Everybody Has a "Tom" – Hostile Work Environment Part 1

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OK, impromptu poll:  How many of you have ever witnessed someone getting fired at work, and they go out guns-a-blazin’?  Like a truly epic, Office Space type of a blowout?  Maybe a trash can got kicked across the room (a very true incident that can happen from the most innocent-seeming employee), a table gets flipped, doors get slammed, phones get smashed, etc.  I’m willing to bet that a good 85-90% of those reading this have witnessed this type of event on some scale at some point. I’ll do you one better, I’m willing to bet that at least half of you right now have someone’s name in mind!
Hostile encounters happen much more often than you think, and it is so common that I actually named the seminar that I teach regarding this subject “Everyone has a Tom”.  This all came about when years ago, as a newbie fresh to the private sector, I was teaching my first seminar on this and I asked the same questions as above.  Immediately, without missing a beat, nearly everyone in the room shouted almost as one “THAT’S TOM!!!”.
If this doesn’t ring a bell, or you’ve never encountered it, then you are either self-employed, in which case if you answered yes, you should seek immediate help, or you are one of the few individuals that has no idea what I mean.  For you lucky few, I will be explaining in the next few blogs how hostile interactions in the workplace can manifest themselves, the warning signs and pre incident indicators to watch out for, and how to best keep yourself safe if they happen outside of your control.  For those of you that know exactly what I was talking about, I offer these tips as both a refresher, a chance to laugh at how you may have handled the situations in the past, and good safe practices for the next time “Tom” comes to work.
For this first of three blogs, I will focus on how these situations can manifest themselves, or as we call it in the industry “pre incident indicators.”  So buckle up, and let’s kick some knowledge.
First, establish a baseline.  Get to know the “usual feel” for the office, warehouse, hospital, etc.  You need to get your head out of your phone or computer (the TPS report can wait a second), and actually LOOK around.  You’ll get a feel for how the flow of the room is, and how everyone normally acts.  This is your baseline.
Second, look for things that stand out.  Like the song says, “one of these things is not like the other.”  Pick out what stands out as odd and stick with it.  This could be something as seemingly simple as someone who is normally a talkative or humorous individual suddenly becoming withdrawn and distant.  If they stand out, keep an eye on them and perhaps even engage them in conversation if safe to do so. Ask them how they have been and you’ll get a better feel for what is going on with them by way of how they respond.
Third, if what has stood out to you as abnormal becomes increasingly alarming, make sure you notify the proper person or office. Most times your HR department will be equipped to handle this, but if all else fails, kick it on up the chain of command to your direct manager.
Lastly, follow up on it later on. Make sure that action was taken. Sometimes it takes a while for the pot to boil over, and you want to make sure proper intervention can be taken before that happens.
So there you have it, a crash course in some situational awareness and workplace profiling that can give you an advance warning of hostile situations before you end up with a trash can on your head. Stay tuned for the next blog where we will cover hostile terminations, and how you can help yourself during one of the most stressful and potentially dangerous situations you can encounter in the workplace.
PS: Sorry if your name is Tom!
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