how to deal with an angry, disruptive coworker

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk to a guest whose coworker’s behavior is disruptive and unsettling. She’s already talked to her manager and HR about it, but the problem is continuing and she’s wondering where to go from here.

The show is 24 minutes long, and you can listen on  Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Here’s the letter that kicks off the discussion:

I work in a professional environment in which we all have our own offices. We recently moved office buildings and I now have a coworker, “Chris,” who sits in the office across the hallway. Most of our offices are staggered, but in this instance I can see into his office. All of our offices have doors.

Chris is extremely disruptive. He frequently yells obscenities about work to himself, pounds on his desk, and paces around his office. I wrote down some of these conversations with himself and initially spoke with my supervisor. She reported that she had also witnessed Chris talking to himself in the hallway. My supervisor discussed my concerns with HR. The individual in the HR department requested that I monitor these  conversations and alert them when they were occurring, so they could “catch” him in the act. Unfortunately, these were generally short outbursts and by the time this person had reached his office (through two locked doors and down a hallway), he was generally done with his outburst. They were able to observe him once and then reported to me that they spoke with him about his behavior. 

Since that point, the volume has decreased, but the behavior continues. He now “whisper yells” and attempts to hide behind his door and computer while engaging in this behavior, but still gesticulates wildly and hits his desk.  I can see and hear him every day; he seems very angry. He occasionally closes his door, but I can hear him through the door. I have told my supervisor and HR that his behaviors have continued, but I don’t believe that this is concerning to HR, as no one else is close enough to witness his behaviors unless they see/hear him in the hallway. Chris seems to be aware that his behavior is problematic, as he tries to hide when caught engaging in the behavior. What should I do next? I can’t concentrate and his behavior is creating a hostile environment. My only options are to keep my door closed all day, which cuts me off from my team. My team has joked that we need to be nice to Chris so when he comes in with a weapon, we’ll be spared. This seems like a horrible thing to joke about, as workplace violence is a very real problem. I’m at my wits end!

If you want to ask your own question on the show, email it to podcast@askamanager.org.

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

You can get a transcript of last week’s episode here.

{ 250 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    Please listen to the show before engaging in the comments on this post. Thank you.

    (I added this note because some of the comments from people who hadn’t listened were taking the discussion in an odd direction.)

    Reply
    1. Jesca

      This is actually what is so absolutely frustrating when reporting a problem with an individual at work. Some people are always like “but just if …” after a fact. I hope people realize how ridiculous this is. Obviously a lot of companies need some serious training in identifying threats and identifying people who are behaving in a way that will likely become very threatening and dangerous.

      What is it that needs to be proved so much? If a dude is raging every single day on and off ALL DAY, what do you need? Why do you need for him to assault someone? Why do you need for him to threaten others? Why do you need him to bring a gun to work? A job isn’t the justice system!!!! Showing acts of being totally out of control of one’s emotions is an OK reason to remove this dude from other people. The fact that he is so out of control that he knows its really bad (he tries to hide it now) but still seems unable to stop! That means, by definition, he is out of control.

      Reply
      1. RUKiddingMe

        Exactly this. This is a very threatening situation. Even if Dude is only ever going to rage to himself in his own office, I wold feel totally off balance and threatened every single minute of every single day because no one knows for sure that this is all he will ever do.

        Reply
      2. TardyTardis

        Does no one have a camera on their phone? I’m surprised that customers aren’t terrified of him, let alone the co-workers. Tolerating this behavior after knowing it’s there leaves the company wide open to lawsuits, possibly multiple ones, from both co-workers and customers.

        Reply
    2. DarkMatter

      I am kind of curious, why people, who have actually LISTENED to the podcast, are not allowed to have their own opinion? I don’t agree with those that say that this kind of behaviour cannot be scary – I just think that we all have different perceptions of what we would find scary?
      I don’t get why a difference in opinion warrants the talk of closing of comments?

      Reply
      1. Mom MD

        Generally very long to listen to. I’m wondering why we aren’t allowed an opinion on the letter itself. It would be nice if there was a short written synopsis of the advice.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          Because it’s AAM’s site and she sets the commenting rules? And possibly because if you can’t be bothered to listen to the podcast, your opinion isn’t going to be terribly good?

          Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Because in this particular case people who hadn’t listened to the show were leaving bizarrely unhelpful comments minimizing what sounds like a dangerous situation (and giving advice that frankly could be dangerous to the OP), so I asked that people who were interested in discussing the situation first listen to the actual discussion of it on the show. If you don’t want to listen, that’s fine! But then I’m asking you to pass by the comment section on this one lone post out of zillions.

          Reply
        3. myswtghst

          You can have an opinion, but it will be an opinion based on half (or less) of the available information, so it’s not likely to be a helpful opinion that needs to be shared. The podcast includes ongoing discussion between Alison and the LW, where there is further clarification and more information provided about the angry coworker’s behavior, which is necessary if you want to be sure your opinion is helpful and relevant, rather than based on assumptions and potentially harmful or minimizing.

          Reply
    3. Laura P

      Is there a transcript somewhere for those of us who can’t listen? I am very curious about the answer to this

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        The transcript should be available next week — as you see the transcript of last week’s podcast linked above.

        Reply
      2. Escape from Devil's Island

        It would be terrific if you could consider a transcript earlier – even a rough one. Some of us can’t listen, because of work limitations or disabilities. The benefit of having a transcript earlier is that we can participate in the discussion in a timely fashion.

        Or you could repost when you have the transcript and more people would likely listen again as well as some who are now reading for the first time.

        Reply
    4. Typhon Worker Bee

      I’m not understanding the sentiment that it’s somehow “not fair” that Alison’s content is diversifying. So some blog readers can’t, or don’t want to, listen to podcasts. Well, there will be new people just finding the podcast now who can’t, or don’t want to, read a blog. Or a book. Or follow Alison on Twitter or Facebook (where she sometimes shares links and other content that never make it onto the blog).

      Not being able to immediately comment on one single post per week is hardly a great injustice when there’s so much other free content on here!

      (I didn’t get a chance to listen to this episode until this morning’s commute, so I just left this post unread on my RSS reader until I’d finished – wanted to avoid spoilers :) )

      Reply
  2. Girl friday

    Out of sight, out of mind works well. If you practice directing attention elsewhere, then he won’t be a problem. He probably can’t help it and it sounds like you have done all the things. Such a common occurrence these days.

    Reply
    1. Girl friday

      If he is given attention, then to him that will be communication, and effective communication at that. Best model silence and reward it too. Ańd do correct it if it is loud, but just with a gesture-a raised hand or hands over ears. You are just peers and someone else may be worse.

      Reply
    2. NaoNao

      He most certainly CAN help it! Swearing, pounding things, and acting out are choices. It’s not a medical issue. It’s behavior that is, at best, selfish and uncaring to others.

      I also argue that it is not a common occurrence, I’ve been in a professional office for 8 years and I’ve seen this *maybe* once.

      Reply
      1. Bow Ties Are Cool

        I’ve worked in office environments for over twenty years and have only seen behavior like this once. The perpetrator was fired when he did not cease after a warning.

        Reply
      2. Djuna

        I’ve only seen it once too, around 20 years ago. Our guy used to pick up his keyboard with both hands and slam it on his desk in a rage. This happened regularly, in an open plan office.

        He broke two keyboards and was final warning-ed over it (we’re in Europe, so there was a need for due process and much documentation).

        Third broken keyboard and he was gone.

        Reply
      3. Mayati

        Or it might be a medical issue, but one that he needs to be treating (or treating more successfully) if he’s going to be working in this setting. My mom has a medical diagnosis that has made her angry and volatile; in the moment, it’s very hard to control, but because she knows it’s a repeated issue that affects others in serious, negative ways, she has always had the responsibility to get help or to avoid harmful situations. It’s like driving a car when you have epilepsy — the first seizure you have is a surprise, and it’s not your fault, but you can’t just continue to drive unmedicated when you know your issue puts yourself and others at risk.

        Reply
        1. namenamename

          Yes, this. I have erratic, often angry moods blow up as part of my migraine prodrome, and I have just about daily migraines, so I’m angry a lot, often at work. As an adult, I understand that it is my responsibility to withdraw from social interactions (sometimes to a different room) to make sure no one is treated badly or alarmed. I do this at work and, in a modified version, at home. You can deal with a lot of anger and still behave professionally.

          Reply
          1. Triple Anon

            Right. It’s his responsibility to deal with it – seek treatment, notify his supervisor, request an accommodation. Since, as far as we know, none of those things are happening, it’s fair to hold him responsible for his actions.

            Reply
            1. Engineer Girl

              It’s possible he did ask for accommodation and the office is it. But maybe HR isn’t doing the follow up and letting him know that the current accommodation isn’t working. At that point they need to work for another solution. Which means HR actually has to do their job.
              If he does have Tourette’s then HR may ask him to disclose to reduce fear. But again, this is a discussion with HR.

