take it easy
April 16, 2010 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I have a valued employee that is in charge of several other staff members. His position is one that makes him not easily replaceable. I was just shown some texts that he had written to one of the staffers during off duty hours, personally berating the staffer and going to the point of almost threatening him. This staffer as a result has given his two weeks notice.

This is a completely unacceptable way to behave, and though I think that this one example is an extreme case, I can see this type of behavior will most likely be ongoing. I think that there are both stress and anger management issues at play here. The stress I can do some small things to help reduce, but the bottom line is it's a stressful line of work and it just comes with the territory.

The question I have is regarding anger management classes. If I have this employee attend anger management classes as a condition of his keeping his job, will they still be effective, or are they the type of thing that the person has to want to change and believe in for them to work? Do they work at all?

Secondary question: This employee is also a daily pot smoker. Please excuse my ignorance here, but would this somehow affect his behavior in a negative way? Is it possible that it could have a counter effect in certain high stress types?
posted by newpotato to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A person has to want to change in order to change. Anger management classes aren't a magic bullet. Nor is anything else.
posted by dfriedman at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2010

If anything, his daily use is self-medication. He's aware of his issues and trying to cope. Anger management is a good step, but you need to make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable, and if this happens again, it's his ass.
posted by Oktober at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Daily pot smoking is likely just a symptom and not a cause of this [i.e. person with what we call "type a" personality does this to relax because their other relaxation feedback loops don't work well] just fyi. And should not come up in any way when you talk about this, unless this employee is doing this at work. And by this I mean, unless they have a prescription, there should be no discussion by you or by them about this. It's not relevant.

I guess you need to decide if you want to try to keep the staffer who gave notice or not. And then you need to contextualize this. Whether or not someone decided to quit, what your employee did is against the rules. It would be against the rules if the staffer had not quit. It would be against the rules if the staffer had laughed it off. This is because you can't predict whether a staffer will, when confronted with threatening behavior, will quit or laugh it off. So your employee needs to learn how to act in the workplace since they don't seem to have the same boundaries that the workplace requires. You can help them with their stress, but the ultimate goal is to stop them from acting the way they did in the workplace, case closed. If they can relax and do this, super. If they can't relax but can learn to work okay in the workplace, also fine.

My take on anger management classes is that some people get so pissed about having to take them that they sort of implode [sort of solving the problem, because then they don't work there any more] and when the classes work well, people learn both how to channel their anger but also about boundaries between work-appropriate and non- with possible some sort of "this is never appropriate" tossed in for good measure. Bad anger management classes just sort of work from an "anger is bad" perspective, good ones talk about how to be effective with your anger and sometimes despite your anger.
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2010

Consider whether this guy's behavior may be creating a hostile work environment. Your descrption of his behavior makes it sound like it may approach the standard of objectively offensive so as to alter the conditions of the other individual’s employment.
Don't risk having affirmative knowledge of this and failing to act upon the information.
posted by mmf at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

This is a completely unacceptable way to behave, and though I think that this one example is an extreme case, I can see this type of behavior will most likely be ongoing.

Probably, yeah. The first thing you need to do is talk to your HR people and/or lawyer. The guy is creating a hostile work environment and possibly committed a crime ("going to the point of almost threatening him"). The first issue, I think, is covering your ass legally. Then decide how to deal with the rest of the issues.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

This employee is also a daily pot smoker. Please excuse my ignorance here, but would this somehow affect his behavior in a negative way?

I, like Oktober, would suggest the opposite. He's probably naturally a rather high-strung or angry individual and uses pot to reduce the normal edginess he feels. I wonder if perhaps his supply is low/out? This is all obviously complete speculation, but I have seen this kind of behavior before.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2010

