for Stanford Staffers on Office Bullies

from Jack Truher November 1, 2010

Don't miss this morning's San Francisco Chronicle, business section, you find a story from Bloomberg's BusinessWeek, on a consultant whose book covers  "Workplace Conduct ...(and) Office Bullies".

Does office bullying happen at Stanford?   Stanford's Help Center also recommends that book.

If you search the Stanford web site for the words, bully and "help center", you get to a bibliography from the Help Center, including the same book:        
Namie, Gary. The Bully at Work: What You Can do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job. Sourcebooks Inc., 2000.

Stanford University: Faculty and Staff Help Center

The Bully at Work: What You Can do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity ... Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace ...

The Stanford Help Center has run seminars (example1 , example2   ) over the years on Workplace bullying, calling attention to such behavior intended to degrade and humiliate employees. The talks explained such action as misconduct whether coming from supervisors or from coworkers.

I attended one of these meetings several years ago. Bullying by rogue supervisors against their subordinates was emphasized in a short theatrical as the more difficult problem to deal with.  Managers have rights which under California's "at will" employment law means that employees do well to react carefully, with foresight.

In more than three decades at Stanford, I assisted coworkers with strategies for adapting to, surviving and eventually restraining such misconduct. My strategies and the Help Center's were often similar.  As an employee, I had some options the Help Center did not, and the converse was also true.  Until recently, the Stanford Staffers web site Directory listed me as a resource on "Workplace Quality" issues.

Bullying problems are common, but are not homogeneously distributed. They twinkle like starlight, some strong and persistent, others are seen and then gone behind the clouds.

Projects or managers can get out of control in the midst of frustrations and pressures.  There are mistakes in supervisory appointments.  Employees need to learn survival skills because eventually you are going to run into some trouble of these sorts.  You can survive when your tormentor doesn't.

Or a friend of yours at work will have such problems.  Nobody escapes completely.  Just making yourself available to a friend or associate under duress can be an enormous assist at a critical time of distress.  Nobody can protect themselves alone under these conditions. 

I used to say: "One friend can be a big help.  Two such allies are a confirmation for the boss, which sometimes works.  Three or more is a movement, to which management has to respond."  That's part of  "the informal organization" in H.R. parlance.

It's not so complicated after all.  But its easier said than done.

-- Jack Truher, retired Staffer, alum, employee 1965-1996.

p.s.  A more general source of Stanford employee opinion on Workplace Quality is at available at
which also lists comparative salaries, etc.

same newspaper link as above:

A Stanford Business school professor, tells us more about the office culture, copied here below. -- Jack

Jeffrey Pfeffer
author and Stanford management professor

San Jose Mercury
By Scott Duke Harris
Posted: 10/30/2010 01:51:55 AM PDT

Connoisseurs of corporate intrigue might consider geeky, Dilbertian Silicon Valley an acquired taste. Then again, few companies compare to mighty Hewlett-Packard as a potboiler of cutthroat politics.

Once so stately, HP and the vaunted "HP Way" have devolved in recent years to produce the stormy Carly Fiorina era, followed by a notorious spy caper and, recently, l'affaire Mark Hurd. Viewing HP from the sidelines, Stanford management professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has drawn lessons for his classes that focus on the way people accrue, use and lose power in the business world.

Pfeffer draws on a world full of examples in his new book, "Power: Why Some People Have It -- And Others Don't." He expanded on his views in an interview by e-mail with the Mercury News, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Q Your book runs to about 250 pages, but surely you boil the message down to a couple of pithy paragraphs or maybe a PowerPoint, yes?

A I can boil the answer down to a phrase: Some people actually want power and are willing to make the trade-offs to acquire it. Others think they want it but aren't willing to pay the price. The trade-offs include: a) Working a lot -- few CEOs or entrepreneurs are successful without putting in long hours, and that's time taken away from other people and pursuits; b) Always being under intense public scrutiny -- when you are a prominent figure with a lot of power, there is no such thing as a private dinner, as former HP CEO Mark Hurd learned; and c) Thinking strategically about your interpersonal relationships, even your marriage.

Q In a recent commentary for the Harvard Business Review, you note that "The Social Network," to some observers, raises the question of whether it's possible "to be successful without being a bit of a brute." You say the answer is "almost certainly no." Why "almost"? Why hedge it?

