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<i>Dear Workforce</i> We Have a Longtime Employee with a History of Belligerence. Is It Too Late to Reverse His Behavior

December 17, 2004
Dear Tense:

In light of well-publicizedworkplace violence issues, why does your organization tolerate such belligerence? Why is it so passive about this? Take the following initial diagnostic steps.
1. Scope Out the Environment. Find out where this individual fits in the organizational structure. Does he have critical expertise or experience? Dysfunctional as it is, does management excuse his behavior because he makes an especial contribution to the company? Is he the president's brother-in-law? Are key decision-makers motivated by unspoken fear? If possible, ask other colleagues for any inside information.
2. Look at Past Futility. Find out if management has tried to address this bully's behavior in the past. It's hard to imagine there isn't a record of such hostility. Were monitoring/disciplinary steps halfheartedly administered, then dropped? Learn why managers accommodate this hostility.
3. Speak to the Boss. Question this individual's boss or direct supervisor for input on this aggressive employee, as well as a view of the company's harassment and discipline policy and procedure. Does his boss deny the potential for violence? Or are his or her hands tied from above?
If you feel that any of these recommendations would result in a backlash, then consider alternative intervention steps.
1. Documentation of the Aggressive Behavior. You need a record of factual examples, spoken words and nonverbal gestures. Document any threatening or hostile actions.
2. Outside Help. Enlist outside support from people who are not in everyday contact with this antagonistic employee (for example, a safety officer or EAP counselor).
3. The Meeting and Aftermath. The boss must explain any breakdown in supervision, and commit to providing firm and competent supervision (assuming he or she is capable). The employee also must be confronted about his pattern of threatening behavior, including a recommendation for anger management. The employee should be put on a formal performance-improvement plan that the boss will monitor, initially on a weekly basis.
4. Intervention with the Boss. Have the boss report to someone in upper management, or even receive some management coaching from an outside consultant. Bosses must be accountable for their supervisory responsibilities.
If the boss proves intractable, upper management may have to get directly involved. Company executives must understand that an ongoing climate of harassment is being tolerated, and be made aware of the potential for violence that this breeds.
5. Need for Structural Intervention. Address the structural nature of the dysfunction. Human resources, safety and other relevant departments may be required to produce a formal harassment/violence-preventionpolicy. System-wide training is critical, first for managers and supervisors (who clearly need it) and then for all employees.
SOURCE: Mark Gorkin, LICSW, The Stress Doc, Washington, D.C., February 6, 2004.
LEARN MORE:Vigilance Stops Violence and Lawsuits
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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