September 2, 2012

From Coworker to Killer

People are people, but there are some who walk a fine and dangerous line. 

Some are stable, rational people--those, that we hope we can depend on. 

Others are prime time wack jobs--they are not "safe" and everyone knows to beware of them.

Finally, there are those who are like firecrackers, one step away from explosion--and these can pose a nasty surprise. 

These last two perhaps invoke the fear of someone in the workplace "going postal"--a reference to the 1986 killing by a postal worker of 14 people and then himself. 

In light of the workplace shooting this week in front the Empire State Building, Newsweek (3 September 2012) asks "How to Spot a Workplace Crazy?"

Their default answer--see the Department of Homeland Security's Active Shooter Booklet, which includes a list of 16 "indicators of potential violence by an employee" (page 10) from addiction to depression, over reactions to mood swings, unprovoked rage to paranoia, and more. 

Perhaps, their more genuine answer is that anybody can be the next workplace shooter--and that it is hard to really tell what demons lay in wait inside a person's head or heart or what can set them off.  

They reference  the book, Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion, which states: "it can be anybody who's getting completely screwed in the workplace--so that's most workers in this country." 

When people feel a "perceived injustice" or they are "grievance collectors"--harboring hurt and anger at their mistreatment day-in and -out, they may be one step away from dangerous. 

As leaders and managers, we cannot control for everything that people feel or for all their personal struggles and life's circumstances, but we can do our best to treat others fairly, with compassion, to listen to them, and try to accomodate genuine needs.  

I was reminded of this again, recently, when I went with my daughter to a car dealership.  At one point in negotiating for a new automobile, I asked a question about the current odometer reading.  

The Manager yells over to a worker and tells him harshly to get on it and quickly.  It wasn't what he said per se, but how he said it--ordering his subordinate around like a thing, not like a person.  

My daughter turns to me and she is clearly uncomfortable with what she saw.  I asked her about it.  And she whispers to me, "Did you see how they treated the worker? It's not right." 

I couldn't agree with her more. And when the man came back with the information--we thanked him so much for helping us and told him what a good job he was doing getting everything ready--the paperwork and the vehicle.  

Is he going to "go postal" today, tomorrow, or never...I don't know--he seemed nice enough, but if people get pushed too far and their mental state is frayed, anything is possible, and we shouldn't tempt fate--more importantly, we should treat everyone with respect and dignity. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Charlie Essers)


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