Risk Insider: Jack Hampton

Nobody Likes a Bully. Or Do We?

By: | June 24, 2016

John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University, a core faculty member at the International School of Management (Paris), and a Risk Insider at Risk and Insurance magazine where he was named a 2018 All Star. He was Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), dean of the schools of business at Seton Hall and Connecticut State universities, and provost of the College of Insurance and SUNY Maritime College in New York City.

When I was a kid I had to walk home from school past Kenny’s house.

I sometimes forget my wife’s name, but I never forget his. He was a bully who tortured passers-by. I frequently walked four blocks out of the way to avoid him. Even then, I was engaging in risk management.

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That was my first experience with coercive power. Subsequently, I encountered it in the workplace. Managers forcing employees to follow orders by threatening them with punishment if they did not comply.

The application of force is a big risk management issue. Employees usually can’t sue the boss if they get hurt on the job. However, they can win big judgments for bullying — discrimination, failing to pay earned wages, egregious violations of employee rights.

For the past four months, I have been intrigued by the topic of coercive power. Two people were the focus of my attention: Donald Trump and Paul Bailo.

I hardly need to report many details on Mr. Trump. It has become an evening news ritual to see which person was the target of his bullying.

That’s politics, not the workplace. Coercive power is not the concern of risk managers. Tell that to Paul Bailo.

The application of force is a big risk management issue. Employees usually can’t sue the boss if they get hurt on the job. However, they can win big judgments for bullying — discrimination, failing to pay earned wages, egregious violations of employee rights.

The newly minted Dr. Bailo defended his dissertation and received a Ph.D by writing about bullying in the workplace today. He surveyed 400 MBA candidates grouped into Generation X and Y by birthday, male and female by gender.

All of them said they do not use coercive power with their subordinates and colleagues. Thank goodness. Such behavior is not pretty and it’s risky.

Another finding was disturbing. All four groups said their bosses use it as a tool to drive subordinates to achieve goals.

Further, senior managers tolerate or encourage negative reinforcement. Senior executives seek the glory of making Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For“ list. Do they know what’s going on in their own organizations?

Bailo’s research is not a big surprise to risk managers. They know we need to protect employees from retaliation when they refuse to break laws or report illegal behavior. They keep records of grievances, injuries resulting from unsafe conditions, and discrimination and harassment lawsuits. They strive to reduce bullying incidents.

I do think it’s a wake-up call for senior executives. MBA candidates, male and female, older and younger, uniformly agreed that coercive behavior is alive and well with their bosses and their bosses’ bosses. That’s big news in 2016.

Are we still in 2002 when a jury awarded almost $12 million to an employee who was retaliated against for taking time off under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for his aging parents?

I wonder if senior executives remember Ani Chopourian and all the bullying complaints she filed when she worked as a physician’s assistant.

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Would a jury agree with her employer that she was guilty of professional misconduct, the stated explanation for the reason the hospital fired her and tried to deny her unemployment benefits?

I guess not. In 2012, a jury in Sacramento awarded her $168 million in damages, possibly the largest workplace harassment judgment in U.S. history.

Mr. Trump and Dr. Bailo bring back the memory of Kenny in different ways but they send the same message.  I encourage risk managers to enhance their efforts to wipe out bullying in the workplace.

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