I supervise a group of customer service representatives. We provide our service by telephone. One of my reps (let’s call him Dave but that is not his name) has a habit of saying, “There’s another customer who should be strangled” after difficult calls. This probably happens once a week on average. Another of my reps complained to me that these comments make her nervous because it indicates Dave might be violent. It’s obvious from his tone and demeanor that Dave is kidding around, but my other rep wants me to pursue this as a violation of the company’s policy against workplace violence. How would you handle this?
I’d strangle the employee who is complaining so she can learn the difference between figures of speech and dangerous conduct.
— Evil Skippy
Thank your employee for letting you know how the workplace comments are affecting her. Ask her if “Dave” has done anything to make her feel uncomfortable or uneasy other than the comments. If it is only the comments, explain to her why the phrase does not violate your policy and does not mean the workplace is at risk. If your employee’s fears continue to seem extreme, gently recommend to her that she consult with your EAP program.
If it turns out Dave is doing more than just make the comments, review any concerns right away and make a determination as to whether or not Dave poses a risk. Based on what you wrote, he probably is risk-free but one never knows. Whether or not Dave is actually violent, if his comments are making reasonable people uncomfortable you need to do something about it because it is your job to make sure the workplace is as good as it can be.
Last but not least, the next time you hear “Dave” mention strangling one of your customers, put on your supervisory hat and tell him you know he’s just joking but you are telling him to stop because (a) you need your customers, (b) his comment isn’t professional, and (c) only Evil Skippy gets to strangle people at work.
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