“The dignity of the human person is a transcendent value, always recognized as such by those who sincerely search for truth. To promote the good of the individual is thus to serve the common good, which is the point when rights and duties converge and reinforce one another” (Pope John Paul II, 1999).
Hazing. Why do we do this? And why, after all these years, is denigration of others (for the pleasure of senior members) still ongoing in 2017? The aim of hazing is to break the will; to force individuals to become one, many times through secretive ritual.
Twisted tradition continues when there are few (if any) sanctions for depraved acts. Hazing types include (1) subtle, in which recruits experience psychological taunting, as in the case of Astra Pharmaceutical – in which managers forced sales representative trainees to march in sweat suits while they barked questions (note: wrong answers required pushups from offending recruit); (2) Harassment – in which pledges/recruits experience physical discomfort, confusion, or distress (e.g., sleep deprivation); along with (3) Violent – which can result in physical maiming, or even death (e.g., forced alcohol consumption and branding). See Hazing Issues and Prevention, from StopHazing.org
Power differentials exacerbate conditions for mean-spiritedness, exploitation, and abuse. Organizations with strict hierarchy are more prone to encourage (or ignore) such practices. But what if the tables were turned, and plebeians had a hand not just in running the show, but in making the rules? Wheatley and Frieze (2011) argue that organizations should be dynamic “cultures of learning” that organize from the concerted impact of all members.
Some of employees’ inalienable rights are listed in Buckingham and Coffman’s First Break All the Rules, where authors state that employees should ask themselves the following questions:
- Does my supervisor (or someone at work) seem to care about me as a person?
- At work, do my opinions count?
- In the last seven days, have I received praise or recognition for good work?
- Is there someone who encourages my development?
Consider the cost (in terms of lost goodwill and dollars) of employee behavior run amuck. Although we think of hazing as confined to fraternity/sorority initiations, poor behavior at work runs rampant when managers look the other way. The City of Los Angeles for example paid a firefighter 1.5M as a result of hazing by his peers (Zahniser, 2007). Unbeknownst to him, they had mixed dog food in with his spaghetti. In cultures where individualism prevails, the tendency to get for ourselves (at others’ expense) is amplified – a reality that makes the case for civility and bullying awareness training even more compelling.
Hollman (2002) in her article “Hazing: Hidden Campus Crime,” and Nuwer in his book “Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, and Binge Drinking” provide strategies that administrators and supervisors can implement to prevent hazing:
- Adopt a statement of awareness: Although a pronouncement alone is insufficient to solve fundamental problems of managers/pledge master, it is a first step. Having employees/students sign a “civility statement” instills a sense of accountability in all members. See “The Power of Policy” and The Case for a Civility Czar
- Facilitate Alternative Team Building Initiation Rites: What if hazing was replaced with community service, specifically geared to curriculum majors? E.g., a marketing student designing a website (and PR campaign) for an animal homeless shelter; an architectural understudy helping Habit for Humanity build houses; a nursing major aiding hospice and nursing home employees. A spirit of service could then be infused within a larger framework of community. According to Zimbardo: “…community [is] where people care about what happens on their turf even to the person or property of strangers, with the reciprocal assumption that they would also care about them” (Zimbardo, 2004, p. 10). When probationary members are viewed as peers, instead as of “pledges,” when senior members practice distributive leadership then an inclusionary group of all leaders will emerge – one which capitalizes on members’ strengths. The end result is an organization in which members are glad people joined – instead of pleased they can demand servitude. “Community-centered organizations, in contrast with toxic work environments, are typically warm, nurturing, positive, caring, and supportive places” (Gilbert, Carr-Ruffino, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, 2012).
- Communicate Clearly and Provide Educational Programs: Education should be ongoing and proactive. E.g.,: “Blue Apron makes its top value of lifelong learning core to its leadership training program for every level of management within the company,” (Tucker, 2016). Required continuing education units (CEUs) for topics like civility, bullying awareness, and emotional intelligence (self-management through positive and empathic concern) would not only set the tone, but would enable companies (and schools) to more effectively interact with constituents. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers a two year Power Development for Emotional intelligence (PdEI) program for executives, with clients like Hyatt Hotels and Leo Burnett (Packard, 2007).
