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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Today's Alleged Lazy Youth

An April 11, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("Your Gen Z Co-Worker Is Hustling More Than You Think. Ambitious 20-somethings are trying to knock down the stereotype that they aren't into hard work") considered whether youth in their twenties are as hardworking as their ancestors through descriptions of several lives. A twenty-five-year-old engineer who completed high school in three-years and college in three-and-one-half-years founded her software firm at eighteen and works well into the night; a twenty-two-year-old works sixty-hour-weeks for a corporation. What it comes down to, in the opinion of this psychologist, is that motivation is individual, deriving from in-born talent shaped by the parenting that one experienced, though success depends on luck too of course.

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How I Learned To Be An Effective Manager

A March 3, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("Late to Work? Thank the Transit Union - A labor group in New York blocks a common-sense schedule update") aroused memories. Long ago I was hired as a hospital administrator at a huge, greatly troubled medical center facing bankruptcy which the federal government pressured to change. To say that I was unprepared for this task would be an understatement since I had no managerial experience and the city was historically corrupt. I joked that the local daily newspaper was read to see which of one's friends had been indicted. But I was unemployed and had unexpectedly been offered the post, likely because I wrote a book and had good credentials.

I tried my best, wanting to be a modern enlightened manager, speaking to the union representative in this light and intending for us to work together to improve things. Though congenial, he had none of it. For his workers, the hospital was a great job, they gossiping with each other and doing little else all the working day. Abandoning my warm friendly demeanor, I became a tight-lipped hardass and the setting became professional as I instituted needed education and procedures. I also began getting neck pain by the end of each day, interpreting this well-known symptom of stress as my employees giving me a pain in the neck.

Incidentally, I have no present animus toward unions, having been a member of both the Teamsters and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), and learning of many incompetent managers and unneeded worker suffering through mine and my patients' experiences.

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On Workplace Bonding Activities

A February 2, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("You're Good at Your Job, but Are You 'Fun' Enough?") described the discomfort that workers feel at corporate bonding events, whether at the workplace or a resort, because of its implicit effect on promotion. Though never working in the corporate world apart from giving workshops, I could empathize with them.At one government job, workers were asked to volunteer to be locked in the local jail until being bailed out with charity donations from friends. Being new to the community and knowing no one, I declined to participate. Things were different at another job. There, at an idyllic psychiatric hospital which provided free food for staff and whose teenage patients felt so comfortable that they resisted discharge, the patients were sent to their room early on Fridays so the staff could gather in the Director's office for their weekly cocktail party.

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When Creative Management Deteriorates Into Paranoia

A newly installed manager's initially successful behavior has the potential to deteriorate into paranoia. Their positive abilities of extreme alertness to business change and goal directedness may descend into rigidity, with delusions of grandeur fostering unrealistic projects and irrational suspicion causing scapegoating, poor morale, and high staff turnover. Having the checks and balances of a conscientous corporate board can enable the needed organization change, protect staff against the abuse of power, and rescue the manager from what Plato described as "convulsive fear and distractions" by forcing them to abide by reality rather than fantasy.

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Coping With Work or Marriage Conflict Through Triangulation

Triangulation is the commonly occurring reduction of anxiety in a problematic relationship by introducing a third element into the situation. At work this can be a person or corporate directive depicted as "crazy" and in a marriage a child being termed "impossible." Though reducing anxiety, this unconscious maneuver is destructive since it doesn't resolve the problem. To accomplish this a third party, a management consultant or a psychotherapist, must reframe communication so the real issues are confronted. But here triangulation can also occur if the consultant identifies with the worker or the psychotherapist with the patient(s). As I never tire of repeating, the unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.

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Living With A Tyrannical Boss

What one can tolerate in a boss is individual. Someone I that once knew, who worked unbothered by her crazy boss in the entertainment industry, had survived a difficult childhood, living in her car until being helped by a concerned teacher who let her live with her until she graduated from college. Upon quitting her job the young woman was asked to train her replacement to tolerate the screaming boss. But when psychosomatic symptoms (as neck pain, etc.) begin it's time to leave. I've often said that I may not have been too smart about some of the jobs that I took but I always knew exactly when to leave, which is when they want you to stay. I've learned that a manager has a certain "shelf life," initially being viewed as the organization's savior but, after it functions well, as part of any lingering problem. Still, as my (now deceased) graduate school advisor said after receiving my tale of woe/complaining letter, "Think of the job as a chapter in your memoir." Sound advice from one that I still miss.

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Reflections on the White House Firing or When to Fire Yourself

After experiencing several highly stressful jobs, I came to an important conclusion: That while choosing the right job is important, it's even more important to know when to leave it. My suggestions follow.

Quit your job, if you have the economic freedom to do so, of course:

(1) When the political infighting has become intolerable.  Read More 
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How to Survive a Terrible Boss

I once knew a young woman ("Ellen") who, while attending college, worked as a secretary for a media company. This was back in those days when all executives had an assistant. Her boss was the archetype of a terrible boss, screaming so often that no one could tolerate working with him for long. But  Read More 
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Workplace: The Pathologically Obsessive Boss

Obsessive CEO’s are common since their orderliness and control foster authority and clear decision making. But an excessive need for order can strengthen bureaucratic elements, foster decision-making based on rules rather than staff creativity and autonomy. And while having clear, followed rules can protect against corporate political struggle, it  Read More 
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Being Too Old to Work at Thirty-five

Once, at Columbia University’s Business School Library, I spied a notice on the bulletin board. It told of an upcoming meeting of the Gray Panthers, the organization for older workers seeking jobs. Here, at this Graduate School, the membership requirements were that one be a student and over thirty-five.
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