When the Problem is the Employer

Lesson 4: Topic 9 of 14

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In case you’ve not heard the term “going postal,” it’s American slang for an employee becoming suddenly enraged and homicidal. The origins of the phrase are murky; there were a few well-publicized incidents of postal workers shooting their coworkers (and family and police) during the 1990s, but based on actual statistics postal workers were no more likely to resort to violence than workers in other industries. Fewer than 0.3% of workplace homicides during the 1990s were postal employee related. 

Nevertheless, within a few years of those tragic events the Postmaster General responded by commissioning a third party to conduct research as to why the shootings happened. The good news, the report concluded, was that “postal workers are no more likely to physically assault, sexually harass, or verbally abuse their coworkers than employees in the national workforce.” However, there was some bad news for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Even though they were two-thirds less likely to suffer workplace violence than other workers, postal employees were six times more likely to believe they were in danger while on the job. High numbers of them said they were afraid while at work. They also were very doubtful their employer (USPS) cared about or would take action to reduce violence at work. Most damning of all was that a plurality believed their managers and supervisors actively sought to provoke employees to violence. 

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In a way, it doesn’t matter if those statements accurately reflect reality: what matters is that the employees believed they did. At best, the USPS was faced with a massive internal PR problem. They had to persuade workers that their fears were unjustified, they were safe at work, and their managers and supervisors genuinely cared for them (or at least weren’t out to hurt them). In the years since then, it appears the USPS has made improvements in this regard. 

This goes back to information from the Prep Work section (Lesson 2) of this course (in Lesson 2): you need your employees to have some basic level of trust in you. Employees need to know you want them to thrive and succeed.