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The Break Room: When Resentment Runs Unchecked

May 10, 2012
A workplace full of unhappy, resentful employees just might be a recipe for workplace violence.
Years ago, I had a coworker (we’ll call him “Ron”) who apparently became frustrated with the company and was overheard making a threat that involved bringing a gun to work and “shooting the place up.”

I didn’t know Ron very well, and it didn’t seem many others at work did, either. Ron worked with a group of employees who had formed what might be described as a clique, but he was not a part of that clique. I never saw him eating lunch in the cafeteria when I was there with other coworkers, and I couldn’t recall him participating in any office events, either. I speculated that there was a chance he felt ignored or alienated, even if no one in the office intended for him to feel that way. I found this possibility – coupled with the fact that he’d threatened the office – highly distressing.

In the end, Ron’s comment was one of several factors that contributed to him leaving the company, which he did without incident. It’s a shame he had to go out on those terms, and it’s also a shame he apparently felt that upset about his place of employment.

I’m not placing the blame on the company or other employees for failing to prevent Ron from making a dangerous statement at work. He never should have said it, and let’s hope he didn’t mean it. And if he felt cut off from the rest of the work force, he could have made his own efforts to change that. But maybe, just maybe, if the company had a more open communication policy, if his supervisors developed a stronger connection to him, or if his fellow coworkers had reached out to him more, he might not have even thought about the word “gun” at work, much less utter the words “shooting the place up.”

Now, whenever I hear about a shooting in the news – such as the April 2 Oikos University shooting in California, when ex-student One Goh allegedly meant to target a college administrator and ended up gunning down six students and one college employee instead – I think of how vulnerable so many workers might be at this very moment without knowing it. Goh might not have been a fellow employee of the administrator he sought out or of the secretary he fatally shot that day, but these employees and others nonetheless were in danger simply by showing up for work.

In the documentary “Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal,” James Alan Fox, Ph.D., Lipman Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, stressed that incidences of violence in the workplace are not the result of one bad apple who was somehow predisposed to violence. Instead, toxic work environments can create a breeding ground of unhappiness among workers. He suggested that employers should closely examine their work environments and address any issues so “we don’t have workplaces full of people who are angry, bitter and feel resentful.”

Angry, bitter and resentful: I’d say those words sum up how Ron must have felt at work. But what can we do about it? How can managers, supervisors and employers help create workplaces that don’t allow anger and bitterness to flow unchecked?

I’d like to hear your solutions for fostering a healthy and happy workplace where employees feel valued, respected and heard. Send an email to [email protected] and I’ll compile the responses – anonymously, if you’d prefer – into an upcoming blog post on

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