Sitting in high school biology, listening to the teacher drone on about
genetics, I snapped to attention when she used male pattern baldness as an
example of a dominant trait. My heart started pounding with fear - with bald
men on both sides of my mother's family as far as the eye could see, I was
doomed to have a chrome dome.
I remained anguished about the prospect of being bald for the next 20 years
as my hairline retreated and my hair steadily thinned. Bald men seemed
disfigured to me....
Dispatcher: "Who is doing the
shooting?" Caller: "I can't see him, but it must be Tom McIlvane."
It seemed that everyone in that workplace knew that McIlvane,
who had a running grievance with his supervisors, was the co-worker most likely
to turn violent. Yet no one took steps to intervene.
A similar drama unfolded more recently at an Internet
consulting firm near Boston, where a disgruntled employee reported for work the
day after Christmas and started shooting. When 42-year-old Michael McDermott
was through, seven co-workers were dead. It was the fourth time in little more
than 14 months that an employee had killed five or more of his co-workers in a
The federal government reports that homicide is the
third-leading cause of death in the workplace, with 674 killings in 2000, the
most recent year for which statistics are available. While some of these were
domestic disputes that spilled over into the office, disgruntled employees were
to blame in many others, leaving stunned co-workers to wonder how such
tragedies could have been avoided.
With concern growing about violence in the workplace,
psychologists and others who study the subject say there may be ways to tell
the difference between an employee who is merely eccentric or a little too
aggressive and one who could cause serious harm. And both employers and
employees may need to take a more-active role in identifying these people,
seeking help before it's too late.
"Many of the cases that we noted in our book on the
violence-prone workplace resulted from garden-variety problems that were
allowed to fester," says Richard Denenberg, co-author of The
Violence-Prone Workplace: A New Approach to Dealing With Hostile, Threatening
and Uncivil Behavior.
Denenberg, who heads the nonprofit Workplace Solutions in Red
Hook, N.Y., says supervisors or other employees are afraid to get involved,
while anger builds up. So the teasing or tormenting or bullying other workers keeps happening, or the arguments
continue over who had the right to use a workbench or a tool, he says.