Last week’s dreadful massacre at the Hartford Budweiser distributor has to give everyone who’s ever worked some pause.
The workplace has enough major stressors (bad bosses, sniping colleagues, poor company performance, fear of layoffs, boring tasks, terrible policies) and minor annoyances (rotting food in the fridge) without having to think about some fellow worker coming completely unglued and blasting you to oblivion.
And yet every few months, it seems, someone “goes postal” and shoots up their place of work because they lost their job or lost whatever shred of ability they had to handle their real or imagined gripes.
I never felt physically afraid at work, but I don’t suppose the warehouse workers in Connecticut did, either.
A couple of times, I did fear that “something” could happen.
When Genuity had its periodic layoffs, they usually beefed up security – which was no surprise, given that occasional death threats against the company’s executives appeared on online bulletin boards. (At Genuity, there was more than just the prospect of losing your paycheck that had people going; lots of employees lost lots of money in our big, failed IPO.) Other than a bit of yelling, I don’t think anything ever happened on lay-off day.
At a far smaller company where I worked for many years, there was one employee I thought could have been a danger to her manager.
Alice, as I’ll call her, because she resembled Alice in Wonderland, was one of the most disturbed people I’ve ever worked with.
Not that I was good at spotting crazies during the interview process – I have to admit to hiring my share of out and out looney tunes – I must say that I had advised against hiring Alice as an admin.
I hadn’t exactly seen the true craziness, but I had pegged her as someone who was just not going to be able to stand up to her manager – a demanding s.o.b. if ever. I worked very closely with this guy, but we got along pretty well – especially because I called him on his crap. I just didn’t see Alice and her boss as a marriage made in anywhere other than hell.
If my reasoning was wrong, my gut sense was right.
Shortly after Alice started work, she came into my office to complain about how poorly she was being treated by her boss.
I gave her a couple of tips for handling him, and also offered to run interference.
Oh, no, she said, I can manage.
Nonetheless, I made my way to the boss’ office and we chatted a bit about some ideas for making things work with Alice.
The next time Alice dropped by, it was to tell me that she’d left a couple of things off of her resume, namely, that she had a degree in electrical engineering from a prestigious university, and had worked at a well-regarded technology firm for a couple of years. But then something happened – Alice implied she’d been left at the altar – and she’d been out of work for a few years. Now, she was trying to get back into the world of work with something a bit lower key than a demanding EE job.
Now, I’m as sympathetic as the next guy – probably more so – but this raised a big RED FLAG. Working for her boss did not seem like a good idea for someone so fragile.
Things, of course, got worse.
I asked Alice’s boss how things were going, and he told me that he’d asked her whether something was bugging her, and she just gritted her teeth and said “no” - while dragging her fingernails down the length of his office door. (You could see the claw marks.)
Then a couple of us came across her in the ladies room, where she started in on a diatribe against her manager so riddled with f, m-f, and c-s bombs that it would have made a sailor’s gob cap spin.
But wait, there’s more.
Alice then announced that she was getting married – to a fellow who had had some technical dealings with our company, but who had just decamped to set up a rival enterprise. And, oh, yeah – he had been a friend of the boss. And, oh, yeah – he was engaged to and living with someone other than Alice.
And, oh, yeah, I may have been hallucinating it, but I can swear that at some point Alice had told me that she owned a knife or a gun.
What with all the psychodrama, and Alice’s singular inability to get any work done, the decision was made to get rid of her.
We had a very sweet person who was in charge of HR at the time – very sweet, but completely inexperienced, and ill-equipped to deal, with the likes of Alice.
I can’t remember how I got involved in all this, but I did end up meeting with the company president, the HR person, and Alice’s boss about her impending firing.
I was very nervous that day, even though they gave her a good severance package and she did go quietly.
Still, after we’d watched her get in her car and leave the parking lot, I did pop into the boss’ office to tell him to be careful when he went home that night. Alice knew where the boss lived, and I didn’t quite trust things.
Nothing happened to him, and every once in a while I wonder what happened to her.
Did she have another breakdown? Did she marry that guy? Did she ever find work? Is she well? Is she sane? Was her sojourn with us just part of a few years worth of temporary aberration in the midst of a solid life.
I’d google her, but I’m blocking on her last name – even though I can picture the “real” resume that she showed me that had her degree and high-level tech employment on it. And I can picture her perfectly, right down to the Alice in Wonderland hairdo.
I don’t think of Alice all that often, but she sure comes to mind whenever there’s some workplace rage incident.
You really never know what’s going to happen, even if it seems like just another day at the office.