I’m sure many of us have been driven to desperation by a colleague that seems useless at most things, except of course, at driving us up the wall, for which they seem to have a PhD. Few of us will have been so furious with that colleague that we resorted to the drastic measures of neurobiologist Amy Bishop, whose anger boiled over in 2010 when she killed three colleagues in an attack that shocked the nation.
The story prompted Rutgers academic Ronald D. Brown, an expert on workplace murders, to explore in more detail. The result has been a new book on the topic, called Dying on the Job, which is believed to be one of the first books that explores this particular topic in isolation.
You might think that murders at work are a pretty niche topic, but Brown reveals that there are actually several hundred such incidents each year, and his work delves into just what drives an employee to take out their frustrations in such a brutal and horrific way. He also explores what some of the warning signs are and how we can try and prevent such terrible incidences from happening.
Brown says that there are around 800 employee murders in America each year. Interestingly, some 75 percent of these attacks are committed by single men that are roughly 40 years of age. This aversion from the norm is arguably what made Bishop so interesting as she was highly educated and a mother of four children.
Her education also sets her apart, as the majority of workplace murders are committed by blue collar employees, with most of those committed in factories or warehouses.
The tipping point
Brown’s research suggests that what makes most of us snap is being labelled a loser or some other form of social stigma in the workplace. A large proportion of murders take place after taunting of some kind. It can also be triggered by a drastic change in life circumstances, such as losing one’s job.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Brown reveals the devastating impact a murder in the workplace can have on the whole organisation.
"After a workplace murder, even large companies can fold, slowly go under and never bounce back," he says. "Most survive, but it’s never the same."
Brown believes the key to reducing the number of murders in the workplace is a better use of pre-employment screening, although he also cites the (uniquely American perhaps?) requirement of having a gun free workplace.
"A gun-free workplace, along with zero tolerance for violence, insulates an employer from possible legal liability if a workplace shooting does occur," he suggests.
What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the differences between men and women. Brown declares that a man can stew on his anger for several weeks before deciding to take brutal action against his oppressor. He suggests that women can usually take the leap from thought to action in about an hour.
All of which is a rather chilling thought. It seems a rather naively silly question, but has anyone encountered anything like this in their workplace? Do your employers take measures to prevent against such attacks on staff? Let me know in the comments below.