As a society, we continue to experience reports of mass shootings. At 3:36 p.m. on May 6, 2023, workers and shoppers at the Allen Premium Outlet Mall approximately twenty-five miles north of Dallas began to hear the ringing of gunshots. The gunman shot fifteen people, killing eight.
On the Dallas evening news that night reporters informed us that there had been 197 mass shootings in America as of that date. The next morning the same news station reported that there were more than 200 mass shootings, yet no one seemed to state where or how the additional shootings occurred. It is important to note that the majority of the 200 shootings did not happen in a traditional workplace. If we can define the more traditional workplace (i.e., not a home, not a drug lab, or related location, etc.) as an open-spaced work location, then as of May 6, we have seen twenty-two mass shootings in workplaces.
What makes people mad at work usually does not result in a mass shooting in the workplace but employees mad at work can still create seriously negative issues for other employees and employers. Today’s workplace leaders need to have a good understanding of what it is that makes people get ticked off at work. If you know what some of the main root causes are then you can do the things that will directly make your workplace a safer place. I have been dealing with this issue in the workplace for the last thirty years and have spent a tremendous amount of time studying the subject. As someone who is called upon to assist companies in resolving these issues, I thought we should dig in a little on the subject matter.
It is easy to say that mental illness is the biggest contributor to people being mad at work. I am not going to say that mental illness is not an issue, but I would like to suggest several other factors prior to making a few points on mental health issues. So, what does make people mad at work?
Not Being Heard: With all the people that I have spoken to over the years (and helped to de-escalate) I found that this is one of the single biggest issues. Much of the time employees do not believe they are being heard as a direct result of how a supervisor or manager talks to them. From an employer standpoint, what is your company doing to train leads, supervisors, and managers to know how to listen and apply those skills? Additionally, are the directors in the organization exhibiting the same correct skills? Many people simply need to know that they were heard or that the supervisor cares. When a boss does not acknowledge a person (particularly on a regular basis) it only furthers the thought that the person is not being heard. This element is a controllable issue and should be an element that every company is teaching everyone in a supervisory position. Employees want to feel heard.
Unfairness: Unfairness in the workplace can be real or perceived. In some cases, a team member may have been passed over for promotion or other perceived inequities and will clearly be mad. The team member may not acknowledge that they were passed over because another team member was in fact the better candidate. The anger stemming from possible unfairness coupled with thinking that a team member is not being listened to is a bad combination. I have seen several cases over the past four years that are almost the same. One example involved sales personnel and unfair goals affecting income. “Mark” was an account manager and had been with the company for five years. When sales projections were set for the last calendar year Mark was told that he would need to sell 10,000 doodads to achieve a 20 percent bonus and the bonus would be paid out in January. By September, Mark had achieved 10,000 in sales and continued to work on more sales. Mark and his wife began to budget what they would do with the bonus. In the second week of October Mark’s boss informed him that to get his bonus he now had to sell an additional 4,000 units. His boss did not care that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah would have a direct effect on his inability to make the new number. Mark perceived this as extremely unfair. Mark was now a mad team member.
Angry at the Boss, System, Structure: The boss can make people mad in a number of ways. What the boss says, how the boss says something, or how the boss chooses not to say something when people expect them to say something can make people furious. A boss who is not a good leader and allows for abuse or unfairness to exist will make people mad. A boss who shows favoritism will also make people mad. A system or structure that holds employees back or creates extra work will make people mad. Combine a poor or antiquated system with a leader who does not listen, and you have a possible volatile scenario particularly if the employee is evaluated based on a flawed system or structure.
Grievance Collector—Some People Want to Be Mad: The grievance collector is likely your most dangerous employee. Grievances such as not being heard, being passed over for promotion, changes in schedule, changes in benefits, or more, can be real or perceived but this person will only see the grievances as real. This person will also see these issues as personal attacks against them. The personal frustration in some people grows to the point that they need to place blame on others and then the person acts out on others. Some people have a low threshold for stress and act out in many ways—they are mad, and they want you to know it.
Life is not always fair to people and some want to get even for the negative things that happened in their lives. For some people, it is simply easier to blame others for problems to the point of exhibiting unacceptable or even violent behavior. They end up with a grievance or a grudge, then they simmer on the problem, and they feed and water the problem until they get so mad that they say or do things that everyone regrets. The term I use is stacking. This is where the person begins to stack one problem or grievance on top of another. As more and more stress is created and problems stack up, people break and some act out in very negative ways.
In 2014 a 22-year-old male went on a shooting spree in the University of California Santa Barbara area—he killed using knives, guns, and his car. He killed six people and injured another fourteen. He called his actions the Day of Retribution. His real targets were women because they would not sleep with him. There is debate as to whether he was mentally ill or not. He had seen a therapist off and on since he was eight years old (the same time when his parents divorced). He was diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified in 2007. He did know the difference between right and wrong.
In 2012 a 24-year-old male entered a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. He killed twelve and injured seventy more people. He had been under the care of a therapist for many months. He had disclosed to the therapist that he wanted to kill people but did not give a specific threat therefore the therapist could not get him taken off the street. The DSM IV (Diagnostic Manual for Mental Disorders) was in play at the time (today we have the DSM V). His therapist was unable to find any single, exact diagnosis that would allow serious action.
When we look at both cases it would not be overly difficult to argue some level of mental illness. Having said that, we know the following issues exist in both cases: Both individuals spent months planning their attacks which show mental thinking, not mental deficiency; both purchased the items for their attacks (i.e., guns, ammo, bomb-making materials, disguise, etc.); both practiced for their attack; and both hid their intentions for a period of time which demonstrates positive mental functioning. In other words, it is not always easy to determine whether someone is or is not suffering from mental illness. We do know that in both cases and in others, some violent people who have acted out were seen by professionals yet there was not a specific mental disorder that could be identified.
It is important as professionals that we know what we are looking at with people. We must be objective, and we need to know what to do with what we are seeing. Behavior is critically important. Behavior is not just exhibited physically it can be projected verbally and via social media. Objectively, we must look at the total picture when it comes to evaluating behavior.
Rod Fulenwider is the vice president of D&L Protective Services and board member of the ISCPO. Rod has held senior LP positions with Exel Logistics, Sears, Blockbuster, and Loomis Fargo.