              Reply
            2. Engineer Girl

              I should also point out that since this is a satellite office it’s quite possible that the HR person is junior with limited experience. This may cause them to bungle the situation. That’s why raising the issue to someone higher it HR is a good part of the solution.

              Reply
        2. willow

          I agree. When my depression meds “wear thin”, the depression presents as anger. Then I know it’s time to take another pill.

          Reply
    3. designbot

      I disagree, because the way I’m reading it the main problem isn’t that LW is being distracted, it’s that she and others are concerned about a developing volatile situation. This person’s anger is a problem, and stuffing him in a corner only lets people forget about that until he feels the need to make a bigger gesture about it.

      Reply
        1. Andrea

          I don’t know if they really are. Signs of frustration and not the best means of dealing with it, but he keeps this to himself and hasn’t taken this outside the office. It really reminds me more of someone who has a Tourette’s like tic and knows enough to try and keep his behavior under control.

          I have a coworker who does the same thing and it’s odd, but nothing at all to make me think of him as a potential perpetrator of violence. He just has a low threshold for anxiety and a lifelong love of the Jets .

          Reply
          1. Myrin

            I hear you, but I also think we should trust OP’s sense here since she’s actually there and directly witnessing him. I’m definitely not easily scared or intimidated but there’s just something about genuine rage that sends shivers down even my spine, and it’s very easy to sense when you’re actually in the situation and even if an objective description/transcript of the person’s behaviour/words wouldn’t sound over-the-top alarming.

            Reply
            1. designbot

              Also OP’s coworkers making jokes about staying on his good side so that they won’t be targeted when he gets violent are extremely telling. That says it’s not just OP’s alarm bells going off on this.

              Reply
              1. boo bot

                Yeah, Alison mentioned Gavin de Becker and I’ll second on that – he talks in The Gift of Fear about “satellites”, offhand comments people make that seem extraneous, or like jokes, but are actually expressions of the nagging fears and feelings that someone can’t really justify or believe are true… but kind of thinks might be true. Those jokes are not really jokes.

                Reply
            2. boo-not-a-bot

              Yeah, I don’t know if it’s just a question of not having heard the show (though I found the letter plenty scary before listening to the show) but I’m surprised by the “ignore him and he’ll go away” comments.

              I have had to work around someone who expressed anger like this, and when they did (not directed at me) it sent a massive shot of adrenaline through my system. It wasn’t something I could just put headphones on and tune out, because it was, as Myrin says, genuine rage, going on right outside my door, and my physical body wouldn’t allow me to ignore it.

              I’ve worked with other people who were volatile, and yelled, and otherwise expressed anger inappropriately, but who didn’t set me on edge like that.

              Alison’s advice on this is spot-on, as per usual, though I might escalate more quickly. This man’s behavior is alarming. It’s not an overreaction to be alarmed.

              Reply
            3. Triple Anon

              Right. And I think it’s often a, “You had to be there,” kind of thing, which is probably why the people from HR want to witness it. If you just say, “He’s yelling obscenities and making angry gestures,” it could be anything from a healthy yet office-inappropriate way to deal with anger to something more concerning – signs of a volatile person who could lose control and endanger others. But what OP said paints a more troubling picture, and they’re the expert on what’s going on.

              Reply
      1. MidwestAdmin

        Exactly. The distraction is that strong response your body has when in close vicinity to a person that may start throwing things or actually hurt you….hard to focus on work when your body is like RUN!

        Reply
        1. Girl friday

          I would wish that were actionable, but I am familiar with environments where that feeling coexists with needing to constructively work with the person. Such environments are niche though! The OP would know if they were in one.

          Reply
    4. Snark

      Oh, hard nope on “he probably can’t help it.” He can help it. He’s a grown-ass man. Most of humanity can complete a work day without erupting in profane rage at common workplace issues. It is not incumbent on the rest of his office to ignore behavior I’m currently successfully teaching my toddler to manage.

      Reply
        1. JessaB

          this, there are people who for medical reasons cannot. They however usually understand or their caretakers do, that they cannot hold a job where they interact with other people on a daily basis.

          Reply
    5. MLB

      Having many angry outbursts daily is NOT a common occurrence. This is most certainly not an out of sight, out of mind situation.

      Reply
    6. AliceBG

      “He probably can’t help it” — WTF???

      If he “can’t help it” (i.e., doesn’t choose to control his temper in a professional setting), he’s got massive anger management problems and needs to get his ass into counseling before he hurts someone.

      Reply
    7. Rainy

      I really wonder where you work that this is a common occurrence.

      No, none of this is okay–did you even listen to the podcast?!

      Reply
    8. RUKiddingMe

      Aggressive behavior, and make no mistake that’s what this is, is supposed to be accepted as “common” amongst males because it is encouraged and rewarded as a desirable masculine trait.

      It is not however a desirable trait. It is scary and it is a problem. He has a choice. He is able to make a choice —witnessed by his being quieter after having been talked to . He needs to knock it off or he needs to be gone. Full stop.

      Reply
    9. mrs__peel

      “Such a common occurrence these days.”

      So is bringing a gun to work and shooting up the place. This behavior should absolutely be taken seriously.

      Reply
  3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

    Why can’t you quietly close his door when you observe this? Or ask to move offices with someone who can tune out Chris’ antics.

    Other than that I’m not sure what more you can do. Seems like this is Chris’ quirk and seems unlikely to change.

    Reply
    1. MidwestAdmin

      If someone gets angry enough to beat on the office furniture (after HR has talked to him no less) on a regular basis – he clearly has some rage issues. Do you want to be shutting the door of a person that unstable?

      Reply
    2. ballpitwitch

      I’ve left more than one job because someone’s bad behavior (anger/racism/ageism/emotional abuse) was deemed someone’s “quirk” that isn’t HR or managements problem. Being a butthole is not a personality trait that can’t be changed. If it is medical/mental, the OP’s company should be addressing how he can get help, not just shrugging their shoulders until it escalates to him harming himself/someone else/company property.

      Reply
      1. Windchime

        Exactly. Is he behaving this way in church? At the grocery store, or in front of the HR rep? if not, then he absolutely CAN control it.

        Reply
    3. RUKiddingMe

      It’s not a quirk. Rubbing the tummy of a troll doll before making a sales call is a quirk. This is over the top ragey, violent behavior. Moreover why should it be incumbent on the OP to do anything, much less put herself in the way of potential physical harm/on his radar by closing his door?

      Reply
  4. Quake Johnson

    …is he hurting anybody though? I get it’s distracting, and that sucks, but this doesn’t seem like an HR kinda problem, imo.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Someone spewing this kind of intense anger into an office environment is scary and makes it hard to focus. This kind of extreme anger isn’t okay in a place where people are trying to work, and is actually quite worrisome.

      Reply
      1. Murphy

        Yeah, someone shouldn’t get so angry that they hit the furniture on a daily basis. I wouldn’t want to be around anyone who does that.

        Reply
        1. Emily K

          Yeah, it’s not that you can’t express frustration at work. (Who amongst us hasn’t grimaced and repeatedly banging our forehead against the desk in exaggerated slow motion when something is going horribly wrong?)

          But this? This is not a normal expression of frustration. The behavior described is unhealthy and LW and colleagues are right to be concerned that their coworker has such poor emotional regulation and self control in the workplace.

          Reply
        2. TardyTardis

          I would be extraordinarily terrified (I grew up with a family where this behavior went on) and demand to be transferred or I would be seeing a lawyer realsoonnow.

          Reply
      2. Quake Johnson

        Okay, that’s fair. I guess was picturing more frustrated muttering and pacing as opposed to actual rage.

        Reply
    2. Snark

      I would find this kind of barely controlled rage distracting, worrisome, and annoying, and it would, as it does with OP, make me slightly worried about workplace violence. This is just not acceptable behavior, especially on a regular basis.

      Reply
      1. Jesca

        I will say, without a doubt, this will become much bigger than now. I have worked in change management (LOL real ones) for many years turning poorly performing businesses around through management and process controls. Obviously I am not working in stable, functioning environments if this is my role. A lot of times what happens is exactly what is happening here. People exhibiting serious rage are reacted to by just shutting the door because management is poor (or are ragers themselves, and then OMG no amount of money …). Except that person inevitably does something violent towards someone else, threatens, or shows up with a gun (all actual true stories of every single person who exhibited rage issues on the reg within my experience). HR needs to handle this, because this is not going to end without a victim.

        Reply
    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      I would think that inability to control vocalizing rage would be a big a violation of workplace norms. What if a client herd it? Or a vendor? Or a regulator?

      Reply
    4. MLB

      Let’s compare what you said to a stalking situation. A stalker isn’t technically hurting someone, so should they not be held accountable for their behavior?

