Performance Management Company Blog

Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Going Postal – Workplace violence and Engagement

As regular readers know, I write a lot on the themes of employee productivity and workplace engagement. We’ve focused a lot of thinking energy on themes of generating active involvement and employee ownership involvement as a way of generating the intrinsic motivation to drive more success. Also, there has been a heavy focus on the manager as facilitator and what they might choose to do differently to impact people and performance.

Going Postal,” made it as a descriptive phrase for “losing it” — in American English slang, according to Wikipedia, it means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The expression derives from a series of incidents starting in 1983  in which US Postal Service workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police and general public. Between 1986 and 1997, more than forty people were gunned down in at least 20 such incidents of workplace rage.

A Bing search on “going postal cartoon” turned up over 3000 cartoons (many are a hoot!) and a google search showed 206,000 hits on the phrase (but no numbers for the cartoon images). Clearly, this is a mainstream theme. Why?

Workplace Rage is the end result of workplace frustration, and there is a lot of that these days. Statistics from different sources show that many workplaces are frustrating and sometimes intimidating…

  • In the United Kingdom, research found that 53% of employees had been victims of workplace bullying and that 78% had witnessed such behavior.
  • 52% of Americans have “witnessed, heard about, or experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace.
  • A 2011 Massey University (NZ) survey of 96 organizations found more than half had experienced workplace violence.
  • In Taiwan, 13% of all employees frequently suffer from heavy pressure in their work, and 24% have emotional problems, such as anxiety, depression, irritability. 

And those factors can explode:

In Minneapolis in 2012, a man killed 5 co-workers, a UPS driver and himself after he was fired from his job at a sign company. He was given a warning the week before the attack for being chronically late — 35 workdays in a row in August and September – and his manager wrote him that his constant tardiness a problem that needed to be “rectified immediately.” While being fired, he pulled out a gun and started shooting, killing the company’s founder, three other Accent employees, and a UPS driver before killing himself. And the lateness was an early signal that things were not good insofar as morale…

The workplace shooting situation is so common that the safety video, “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.”  has 2.3 million hits. Clearly people are concerned about this issue and there is a good bit of harassment and intimidation in the workplace globally. (I will post some of that stuff up and link to it here, at a later time)

There are lots of causal factors. And solutions are varied.

The issue would seemingly be addressed by improving workplace engagement and teamwork. If people felt more positive support for their efforts, one would logically conclude that normal people would be less frustrated and volatile.

If the managers did a better job of communicating and listening to ideas for improvement, there would be more continuity and involvement among the people. If workers felt that managers were interested in helping them make improvements, the numbers of dis-engaged and actively un-involved would drop.

A lot of the un-engaged workers are pretty visible. I call them Spectator Sheep:

Spectator Sheep poem

What does it take to involve them? Generally, not that much. My experience says that they want to be heard and have their grievances considered.  They want their managers to listen to what they see as problems or workplace issues and, often, allow them to work with others in teams to help modify or impact those concerns.

Performance Management Company offers a series of simple to use illustrations and team building exercises to directly address the issue of Manager as Facilitator. We have been developing and marketing these programs since 1993 and they have global use and you can see a few of them here.

We have packaged simple Square Wheels toolkits and facilitation guides to help generate active involvement and ownership.

Discover the Road haiku

Our flagship team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, is directly focused on building collaboration and on implementing workplace change and improvement.

Managing Mud

Users say that our products are exceptionally easy to use and highly effective. Give me a call and I will be pleased to share ideas and possibilities,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – You can reach Scott at 864-292-8700 or at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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1 Comment

  1. We see similar issues of frustration and abuse of power in the current news about sexual assaults in the military. There are lots of posts and blogs about the issue and it was estimated that there were 26,000 sexual assaults last year.

    Part of the problem is that those who are currently victimized have to report up though their chain of command. Victims have reported that their attackers were sometimes the very people to whom they were required to report attacks. A related problem is that this system and its politics and culture may cause complaints to be ignored or dismissed and the claimants ostracized or retaliated against.

    It is somewhat surprising that these people in the military, many of whom are taught to defend themselves, have not also gone postal. Reports in Vietnam of fragging of officers was somewhat common; there so far seems to be no retribution in our military as of yet and it will be interesting to see reactions when this predictable event does occur.

    The pin seems ready to hit the balloon. Frustration is high and people are moving past feeling victimized toward feeling angry.

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