Beware Of Harry

Dec. 21, 2004
He may be working for you.

I inherited Harry. He was a gift from a former CEO who hated me. Harry was a problem with deep roots. As a senior in high school, his teachers mostly respected him because he was bigger and older than most of them. Poor as he was in reading, writing, and rithmetic, he managed to get two As on his report card every term -- one in his first name and the other in his last name. Harry was a tattoo freak. He also liked guns -- boasted of his prowess as a marksman and a hunter. Harry had other idiosyncrasies that marked him as a problem employee. He was the kind of employee who would turn out the lights to see how dark it was. Harry was a good maintenance man, but a lousy people person. His maintenance office was called Boot Hill. His walls featured Fidel Castro in assorted poses. He posted "No Parking" signs on his chairs. His idea of a great lunch was Velveeta on rye and a pint of Seagrams wrapped in an old newspaper. His stories were like the horns of a steer -- a point here and a point there and a lot of bull in between. My troubles began when a mini-feud erupted between Harry and his supervisor, Joe. Harry told me he couldnt warm up to Joe if they were cremated together. Joe said Harry was so conceited he had his X-rays retouched. To which Harry responded that Joe was like bath water -- once you got used to him, he wasnt so hot. This is all a preface to a scary article written by a psychiatrist named Martin Blinder. It is titled "Profile of a Workplace Killer." Many of the things revealed in that article reminded me of the Harry-and-Joe situation. Dr. Blinders article points out that murder in the workplace has become alarmingly common. As a forensic psychiatrist, he has investigated several workplace homicides. One of the most notorious was the 1989 case that involved a computer programmer named Richard Farley, who was employed by a Silicon Valley defense contractor. Farley shot 11 co-workers, killing seven of them. He claimed to be "unappreciated" by his supervisor. Dr. Blinder reports that psychiatrists have collected enough data over time to build a reliable psychological profile that will help management identify -- in advance -- those employees likely to engage in acts of revenge. The more I read, the more I was reminded of Harry.

  • The homicide-prone worker is profoundly narcissistic, exhibiting an overweening sense of entitlement and a seemingly profound feeling of powerlessness. These individuals are inclined to such protestations as "Where do you get off criticizing me?" or "How dare you reject me!"
  • They have "sour personalities." Nothing pleases them.
  • They are offended by "slights" and are convinced they are surrounded by "enemies."
  • They think of themselves as "victims of injustice."
  • They are controlling and demanding. They tend to resist counseling, admonitions, or appeals to reason.
  • They make co-workers uncomfortable, even anxious.
  • They are prone to multiple gun ownership and are attracted to paramilitary groups, law enforcement, survivalist organizations, and fascist role models.
  • In their minds, mistakes are always someone elses fault.
  • They file grievances ad infinitum. And they collect legal documents and articles to support their claims of injustice.
  • They harbor anger and express great interest in reports of violent acts they see in the press: spousal abuse, bombings, shooting sprees, and the like.
  • They belong to the fringe right-wing, antigovernment, or racist groups.
  • They are task-oriented rather than people-oriented. That is, they are often good workers in the technical sense, paying obsessive attention to details, but they are insensitive to people.
  • They may have minor criminal records and drug- or alcohol-abuse problems.
Dr. Blinder recommends that, should it become necessary to fire such an employee, it is best to do it in a matter-of-fact way, with distinct regret and courtesy, preferably at the end of the week and in such a manner as to minimize the employees feelings of humiliation. He or she should be given a compassionate and face-saving severance package, including medical benefits. He concludes that such benevolence may prove to be an enormous bargain. Luckily, thats what we did. So Harry doesnt work here anymore. But hes out there somewhere, and he may be looking for a job. Just thought Id warn you. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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