When Employees Turn Deadly at Work
Working It Out
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
"The first was what I call 'fragmentor behavior,' where the
employee takes no responsibility for his own actions," she says, explaining
that McDermott blamed his employers for his problems with the IRS, when he
really had caused the problem himself.
McClure calls McDermott's second warning sign
"shocker behavior" -- actions that are "extreme or
out-of-character." She notes that he had an angry outburst in the office
one week before the shootings.
In addition, the unkempt and obese McDermott displayed poor hygiene and social
skills, something that McClure calls "stranger behavior." She says the
Internet employee's fixation on his income-tax problem was similar, in some
ways, to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's obsession with computers.
McClure advises employers to watch for these other types of
behavior as well:
Actor behavior: An employee acts out his or her anger instead of
trying to resolve it.
Me-first behavior: An employee does things for his or her own
benefit, regardless of how it might affect the company or co-workers.
Mixed-messenger behavior: An employee's positive self-image is
contradicted by his or her actions.
Wooden-stick behavior: A worker's actions are rigid or
Escape-artist behavior: An employee avoids reality through lying or
McClure says if an office manager recognizes the warning signs
in problem employees, he or she can require the workers to get training on how
to deal with their issues. Also, a supervisor may offer advice to such workers
on how they should take responsibility for their own actions. Those who don't
cooperate should face company sanctions.