      Reply
    5. AliceBG

      If I worked with this guy, I’d be viscerally afraid of him and would avoid him at all costs, so I’d consider him to be hurting me emotionally and professionally.

      Reply
    6. mrs__peel

      If I worked with him, I would 100% be worried (based on these signs) that he might come in one day and shoot up the place. It’s entirely reasonable to be concerned based on the behavior he’s already displayed.

      Just because he might not have physically hurt other people YET doesn’t mean he’s not going to take his rage out on someone else one day.

      Reply
    7. Quake Johnson

      Hi everybody! So, I had assumed that the podcast would essentially be like an AAM post but in audio form. Allison gets a letter, then gives advice. I didn’t think there’d be additional details, depth or context provided. Clearly my mistake. Now I know for next time!

      Reply
  5. Lily in NYC

    OP wrote that this is creating a hostile work environment, but this situation is not even close to meeting the legal definition for a hostile work environment. I hope Alison covers it in the podcast because I feel like many people completely misunderstand that term and use it as a catch-all for things that displease them.

    Reply
  6. voyager1

    I haven’t listened to the podcast since I am at work. But two things come to mind.

    1. The jokes about a workplace shooting need to stop FULL STOP.

    2 If Chris is quiet then I don’t see any real issue to weird motions or what not at the computer. I throw my hands in the air every now and then when the computer does bad things. The goal should be for Chris to understand that you shouldn’t hear him. So no slamming tables and cursing/speaking at a level others can hear.

    Reply
    1. voyager1

      After reading some of the comments here about not listening before commenting because this situation is far worse then the letter describes…

      Okay I went out and downloaded this episode since I was curious and I didn’t want to wait till my commute home.

      Umm I am more confused now. Has the behavior actually improved at all after the talking to?

      Has anyone talked to his team since he appears to be a manager and gotten a pulse of his behavior from them? I was kinda shocked that wasn’t brought up at all. I would think that is important.

      I have no experience with an EAP program, so not sure if that is good advice.

      I wonder if the emails to the LW from HR were actually the HR Dept measuring his behavior since maybe this has come up before and maybe there is a documented mental health issue. Which brings up has this guy worked there a long time? Is his behavior well known or did it just start?

      I have so many questions frankly….. I found myself wavering on my opionion of yeah this guy is scary to maybe he is just mentally ill to maybe he is just weird. I don’t know but the podcast ending with he needs to get control of his behavior or get let go is right.

      I know we aren’f supppse to diagnose people but what really concerns me is the pacing and talking to himself, that can be linked to schizophrenia… All I am saying .

      But again so many questions…. I am glad took a few mins to listen to this and amend my earlier comments.

      Reply
  7. TheNotoriousMCG

    Did the above commenters listen to the episode? This sounds like a very scary person and the issue isn’t the noise – it is what is behind the noise and the fear that it will escalate

    Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        I’m one of the non-listeners (can’t listen right now), so there may have been more that came out in the podcast than what was in the letter. IMO there will be a disconnect in comments because of this.

        Reply
          1. Trout 'Waver

            Maybe closed for the first hour and opened after that so the first comments aren’t all from people who didn’t listen to the episode?

            Reply
              1. Airy

                Another possibility could be to make the transcript available at the same time as the podcast audio, which would make it accessible both to people who can’t listen to it just then and to deaf and hearing impaired people.

                Reply
                1. neverjaunty

                  Then Allison would have to create a transcript. I don’t understand why people would demand that she spend her time doing that rather than take the time to listen to the dang podcast she already created for you.

                2. a1

                  Or delay the release of the podcast week (or however many days it takes) so the transcript can be released at the same time. The podcast would still be released weekly. A lot of podcasts often record a week or more out from the release date for various reasons. Or they have some stocked up. I know when I started podcasting we had several completed before we started releasing.

                  Also, telling deaf and hearing impaired people to “listen to the dang podcast” is rather rude.

                3. Escape from Devil's Island

                  Just want to agree with a1. People with disabilities read Ask a Manager.

              2. King Friday XIII

                If it’s just not feasible to make the transcript available at the same time (and as a person with audio processing issues, I’d love it if you could too but I get it) but you want listeners to be able to discuss the podcast, maybe a solution would be not posting the text of the letter on the post but instead a summary of what’s being discussed, so people have to listen to comment?

                Reply
            1. Anon for now

              It might make more sense to open discussion the next day. That way everyone, no matter what time zone, could have a chance to listen to it before commenting. I know I am always strongly tempted to join in the comments but I can’t listen until I get home.

              Reply
      2. Future Homesteader

        I can’t listen right now, but two things came to mind when I read the part about the jokes: first, The Gift of Fear, and second, the training I’ve had about workplace violence (being at a school, it’s been a fair amount). Both of those things have taught me that if people feel the need to joke about it, then that’s probably a signal that there may be something Very Wrong, and that signal should be heeded. I’ve been instructed to call the police for behavior like this before, because the rule on campus is that if you feel unsafe, skip the hierarchy and call 911.

        Reply
        1. MidwestAdmin

          This. I worked with a guy like this and my boss at the time took forever to get rid of him, because it just seems like a little stress here or there, until it escalates, and until it is directed at you. When she finally fired him, she didn’t tell us it was happening because she knew we would leave the office and she didn’t want to be left alone with him.

          Reply
    1. RabbitRabbit

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure – or I hope – none of those commenters listened, because he really sounds like he’s full of rage and can’t seem to control it.

      Reply
        1. RUKiddingMe

          But if we don’t assume that then they might have to be actually held accountable for their violent behavior. Can’t have that now can we?

          Reply
          1. else

            People who have autism who are also jerks or violent are still responsible for their jerkishness. Being autistic does not give you a get out-of-free card for actually bad or hostile behavior, or make you violent! It just means that some working/communication styles and patterns need adjustment or accommodation. Incidents of accidental rudeness or social misunderstanding are so very much not on same the level as this.

            Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        If someone needs accommodations, it is on them to ask and they have to be reasonable. *IF* (and there is nothing in the letter to indicate this is a possibility) either of these conditions exist, that still doesn’t mean that OP and her colleagues need to accept this kind of bad behavior.

        Reply
      2. Muriel Heslop

        Autism is not a mental illness. I work with people with autism, people with mental health issues and people who are just jerks. Those are three separate categories.

        I teach middle school, and let’s be honest, middle schoolers take a pretty bad rap when it comes to behavior. Chris’ behavior would NEVER be tolerated in school, and it shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace. It’s not his workplace’s job to fix his problems for him, especially if he doesn’t want help.

        Good luck, OP! This sounds stressful and upsetting.

        Reply
    2. sfigato

      Yeah, and the OP comes off as very reasonable and giving this guy every single benefit of the doubt.

      We’ve all had coworkers who have tempers or who swear at work or who occasionally have outbursts. There is a massive difference between someone swearing in frustration occasionally and someone who is a simmering ball of barely controlled rage. And frankly, even if this guy is not a threat, would never hurt a fly, and just expresses frustration in an alarming way, he still needs to cut it out because he is freaking his colleague out. I’m more worried about how they resolve this without him reacting violently.

      Reply
    1. NaoNao

      “He frequently yells obscenities about work to himself, pounds on his desk, and paces around his office”. That’s pretty objective. I think the majority of “reasonable people” would find that at the very least, mildly concerning.

      Reply
    2. mrs__peel

      People don’t make nervous “jokes” about a co-worker coming into work with a gun one day when they merely dislike that person. They do that when they’re genuinely afraid for their safety.

      Reply
  8. Polly

    I dunno….sounds like coworker is just a vociferous person, highly emotional and maybe quite stressed. Maybe HR could offer to help him instead of tasking OP to spy on him to “catch” him in the act. I think this is blown out of proportion.

    Reply
    1. Same coin

      Agree. I’ve been this co worker. Curse at my computer, throw my hands up in frustrations. Pace around my office. I also won “ the best co worker award” as voted on by an office of 50+ people. I think it is important to separate the actions from the person. Also I don’t know how pacing in his own office is considered disruptive Yelling and the cursing can clearly be disruptive. I would have a different opinion if they were directed at individuals . However I have only read the letter I cannot at the moment listen to the pod

      Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          Yeah, I was @Polly with that one, but I know that sometimes the threading can look wonky, sorry if you thought it was directed at you.

          Reply
      1. JamieS

        I did and I didn’t hear anything in the podcast that changed my perspective of the letter. If anything the podcast only further confirmed.

        My perspective is Craig is expressing frustration when he’s alone and OP is bothered by it because she keeps looking into his office. There was zero indication he’s been aggressive towards others and OP said he tries to calm down when he sees others are around. She termed it “hiding it” but it sounded to me like he just realizes others are watching so tries to tone it down which is pretty normal. Most people are freer with expressing their emotions when they’re alone than if someone is watching.

