January 22, 2009

ASU prof, wife co-author guide for 'Workplace Survival'

Posted: January 22, 2009

David Van Fleet, an ASU management professor, and his wife, Ella Van Fleet, are co-authors of "Workplace Survival."

In a 1976 tune penned by country music singer David Allan Coe and made famous by fellow-crooner Johnny Paycheck, a man who has worked long and hard with little or no reward tells his boss to “take this job and shove it.”

Such advice may be a bit rash in today’s struggling economy and expanding jobless market, suggests Arizona State University management professor David Van Fleet, who has co-authored with wife Dr. Ella Van Fleet “Workplace Survival: Dealing with Bad Bosses, Bad Workers, Bad Jobs.”  Published by PublishAmerica, the book will help readers avoid reacting too emotionally or otherwise inappropriately when dealing with workplace individuals who lie, manipulate, threaten, harass, bully or sabotage.

“Especially in today’s labor market, quitting may not be a viable alternative for workers,” says Van Fleet, who was awarded a prestigious Career Service Award recently by the Academy of Management and has taught at ASU since 1989.  “Ella and I have tried to steer individuals along a path that could enable them to tolerate and perhaps improve their situations – at least until the labor market changes.

“Hopefully, our book will help workers recognize that they are not alone and thereby give them the courage to carefully analyze their situations and take appropriate action, or take no action.”

Professor Van Fleet says the book is important for a number of reasons.  He points to the fact not all workplace problems revolve around a miscreant boss, that bad coworkers can also interfere with productivity and create equal amounts of chaos.  Additionally, bad bosses and bad workers are especially dangerous to organizations not only because they jeopardize productivity, but also because they put their organizations at risk of potentially costly legal action.  And, organizations risk losing their best people when they fail to deal with bad bosses or bad workers.

“Identifying problem employees can be easy if bosses keep their eyes and ears open,” says Ella Van Fleet, who was recognized by the Texas House of Representatives for her outstanding professional contributions to the Lone Star State as a practicing and teaching entrepreneur before the Van Fleets moved to the Valley in 1989.  “However, as we all know, there are those devious, conniving individuals who make miserable the life of one or more individuals but manage to look great to bosses and other workers.

“Everyone needs to be able to recognize a bad boss.  The book is designed to assist workers, bosses and upper management in identifying individuals who make workplace survival difficult.”

The book is enjoying a warm reception from reviewers.

“The examples and recommendations focus on real people with real problems,” says Dixie State College (Utah) President Lee Caldwell, former VP of IBM and Hewlett-Packard.  “They are the best I have seen for helping management restore a spirit of high performance to their organization.”

Mary Gibbons, a commercial utilization management supervisor for health care manager Schaller-Anderson, calls the book a “must-read,” noting, “This book is terrific for all managers and employees, regardless of the setting.  The Van Fleets have gathered countless voices of experience we have all wished we had listened to at one time or another throughout our careers.”

Professor Van Fleet, who has served as editor of the Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, says most workers have three options from which to choose when faced with an untenable workplace situation – cope or adopt, change yourself or try to change others, or find another job.

“In the book, we explain that workers are rather helpless to change insecure and incompetent bosses, but they should not have to work under abusive bosses,” he says.  “Nevertheless, they must understand that when going up against the boss they should always be prepared to lose – even if the worker is legally right and the boss is morally or legally wrong.  Readers are admonished not to try to change things that are beyond their power to change, and not to expect their boss to change things that are beyond his or her power to change.”

At ASU, Van Fleet, who earned his Ph.D. in economics and management at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, has produced widely recognized research on leadership, the organization of managerial functions, and the history of management thought.  He has over 240 publications and presentations, ranging from a research monograph to textbooks, and from articles in top research journals to ones in practitioner periodicals.  He has also co-authored articles with colleagues from Poland, Russia and Kuwait on topics related to managerial effectiveness in cross-cultural contexts.  He and Ella Van Fleet have co-authored six publications.

“Our experiences led us to know that the workplace is filled with individuals whose interactions with others make them unhappy or unproductive,” says the West campus professor.

“We recognize how fragile our workplaces are.  With so much dissatisfaction boiling just below the surface, it wouldn’t take much to bring about an explosion, violent behavior.  Reducing the potential for workplace violence is very important in today’s highly stressful work world.”

Stephen Des Georges, Stephen.Desgeorges@asu.edu
480-727-0757
ASU Foundation