The expression, "This job is killing me," has taken on deadly new meaning in the last decade. Murder and mayhem at the workplace are becoming almost commonplace.

Anyone who manages an office, store or plant is subject to so many federal laws regarding employee relations that it sometimes seems easier, and safer, to do it all yourself.It has become difficult enough to fire someone, even for cause, but now when you terminate an employee's job, there's a chance he'll be back one day to terminate your life.

A recent U.S. News report dealt with violence in the workplace and highlighted the U.S. Postal Service.

The magazine reported that 34 postal workers have been killed by co-workers since 1980 and 26 wounded. In the process, four civilians have been killed and eight wounded because they happened to be in a post office when the shooting started. And, the statistics tell us, five of 18 attackers of post offices committed suicide.

(I'm sure that U.S. News, in an effort to head off an irate Postal Service response, would readily admit that 18 attackers in 14 years is very few compared with the 700,000 Postal Service employees who move the mail rather than shoot people.)

What the U.S. News piece was showing was that violence had reached epidemic numbers: 111,000 violent workplace incidents in 1992 alone, with 750 of them resulting in death.

Obviously, the plethora of guns in the hands of people has much to do with it. But before people squeeze the trigger, there has to have been something that triggered the action.

It is simply not enough to say the guy went mad because he was fired. For centuries, people have been fired without coming back and shooting up the business. Would Bob Cratchit have blown away old Scrooge, plus everyone else in the shop? Most unlikely. But would it have been because people just didn't do such things in those days, or because in England handguns are not as available as the morning paper?

I believe it is the former. We are more trigger-brained these days, resulting in being more trigger-fingered. We snap quicker.

View Comments

The most likely reason is that we are a much more harried work force, pressured by our bosses to do the work of two, induced to give up lunch and three nights a week to satisfy the dividend needs of stockholders, forced out of a job because we reached age 40, victimized by reduced benefits, or because we are white, or black, or Hispanic, or female, or whatever.

There's also the pressure from home, but it always was there - to keep up with the Joneses. Only now, the Joneses are working on margin and you're racing even harder to keep up.

Among reasons cited by U.S. News for violent workplace happenings is authoritarian management. I would quarrel with that. If anything, management is cowering in the corner these days - hands tied by federal regulations that have turned around the old days where people labored for their bosses without getting a piece of the action.

Whatever the reason, a way has to be found to quell this new disease. To borrow from U.S. News' use of the Postal Service, when I walk into a post office, I want to see someone other than disgruntled employees on the "wanted" posters.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.