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Strategies to prevent violence in the workplace

Strategies to prevent violence in the workplace
Strategies to prevent violence in the workplace
Strategies to prevent violence in the workplace

The following is a transcript of Russ Morley, host of 850 WFTL radio interviewing Celebrity Life Coach and Human Behavior Expert, Patrick Wanis Ph.D. about Jason Rodriguez,  the man who entered into a building in Orlando, Florida, the office of his former employer, and shot dead one person..”

Good Morning on the WFTL Morning News. Now here’s your host, Russ Morley.

Russ: We’re talking about Jason Rodriguez who opened fire in that Orlando office building on Friday killing one, wounding five others. That was Buddy Dyer, the Mayor of Orlando and after that Val Demings, she’s Orlando’s Police Chief commenting on the situation, but it makes you stop and wonder: could this happen at your office building on Broward Boulevard or Westin or Coral Springs? What would it take to have somebody snap like that and on the heels of the shooting at Fort Hood which, I think are pretty much unrelated, but could that have been the thing that triggered Jason Rodriguez to start pulling the trigger?  Joining us this morning is a guy I think we ought to hang up a shingle for at the radio station; we’ve been talking to him so frequently about things like this, Dr. Patrick Wanis, celebrity life coach and human behavior expert out of Miami.  Good morning Doc.

Dr. Patrick Wanis: Good morning Russ.

Russ: What do you think? There was some talk about this on Friday that maybe the Fort Hood shooting, you know, kind of set the bar for this Jason Rodriguez in Orlando. Is that a possibility?  Could that have set him off a little?

Dr. Patrick Wanis: I don’t think there’s a link in that sense. I think there are similarities in some aspects of the profile of a mass murderer, yes.  The government is overseeing and doing a lot of deep exploration and research into the background of the Major [Nidal Hassan] who is the subject of the killings in Fort Hood to find out if he was an Islam extremist and they are not really coming up with anything that points him out to be other than some comments that he made, but his profile and behavior is completely contradictory because in one sense, it’s believed he is a devout Muslim but then it is said that he also frequented a strip club; he used to talk to his next door neighbor who is a Christian, about God; he was very generous to people, he was very kind. So this is not the typical person that fits the profile of a terrorist; plus you also have to consider that he was an Army psychiatrist for six years.  So you have to question, “What was the timing?”  Why was it now?  And I think it was more a case of, as I pointed out in our interview last week, that he didn’t want to go to war, he didn’t want to be deployed, he was against the war, he had no support, he was criticized and persecuted both for his ethnicity and for his religion; he tended to be an outsider and outcast.

Now with Jason Rodriguez, the Orlando shooter, we have something very similar, but it took him two years to go in and decide to shoot these people; meaning that he had been fired or let go of two years before.  I think you’re going to see a lot more cases like this, Russ; of people who are down and out, who are in a sense, in a situation where they feel hopeless, they feel resentful, they feel angry, they have grievances against people, particularly if it’s the work, the form of workplace, and then they take it out on those people.  This is not a completely isolated situation.  I think the reason you’re going to see more of this is partly because we’ve all become accustomed to living this high life – off of credit;  credit for house, credit for car, credit for our possessions. And then suddenly we lose all of that and now we lose our job on top of that and now we have nothing and people just don’t know how to deal with it. You know, the story was that in the depression people would jump off buildings. Well today our version is: we go and kill people rather than kill ourselves. And I just think that this is something that the government has to spend a lot more time dealing with.

Russ: In the case of Jason Rodriguez, all the victims worked at the firm of Reynolds, Smith and Hills where he had worked as an entry level engineer for 11 months before he was let go in June of 2007. Like you said it took two years for him to get enough anger built up to go back and hit those people. He had been working and had gotten fired there at a Subway sandwich shop and I guess from what I heard over the weekend he had attempted to ram his car into the Subway sandwich shop but those big concrete pillars in front of the shop saved employees there from getting hurt so this guy obviously was a loose cannon.

Dr. Patrick Wanis: Yes, and you can’t always tell immediately because again it may have taken two years. And yes, what I said a moment ago that the government needs to do something about it, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI has combined forces to put together a special document and strategy to deal with violence in the workplace and some of the things that they identified was to become aware of elements in the culture that might appear to foster a toxic climate. That means if there’s a tolerance of bullying or intimidation; if there’s a lack of trust among the workers and between the workers and management; if there’s high levels of stress, frustration and anger, poor communication, inconsistent discipline, etc.  But even then there’s no way to fully 100% prevent an incident such as that with Jason [Rodriguez].

Russ: What do you do if you’re an HR manager and you’ve had employees come to you, you’ve had mid-level managers come to you and say, “I’ve got a real problem here.  I’m worried about this guy or this gal.  I think they’re going to go off the deep end.”  What can they do, I mean legally they can’t force them to get into counseling, can they?  They can call them in and have a little chat with them but what would you suggest to somebody who’s in a position like that?

Dr. Patrick Wanis: Well I think HR has two options.  One, bring in an expert for threat assessment, and number two, if you really have concerns about a person being potentially violent then you do want to contact the authorities; you do want to bring notice to the police. I think you would also speak with that person but also let the police be aware that you have concerns because sometimes even the background checks may not be current, you may not be aware of things that he went through. As an HR person you have to be aware of what is happening in this person’s life outside.  When I teach training programs, Russ, one of the key things I teach is, do not be confused into thinking there is a difference between the workplace and the home. People bring their personal problems to work.  You can’t stop that.  So you have to take an interest in what is happening in a person’s life outside the workplace. If they are having marital problems or they are having financial problems; if they are having problems with drugs of some kind or medication or prescription medication or; if they are drinking too much…you have to be aware and then you have to take some sort of action even if that begins with a discussion to see “how can we, this company, help you in your other problems outside because they will if not already, affect the workplace?”

Russ: I think you said in a previous conversation as well, take a proactive stance.  If you see somebody that looks like they are struggling with something, go over if not put your arm around them at least to say, “Hey, I noticed something is a little different in your life.  What’s going on?”  Just that in and of itself may make a huge difference in their lives.

Dr. Patrick Wanis: Open the communication and try to develop trust, friendship and companionship amongst your workers because that will help to keep you safe.

Russ: Dr. Patrick Wanis. His website is  Always good stuff on there and Dr. Wanis you’re taking off for a month, where are you going?

Dr. Patrick Wanis: I’m doing some work with clients in Los Angeles and I’m spending some time in Australia.  My youngest brother is getting married. So we may or may not speak from Australia, we will see.

Russ: All right.  Safe journey, Sir.

Dr. Patrick Wanis: Thank you.

Russ: Thanks for being with us this morning on News Talk 850WFTL. High 85.  We’re at 79 right now in South Florida.

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