(note when I say "covering your ass" I don't mean this is something you should try to sweep under the rug. I just mean there are legal implications, as well as your ethical obligation to provide the rest of your workers with an acceptable environment.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should make TWO conditions for this employee keeping his job: the anger management class you mentioned, but also his signature on a permanent file in his record that any further behavior of that type will be grounds for immediate termination. If the potential of losing his job doesn't inspire him to want to change, then he is better off finding a new job. Of course that leaves you with the task of specifying what kind of angry behavior is off limits, when it should be fairly obvious to most working adults, but at least it will help make your expectations clear. Because what you want isn't just for him to spend some hours in a conference room learning about anger management -- what you want is for his behavior to be acceptable in the workplace. Make it crystal clear that his continued employment depend on his ability to meet that standard.
posted by vytae at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should value your other employees' safety and sense of safety, more than you value this oh-so-hard-to-replace nutbar.
posted by Coatlicue at 11:36 AM on April 16, 2010 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Your employee has more power over you than is acceptable for a real employer/employee relationship. Find a way to replace him and get rid of him, there's no excuse for threatening other employees.
posted by CharlesV42 at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2010 [19 favorites]

Best answer: He can benefit from the anger management classes if he's motivated to do so. The fact that my employer is telling me I have to do it as a condition of employment would motivate me, but that's just me. But I think you may be getting confused about someone's inner world and why they are angry people versus how they have to manage their behavior at work.

The anger class shouldn't be one that's therapy based - like let's explore help you solve your issues about anger. The class should be about acceptable workplace behavior. He can be as angry as he wants, he just needs to behave within certain parameters. The class may teach him how to behave at work, or it may motivate him to explore his inner problems. That's not your concern. All you can hold out if expectations about behavior.

This happens a lot with sexual harrassment training. People can go on being sexist pigs if they want, but they have to behave within certain parameters at work. The classes emphasize what are those acceptable and inacceptable behaviors are.
posted by jasper411 at 11:53 AM on April 16, 2010

Best answer: I wouldn't necessarily make anything a particular condition. I would rather just say, "This behavior is not acceptable. You will not do this anymore or you will not have a job. If you need assistance in finding ways to help manage your stress, or learning new leadership techniques to deal with the people you supervise, I am here and will help you to do that insofar as I possibly can, but you can't do this again, ever."

If this person then wants, say, schedule flexibility to attend an anger management class, or a management seminar, or something like that, I would personally try to accommodate that if it could be done. Heck, if he's good at his job otherwise, it might be worth even paying for these things. If he doesn't want to change, forcing him to attend a class will not work; start planning now for replacing him if this behavior shows itself again after he's been warned. But if you just fire him, you've got no guarantee that the next person knows how to manage their direct reports and handle the stress, either. So if there's some training that could help him and he wants help, I would personally think it was a good idea.

If he doesn't want help, note the warning, start figuring out now what you need to do to replace him if it happens again.
posted by gracedissolved at 11:53 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Coatlicue and CharlesV42 are absolutely right. This guy is a liability to your business. Start training his replacement now.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:19 PM on April 16, 2010

His position is one that makes him not easily replaceable.

Here's a hypothetical question. If you found out that an easily replaceable employee were acting like this, would you fire the person? If so, I think you should fire this person. The fact that he has managed to make himself valuable to the company is no excuse for bad behavior.

Yes, I understand that the above is a little extreme and don't expect you to act on it, even if your answer was that you would fire a lesser employee. But when considering what to do about this situation, do not let this employee's valued status get in the way of doing the right thing.

A comparable situation would be (and I've heard of this happening), a school having a zero tolerance policy regarding fights resulting in automatic suspension. A football player and another student get into a fight, but because the Big Game is that day, only the non-football-player student gets suspended by the principal so that the football player is eligible for the Big Game. Don't be that principal.
posted by Doohickie at 12:20 PM on April 16, 2010

Best answer: I teach anger management as part of my role at my workplace. We have people who attend because they want to, and people who attend because they are mandated by employers, courts, etc. They all get something out of it. There are enough tools and techniques to choose from that everyone can benefit. A lot of it is just productive communication.

Also, definitely start training someone at least as a back up to your guy. What if he gets hit by a truck tomorrow, or wins the big lotto and never returns? You'd be in the same boat.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2010

what others have said, and also bear in mind that NO ONE is indispensable. This guy's human relations problems are likely creating a toxic work environment for your other employees, and this sort of thing, left uncorrected, can cause a huge morale problem and potential liability issues that believe me, you are better off without.

