At the risk of redundancy after the Virginia Tech tragedy and discussing abnormal behavior in the workplace, I thought it would be helpful to review a few pointers to continue our awareness of workplace behavior and how to handle abnormalities and unusual behavior. For many this can be a touchy subject, however, its importance is becoming as central as the emperor without clothes.
Firstly, know and understand what and what is not acceptable in your workplace. These should be a part of your operations plan and reviewed often in your supervisor/manager's meetings. Also to be discussed is how one brings abnormal behavior forth to supervisors. What is the process? To whom do we speak? Know what to do if that person is not available as time may be critical. It can be as simple as a personal discussion with your manager. Remember, only describe the observed behavior differences.
Be mindful that we're not talking about what we might call "small abnormalities" and idiosyncrasies. We're talking about brandishing or bringing weapons to work, hurting or killing someone, extreme or prolonged anger or morose (depressed, pessimistic) behavior, etc. No one can forecast another's behavior, nor should we. However, we can be observant for ours and other's safety based on previous behavior patterns.
If we observe a significant difference in someone's typical pattern of behavior, it could mean several things: personal/family difficulties, drugs/alcohol, internal chemical imbalance, dissatisfaction at home or work, etc. There may be many possibilities and combinations thereof. Our point here is to be mindful of what goes on around us in our workplace and its potential effect upon employees. It is not for us to judge the behavior; our responsibility is to observe it and bring it to our supervisors and managers. They then have the responsibility of communicating with the affected employee.
Often in my career, I would get a call to counsel with the manager, and then the employee. More often than not, the manager did not know what to do and left the answer up to me. When speaking with the employee I would often learn of personal challenges, which they felt couldn't be discussed in the workplace, or with his or her manager, and hadn't realized they had manifested in such negative behaviors. After bringing the employee and the manager together for an open discussion, strategies and actions were put in place to help all understand and deal with the situation. The point here? Bring these behavior challenges up for discussion. No one is going to be hurt from appropriate discussions. If approached compassionately and without judgment they can be effectively eliminated and production resumed.
Lastly, each organization needs a disaster plan. What would each of you do in the case of an explosion, fire, shooting, robbery, or other similar situation? How would you handle the media? What will you say? Review disaster scenarios in your meeting to get employees thinking about what they would do.
Certainly, we do not wish any of the above upon our organizations. However, preparedness prevails, especially in these critical and different times.
Reed Daugherity is the owner of his own leadership coaching and consulting business located in Seaside. He was formerly with Clatsop Community College as director of the Small Business Development Center. He writes from his experience as a consultant and his work with business leaders. You may contact Daugherity at 738-6595.