B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
Treatment for bad office behavior a phone call away
By David J. Craig
At about 4:30 p.m. on a recent Friday afternoon, Bonnie Teitleman received a phone call from a BU manager who confided that one of his employees had threatened him that morning. The caller had consulted with family members and coworkers during the day, but was hesitant about calling the police.
Teitleman, director of BU's Faculty and Staff Assistance Office, immediately called the BU Police Department and subsequently worked with the Office of Personnel, the police, and an outside mental health agency to assess and alleviate the situation, which eventually resulted in the employee's dismissal. She regrets only that neither she nor the police received a phone call as soon as the threat occurred.
"There has always been a tendency to minimize incidences of threats or violence in the office," says Teitleman, a social worker with expertise on workplace relationships. "I think that's less the case now, in the wake of the recent workplace killings [in Wakefield, MA, and Chicago, IL.]. But I still think our office doesn't get called often enough."
The Faculty and Staff Assistance Office provides confidential counseling for personal and work-related issues to all BU employees and their families at no cost as well as mental health evaluations and referrals. One of its most important functions, according to Teitleman, is helping prevent tragedies such as those in Wakefield and Chicago by working with employees to identify in themselves and in coworkers behaviors that may signal the need for professional intervention.
Teitleman says BU employees should call her office for consultation whenever unprofessional conduct by a coworker becomes habitual or is so severe that he or she feels threatened.
"We hear about everything from threats to temper tantrums to intimidation and humiliation to general rudeness and hostility," says Teitleman. "It can be employees being disrespectful to a manager or to one another, or a manager being disrespectful of employees."
While most managers can distinguish between a deeply troubled employee and one who simply is having a bad day and letting off steam by shouting at a coworker, employees should not try to assess the magnitude of a colleague's potential mental problems themselves, says Louise Grant, senior consultant at the Faculty and Staff Assistance Office.
"It's important to call our office when inappropriate behavior becomes repetitious and when attempts to deal with such behavior don't work," she says. "But even if the behavior has happened once, we're glad to talk to a manager about whether or not they handled a situation properly and if we think any further intervention is necessary. We encourage managers to regularly use us as consultants.
"You certainly don't want to escalate somebody's paranoid thinking or anger," Grant continues, "and we have the experience to help a person without making them feel humiliated or more defensive."
Warning signs of a dangerous problem, Teitleman says, may include a sudden change in behavior, talking about guns, violence, or suicide, exhibiting strong feelings of entitlement or of being treated unjustly, blaming one's problems on others, and regularly having angry outbursts.
"There definitely are some categories of behavior that are red lights and warrant an immediate call to our office," says Grant. "As a manager, I would be extremely worried if I thought an employee was paranoid. And if you think somebody is suicidal or in some other way dangerous, that's obviously something you don't wait to see twice. You might approach the person and tell them that there are people at the University who can help them, and ask them if they want to call or if they want you to make a call for them."
Any type of physical threat, Teitleman adds, warrants an immediate call to the BU police.
Employees who seek help from the Faculty and Staff Assistance Office can be referred to an outside professional if the staff decides that he or she requires medication or other serious mental health treatment.
And the counseling services of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Office often lead to more productive work habits for those who visit, says Teitleman.
"We once worked with a manager whose employees had come to us as a group because his work style was so abrasive and intimidating," she says. "We coached him on ways to modulate his style and become more professional, and it was a very successful."
For more information, contact the Faculty and Staff Assistance Office at 353-5381 or visit www.bu.edu/FSAP.