- Promote Moral Development. Ignoring soft skills (while simultaneously focusing solely on the nuts and bolts of discipline/job tenets) makes for one-sided instruction. A common platform of civility and mutual respect, combined with empathy (and other focus) can circumvent potential conflicts. Revamping curriculum to instill values encourages respectful self-expression. Classes could include Human Relations, Business Communication, Multicultural Management, Group Dynamics/team building, Business Spirituality/Ethics, and psychology-personality theory. Similarly, a description of bullying types (and associated sanctions) should be covered in University 101 classes, and new employee orientation. Shaw suggests that individuals who reside in higher stages of moral development are better able to both recognize the destructive nature of hazing, and to develop alternative, more suitable behaviors. William Sloane Coffin’s impassioned plea for empathic concern underscores the importance of this argument: “To believe you can approach transcendence without drawing nearer in compassion to suffering humanity is to fool yourself” (Coffin, 2004, p. 51). Adams (2012) indicates: “Most colleges now offer some introductory student success or ‘College 101’ course designed to help ease the transition into higher education. According to a 2009 survey of more than 1,000 institutions, 87 percent of participating colleges offered a first-year seminar (College 101 course).
- Monitor Activities of Student Organizations (and managers): Administrators/top management should always know what transpires within their respective units; similarly, pledges/probationary members should be queried as to how their organizations can improve upon their experience. At Etsy, managers can poll peers and direct reports to learn how they are perceived (Tucker, 2016). At other firms, 360 appraisal – in which employees can rate their bosses – is practiced. What if an independent organization cumulated probationary members’/pledges’ evaluations of their initial experience, solicited their opinions, and encouraged management to act on their suggestions? Blue Apron routinely conducts cultural audits to ensure employee happiness and success, and to practice (by example) participative management. “Innovative companies know that their employees are often the best ambassadors for their brand” (Tucker, 2016).
- Investigate and Enforce: Transparency in reporting is imperative. A crusty, dank underside spreads across campus/departmental corridors when conditions of abuse are left unchecked, and an alternative model is absent. The flip side of a civility policy is not just sanction for offenders, but reward for employees deemed “civility stars.” The NSA recognizes workers who are viewed by their peers as behavioral exemplars with (1) congratulatory notes; (2) plaques; and (3) awards (Feintzeig, 2013).
- Reconsider all traditions. The end result of allowing culture to occur happenstance results in emotional abuse, more commonly known as bullying: “Bullying is organizational occupation – through non-speech and silence of the vanquished parties. It is instigated by people who derive their sense of importance from clawing the backs of their peers. Bullies occupy employees’ minds, they occupy spaces of privilege, and they occupy seats of power. They are frightening caricatures traipsing through workers’ thoughts, leaving them quivering in their respective cubicles. As such, bullying is a self-affirming cycle. It dehydrates the portal through which employee creativity flows, and it renders targets helpless.” From OrganizedforEfficiency.com, “Unneeded authority” (Gilbert, 2012)
References and related websites
Adams, C. (2012, October 23rd). [Web log post]. Research finds ‘College 101’ courses need improvement. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/college_bound/2012/10/research_finds_college_101_courses_need_improvements_for_long-term_gains.html
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s managers do differently. New York, NY: SIMON & SCHUSTER.
Burkus, D. (2016). Meet the 20-year-old company that runs without bosses. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/david-burkus/how-this-company-runs-without-managers.html
Coffin, W. S. (2004). Credo. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Feintzeig, R. (2013, August 27th). How to disarm a nasty co-worker: Use a smile. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-happens-when-coworkers-are-nasty-to-each-other-1377648431
Gilbert, J. A. (2012, November 24th). Unneeded authority [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://organizedforefficiency.com/unneeded-authority/
Gilbert, J. A., & Raffo, D. M. (2015). Inspiring the civil revolution: The role of bullying education and experiential learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 26(2), 159-176.
Gilbert, J. A., Carr-Ruffino, N., Ivancevich, J. M., & Konopaske, R. (2012). Toxic versus cooperative behaviors at work: the role of organizational culture and leadership in creating community-centered organizations. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(1), 29-47.
Hart, J. (2012). MTSU students hone skills with civility project. Retrieved from http://mtsunews.com/exl-students-civility-fall2015/
Hollmann, Barbara B. (2002). Hazing: Hidden campus crime. New Directions for Student Services, 99, 11-24.
Maremont, M. (1996, May 13th). Abuse of power: The astonishing tale of sexual harassment at Astra USA. Business Week.
Newer, H. (1999). Wrongs of passage: Fraternities, sororities, and binge drinking. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Packard, E. (2007). From campus to corporation: A Chicago School of Professional psychology program trains psychologists to increase business leaders’ emotional intelligence skills. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun07/fromcampus.aspx
Wheately, M., & Frieze, D. (2011). Walk out walk on. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Tucker, G. C. (2016). HR in the age of disruption. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0916/pages/hr-in-the-age-of-disruption.aspx
Zahniser, D. (2007). L.A. to pay black, firefighter $1.5-million settlement. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-pierce22sep22-story.html
Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. In A. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil: Understanding our capacity for kindness and cruelty. New York: Guilford Press.