Think about it this way: if this guy were just to up and randomly quit tomorrow, would the company go out of business? No, it damn well wouldn't, and I think you know it. Frankly it sounds like if this is an ongoing problem, the rest of your employees might suddenly thrive in his absence.

Believe me, NO one ever likes to be the bad guy and fire someone in this situation, and especially in this kind of economic climate, but sometimes shit happens.

I think you also probably need to review your company's HR policies, and if you have a mandatory warning / disciplinary policy that must be followed, then by all means do follow that and clearly document everything. If it's an at-will employment situation, well then, your choices are potentially simpler, but again, back yourself up with documentation.

Back when I was a kid working a shitty line job at a chain restaurant, an abusive stressed-out middle manager with anger management issues cost our store it's entire day shift crew, including me, after one of his famous incendiary profanity laced rants became the last straw for the lot of us. Believe me, THAT caused the head manager a much bigger productivity problem than if he'd just run through the disciplinary procedures and/or fired Manager Douchebag for being such an asshole to his staff.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:40 PM on April 16, 2010

Wow, there's a lot of strong opinions so far, based on not a whole lot of information.

If he's never exhibited this behavior at work, and this altercation was something personal between the two people, how is this any of your business? The guy quitting sounds like he was just trying to get the last punch in by showing you messages that really have nothing to do with you or the business. And the pot smoking? Please.

For all we know, this was precipitated by a love triangle or something that the quitting employee just couldn't work around, not about any workplace-related violence or anything. "Off duty" means just that, and there is no indication that the workplace (or the area under his management) is not an "acceptable environment."
posted by rhizome at 12:51 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doesn't the fact that he is engaging in this behavior with one of his subordinates outside of work make it his behavior? Especially if he's berating him about work? And the pot smoking, the fact that you're aware of it makes it your business, and potentially a liability if anything happens and it's known that you were aware of employee drug use (daily meaning high at work?) and allowed it to continue.
posted by CharlesV42 at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2010

Especially if he's berating him about work?

We don't know that that's what it was about.

the fact that you're aware of it makes it your business

Right, which makes me suspicious of the reporting employee's motivation. And "daily" doesn't mean "high at work," sheesh. If the stoner has been able to rise to management and indispensibility without issue, pot is not a problem here.
posted by rhizome at 1:06 PM on April 16, 2010

Totally ineffective management style, unless it's part of a carefully crafted "good cop, bad cop" routine.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:13 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

His position is one that makes him not easily replaceable.

This, if true, is a failure on your part to implement succession planning at all levels.
posted by randomstriker at 1:41 PM on April 16, 2010

I think this probably has everything to do with his pot smoking, and the mechanism I have in mind is quite direct.

As you may have heard, oxytocin is getting a lot of attention as the 'empathy hormone':

Why are some people more generous than others? Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University has new research connecting oxytocin to trust and generosity....

All kinds of research out there shows that cannabinoids suppress the secretion of oxytocin:

Exogenous cannabinoids exert robust effects on hormone secretion from the pituitary gland, having an inhibitory impact on neuroendocrine function that leads to the suppression of pituitary hormone release. For example, marijuana consumption in humans or {Delta}9-tetrahydrocannabinol application in rats results in increased diuresis (1, 2) and suppression of the milk ejection reflex (3) by inhibiting the release, respectively, of the posterior pituitary hormones vasopressin and oxytocin.

As you point out, the questionable emails were sent during off duty hours, and most likely, I would guess, when your manager had been smoking, which caused his secretion of oxytocin to be suppressed, which, in turn, would have caused his ability to empathize with other people to fall to low levels fairly rapidly (oxytocin has a pharmacologic half-life of around 15 minutes).

I would be surprised if emails written in such a state looking back on a stressful job situation weren't angry, threatening and totally inappropriate.

