best indicator of a sociopathic serial bully is not a clinical diagnosis but the trail of devastation and destruction of lives and livelihoods surrounding this individual throughout their life."

"I just want the bullying to stop. That is all I ever wanted. I used to love going to school. Now I hate it."

"Being bullied by a serial bully is equivalent to being stalked or being battered by a partner or being abused as a child and should be accorded the same gravity."

"The British education system is designed by and for physically strong, sports-oriented, academically-able, right-handed, heterosexual Caucasian males, supplemented recently by university-headed, academically-compliant, league-table-enhancing females. The only reason kids still get a good education is because of the many fine teachers who are unwilling to be subjugated by a procedurally-bound, Ofsted-straitjacketed, standards-limited, ticksheet-mentality education conveyor belt. Before they're half way through their career, this dedication results in the best teachers being stressed out, burnt out, or bullied out - often all three."

"Three points to remember if you're considering legal action:
1. The legal system has more in common with The National Lottery than a system of justice.
2. The legal system has more in common with The National Theatre than a system of justice.
3. In some countries, the legal system has more in common with The National Guard than a system of justice."

"Many children leave school with a hatred of an education system which breeds and sustains bullying and which isolates, ridicules, and excludes those who are in any way "different". The government's obsession with "standards" is a form of political institutionalised bullying which makes teachers as likely as their pupils to be bullied. Academic exam results devalue achievement and are one of the poorest indicators of potential [ More | More] rather than inspire individual achievement are more likely to sentence individuals to a life of middle-class mediocrity."

"Until there's a public commitment, and action to back that commitment, a policy is only words on paper."

"Recently there's been a trend to apply the term "bullying" to any kind of conflict at work, for example overwork and long hours. Although some bullying behaviours may be present in these issues, in my view this dilutes and devalues the term "workplace bullying" which should be used only for the more serious cases of conflict involving a serial bully. If there isn't a serial bully involved, it's probably not bullying you're dealing with."

"When bullying results in suicide (bullycide), the coroner usually records an open verdict. Unlike a physical injury or physical cause of death, a psychiatric injury cannot be studied and recorded after death. All the coroner has is (sometimes) the suicide letter and (always) the denial of everyone who contributed to the bullycide: the bullies, the witnesses of bullying, and those in authority who should have acted but didn’t. Invariably greater weight is attached to these denials than to the written and reported testimony of the deceased who has been tormented to death and to the deceased’s family who have lived through (and continue to live) the nightmare. An open verdict, which may be legally correct, is not going to relieve the suffering of the family or enable the perpetrators to be held accountable for their sins of commission and omission."

"The challenge of being a manager is to get the best out of everybody, not just the few who are clones of yourself."

"It is the lack of knowledge of, or the unwillingness to recognise, or the deliberate denial of the existence of the serial bully which is the most common reason for an unsatisfactory outcome for both employee and employer."

"Only the best are bullied."

"The vehemence with which a person denies the existence of the serial bully is directly proportional to the congruence of the person's behaviour with that of the serial bully."

"Bullies thrive wherever authority is weak."

"Why does the UK government ignore workplace bullying? Our system of democracy - government and law - is based on the adversarial model. To be successful in these fields, bullying behaviour is almost a prerequisite."

"The vehemence with which anyone opposes the Dignity at Work Bill is likely to be proportional to the extent to which that person's behaviour is congruent with the profile of the serial bully."

"Each Act of Parliament intended to address harassment and discrimination has faced objections on the basis of 'you'll never be able to prove...' and 'there's too much legislation already...' In no case has this line of reasoning ever been sustained."

"Today’s workplace has become heartless and soulless. Employees are seen as units of labour, automatons, functionaries, objects for achieving designated tasks, and as costs to be minimised."

"Whilst accidents and assaults injure and kill people quickly and spectacularly, bullying and consequent prolonged negative stress injure and kill people slowly and secretively. The outcome, though, is the same."

"Any anti-bullying scheme, initiative or policy which fails to mention accountability for the bullies is likely to meet with little, and often no, success."

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel but first you'll have to find the light switch and change the bulb before switching it on yourself. No problem, as targets of bullying are picked on for their competence and abilities."

"Good management and bullying have as much in common as great sex and rape."


November 19, 2008

Concerning the corruption of universities and how 'they' get away with it

Chapter 1: Dodgy PhDs (and other nefarious practices...) at the University of St Andrews.

Skorupski's Law: "The more vain one's ambition, the more redundant one's grasp of morality"

November 18, 2008

November 17, 2008

Inevitable similarities...

Should the portrayal of certain workplace practices bear similarities with the practices of some educational institutions, then these similarities are neither intentional nor accidental, but inevitable.

November 15, 2008

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

In a landmark article published in the esteemed Harvard Business Review, Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton addressed a taboo topic that affects every workplace: employees who are insensitive to their colleagues... corporate bullies... bosses who just don’t get it- the kind of people who make you exclaim in exasperation, “What an asshole!”

Now in a definitive book that addresses this growing problem, Sutton shows you how you can work with unsavoury people- without becoming one of them yourself...

My two cents worth:

Please excuse my language but I’m kinda enjoying writing this review.

Let’s start with the correct definition of Asshole in this context: It’s not fair to call every person that pisses you off in the office an Asshole. A person who deserves such a grand title has to have a habit of aiming his/her venom at people who are less powerful and leaving the victim feeling oppressed, humiliated, de-energized and belittled, basically making them feel worst about him or herself. I bet you have someone in mind already right? (I do and I’ll definitely tell you about my experience later)

In The No Asshole Rule, Sutton provides recommendations on how the rule can be implemented successfully into an organization that is serious about changing its culture for the better. Allow me to state this clearly again, this book is suitable for organizations or top influential decision makers that are serious about changing its culture but if you are happy with the ‘pro Asshole’ rule in your organization then don’t bother but the book may give you some useful insights on the pro’s and con’s of keeping to this rule.

