Going Gaga

A recent New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof carried the headline that “Lady Gaga is on to something important.” 

Photo by Fabio Contini http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

It seems that Ms. Gaga paid a visit to Harvard University on February 29th to announce the kick-off of her Born This Way Foundation.  Also along for day’s proceedings were Oprah Winfrey and United States secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius.  What a crew!

Apparently taking its name from a Lady Gaga song, the foundation aims its founder’s high celebrity and influence at the problem of bullying in schools.  Experts cite that bullying gets in the way of education – making it more likely that teens will contemplate suicide, use/abuse drugs and alcohol, as well as avoid going to school altogether. Quoted in the article, Ms. Gaga says, “I was called really horrible, profane names in front of huge crowds of people…..I didn’t want to go to class.  And I was a straight-A student.”  In addition, Kristof indicates that Lady Gaga also told him that neighborhood boys even went so far as to throw her into a trash can when she was in high school.

Lada Gaga at GMA by TJ Sengel, modified by Chasewc91 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.enChasewc91

The article also points to a University of Virgina study on the effects of bullying on overall school performance.  The study indicates that the effects of bullying extend beyond the more obvious negative individual impacts to troublesome effects on overall school performance.  In their study of randomly-selected students, teachers, and schools in the state of Viginia, Anna Lacey and Dewey Cornell conclude that a climate of bullying was, unfortunately, predictive of lower school-wide passing rates for three subjects on the State’s standardized testing.  Further, Lacey and Cornell advocate that these findings suggest that bullying must be approached as a school-wide problem due to its link to decreased school-wide academic performance.

The link to corporate life is very straight-forward, as many of these schoolyard bullies will eventually graduate, get jobs, and just may even ascend to senior positions in organizations, assuming responsibilities that involve managing people.  That’s a pretty scary thought but actually is instructive with respect to why Going Gaga in the schools makes sense and why her efforts are important.  Similar to the Virginia school study findings, a culture of workplace bullying is bound to have a negative impact on productivity (morale, absenteeism, distraction) and can be a signficant hidden or not-so-hidden cost for employers (turnover, retraining, legal).

A related issue is that human resource departments tend to be oriented toward addressing situations of illegal harassment while much of this type of dysfunctional behavior likely falls into the category of being legal harassment.  In this respect, it becomes more challenging to address the problem as a company-wide problem.  Still, it makes a lot of sense to teach the right behaviors in schools because bad-acting students eventually graduate and the become working adults known as co-workers and bosses.

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About Thomas W. Smith
Bizsinc - Bringing Business to Life

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