        Reply
  9. Scully

    “He frequently yells obscenities about work to himself, pounds on his desk, and paces around his office”

    This describes several of us in the office today whilst watching the World Cup matches. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Reply
    1. MidwestAdmin

      Yeah, maybe Alison should shut down the comments on this one….so many of these are wayyyyy off base.

      Reply
    2. RUKiddingMe

      Yes because being excited about a sport that happens once every four years is exactly he same as ragey violence on the regular.

      Reply
  10. Lara

    Routinely thumping furniture, yelling and swearing, even if it’s not ‘at’ someone is less a quirk than it is the precursor to violent behaviour. At least according to police and domestic violence charities. It’s designed to intimidate and could easily escalate.

    Reply
  11. ballpitwitch

    How can everyone be saying that she should just ignore it or suggesting that she is the problem?? If this person cannot control this kind of behavior, they have no business working in a place where human interaction is required! For every instance of serious violence in a school or workplace, no doubt there were multiple people saying just ignore it, not your/management’s/administration’s problem. I am completely shocked at these reactions.

    Reply
    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      Me too. I can only assume people are commenting without listening, which isn’t a great look.

      Reply
      1. Leslie knope

        I mean, I haven’t listened because I’m at work, but I’m still confused as to how anyone read that summary and still felt this was no big deal.

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I don’t get it either, even without listening, I would think this was beyond the pale in most offices. Then I was able to listen and, dang, it is really bad.

          Reply
        2. Lara

          Yep. If he were doing this in any other context or environment he’d be told to stop and asked to leave.

          Reply
            1. BookishMiss

              Seriously. I took 5 minutes to go have a private cry when my cousin’s baby died, and I got hauled into HR and sent to mandatory counseling through the EAP. Like, job contingent on my compliance.

              Because I was sad that a baby died, and took a moment to myself rather than blubbering on my co-workers.

              Reply
              1. Lara

                I’m sorry that happened to you Bookishmiss – if you need the validation your employers were being ridiculous and awful. I doubt the counsellors were particularly thrilled either. “Oooh, a person had a time limited and completely appropriate reaction to the death of a relative. What good use of our limited time.”

                Reply
      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        What? It’s not like the letter wasn’t posted, from which people comment all the time. I think from Alison’s comments above she’s working out the best format for the podcast post comments. It’s a little klunky for sure, but I’m guessing it’ll be ironed out soon enough.

        All that being said, you don’t have to assume anything quite a few have mentioned that they are posting from the letter alone. discount those posts if you feel like it, but the ‘not a great look’ comment was.. well ‘not a great look’

        Reply
        1. rldk

          The fact that people are dismissing the severity when a) the letter is pretty bad in itself and b) there is more detail in the podcast that makes it VERY clear that it’s not okay both make everyone commenting look like the people who comment on articles without reading past the headline. They’re unnecessarily harsh without acknowledging that they’re commenting without full information

          Reply
        2. myswtghst

          The purpose of the podcast is to allow Alison to have a dialogue with the LW, so she can gather further information to give more nuanced advice, and so we can experience that conversation. It’s not an unreasonable ask for commenters to either listen to the podcast before commenting on it, or to move on to one of the other letters that are shared here each and every weekday instead.

          Personally, I think it’s a much worse look to minimize a LW’s concerns about a potentially violent and definitely angry coworker’s inappropriate behavior when you know you don’t have the full picture than it is to expect people to listen to the podcast if they want to join the conversation about the podcast. I’m honestly really confused as to why so many people who didn’t listen to the podcast seem to think their judgmental opinions based on incomplete information are so valuable that they must be shared in the comments.

          Reply
    2. Who the eff is Hank?

      Same. There was a guy like this in the office I worked at when I was in high school. He escalated to throwing computers at the wall IN HIS SHARED OFFICE and the company let him stay. A few years later he shot and killed one of his office mates after losing a large sale.

      Reply
    3. Myrin

      Maybe I’m particularly grumpy today, but I’m finding it quite annoying to see comments all over the place by people who haven’t even listened to the podcast yet (I feel the same way about people reacting to updates who haven’t read the original letter, by the way; surely you don’t absolutely need to comment right this second without actually gathering all available information first?). Like, the reason these podcasts are such a nice idea and what makes them so distinct from the regular letters is that they’re interactive, that there’s more to them than just the pure, bare-boned letter the OPs are sending to Alison, she can ask follow-up questions and get a much more deeper sense of both the OPs and the situation presented, and yet you choose to react to them as if they’re just like any other letter – that’s explicitly not the idea of these podcasts!

      Anyway, onto the subject itself: I especially liked the suggestion of – if permissible! – filming one of Chris’s “episodes”. I’m strongly leaning towards that because HR seems really, really hung up on catching him “in the act” (which is really ridiculous and annoying, btw; they’re really draggin their feet here); with the frequency of his outbursts, it doesn’t sound like it would take OP particularly long to have a neat little homevideo of all of his various scary behaviours.

      I also liked the idea of having him switch his desk. I completely understand OP’s concern that that isn’t going to stop the root issue for his behaviour, but I do feel like it would become a more general problem much faster (as she notes, at the moment it’s really only her who witnesses this) – if he were sitting near his team (which it sounds like is what would happen if he were to switch offices), there’d suddenly be a lot of people catching on what he’s doing and I’m sure that’s going to have a much bigger reaction, both with regards to HR and probably even his own supervisor.

      Anyway, OP, you sound very reasonable and like you’re actually very calm and in control despite regularly witnessing such alarming behaviour, so I’m sure you’ll be able to get to a satisfying solution rather quickly, whatever that may be. All the best!

      Reply
      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

        I think either him switching desks or someone (or maybe multiple someones) getting moved to the OP’s area is the only way this can be handled. It it takes more than one witness (although it shouldn’t) then it really seems like the only way to go. Especially if the OP is in a place where it is illegal to record people without their permission

        Reply
      2. same coin

        If consent laws in the state indicate that two way consent is needed. she could be fired for doing this without her co workers permission.

        Reply
          1. same coin

            HI allison, I am actually Deaf and could not listen to the pod even If I wanted to. I appreciate your sensitivity

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I of course didn’t know that since earlier you referred to not being able to listen “at the moment.” There will be a transcript posted next week, but for now I’m asking people to respect my request up top.

              Reply
              1. Cats On A Bench

                Certainly the comments as to not being able to listen to it now vs ever could have been handled better, but I think the point that someone who is Deaf won’t be able to access the transcripts for an entire week and therefore won’t be able to fully participate in the discussion until then either is getting missed. Yeah, it’s just one discussion out of the many, but it’s just another way in which the hearing world pushes Deaf people to the side. They hear it all their lives when their family members are joking at the table and they miss it and ask what it’s about and are told “I’ll tell you later.” Later never comes and later isn’t good enough because they aren’t included in the now to begin with. The discussion on the podcast was happening on the same day it was posted, for the most part. I’m writing this a week later and I doubt anyone else is looking at it or considering participating in a discussion of it anymore because it’s old now. The readership has moved on. The moment is lost. It would be nice to consider that a Deaf person needs the transcript (or even a summary of the discussion) in a more timely manner to fully participate. I imagine Alison probably isn’t the one typing up the transcripts and has a service do it which is why it takes a while. Maybe someone here could volunteer to do it the day of (if it’s ok with Alison) so that her Deaf readers can participate as well?

                Reply
            2. RUKiddingMe

              “…I cannot at the moment listen to the pod.”
              “I said o haven’t been able to listen.”

              How is Alison, or anyone else for that matter supposed to intuit that you are deaf from these statements? Alison is a very sensitive, considerate person. No one will know you can’t listen to the podcast if all you say is that you haven’t been able to do so yet. Particularly when you say “at the moment.” That pretty much implies that you can/will at another time.

              Reply
              1. neverjaunty

                Yes, but accusing AAM of being ableist is a much more satisfying way of reacting defensively when asked to stop posting unhelpful comments.

                Reply
      3. Luna

        I don’t know, I would worry about Chris noticing the LW filming him and getting even angrier. HR is being ridiculous.

        Reply
          1. EddieSherbert

            Oh this is a good point. I really like the recording idea (if legal)… but wouldn’t want OP to do anything that makes her feel unsafe.

            Which makes me think just try to record audio since that doesn’t have to be pointed right at him/visible to him? But that also doesn’t pick things up well from a distance, so it may not work :/

            Reply
            1. Lily Rowan

              I actually wondered about calling HR on speaker phone? Also, the meetings with HR should take place in the OP’s office.

              Reply
    4. LDN Layabout

      Because male anger is often tolerated and excused and it’s just ‘frustration’ or ‘he’s not doing it at anyone!’