A There are CEOs who aren't brutes -- former Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher comes to mind, as does Jim Goodnight, the leader and co-founder of software company SAS Institute -- but there aren't a lot. I try to never answer questions as absolutes, because this is social science, not physics, and there are always exceptions to the rules.

Q Aren't you just saying, like Leo Durocher, that nice guys finish last? What kind of message is that?

A Leo Durocher actually said that nice guys finish seventh, if my quotation source is correct. The message is a simple one: that you need to take care of yourself and not rely on the beneficence of others, including your employer. I am surprised that people find this message either surprising or disconcerting.

For several decades, employers in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) have told their staff that there is no guarantee of permanent employment -- just the opportunity to build skills for the next job. We have stressed self-reliance -- people ought to take that message seriously and look out for themselves. Because, with few exceptions, their employers aren't going to take care of them. Nor will their co-workers, who are mostly looking out, naturally enough, for themselves.

Q Your essay was titled "Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Hero or Villain?" You write that "characterizing multiple-dimensioned human beings into oversimplified categories like 'good or 'bad' inevitably can only deceive us." Do powerful people avoid this habit?

A Powerful people understand that they need to make strategic relationships -- with important people whose help they need -- work. They also understand that characterizing people as good or bad, or, to use the phrase of my colleague and friend Bob Sutton's previous book, "The No Asshole Rule," is not going to be a way of building those strategic relationships. So, powerful people tend to see others as being either helpful or not, and let it go at that.

Q Speaking of alleged brutes, Oracle's Larry Ellison blasted HP's board for pressuring CEO Mark Hurd to resign amid concerns about his relationship with a marketing consultant who was not his wife. Then, Oracle hired Hurd and HP sued Oracle, but it was quickly resolved. What lessons from this drama would you share with students?

A That emotions, not strategic thinking like we teach in game theory, often dictate what people do. HP hired ex-Oracle senior executive Ray Lane, and Ellison hired Hurd, sort of like playground "I'm going to show you" behavior. Which just shows that people are people with emotions, including jealousy, envy and anger -- even if they are CEOs or board members. The lesson for my students: Don't assume p eople are always going to behave rationally. Look at -- and, if you can, use -- their emotions.

Q How does charisma fit into the power equation?

A Successful people will seem more charismatic as a result of their success. Charisma matters more in politics, where you need to touch lots of people that you don't know well or even with whom you have any contact. Inside of companies, there are lots of very successful leaders who don't have much charisma. And, in fact, Jim Collins' book "Good to Great" argues that the best leaders aren't the over-the-top personalities that seem to draw the most media attention.

Q An important part of your message for mere mortals is in the skill of "managing up." But don't bosses know when somebody is sucking up and not being candid?

A You can never overuse flattery. People love to be praised--it raises their self-esteem. You can certainly do it with more or less skill -- and more skillful behavior is always better. But telling others how much you admire and appreciate -- and, even more important, need them -- is going to be effective in most cases.

Q Does Silicon Valley have different power rules from the rest of corporate America? Some VCs, for example, insist that founders and executives have hands-on engineering experience. Could it be that tech truly is more meritocratic than other industries?

A Give me a break! Steve Jobs was at one point forced out of Apple, and came back only when he outmaneuvered Gil Amelio. The "meritocratic" venture capital and Silicon Valley law firms are filled with power struggles, coups, raging egos and everything else I describe in my book. People are people -- whether they are in Japan, India or Brazil, in big companies, small ones, or even in high technology.


  • Title: Professor of organizational behavior,Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
  • Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees, CarnegieMellon; doctorate, Stanford
  • Experience: Faculty member at University of Illinoisand UC Berkeley and visiting professor at London Business School, Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University
  • Hometown: St. Louis
  • Residence: Hillsborough
  • Personal: Married, no children


  • Part of Stanford's faculty since 1979.
  • Attended high school with Carl Stern, who later ran the Boston Consulting Group, and Nick Binkley, who later became vice chair of the Bank of America.
  • Has delivered talks in 34 countries, once releaseda propaganda balloon in Taiwan to fly over the People's Republic of China.
  • Lost a high school debate to Barry Posner, now a noted leadership author and former dean of thebusiness school at Santa Clara University.
  • Author or co-author of 13 books.