Escalation in the workplace – it can happen anywhere

Escalation in the workplace – it can happen anywhere

In the words of “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy, “Boy, that escalated quickly.”

While we admit NFL football and a dollar will likely not even get you a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s, a couple of on-field incidents provide a great example of escalation in the workplace.

In a Washington Football Team game with the Dallas Cowboys on December 26, defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne began throwing punches at one another following an angry disagreement on the sideline. Both players would have to be separated by 4-5 teammates creating a chaotic if not embarrassing incident on live television.

Let’s not forget Antonio Brown, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver during a January 2 game with the New York Jets. In the third quarter, Brown became clearly agitated after an argument with his coach Bruce Arians. Multiple teammates attempted to calm him, but Brown took off his jersey and shoulder pads, and angrily ran bare-chested off the field. And so Brown, a potential Hall of Fame talent, was immediately cut by the team.

These incidents should remind executives and human resource (HR) directors of one of the more unpleasant aspects of managing employees. From time to time, you need to handle people who have lost their temper. Perhaps you have just discharged an employee. Maybe two employees are arguing. Perhaps an employee is dealing with a mental condition that suddenly alters behavior. What is the best way to respond?

The first consideration should always be safety. Not just for yourself and your coworkers, but for your angry employee. If you believe a situation can potentially be harmful, don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement. The lone consideration should not be removing the angry employee from the building and setting them adrift. If you believe the person is not in a good frame of mind to safely drive, pay for an Uber or cab.

It’s always a good idea for HR professionals to seek training so they are familiar with “de-escalation techniques.” When employees are so angry they are not in a logical frame of mind, or perhaps they are dealing with a medical condition, common ways to help people calm down may not work. The person who has lost control is more than just an angry employee, they are a traumatic presence to everyone in the office.

Restraining the employee or even approaching them could create a violent situation. De-escalation training will help you recognize these behaviors and get the person to a point where they listen to reason, decreasing the boiling situation to a simmer.

After the incident, it’s a good idea to delay any decisions on their employment. Take time to consider what happened and why. Usually, these situations have many moving parts. Consulting your employment counsel will help you work through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and other state and federal laws before you make a final decision.

As seen on the NFL football field, things can indeed escalate quickly in the workplace. The key is to attempt to bring the person in for a safe landing. Prepare yourself now so your turbulent situations at work do not escalate to dangerous levels. The safety of your coworkers and your angry employee may depend on it.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business experience. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.

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