      Also he’s probably a ‘nice guy’ and his friends and family would probably say he’s ‘misunderstood’.

      Reply
      1. Engineer Girl

        I hate to say this, but I saw this attitude all.the.time. in aerospace. Women and minorities were usually talked to immediately for minor offenses because you know, they’re emotional and threatening. White men? Bad behavior over and over.

        The men are all “high performers” and therefore tolerated. The managers for these types work WITH HR to keep them on board. This will continue until your own manager intercedes.

        My own experience:
        – the chair thrower (when we were too loud)
        – the VP that threw coffee pots and marble ash trays
        – the senior manager that threw toilet paper rolls (so no one would get hurt)
        – numerous screamers (F**k was super popular)
        – the one that punched the vending machine so hard that he broke the glass (this was a normally laid back guy but on toxic program)

        We had two people punchers. They were fired. After the fact.

        HR wanted over the top documentation. We were told it was within normal.

        I liked Alison’s suggestion to be exceedingly direct. But you’ll need more:

        – Start a journal date time stamped with specific incidents. If possible, have other team members do it too. Be descriptive with the incidents.
        – Approach HR as a group if possible
        – Escalate to corporate. Your local hr HR person doesn’t know what to do so she’s checking the boxes. She may also be helping Chris’ manager keep Chris in his position since he is needed.

        Reply
  12. happycat

    I had a roommate like this, he would yell at his computer games, hit things and rant. Honestly, it WAS scary. Me and the cats hid in my room. He knew he was upsetting and often apologized for it. Eventually he saw a specialist who recommended anti psychotics to him, which he laughed off. He also laughed off that he had anger issues, his thinking was that his anger might be a bit overboard, but certainly nothing to be upset about! On transit he would actually threaten to kill people, due to crowding.
    My point is, this IS scary to witness, because the person raging COULD snap, and because they actually know what they are doing is wrong, but they still do it, leaving on to wonder, what ELSE will they do?
    This is particularly hard for those of us who have been abused, because this is often how it starts, the abuser punches a desk / wall / door, and then punches you eventually.
    Am I saying he will hurt his co worker? Honestly, I don’t know, but I do know ignoring obvious angry outbursts isn’t the smart thing to do.

    Reply
  13. Anonforthis

    I listened to the podcast – signal boosting reading The Gift of Fear. de Becker talks a lot about volatile workplace situations.

    I threaten to throw my computer off the roof periodically when it’s acting up and someone groan or mutter to myself, but the way the OP was describing it was not like someone who was capable of controlling their actions.

    Reply
      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

        I threaten our procurement system all the time but have never once hit anything at work on purpose

        Reply
        1. ginger ale for all

          I mentally replay the scene from Office Space when they are in the field with the printer when ours gives us problems.

          Reply
    1. Future Homesteader

      +10. People can *feel* the difference between someone who is truly raging and someone who is frustrated/letting off a little steam. And we should listen to those little nagging feelings that say something is not a good situation.

      Reply
      1. RUKiddingMe

        And someone frustrated/letting off steam is not generally the default behavior they exhibit. This guy does this all the time, ergo it is his default behavior to be aggressive/violent.

        Reply
        1. Lara

          Yes. If he thumped his desk in a moment of frustration and sheepishly apologised afterward that would be one thing. That is not what is happening here.

          Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      All of this. A coworker who occasionally mutters about reducing their computer to a pile of component parts, or occasionally swears about it, is a lot less worrisome than someone who “frequently” yells, swears, and hits their desk.

      Many years ago, I worked with someone who would pound on his desk when frustrated. No swearing. No rants. Nothing else. Just pounding on the desk when frustrated. Since he was writing software and these are computers, I think it happened a few times a week, but I’m not sure.

      One of the two people who shared that office moved their laptop to the open testing lab (not exactly the quietest place) and worked there because it felt safer.

      (We also had a neighboring company that was closing down – day traders – and the last guy left in that office would rage and hit things. I finally went down and talked to him and he was this nice-looking older gentleman who was utterly *mortified* to realize that his raging wasn’t private. And talking to him, until I saw his reaction, was scary as all get-out. But at least his reaction was right. This person has been talked to, has no illusions that his behavior is unobserved, and still isn’t controlling it.)

      Reply
    3. BookishMiss

      Yes, Gift of Fear was my first thought when I heard the part about making jokes. This guy sounds terrifying.

      I really hope this resolves safely for the LW.

      Reply
    4. TardyTardis

      I threw a pen once when I was in the Air Force and a charming gentleman we’d already paid (procurement) was being hard to find to resolve some quality (or lack of it) issues. How we longed for the days of Julius Caesar who hung people for selling him bad meat…

      Reply
  14. Anne of Green Gables

    I know that the possibility of switching offices is brought up in the discussion, but what about having someone else (HR, a supervisor, maybe even just another coworker) in the LW’s office for a day? I don’t know the type of work so I don’t know if this is completely unfeasible, but if this is something that happens every day, perhaps someone could switch with LW for a day, maybe use the office when she’s out? It seems to me like one of the problems here is that LW is the only person whose office is nearby therefore she is the only person who sees the frequency and depth of what is going on. If others saw what she saw (literally), it might help others realize the severity of the situation.

    Reply
    1. Myrin

      That crossed my mind as well, though, like you say, I have no idea how practical that would be; it would certainly help the HR person to literally get a better look at the situation.

      Reply
    2. Competent Commenter

      I too wanted the HR person to try sitting in OP’s office for a day or two. Also, due to concerns about the legality of recording someone without their consent, what if OP just calls HR and lets them listen to the rants via phone as they occur? Or lets the rants passively record onto HR’s voicemail? I mean if you can hear all that from your OWN office how illegal could it be if they happen to be audible in the background as she leaves GR a message?

      But that said…I think HR’s emphasis on catching him in the act is kind of BS. The behavior sounds like it’s been witnessed by others sufficiently. They need to take care of this.

      Reply
      1. Anonforthis

        HR’s response that he has to be ‘caught in the act’ is total BS. That’s like the police telling you they can only go after a burglar or a mugger if they catch them in the act. That’s just HR passing the buck because they don’t want to deal with it.

        Reply
    3. MLB

      I was thinking the same thing but honestly, the HR person shouldn’t need to witness his behavior if it’s being reported by multiple people.

      Reply
      1. Anne of Green Gables

        My point was less about being caught in the act and more about observing the patterns of frequency and severity. Right now, OP is the only person who is exposed to Chris all day. If others were as well, they are likely to better understand how out of hand his behavior is.

        Reply
    4. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep

      I’m worried this could backfire if he sees the HR person and is on his best behavior. Maybe if there was a way the OP could be the one seen and the HR person is out of sight could it work. I hope the OP is in a state where she’s allowed to just record her co-worker in some way. It sucks that HR needs evidence – um, no, you don’t and the company could and would get sued if violence happened. They knew of a problem and did NOTHING to control / help with it.

      Reply
    5. Mad Baggins

      I think HR is probably stuck in the same situation as commentors who have only read the letter–they might be thinking, “what’s the big deal? Everyone gets mad and headdesks sometimes.” Maybe if HR could literally see and hear him, they’d see what a big deal it is.

      (Not that this should be necessary because OP’s description clearly indicates the danger, and this kind of behavior should be unacceptable regardless of whether or not it is personally witnessed by HR/a boss, and OP’s account is already corroborated by colleagues, and workplace safety and inappropriate displays of emotion should be taken seriously even when they align with what is more acceptable for gender/race/etc. to display, and and and…)

      OP, please stay safe!

      Reply
  15. Toads, Beetles, Bats

    Are security cameras an option? I am generally opposed to surveillance in workplaces, but if your office needs visual proof (from someone other than you) so badly, perhaps they could arrange for a short-term hall camera or something? Does anyone have experience along these lines? I’m sorry you’re going through this, OP.

    Reply
  16. GRA

    I did listen to the Podcast, and YES please keep reporting this to HR. Use the scripts Alison gives you and I hope HR understands how easily Chris’s behavior could escalate into a major workplace event. So scary! Like you said – if he does escalate, HR is going to be in a lot of trouble. But for your safety and the safety of your co-workers, I sincerely hope they address the issue before that can happen.

    Reply
  17. ER...EC

    I don’t know if updates to the podcast letters are a thing but I’d really like one for this letter. In the meantime, I’ll be hoping the Letter Writer (Question Asker?) is okay.

    Reply
  18. Pam

    I would definitely be using my supervisor in the conversation with HR, and the (if needed) escalation to higher levels.

