Men rarely see Thomas J. Weida, MD, for medical tests without prodding from a wife or girlfriend. When they do show up, Weida jokes that he “can see the drag marks on the carpet.”
It’s amusing, of course. But it can quickly turn serious when a man ignores important symptoms. Weida says he knows of men who got away with ignoring chest pain for a couple of weeks. Eventually, though, they died of heart attacks.
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.
Denenberg examined a 1997 incident in a California plastics
factory, where the notion that a particular employee was gay became a running
joke around the plant and, apparently, there was little concern about how it
was affecting the man on the receiving end.
One day, the man reported to the factory with a gun and shot
four office managers and two other employees. As he was firing, he reportedly
shouted: "Damn it, I am not a homosexual."
Lynne Falkin McClure, PhD, is a Phoenix psychologist and
consultant who wrote Risky Business: Managing Employee Violence in the
Workplace. She describes eight types of behavior that could signal risk of
violence at work. She says the way McDermott was acting at the consulting firm
near Boston matches three of these behavior types and should have been easy to