Q. I manage a store in a local mall. We've had a number of purse snatchings, muggings and other incidents in our parking lot. The Maryland, San Diego, New Jersey and Oregon mall shootings make me wonder what I should tell employees to do in case something like that happens here.
A. Train your employees to act immediately. Those who wonder "is that gunfire?" take a fearful risk. Instead, they need to immediately usher nearby customers into the store, close the gates barring store entry and find shelter, along with customers, in back storerooms.
In Maryland, some employees who left the store came back in after the shooting stopped, saying they felt they had to return to handle store duties. Because some shooters stop and restart, tell your employees that anyone who exits the building should stay away until the police OK their return.
Finally, the police can provide in-store or mall-wide training, giving detailed tactical advice that could protect you and your employees for the four minutes it takes, on average, for police to respond. For tactical training information you can contact Anchorage Police Department Public Affairs Officer at 786-8571.
Q. I work in payroll and can handle most people. My dad used to say, "Kill them with kindness," and it works. Even grouches settle down when I listen to what they want and handle it. On my performance reviews, I'm praised for my helpfulness and people skills. "Anne," however, pushes every one of my buttons. I hate it when I watch her be mean to others in staff meetings. She's the master of the one-sentence snipe and lately she seems to be targeting me. I've been ignoring Anne's comments, pretending they don't get to me, but they do, particularly when she attacks the way I look. I'm sensitive about how overweight I've gotten. She'll say, "Oh, honey, those are not the pants for you." I've spoken to my supervisor about her but he says "that's just Anne."
A. Ignoring the office jerk only works if she can't tell she's gotten to you. If she sees your face flush or mouth tighten, she knows her snipe struck home, which reinforces the pleasure she gets from messing with you.
Instead, call her out. Jerks thrive on knowing others are afraid to take them on and attack because they can get away with it. End the game, or at least your part in it. Tell Anne, "I'm not OK with your sniping." If she then takes you on, be ready.
If Anne makes another nasty comment, respond, "I'm done with being a target for your need to be nasty." If she sneers, walk away.
If Anne says, "You're too sensitive," respond, "I am. And because I am, please cut it out."
If Anne comments on your attire, shut her down with, "Anne, when I need fashion tips, I'll get them from someone I choose and who I consider well dressed."
If Anne says, "Just joking," respond, "Jokes are funny; your comments are just mean."
Finally, here's what I'd tell your manager. While managers can't play office police or mediate every employee skirmish, managers who tell one employee "that's just" another employee, are ignoring behavior that eats away at morale.
If an employee comes to you with a snipe story, either tell the employee she's too sensitive or realize you need to take action and address the other employee.
Q. Can an employer fire an employee for simply speaking his mind?
A. That depends on who the employee works for and what the employee says. Although federal and state laws protect employees who protest discrimination or blow the whistle concerning employer misdeeds, the First Amendment doesn't protect employees who work for private employers. Further, employment at will gives employers the right to fire employees for any or no reasons, as long as they don't violate public policy or discriminate when making their firing decisions. In short, free speech can have a price.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.