    Reply
  19. LQ

    [Meta suggestion] Maybe it makes sense to give only an abbreviated version of the letter, I know people get excited and want to comment right away, but that might help make sure they get the extra information that comes from the podcast. Even waiting and putting the letter with the full transcript together. Or you could post both when they are available and then those of us who have the podcast already set up and at the priority spot in their listening q will be ready to jump on and comment (and those who read will be able to read it all). (Though I’m well aware this isn’t ideal because you want people to listen to the podcast and waiting means fewer people listen…)

    Also I love the podcast so much, I’ve already made several people just sit down and listen to the negotiation one. Having the additional back and forth adds so much and is really wonderful.

    Reply
    1. Can't Hear You

      I think it would help to offer the transcript along with the podcast. I can’t listen to podcasts due to an auditory processing disorder, and thus only have the post itself to go on. Posting transcripts a week later once the discussion is over is not really helpful – those of use who cannot listen are excluded from the discussion just the same. If they were available concurrently, those who can’t (or won’t) listen could still get the gist of the discussion before commenting.

      Reply
      1. Jessie the First (or second)

        The transcripts are done by a volunteer commenter here so it is not in Alison’s power to demand the volunteer do it right away. And from what I gather, Alison is rather too busy to be transcribing this podcast same day herself.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’m paying her! (She did start out as a volunteer, which was lovely, but I didn’t feel right not paying.)

          But there are other reasons why it’s not feasible to provide them on the same day. I know that does mean that not everyone will be able to participate, and I’m sorry about that. But I do provide tons of other content here each day.

          Reply
          1. SB

            I’m just curious why the person doing the transcriptions isn’t allowed to listen a week before the episode goes live, so they can be released at the same time. The podcast is on a fixed schedule, but the content isn’t time-sensitive, right? Why can’t the release schedule be pushed back a week to “catch up” on the current in-production episode, and then start releasing episode/transcript together from then on?

            You mentioned “other reasons” but — from a reader’s perspective — this seems like a relatively easy fix if the transcriptionist was allowed access to the episode a week ahead of time.

            Reply
    2. Windchime

      Posting an abbreviated version of the letter would just result in people commenting with complaints about the LW not giving enough detail.

      People should just stop commenting until they listen. Much of the “why don’t they do this or that” advice was discussed in depth between Alison and the guest.

      Also–this guy sounds scary to me. This is more than someone blowing off steam because they can’t figure out an Excel macro or their World Cup team botched a goal. Way more.

      Reply
    3. ballpitwitch

      This is being brought up on every single podcast comment thread. Alison posts so often and there is so much to comment on otherwise, I honestly don’t understand why people can’t just chill over the fact that there’s one conversation they can’t chime in on immediately. I don’t comment very much because every post has 200+ comments within 15 minutes of being posted. Sometimes I catch the episodes on the way to work and am able to be one of the first commenters and actually engage meaninfully in the convo. I don’t think she needs to continually be harangued for not having a transcript available at the same time the episode is released.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        Not at all trying to harangue. I’m trying to give some suggestions as to how to handle all the people who only read the letter, don’t get the additional information and then comment about things that were discussed in the episode, speculate over what should and should not happen when it’s been addressed in the podcast and give really bad suggestions based on incomplete information (like oh it’s not that big of a deal comments here when they are working on just the letter). It would be great if people waited but this would be a way to control it without just asking people to wait. That said, asking might be enough. Just is odd to read suggestions of people pushing toward a solution that is entirely unreasonable, or has already been tried. That’s all.

        Reply
    4. mediumofballpoint

      It’s kind of weird to have a written comments section for an audio podcast in the first place, and I imagine a lot of people read AAM at work where it’s harder to listen to a podcast. I’d love it if these posts were tagged so we could filter them out, or shut down the comments section, or go with your solid suggestion. Treating them like a regular text post seems like a choice likely to confuse people or make them more likely to break the rules.

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        Maybe not posting any text at all would help? It would be easier to scroll by for people who aren’t listening and would keep people from commenting based on partial information.

        I listen to multiple podcasts that have written comments sections! It’s not like we can all get on the phone to chat about it…

        Reply
  20. ragazza

    I included a link in my previous comment so it went to moderation, but is it possible he has Tourette Syndrome? Individuals with this can have “rage attacks.”

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      It kind of doesn’t matter at this point, IMHO. Scary outbursts of rage are not appropriate behavior in the workplace. The LW shouldn’t be afraid to come to work and coworkers shouldn’t be worrying about the day this guy comes to the office with a gun.

      Reply
    2. rldk

      Armchair diagnosing is against commenting rules.

      Speculating on any sort of mental disorder is not helpful in any way. It further stigmatizes MI, but also, if Chris indeed has Tourette’s or anything like it, the onus is on him to ask for accommodations., especially when his behavior has already been addressed with HR.

      Reply
      1. Former Employee

        Tourette’s is not a mental illness. It is a neurological disorder. (I looked it up to be sure and would credit the site, but I lost the location.)

        If you saw a co-worker walking with a limp and you found out they weren’t in an accident, wouldn’t you wonder if they’d developed a medical problem?

        I think it is reasonable to speculate that the person may have a disorder without letting him off the hook for dealing with his own problem, whether it is caused by something physiological, psychological or a combination thereof.

        Reply
    3. Competent Commenter

      Then it’s up to the guy to manage the situation by working on his behavior and asking for a reasonable accommodation. There’s no evidence that he has Tourette’s and I don’t think speculating on that helps the OP.

      Reply
      1. ragazza

        I apologize. I wasn’t suggesting this wasn’t a problem for the OP and I didn’t know about the armchair diagnosing. Just thought this might shed additional light on the issue for the OP.

        Reply
  21. OhGee

    I listened to the podcast and also, one of my coworkers was fired after a long period of this kind of behavior (frequent vocal and physical outbursts in the workplace). In the case of my coworker, the behavior eventually went from internal/unfocused (shouting/slamming things, wailing while visibly shaking) to direct verbal attacks on coworkers and thinly veiled threats in text communications. Those of us who sat close enough to notice the former behavior tried to ignore it, knowing that this person had disclosed a chronic mental health issue, and we assumed this behavior may be related. But the switch from the former behavior to direct threats and verbal attacks happened very suddenly and was alarming. Luckily our boss fired the employee after talking with them and everybody present for the verbal attacks (this was a huge relief, because the last time an employee behaved this awfully toward coworkers, it took months of direct pressure and detailed reports for management to take action). I can understand how some people might think it’s fine to ignore this (and I get it! sometimes I get shouty when I’m frustrated about a work situation) but when this behavior is frequent, it’s either serious OR it’s less serious, meaning not dangerous, in which case the person should still be very firmly asked to stop, because it’s a distraction, at minimum. HR’s desire to witness the behavior directly is putting an inappropriate burden on the LW, and LW definitely should not record the outbursts — I’m pretty sure that would invite a lawsuit anywhere in the US, and probably in many other places, too.

    Reply
  22. mark132

    After listening to the episode, I’m wondering if the reason why HR is being less communicative is because Chris has some form of workplace accommodation? Either a formal disability accommodation, some form of a PIP or is simply related to the boss? He would still have his rights for privacy for either an accommodation or a PIP.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      If there is a disability accommodation in place, HR couldn’t share the specifics of that with OP, but I think they could say something to clue in the OP without giving details. It sounds like they are brushing off her concerns (at best) or actively gaslighting her (at worst).

      Reply
      1. voyager1

        I thought the same exact thing, that would explain the emails asking what he is doing. If they were blowing her off, they wouldn’t bother. I said further up that the podcast left me with more questions. I was kinda surprised nobody has talked to his team members (referenced in the pod), I got the impression he was a manager like the LW.

        Reply
  23. Naive Maybe?

    I’ve been really surprised by a lot the comments as I would assume from my own experience and personal feelings about it that ever raising your voice in the work place is inappropriate? Is that off base? I’ve only been in the professional work place for about 4 years so maybe it’s just not something I’ve experienced but I’ve certainly heard people talking loudly when joking around/being jovial and I’ve had a coworker or two who just talk loud as their normal speaking level so when they’re talking fast/passionately it’s very loud but I’d have never thought raising your voice in anger even mockingly so seem really not cool to do and no one in the offices I’ve worked in have done it. Have the offices I’ve worked in just been laid back? Even when I or a coworker has clearly been angry I’ve never heard someone shout.
    P.S. I mean I’ve had a coworkers and myself say at time but a normal level of speaking or a whisper “oh sh**” when you realize something has gone wrong but I’ve never heard anyone say shout obscenities in any tone let alone an angry tone.

    Reply
    1. MLB

      No you are not off base. I’ve had to tell people to keep it down before when on a conference call (they weren’t angry just being social but I couldn’t hear the people on the call). I have a temper, I’m impatient and I curse at my computer sometimes, but I have NEVER been reprimanded for angry outbursts because I keep it in check (I spew obscenities when I’m in my car alone LOL). And what this guy is doing is not only disruptive but scary behavior. Even after he was spoken to he can’t keep it in check. And when people joke about scary situations (like him coming in with a weapon), it’s based on real feelings. I wouldn’t discount everyone’s fears of him and MAKE the HR department do something about it.

