I’m a moderator on a car forum, and I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of members who have gotten banned from that forum for behavior that likely would cost them their jobs. Just today, a friend was at a drug store where he asked someone who was coughing to mask up; when they refused, security threw them out of the store. When my friend left the store, the non-masker attempted to run my friend down with their car while threatening to find and kill him.
While YouTube is full of videos of actions like this at retail establishments, the people acting out have day jobs and don’t seem to understand the personal risks they are taking. If it weren’t for the employee shortage, I’d suggest stress interviews to see who is likely to overreact coupled with a policy against hiring or retaining people who can’t, or won’t, control their temper. But, given the shortage, even if you could implement such a policy, I doubt you’d be able to sustain it.
The EEOC rules against a Hostile Workplace are enforceable. Having watched significant judgments and settlements over the years, I recognize that firing these people not only potentially escalates to violence, but also puts stress on the remaining staff and potentially results in brand damage. Here’s another path: mandatory anger management training with lessons on how to behave in public and on social media to prevent the behavior in the first place.
Corporate Behavioral Policies
I’ve worked for two companies that, at least while I worked there, took employee behavior seriously. Disney had the Disney Academy, where employees were taught how to behave in the face of adversity at the park. Even if you were attacked physically, you weren’t to respond, but instead seek help from security. At IBM, they required you to behave while in public or any time you might be connected to the IBM brand. It was made clear that you’d be an ex-employee if you violated that policy.
These lessons have served me well over the years, but they occurred before social media, which can make your mistake far more visible and far more lasting. People are losing jobs and opportunities for things they did in their youth. The best defense for everyone is to prevent the mistake from ever being made.
While we were in the office, there was the opportunity for management to at least see and moderate in-person behavior. However, with people working remotely, that protection is reduced. More importantly, while an inappropriate remark in an in-person meeting may stay in that meeting, video conferencing meetings are often recorded, creating evidence of this bad behavior that can be used in litigation or posted on social media — doing substantial damage to the employee and the firm’s brand.
I’ve also observed that senior-level employees may be most prone to bad behavior, as they often feel policies don’t apply to them. They may overreact if that potential misperception is challenged by a peer or a subordinate.
The Benefits of Ongoing Anger Management Training
There are issues with making anger management courses a targeted remedy for employees that act out. Still, IBM and Disney have showcased you can make them mandatory for all employees without calling any employee out.
Social media is both problematic and beneficial, but employees must remain conversant on what is and is not allowed and be reminded that other forms of communication like email are not private. They are audited for bad behavior. Simply reminding people not to post when they are under the influence, tired, or angry would mitigate a great deal of the problems, but these reminders can’t be one and done; they have to be ongoing, so the employee realizes that when on social media they are in the public.
I’m recommending a regular recurring class on anger management, employee interaction, acceptable behavior, and de-escalation. We can’t afford to lose employees, and we certainly can’t afford the brand damage when a misbehaving employee gets national attention. In addition, reminding employees they are always on camera these days would likely mitigate much of the bad behavior that is on display.