But I wouldn't be surprised if your employee is actually a much better person and a more effective manager than these emails show, and if it should turn out his behavior improves drastically if he's able to cut back on the pot.
posted by jamjam at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know someone who runs programs for people who are habitual pot smokers who need to quit and are having trouble doing so. Pot--especially in grown up, chronic users, CAN cause paranoia in some people during use.
posted by availablelight at 3:09 PM on April 16, 2010

is position is one that makes him not easily replaceable.

No one is irreplaceable. You should replace this person as a manager of other people if you feel compelled to keep them on for their other skills. After that, you can try and work through their anger issues without affecting the rest of the staff.
posted by qwip at 4:18 PM on April 16, 2010

In my first job out of uni I was the employee called at home and threatened - I immediately resigned because my manager's behaviour was so unprofessional that it reflected badly on the organisation as a whole. For her to call me at home and berate me was part of an overall behaviour pattern that our bosses had covertly approved because she was 'irreplaceable' and 'usually okay' and 'under stress'. They had a bunch of us quit at the same time because of her behaviour.

This guy is not irreplaceable and he is damaging your business with his unprofessional behaviour.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:18 PM on April 16, 2010

You are going to get sued sooner or later. Fire the supervisor, work with the staffer who gave notice. You are explicitly condoning harassment and bullying; morally, if not legally, you have a responsibility to address this that goes beyond recommending anger management.
posted by smoke at 6:34 PM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

If I found out one of my employees was bullying one of their direct reports, their ass would be in my office (not really, retail management, my office is technically also the bathroom, and it's not really professional to have one-on-ones in the store john) ASAP, and they would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their behavior was absolutely unacceptable and they would be terminated immediately if they ever did it again. Then, I would work with the person that had given notice based on the near-threats, and see if a transfer could be arranged. If not, I would give them a letter of recommendation based on their performance, as well as offer to be their reference for that particular portion of their resume.

The productivity of the staffer in question has been damaged, if it hasn't been killed completely. You will have to work with them on how to regain what they lost as a result of this behavior. And you may have to go to the other direct reports of this douche and figure out what he's done to them... this might have been the most extreme example of his utter lack of professionalism, but I'm sure he's engaged in behaviors that unwittingly broke the rest of his team's productivity as well.

As for what you should do with the exploder, well... your company doesn't happen to do "random" drug testing, does it? He might not be easily replaceable, but he's made himself very, VERY easily fireable. Just sayin'.
posted by mornie_alantie at 10:25 PM on April 16, 2010

Best answer: Everyone is replaceable, but a bad employee in a position of power will cause more than one person to leave, and it is harder to replace multiple people than it is to replace one.
posted by davejay at 10:29 PM on April 16, 2010

I'd think the first step would be to sit down and have a frank, empathetic conversation with your employee to ask him what's going on. There might be something happening in his non-work life that is affecting his ability to deal.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:50 PM on April 16, 2010

In this job market you can probably find twice the employee for 3/4 the money. Seriously. I just completed a hire for a part time, no benes position. Had hundreds and hundreds of applicants, wildly overqualified.

His behavior should lead to his termination.

as others have said if you don't take action on this you could end up in a nasty lawsuit. maybe not now but next time. He not only is being abusive but leaving a concrete trail of evidence with these texts, that you have seen. Fire and Hire.
posted by French Fry at 7:49 AM on April 17, 2010

Draft a Written Reprimand with the text message as attachment. Print it out, sign it include a line where the staffer signs acknowlefgment. Don't tell anyone else about the personnel matter. Order the staffer to apologize both in writing and in person to the other employee. Ask the other employee to stay.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:53 PM on April 17, 2010

I suggest you read the book Fearless Leadership. They talk about how making exceptions for harmful but effective employees hurts employee morale much more than the business value that person brings. At the least, you're going to need to have that uncomfortable conversation with the offending employee so you know they are aware of the effect of their behavior and that you won't tolerate it in the future.

Another great idea from that book is being an 'unreasonable leader'. Too often we're asked to be reasonable and accept excuses from others for below par behavior. I think that you asking about whether pot smoking might be causing the employee's behavior is a symptom that you're not holding others accountable for the consequences of their actions.
posted by cmccormick at 2:50 PM on April 18, 2010

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