      Reply
    2. Namast'ay in Bed

      You definitely aren’t naive – I think a lot of people are commenting without listening the podcast. Your experience sounds pretty normal to me.

      Reply
    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      No you are not naive at all and what you think of as normal is normal. I swear at and talk to my computer all the time but only rarely enough for someone to hear me and I apologize if they say indicate they heard me. People even get asked to pipe down or take it to a conference room if they are talking at a slightly louder volume than average and it is 100% normal and OK.

      Reply
    4. fposte

      Between sports and temperamental chorus masters I have a pretty high tolerance for raised voices, but they’re still not appropriate in most workplaces save for the occasional surprise bug encounter.

      Reply
    5. mrs__peel

      I’ve worked in a number of white-collar office environments, and it was definitely NOT considered normal or okay to yell at any of them. They were all very quiet. Being that loud on a regular basis would probably get you on a PIP or fired at my current workplace.

      Even when I worked as a dishwasher in restaurant kitchens, yelling was far less prevalent than I had been led to expect from TV! People would socialize and joke around, but mostly they worked pretty quietly.

      Reply
    6. Triple Anon

      Exactly. Some workplaces have the kind of culture where people occasionally swear or even have profanity-laden shouting matches during meetings (so I’ve heard). But this guy is shouting alone without it being part of the office culture. That’s really inappropriate. And the fact that he doesn’t do it in front of certain people shows that he has control over it.

      Reply
    7. MissDissplaced

      I guess I must have worked in some bad places. Outright yelling/screaming or fighting happens, but is fairly rare, sometimes outbursts of obscenity (especially at a computer that crashes) are more common.
      But I did work one place where the owner was always yelling and meetings would degrade into shouting matches.
      Personally, I’m immune to this kind if thing. Both my dad and husband would yell, curse, bang or throw thing around while doing work around the house. It’s not directed at anyone, so I don’t find it scary or threatening, but it is distracting.

      Reply
    8. Lara

      I’ve worked in a few places where bosses yelled. Those places were bad. Trust your instincts on this one.

      Reply
  24. Snickerdoodle

    OP, can you record any of his outbursts on your phone? Can you escalate your complaint above the HR person in your location?

    Keep reporting everything that happens, and don’t downplay that you feel unsafe. Remember what everyone else has said about recognizing indications of future workplace violence. He knows his behavior is not okay because he wouldn’t try to hide it otherwise, and HR hasn’t done enough about it to make him stop. If your company doesn’t deal with it, I think you should seek employment elsewhere before this guy escalates. I’m especially concerned that you mentioned being fairly isolated with him. :/

    Reply
  25. Bookworm Extraordinaire

    Long time reader here! I rarely comment. I’m Deaf so I can’t listen to the podcast (or any podcast) and I hate it. Any chance of a transcript? Thanks!

    That said, this guy has been escalating and seems to continue to escalate.He should be fired.

    Reply
    1. rldk

      There will be a transcript posted with the next episode, but I think a third party does them for Alison, so not sure if there’s any chance of it coming sooner.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      Transcripts come out a week later–there’s a link to the transcript for last week’s at the bottom of today’s post.

      Reply
  26. Safetykats

    I feel like I had this coworker. One option not suggested, which could be really helpful in getting management and HR to understand the severity of the situation, is just to have first the manager and ultimately HR just come sit in her office long enough to witness the behavior. This is actually what I did – I asked my manager to pick a time when he had an hour or so to do quiet work (like reviewing a document) and please just come sit in my office. This seems so obvious, and it infuriates me that HR somehow has tried to make it the writer’s job to monitor and report on her coworker’s behavior, when that’s not her job at all.

    Also, excellent advice as far as not underplaying the situation to management or HR. There are clear key words that they should understand they cannot ignore, and all the writer should have to say to get a new office remote from this guy is to say that they feel unsafe.

    Unfortunately, there’s nothing the writer can do to really influence a solution like obtaining counseling through EAP for the coworker. Either HR or his manager should be able to mandate that under specific circumstances, but it’s hard to know from the outside whether that’s already been done. This is another place where not downplaying the situation will help, and where insisting that HR sit there until they have observed the behavior themselves can do nothing but help.

    I’m also going to second the suggestion to go up the HR chain if you don’t get some satisfaction. I’ve done this too, and while it can feel like a big step when you have to go to the corporate office to talk to your HR reps manager, it’s really not any different than going up the management chain within your office. It’s possible that your HR rep just doesn’t have the experience to deal with this, and really needs some help from their management.

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      I like this idea. LW could also possibly pick up the phone and call HR when it’s happening and let HR listen in on the speaker phone. But having someone else witness it would be best. I would be so afraid of this guy if he worked in my office.

      Reply
    2. Triple Anon

      I agree. I think the HR people are handling this inappropriately. I like the idea of going up the chain. OP could mention concerns about the behavior escalating or just driving away employees or anyone else who comes onsite.

      Reply
  27. ahch

    This sounds like my husband. He gets so mad at himself, not others, just himself, for any any mistake or perceived mistake. He paces, and yells, and throws things – by himself/to himself. We’ve been together 18 years so I feel confident in saying it has never escalated to physical violence. Also I don’t think he would do this at the workplace because he would be horrifically embarrassed but maybe he would if he thought no one could hear (self awareness is not strong). I did finally tell him I was filing for divorce if he didn’t go to therapy because it was annoying me – even though it had nothing to do with me. That was the core concept he didn’t understand – how something that I was just adjacent to could irritate me so much. Cognitive Behavior therapy has helped immensely. Also my recognition that as a verbal emotional processor with underlying self esteem issues – my husband didn’t have many good emotional role models and modeled male behavior that he saw growing up. He literally needed to learn a different response.

    Reply
  28. OlympiasEpiriot

    I listened. This doesn’t sound like blowing off steam.

    I have worked in my life with volatile people and with people who “let off steam”. There is a difference and this sounds like a case of “volatile”.

    I hope the recording can be done from her office. Use a decent camera rather than one’s phone. What if a call comes in while filming? What about the size of the file? Don’t want to lose it. Spend the $50 for something that can be clipped to a monitor or inbox tray to just record all day.

    Reply
    1. loslothluin

      They also need to be sure of the recording statutes for their state. Some states are one party consent states and some are two party. The consent also requires you to be a party to the conversation, and I’m not sure if this would count or not.

      Reply
  29. Midlife Tattoos

    I was in your exact shoes, except the volatile person was one of my employees. That made me doubly nervous because we made those same jokes about, “When he comes in with a gun, I’m dead.” I told HR that he scared me, I felt unsafe, and that I didn’t want him to work for me. While I had the support of Boss and GrandBoss, HR ultimately said that unless he made some kind of threat, there was nothing they could do. They told me to put him on PIP for unprofessional behavior, which made me afraid that it would make the situation that much worse. It took nearly a year, but I was finally able to fire him. We had increased security around our (already secure) building for a couple weeks after that. This wasn’t terribly long ago, so I still have concerns that he’ll show up.

    Reply
  30. puzzld

    I don’t think I could work in that office. I grew up with a parent with anger issues and… just to scary for me. Add to that the husband of one of my former coworkers who acted out in a similar fashion. He’d come into her office to pick her up, banging things and slamming doors then one fine night he shot and killed their daughter, injured co-worker, would have killed everyone in the house if his teen aged son hadn’t taken the gun from him.

    Reply
    1. loslothluin

      A friend of mine just had a coworker get murdered by her husband. After he killed her, he committed suicide by blowing his brains out. All of his happened with one of their daughters in the house.

      Reply
    2. sleepy baby

      Yeah I wasn’t sure if I was personally projecting but this reminds me so much of the behavior of an abusive man that was recently in my life. And this is at work where people generally contain themselves more than in private.

      Reply
  31. mcr-red

    We had two employees like this. And everyone was just expected to put up with their behavior. One cornered a female co-worker and had her crying until I happened by and was like WTF? He backed off quickly and made some sort of joke, he just gave off really creepy abuser vibes. I told my boss, he made creeper apologize to me (what about the one that was cornered?) and as far as I know nothing happened to him. He eventually moved away.

    Other employee one day completely flipped, attacked someone and destroyed property. Later find out from others that he often yelled, screamed, threw things and intimidated others. Nothing happened to him until the big incident.

    Reply
    1. Former Employee

      You are what I call an “everyday hero” – someone who in the course of a regular day steps in/steps up and helps another person in a difficult even potentially dangerous or threatening situation and then goes about their business.

      Thank you for being that person.

      Reply
  32. loslothluin

    My first thought is that this guy needs a mental evaluation. My second thought is that there need to be some “random” drug tests and have this guy be a “random” choice. This behavior sounds like a mental illness or drugs, maybe both.

