Archive for May 6th, 2011

In our last post we looked at two scenarios where, even though other people were causing us stress, we did not ask them to stop because we could not do so safely.  Here is the last scenario before we move on to subject of “is it worth your time to intervene”?  What would you do here?

Scenario:

A lay-off recently occurred at your company and a week later one of the terminated people comes to the receptionist’s area at the office.   You come back from lunch and walk into the situation.  He is obviously distraught and is yelling about the unfairness of the lay-off he mentions that he now has no reason to live.  You know the guy, he seems harmless enough and you just want to end the disruption his ranting is having on the employees.  He has two young children and you just want to take him next door for a coffee and give him a chance to vent awhile.  Should you ask him to stop disrupting the office and offer a shoulder to lean on?

Answer:  Absolutely not.  Doing so would be unsafe for you and your coworkers.  When he 1)  showed back up at the office and 2) mentioned “no reason to go on living”, he crossed a line.  Anyone who seems unstable, no matter how small or harmless looking, must be considered dangerous even if you know them personally.  Crime stats are filled with disgruntled former employees who return to the company and attack former bosses and coworkers.  Quietly lock the door to the work area, have somebody call the police immediately and encourage your people to leave the area where the guy is screaming.

Something like this actually happened to me twice as a manager at a major corporation back in the 1990s.  The first time was when we terminated a PhD in electrical engineering in my organization.  He was odd, lazy and didn’t get along with our other technical staffers so at the end of his 6 month probationary period, we let him go.  He then called a company manager at home, very drunk, and mentioned that he was thinking of returning to the office with a machine gun and killing everyone there.  He asked to meet the manager and talk about his grievances.  The manager correctly declined the meeting and immediately called our security who called the local cops.  The police went to his apartment and had a chat with him and then his photo and a description of his vehicle were posted at every gate to our facility.  Nothing further came of it and we didn’t press charges.

The second time was during a contract in the Arabian Gulf during the build-up to Desert Storm (aka Gulf War 1).  I was leading a team of 105 Americans working on ships and one of them began acting strangely.  He provided (unarmed) pier security on the night shift (6 PM to 6 AM) to prevent pilferage and he complained to coworkers that when he returned to his hotel room each morning, his belongings had been moved around.  He said that the CIA was routinely searching his room!  Nobody else took him seriously but when he started leaving razor knives on storage crates every 50 feet down the pier “in case somebody jumps me” his behavior started to stress the other workers.

These same coworkers warned me that they considered him mentally unbalanced so I asked him to join me for a friendly, private walk-and-chat.  He told me that, beyond any doubt, the CIA was “after him”.  I told him that, were I him, I would take that as a serious threat and I added that maybe the CIA had him confused him with some other person.  He obviously had not thought of that and while he was pondering the ramifications I told him I thought the best thing we could do was to get him out of the Arab Gulf immediately.  He agreed and was on the flight to Amsterdam the next evening, and then home to California’s Long Beach Shipyard.  In this case, I was forced to intervene with an unstable person because I was responsible for the job getting done and the person’s behavior was stressing the rest of the team.  But always do this gently, with kid gloves. Do not be confrontational.

OK, assuming a person’s behavior is causing you stress and you have decided you can intervene without risking your personal safety.  But should you?  In the next post we will learn some proven techniques for determining what type of stressor we are dealing with and how to then get them to stop stressing us out!