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Stephen Viscusi

Stephen Viscusi

Posted April 6, 2009 | 12:34 AM (EST)

First, Shootings by Disgruntled Fired Workers. What's Next: Poison in the Water Cooler?


Do you work with someone who you think would go on a violent rampage if they got fired?

Have you ever seriously thought about that prospect? How can you not, with the reality of today's headlines jumping out at us?

The common theme of these tragic killings is that someone has been fired or is recently unemployed, has become deeply unhappy, and feels "wronged" by the boss and co-workers. Now they're out for revenge. For an already unstable person, getting fired is the final push over the edge that turns him or her into a homicidal, vengeful, cold-blooded killer. These individuals somehow lose their coping mechanism and turn on their bosses, co-workers, and anyone else in the way.

I detest the phrase "going postal." It demeans our nation's postal workers, who work so hard in what are often monotonous, routine jobs. I didn't invent the phrase and try never to use it. However, this single phrase does help us picture this growing pattern of violence at work - which might increase as more and more Americans get fired.

Remember, ever since the "R" word - RECESSION, of course - has become the media buzzword, it's become a blank check for the boss to fire anyone. Bosses use the recession as an excuse to fire those they have been dying to get rid of.

Are you working hard? Yes? Well then you're set, right? Wrong. During these rough times, it's just not enough. When the "R" word is in the picture, bosses throw merit out the window and take the opportunity to get rid of the people they just don't like.

It's this unfair reality that led me to write my secret weapon: my latest book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins). I share my 50 tips and secret strategies that, if followed, will increase your chances of staying on the job. Let the person next to you - the one who hasn't read my book - get fired instead. It's a modern-day Art of War (Sun Tzu) written for the new millennium.

People love the title of my book Bulletproof Your Job and always ask me how I thought it up.

True story: I got the title because an angel came to me in a dream. Did I believe in angels before? No, but I do now. My angel's name was Michael and he delivered the title to me.

The angel was very real, and he told me to use the title Bulletproof Your Job for a manuscript I was already preparing. Michael even gave me the idea for the large raised bullet on a white background, which is now on the cover.

It's scary now, because the bullet on the cover and the word "bullet" in the title take on an entirely new meaning to me every time someone gets fired, loads a gun, aims at a former boss or co-worker, and shoots.

Was my angel trying to send me a deeper message? How could I have not seen his message more clearly?

Was it that we need to literally "bulletproof" ourselves in the workplace? How could I have not seen what seems so clear to me now? This violence will continue as more Americans get fired, frustrated, tired, and angry. Being angry can bring people to an evil state of mind.

Today's headlines seem to be mostly about men killing with guns after getting fired or not being able to find work. But losing your job and becoming so enraged at your former boss that you want revenge is not necessarily a male gender monopoly. Look at all the moms upset when their daughters don't make the cheerleading squad. Or the moms going crazy on the Internet to one of their children's taunters. Women just don't seem to buy or collect guns as much as men do. (Women in Texas: no need to write me, I'm really only making a generalization. I know you collect guns too.) My point is this: neither gender is immune.

Frighteningly, I predict more bloodshed in the workforce over the next year as laid-off workers are denied the emotional counseling they need. Everyone needs help in figuring out their next steps. We are, in large part, identified by our jobs and careers. When that's taken away, some people just snap.

In my years as a workplace expert and author as well as recruiter, I've received some pretty disturbing emails with suggestions of how to take revenge on your co-workers. (Before you send me angry letters, recall the movie "9 to 5," which Dolly Parton is now producing as a play on Broadway in NYC. Those three women had some pretty serious "get even" tactics. So this is not my invention.) And also be assured that I contacted the proper authorities in each situation.

One disturbed emailer suggested adding a clear poison to the office water cooler to slowly poison your co-workers. One woman thought about adding her own prescription sleeping pills to the office coffee pot. Another weirdo wanted to mess with a co-worker's lunch that was sitting in a brown bag in the office fridge. Even sicker suggestions came from people who talked about locking the office doors from the outside then lighting the office on fire.

As more people get fired and their anger increases, the emotionally unstable among us may turn to revenge. There's an episode of "Law and Order" just waiting to be written about one of these scenarios.

I'm scared! Are you? I don't mean to scare you. I just want to spread the word of my own angel's message. First, I would love everyone working now to all be able to "Bulletproof Your Job." I think we have had enough firing - anything more is just for show. Companies big and small: reduce hours or wages instead. Stop the firing...please.

Then, I want to see therapy offered to every single fired worker. And I'm not talking about just "outplacement," and not just for executives, either. It's the average worker that needs emotional help - way more than someone making a six-figure salary or more already.

Finally, the faster you get back to work, the better. Please visit my website, www.BulletproofYourResume.com. If not my site, pick any site that creates resumes. You need to get in the door to get the job. When you're sick, you go to the doctor, right? When you career is sick, you need a pro to help it get better. Do you cut your own hair? (Well, maybe in this economic climate some of you do.) But you get the idea. Why in the world would you continue to write your own resume when it hasn't been getting you interviews?

The sad truth is, more people are going to be fired. And please remember that violence in the workplace is still very rare. However, never underestimate your intuition when it comes to your co-workers, your boss, and your safety. The workplace is no different than anywhere else.

Thank you, Michael, my angel, for the title. And you should each think about the Guardian Angel you have, watching over you every day at work. I would love to hear from you.

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and the founder and CEO of www.BulletproofYourResume.com. Contact him at Stephen@viscusi.com.

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