    Reply
    1. Triple Anon

      But it’s not their responsibility to find out what’s causing it. The company has to take what they know at face value and respond to it.

      Reply
      1. Lara

        Sure. But they can mandate counselling / recovery treatment if there is an issue. And addiction is protected by ADA, so they need to know if that’s a factor. I’m against introducing drug testing in the workplace in general though.

        Reply
      2. bolistoli

        Agreed. Plus random drug testing is not necessarily legal for all professions/positions/locales. I’d be pretty f*ing pissed if my company tried to give me a drug test. And I’d definitely check with an employment lawyer before submitting to one.

        Reply
  33. sleepy baby

    I’m honestly kind of shocked at the “brush if off” comments? For one, the person who is actively experiencing the situation admits she feels unsafe, which is huge alarm bells if I’ve ever heard one.
    But even without that extra context, just reading the letter I hear alarm bells. Loud yelling, banging on furniture is an absolutely out of proportion and scary response to standard workplace stress. And it’s not a one off event – this is clearly a person who very often experiences actual /rage/ at every day occurrences. Not normal, scary, and unacceptable in a workplace.

    Reply
  34. LadyCop

    This reminds me 100% of my father…who doesn’t do this stuff at work…but curses freely and openly at inanimate objects, and people on the tv.

    I know it’s not adding much to the conversation…but for those who might feel the OP is overreacting…you clearly never experienced it…or the literal fear and heart racing you experience being started awake to loud screaming in your house!

    Reply
  35. sfigato

    ugh, what a scary situation. Your advice was really good.
    I’m sorry that HR has been so milquetoast in responding. Stay safe.

    Reply
  36. Anon For This

    I have a family member who has similar angry outbursts. It happens multiple times a day. It looks like a mental health issue, and it looks like the person might not be able to control the behavior. However, they don’t do it in front of certain people or in certain situations, so they obviously can control it. It also is part of a larger pattern of violent and abusive behavior, the worst of which they go to great lengths to hide.

    In other words, take this seriously.

    Reply
  37. Stay at home Scientist

    So this may have been raised in the comments but I haven’t had a chance to read all of them yet, so sorry if it’s redundent.

    I’m wondering if this in fact due to a disability that HR is aware of but has not been given permission to disclose to the letter writer. And perhaps that’s why they’ve been handling it the way they have. Or conversely that the HR person is nervous that there may be disability in play and doesn’t know how to proceed without running up against a legal issue (which hopefully a higher up HR person would know more about how best to proceed if that is the case).

    Obviously if it is a disability something still needs to be figured out about how to address and manage it. I listened to the episode so I know that he sounds very angry and disturbing when he has these episodes and I don’t want to say don’t trust your gut. Nor my I saying that it doesn’t need to be addressed, it does.

    But as a mom to a kiddo on the spectrum and as someone with personal experience with OCD, I felt painfully sad reading the part about him trying to hide his outbursts by whisper yelling or ducking behind a door. Again it totally needs to be addressed for everyone’s well being and safety.

    Reply
  38. lurker bee

    This letter was a good choice for the added depth of a podcast. This co-worker sounds volatile, and I hope that HR really listens this time around to the OP. The letter was worrisome enough, but the further details are just chilling.

    Given that Alison is suggesting that the OP *not* engage with Angry Coworker about the outbursts to avoid becoming a focus … I am wondering why asking for him to be moved wouldn’t also have the strong potential for drawing his attention and anger. (Not that I think moving anyone is a solution here, but I can see why OP would like some distance. Perhaps moving her to an open office on the other side of several coworkers would be a good stopgap. At least that way, he is not directly against the hall from her. And her moving could plausibly be for some other reason.

    Reply
  39. HeuristicChick

    I don’t think I saw this as a suggestion, but could the LW use her cell phone to document some of these instances for sharing with HR? It may help to demonstrate the severity of what is still happening.

    Reply
    1. VVM

      If it’s happening every day, I wonder if she could get someone to sit in with her and be a second witness.

      Reply
  40. arjumand

    There’s been more that one mention of The Gift of Fear, including in Alison’s conversation with OP, but a strange reluctance to actually follow de Becker’s advice.

    Ask HR to speak to him? But he has been spoken to, with no effect. Get permission to record him on her phone? Why is this her job? Also, let’s take her from a position of danger, to greater danger, if he notices.
    Seriously, the idea of setting up more meetings with him is giving me chills down my spine – he already knows that OP is the one reporting him, and these talking-to sessions will only focus his attention on the person who is physically closest to him, and most vulnerable.

    What really needs to be done is follow de Becker’s advice on immediate firing. This is a scary situation which is not going to improve.

    Reply
  41. Anon for this

    A colleague from another department came to me and told me that she had reported one of her co-workers as dangerous due to something that he wrote. She didn’t know what would happen and wanted to check with me. She trusted me and would have shown me the document. Once I found out that she had reported it up her chain of command, I naively told her that it would be taken care of and didn’t look at the document.

    Except it wasn’t. There were many people that had bits and pieces of information about this individual, but they were never put together to create a compelling reason for action. So nothing happened and two months later, the person killed and injured people at our workplace.

    Neither my colleague or I was hurt physically, however we both will have lifelong guilt about not doing more. It is not something that you get over. One of the people that had another part of the story felt so guilty that he stated that if he had to do it over again, he would have killed the perpetrator and then himself. He also had reported the behavior, but felt like he had not done enough.

    I am not saying that the OP is responsible if “Chris” does something violent to her colleagues, but I would not ever want her to feel the guilt that I do. My workplace now has a threat assessment group where all the pieces of information get brought together. I have reported several behaviors to that group, but it will never make up for my initial failing. Intellectually, I know that my reporting something that had already been reported would not have made a difference, but emotionally, it is enormous levels of guilt.

    Reply
  42. ADeA

    I have someone like this in my office who I used to work for as an assistant. Behind the closed door to his office, yelled, cursed, banged and threw things, 3 other lawyers moved away from him, he was that disruptive and disturbing. But was perfectly nice to me and others. HOWEVER, in the last year, he started to take out his aggression and anger on me and another subordinate woman of the same age (40s). He would visibly seethe and hyperventilate when he spoke to me. (We used to be friendly too!) He made everything a rush (I worked for 4 other people at the time), would say disparaging things about other associates and even partners.

    When I had enough, I brought up his behavior to HR and they spoke to his boss, my main boss. But my main boss, the head of the department did not speak to him but said he was under a lot of stress and let it go. Several months later he racketed up his behavior again and I asked HR to speak to him directly and they did and made someone else his assistant. There were other issues, he’d come into work very late and be unreachable during those hours (I’m talking about 9 to noon) and then punish me for others being unable to reach him. My main boss was furious that I wrote and spoke to HR about all of this. Even though I spoke to him before I did and he said I could handle the disturbing abusive behavior.

    The thing is that this guy knew he was behaving badly for he’d only direct it towards me and another subordinate, all the higher ups and “equals” he’d be perfectly pleasant to, just after been furious at me. He was very selective in directing his anger. Just so you know, I’m a very good assistant. I would always try to do his work as soon as possible with exception of the head of the department coming first if it was priority. It was never about my work. He just wanted someone to use as a punching bag. I still sit directly outside his office and he still exhibits some of this behavior but to a much lesser degree. That being said if he ever gets fired, I will call out sick the next day,

    Reply
  43. Ronnie

    Maaaan… this sounds like my recently terminated boss. He was here for 38 years. He was passed over 6 or so years ago for a promotion/location move he really wanted, and his behavior gradually spiraled down. The last year or so, I’d walk in the office at 8am, and he’d already be screaming the F word and other obscenities, or hitting his desk. He’d walk around talking to himself, then say, “Am I talking to myself? Yes I am!”. He’d also often vent to myself and other people in this office… frequently… about, well, everyone. I’d just make sympathetic noises and try to ride it out. NOBODY said a word about his behavior, as if it was just part of working with him. I’m not sure what the final straw was, but he’s no longer here. I never realized how tense I was coming to work until after a few days of not having to walk in to temper tantrums.

    Reply
  44. Ann Nonymous

    If it were me, I’d inform the police so this guy was on their radar. I’ve actually done that with a rager who lives next door to my office. I don’t feel threatened – or not too much – but, as I told the police officer who was on patrol, “Unstable people do unstable things.”

    Reply
  45. PersephoneUnderground

    Comment on the podcast setup- I gather the “Cabinet of Curiosities” is your sponsor/ an ad? Unfortunately, the way it’s set up in the recording here, it makes it sound like your show is part of their show, especially since the ad plays before your show starts and ends with “welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities…”. I do find that name really funny for work questions, but I’m pretty sure your show is called Ask a Manager, so it might be something to keep in mind for the next recording.

    Reply

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