When does a casual comment raise concern?
I was having a conversation with a colleague (non-HR) yesterday regarding a procedure that was not followed according to company process. This colleague commented that the situation, now under control, was blow out of proportion. I joked and said, “What around here isn’t”. To which she replied “Tell me about it. If I didn’t let things roll off my back, I’m come in with a shot gun.”
I’ve known this colleague for over 3 years and she is certainly not the violent type – at least not the type of employee that you would want to pass through a metal detector each morning. She’s never raised her voice in meetings or is seen as demanding. She’s very calm, even keeled and shows up each day.
Should I be concerned with her comments? If so, how can I do about handling the situation without accusing her of workplace violence?
There is always a concern over where to draw a line between a non-threatening comment and one that is made in anger. We have all made similar comments about some event in our lives. On the other hand we have people that just snap and then we look back and all of the sudden we "see" things that should have been a warning; or so we imagine. Me, I have seen both sides. I have "seen" things after a death and been left wondering why I didn't notice. Then of course I have had conversations like the one you said above.
Guess what. . none of us are clairvoyant. What we can do is a risk assessment analysis and then follow our best judgment. Was the comment made in anger? Was it directed at anyone? Has there been a change in demeanor of the individual that made the comment? Has the individual been feeling harassed; feeling as if they are treated differently; damaged any property? Did you observe any signs of imminent danger?
You also have the advantage of knowing this person for an extended time. That may be the reason she felt comfortable with her free expression of her frustrations. Since you have not observed any pattern that would be of concern for an imminent treat I would think of it as an inappropriate comment for the work place. I would engage her in a conversation and express to her that the comment did raise a concern if for no other reason than you had to go back and seriously think about what was said. By having the conversation you can alert her to the Work-Place Violence policy (if you have one)and help her to see that in todays' world someone else may feel threatened even if she meant no harm.
All comments no matter how small they seem should be addressed. Even if you have known them for a long time you shouldn't just let it go. God forbid they came in with a gun and they found out she made a comment to you and you did nothing about it. I would sit down with her and a manager and just tell her that her comment was not professional and as an HR you can't take it lightly even if she was joking.
To recognize potentially violent behavior and prevent workplace violence, See BLR's handout "Help Keep Violence Out of the Workplace." This handout is offered free to Forum users on BLR's website at http://hr.blr.com/hr_docs/16294_58.pdf (Spanish and English versions).