When An Executive Turns Bad

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These articles by Melinda Sherwood were published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on December 8, 1999. All rights reserved.

A Laugh a Day, Keeps . . .

Stephen Klein keeps a koosh ball on his desk,

a smiley coffee mug close by, and in the afternoon, he faxes his


funny cartoons. You might call him a CPA, or "comic" public

accountant. His motto: always mix business with pleasure.

"We need to take our work seriously, and take ourselves


says Klein, who teaches the Princeton Chamber how to "Jest for

Success" on Wednesday, December 15, at 7:15 a.m. "Once you

give yourself permission to do that, it changes your state of


says Klein, a partner at Klatzkin & Company LLP at 1670


Square Road. Call 609-520-1776. Cost: $21.

Klein was born in Indianapolis, where his father was also a CPA. He

graduated from Indiana State University, with a BS in accounting,

Class of 1963, and naturally, he took his profession and himself very

seriously. Then, in 1990, he suffered a decline in health that caused

him to shake off the old attitude. That’s when he attended the Humor

Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was one of 1,200

people in an auditorium that was coaxed into singing silly songs like

"I am a Pizza." At first, he says, the serious businesspeople

in the crowd were hesitant to join in the shenanigans, but then


started laughing, and before you know it everybody started


"We get so serious about our work and you get so focused on the

minutia," says Klein, "that you don’t get to use your right

brain, the creative side, and sometimes that seriousness carries over

to your personal life and it shouldn’t. I was looking for more fun

in my life."

A child laughs 400 times a day; adults laugh sometimes fewer than

15 times a day, says Klein. Why should we care? "They’ve proven

through research that laughter has a positive effect on your immune

system — endorphins are released in the brain, which is the body’s

natural pain killer."

There’s a place for laughter and levity even in the most serious


says Klein. Take aviation for instance. "Southwest Airlines,


over 25 years, is the only airline that can boast that it looks for

a sense of humor in the employees that they hire," says Klein.

"The stewardesses crack jokes and do things in a funny way."

Humor relaxes your customers and clients, but it can also be an


way of communicating important messages, says Klein. "Business

managers or others spend 94 percent of their time communicating,"

says Klein, "and if you can add humor in that communication in

some form it’s shown that the messages are remembered longer and


building a rapport with the person."

Ways to jest successfully:

Keep playful things around the office, whether it means

keeping toys close at hand, or joke books lying around.

Take a humor break instead of a coffee break. "You

take a humor break and read funny books," says Klein. "I fax

cartoons to clients, or post them on bulletin boards.

Spread cheer from the top. "The key at work is that

top management has to make it OK," says Klein. "They have

to learn to make fun of themselves."

Mix business with pleasure. This allows you to be more

relaxed at work, says Klein, and "if you’re in a more relaxed

state, you can think things through clearly."

Keep it positive. "There’s positive and negative


says Klein. "I don’t think anybody should ever make a joke about

someone else — about religion, or nationality, or sex. There’s

enough funny things that you can do and people can have a good


Not all humor is universally appreciated, but funniness, says

Klein, is a trait in each of us. "I think everybody has a sense

of humor but it’s buried," says Klein. "Just because you’re

an adult doesn’t mean you can’t still be playful."


Top Of Page
When An Executive Turns Bad

When it was still known as "going postal," those

of working for private companies could shrug it off. Now it’s


at corporations like Xerox and in brokerage houses: an employee’s

angst progresses to the point of deadly violence. On everybody’s mind:

couldn’t anybody see this coming?

In most cases, we do see it coming, says Naomi Vilko, a


who specializes in treating corporate executives with problems ranging

from substance abuse to depression, but "mostly people ignore

it. The two big problems with mental health are denial and the stigma.

The more knowledge you have, the better."

Vilko of Vilko Corporate Consulting and Nupur Lahiri of the

Life Enhancement Institute are two psychiatrists in the area focusing

on mental-illness, corporate-style: burn-out, depression, anxiety,

and on occasion, violence. At the Life Enhancement Institute at 10

Jefferson Plaza (609-924-0912), Lahiri focuses on patients’ overall

well-being using a variety of approaches including yoga, massage,

nutrition, counseling, and old-fashioned psychiatry — all offered

under one roof.

Although Vilko sees many of her patients in her office at 419 North

Harrison Street (609-924-3225, E-mail naomivilko@aol.com), she

also prefers to go inside the belly of the beast — Vilko works

with management teams at places like Merrill Lynch and Bristol-Myers

Squibb on company turf, helping them integrate key employees, improve

the corporate culture, and enhance communication. "It’s kind of

like detective work, figuring out which part of your job is stressful,

and then trying to do something about it," she says. "A lot

of these type A personalities have never learned how to relax and

have fun — they’ve only learned how to get ahead."

In practice since 1985, Vilko graduated from medical school at the

tender age of 23. Since her parents were both immigrants who endured

the Holocaust (her mother was in Auschwitz), Vilko knew she wanted

to have a career that was "transportable," should she ever

had to leave the country. She grew up in Manhattan, where her parents,

both Hungarian immigrants from Prague, ran a gourmet grocery store.

When her father died, it was clear to Vilko she would be paying her

own way through school. She decided to do it quickly.

She graduated in three years from Columbia, Class of 1972, and went

to New York Medical College. She became a professor of psychiatry

at Mt. Sinai Medical School and then Robert Wood Johnson (formerly

Rutgers). She was director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Unit

at Princeton Hospital in 1985, during an era of massive corporate

consolidation and lay-offs. It was then that she launched her


consulting career, especially working with companies undergoing


"When a company merges there’s a clash of cultures, people are

fired and hired," she explains. "It’s an unstable


Today most of Vilko’s patients suffer from burn out, sleeplessness,

and addictions to alcohol or substances. The typical executive


40-something with children, nice, intelligent, socially skilled. Only

one problem: they’re not enjoying anything, says Vilko. "They

work too many hours during the week, and then hibernate on the


she says. "The people who work in New York leave the house at

6:30 a.m. and get home at 7:30 p.m. I tell them that no one can do

that indefinitely. You could have a heart attack."

That doesn’t make them gun-toting employees necessarily, but not every

bad seed is easy to spot. "There are stages of violence —

the person doesn’t come right in with a gun," she says. For those

who start expressing their angst, the signs might be subtle at first.

"First you say something to them and they jump at you, or even

curse, and they become more argumentative. They seem very irritable

and say bad things about the company."

Some examples of behavior that indicates an employee needs treatment,

says Vilko:

Performance declines.

There are accusations of sexual harassment.

Irritability and depression are prominent.

Suicidal tendencies.

Poor sleeping patterns and fatigue.

Drinking problems.

When an employee begins to brag about their artillery at home,

it could be too late, says Vilko. "Once someone is identified

with alcoholism or depression you can’t fire them — they’re


and you have to treat them," she says.

The key is to nip it in the "id," says Vilko. "If someone

has cancer, early detection is obviously the way to go" she says.

"The hope of managed care has been preventative medicine but it’s

very difficult to see a psychiatrist. I noticed that I was getting

patients at a much later date in their illness. My hope is that some

people will begin to send themselves, but they could be sent by the

employer. The companies often have invested a lot of money in people

they’re good at what they do. The company wants to keep its


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