Included in the book are case studies and research on the effects of allowing Assholes to run wild in an organization. It de-motivates employees, diminishes productivity, causes low self-esteem, increases turnover and lo and behold: IT WILL AFFECT YOUR COST and in some cases PROFITS. (You don’t really need a book to tell you that do you? The increase in turnover alone is a waste of resources because you would constantly need to interview new people to come on board)

Victims of Assholism (he he... there is no such word of course just bear with me here) will also find this book useful as it provides tips on how to survive these nasty people. If you have worked in an organization, chances are you’ll be lucky enough to come across an Asshole at least once in your lifetime so the tips are quite handy. It also provides a self test to see if you yourself are a certified Asshole. (Phew! My results say that I’m not an Asshole but I do admit that I can be a ‘temporary Asshole’ at times... I’m only human)

I found this book’s content based on common sense but what makes the book insightful is the case studies and research presented on how a ‘pro Asshole’ rule can effect an organization and its employees. The No Asshole Rule is not one of those business books that can put you to sleep within minutes. It’s definitely a good read and I definitely had a trill saying the word Asshole so many times in a day. (I don’t swear a lot so I take this opportunity with open arms)

For more information visit Bob Sutton’s blog on other useful organizational tips.

My story:

I’m writing to share my experience of what working with an Asshole can do to your overall well being. I once had a boss that was so vile that I nick named my tormentor '666'. I was hired by the company because of my strategic abilities and my career achievements in the past. But when I came on board I became a runner; ‘fax this’, ‘pick this up’,’ do that’, ‘send this’ type of work scope.

Additionally, my comments were constantly ignored during meetings, when in rare occasion my opinion was sought I would be shot down for giving such a stupid idea (only for the idea to be presented again at an opportune moment for 666 to take credit). 666 constantly berated me and as if it was not enough to torture me from 9-5 Mondays to Friday’s, 666 would call me up over the weekends just to taunt me on matters that were not even under my portfolio and always made sure to point out that I was the most incompetent and dumbest person in the world before hanging up. In other words 666 was CRAZY!

I’m described by my closest friends to be a person who has a strong will, seldom do I bother to take notice of comments from idiots. But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently. Most of my other colleagues suffer the same torment but they all mentioned that I was her favourite subject of abuse.

There was little that we could do to overcome this challenge because despite being mean spirited, 666 was considered a treasure to the company. I hate to admit this but 666 produced results, was efficient and very hard working. The only flaw was that 666’s leadership qualities were based on fear. Because of 666’s leadership style, people feared making mistakes and even the nicest people were quick to point fingers to save their own skin...myself included; thus resulting in the lack of trust amongst peers.

The stresses of working with such a person can cause sleepless nights, I had nightmares related to work, I was constantly afraid of being humiliated, constantly questioning my abilities and worst I began to project the same attitude as 666. I was so stressed out that my relationship with my boyfriend and my parents were rocky. I was always snapping at them, imagine that, snapping at people I love the most. This was when I was also diagnosed with severe acid reflux and was rushed to the hospital at 5 am in the morning.

I could tell you countless stories of 666’s evil ways but what I’d rather do is concentrate on ways to keep your sanity intact while working with such a person. My suggestion for those who are suffering the same predicament; LEAVE- life is too short and you do not deserve the abuse no matter how incompetent you are. We all have our strengths that can be useful contribution to an organization and there are always ways to improve your weaknesses.

By the first month of employment, I made my decision to leave the company but couldn’t do so immediately as I wanted to be very careful with my next employment selection. If you’d like my recommendation on how to survive the torment, here’s what I did:

  1. Avoid contact with the Asshole as much as possible. Use the email or phone rather than face to face contact.
  2. Remind yourself everyday on your positive attributes. This kept my confidence intact whenever I question if 666’s baseless accusations were true. It helps if you remind yourself of the things you’ve achieved in life.
  3. Make jokes of the horrors you have experience so that you don’t take the verbal abuse personally. For example, every time 666 said something nasty, I’d joke and tell myself that 666 was only doing this because I’m smarter or prettier or whatever that would tickle my funny bone.
  4. Try not to get emotional- Always act professionally when a nasty comment is given. Don’t show them that their comments are getting to you. Just ignore them and trust me your indifference will annoy them more. All they want from the torment is to have a sense of power and they will only be satisfied if you show them your weaknesses.
  5. If you need to talk it over, confide in a friend. Trust me, you’ll feel better once you’ve let it all out and you’ll realize that you’ve just wasted energy on a useless cause.
  6. If your achievement at work is non-existent, find other ways to have a sense of accomplishment like re-decorating your house or take part in a book challenge. Even a simple thing like re-organizing your bank statements will give you a sense of achievement.
  7. Keep yourself busy and don’t mull over the comments too much, take it with a pinch of salt but be realistic. If you’ve made a mistake, take the point constructively, learn from it then move on. One of my colleagues started going to the gym and he mentioned that running on the treadmill helped him shed all the pent up aggression he kept inside.
  8. Don’t look at the experience negatively; you actually learn a lot from Assholes as they can be a benchmark of who you DO NOT want to be in life.
  9. Finally, if you’ve done all the above and many more and still feel abused then my only advise is LEAVE. Seriously life is too short to spend it with people who generate negative energy.