Tag Archive | "workplace violence"

Going Postal: Mass Killings in the Workplace

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More years ago than I care to admit, a firm with which I was affiliated got a great deal on some office space in Cherry Hill.  It was only after I moved in that I came to realize why an otherwise quaint office building in a vibrant business district was largely empty:  it had been the scene of a mass shooting and murder by a deranged ex-employee.

Apparently, six years before I occupied the space, one Edwin James Grace parked his car behind the building and calmly entered through the rear door of the two-story structure.  Ascending the stairs in the building’s center hall, he turned left and walked into the reception area of an employment agency with which he had been associated.  Raising his firearm, he shot the receptionist in the head and proceeded to open fire at will.  When the shooting ceased, twelve people (including the gunman) were dead or critically injured.

The police, summoned by tenants who had escaped via first and second floor windows, surrounded the building bombarding it with teargas.  It was only when law enforcement and emergency medical personnel entered and began transporting victims to the hospital that they realized that the perpetrator was among the dead, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Ultimately, nine people would lose their lives as a result of the events of that day.

That tragedy, occurring as it did more than thirty years ago, is just one of a litany of documented workplace shooting rampages that have occurred in the United States.  During the last 100 years, hundreds of deaths and injuries can be attributed to these senseless acts.  These occurrences have become so commonplace and have so often involved United States Postal Service (USPS) workers that the expression “Going Postal” has been coined to describe such behaviors.

Today, yet another mass shooting occurred, not in a postal facility but in a Connecticut warehouse where a driver, asked to resign his position with a beer distributor for an undisclosed violation of company policy, opened fire reportedly killing nine (including himself) and injuring a number of others.  The identities of the perpetrator and his victims have yet to be revealed.

Although in this instance the perpetrator’s motives seem reasonably clear, many cases, like the one in Cherry Hill I described above, are never fully resolved, as the murderers often commit suicide or are killed by police at the crime scenes.  What seems obvious, however, is that this type of violence, whether at a workplace, educational institution, military installation, or other venue, appears to be on the rise.

Violent and lawless acts are becoming commonplace, even in those areas and neighborhoods considered among the safest.  The threats of terrorism, gang violence, and crimes against individuals and society have invaded the American consciousness, robbing many of the sense of security that they once held.  And, the events of today in Manchester, Connecticut will only go to reinforce the growing sense of public alarm. 

Lip Service

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Lip Service Telephone

The longer that we remain in the same place of employment, the deeper we sink into that comfort zone that can, in the end, be anything but comfortable.  If the old phrase “Familiarity breeds contempt” sounds familiar, consider how that might translate into the workforce.   Your employer might share off-color jokes that make you squirm, delve too deeply into your personal life, or put the screws to you to attend his wife’s candle party, where you’ll be expected to make a large purchase.


In fact, your boss might be the biggest clod on God’s good earth.  He might pick his teeth after lunch, wickedly cuss the baseball club that trumped the home team last night, or denigrate your political views, which happen to be 180 degrees removed from his own.  He may ogle the cute receptionist and give her a “playful” pat as she passes his desk.  He may order you to run out and buy the perfect present for his wife, one of your own choosing, as he’d forgotten his own wedding anniversary yesterday.  He may steal your great ideas and pass them onto his superior as his own.  He may assign the blame for some horrendous mistake to you, when you had absolutely nothing to do with it.


Oh, and that promotion that you were promised, the one he dangled in front of you as he practically chained you to your desk to pull overtime every night for the past three months?  He may just up and hand that promotion blithely to his nephew, the kid who barely made it out of high school and who’s rumored to have a rap sheet (and no, not the kind containing lyrics to a “gangsta” tune).


What is the best plan of action in cases such as these? 


Well, if you wish to keep your job, you can pretend to be a monk in a 13th century monastery.  In other words, keep your mouth shut.  If you don’t, consider that roughly a thousand other people, maybe more, would kill to have your job.


Often, what you don’t say in the workplace is just as important as what you do say.  Silence, or at least circumspection, can indeed be golden.  Although you may be tempted to mouth off at your supervisor and put him in his place for behaving like a cretin, consider that, as your superior, the shoe is actually on the other foot.  You are in no position, quite literally, to call the shots.  Humble pie may not be your favorite dish, but it tastes a lot better than crow.


If you can’t hold your tongue and the boss lashes out at you in retaliation for your blow-up, bear in mind how humiliated you would be if a.) the entire office heard it or b.) the incident was gossiped about behind your back.  And if he fires you for insubordination, think how broke you’ll be.  Will you be able to collect unemployment benefits?   If so, the funds will be a lot less than you’re used to seeing in your paycheck.  And with this economy, who knows how long it may take to locate another job?  Jesus stated that the “meek shall inherit the Earth.”  I can’t vouch for the Earth, but I am sure that the meek hold on to their jobs a lot longer than big mouth hotheads.


It can be very difficult to turn the other cheek when your boss is being a complete idiot.  If you are a trigger-happy soul compelled to stand up immediately for your rights, know that silence is often the greater part of valor.  Walking away from the situation, literally, for a few minutes can help restore you to serenity, or at least, a more rational state of mind.  If you are seated and cannot escape your manager’s vitriol, imagine your stress flowing down into your arms, out your fingertips, and into an inanimate object, such the arms of your chair or your desk.  If that doesn’t help, imagine a huge safe landing squarely on your boss’s head from thirty floors above him as he takes his last cigarette break out on the street.


And if you can’t be silent, then please, phrase your point of view quietly and calmly.   You will be taken much more seriously if you adopt this attitude.  Your manager may be totally unprofessional, but you don’t have to stoop to his level.   This includes spreading office gossip.  If you don’t wish to be talked about, make sure you don’t denigrate others to your colleagues.  When you least expect it, your words and actions will come back to bite you … usually when you are seeking another job and are hungry for a good reference.


The term “workplace violence” was instituted by the PC among us (that’s the Politically Correct, for those of you actually inhabiting a monastery).  Although I could tell you true tales of one employee literally gunning for his boss (honest) and another of an employer who put his fist right through his secretary’s door, I believe that the phrase was originally meant to define verbal harassment in the workplace.   Your employer can cut you down to size all he wants, and you can trot on over to HR to report him in accordance with company policy, but know the lay of the land before you do.


PC goes both ways.  If the HR folks happen to like your boss, or if he’s been with the company a lot longer than you have, or if he is lording some dirt over them and threatening to expose them to executive management unless they play by his rules, guess who’s going to get the short end of the stick?  Duh.  That would be … you!


So, if you are victim of workplace violence, or just the victim of a moronic, myopic, idea-stealing supervisor, plot your revenge on the Q-T.  Your very best revenge, of course, is to leave your boss in the dust when you land another job with a company whose managers will respect you and where there is room for advancement.  You’ll be the one who gets the last word. 

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