Monthly Archives: September 2009

Psychologically Unhealthy Management: A Human Rights Violation?

Four years ago, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Harvard professor John G. Ruggie to be Special Representative on business & human rights. This new mission was charged with investigating human rights abuses by transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Since then, it’s focused on such areas as discrimination, pesticide poisoning, child labor, drinking water contamination, sexual abuse, and the displacement of indigenous peoples.

But I think another, largely overlooked category of corporate behavior deserves inclusion as a human rights violation:  Management practices that damage the mental health of a company’s own employees.?? Unhealthy management and leadership harms employees and, therefore, their work performance.  Most everyone is familiar with the damaging effects of abusive, hostile, arrogant and narcissistic bosses; of manipulative or deceitful leadership behavior, often directed by senior management towards each other; workaholic demands that result in burnout and diminished productivity; intimidation and threats, subtle and overt; public denigration and humiliation; destructive political maneuvering and closet discrimination.  The list goes on.

Typical consequences for individuals include depression, rage, severe stress or anxiety, withdrawal, paranoia and, increasingly, lawsuits.

As a consultant to business leadership and a psychotherapist for 30 years, I’ve helped people at both end of the spectrum — from the mailroom to the corporate suite — deal with the consequences.  Moreover, I’ve seen an increase of such practices since the economic meltdown began in September 2008.

Unhealthy leadership and the culture it spawns Continue reading