Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

It's Personnel as Well as Personal

What drives people to
murderat work?

Ever since 1986, when mailman Patrick Sherril shot and killed 14 postal workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, workplace violence seems to be on the upswing.

According to psychologist Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., author of Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace (Times-Mirror; 1994), the reason is twofold: paranoid, frustrated workers and a careless, punitive, autocratic workplace.

Violence, says Mantell, is the ultimate manifestation of job stress. Over the years, the job demands of postal workers have increased, requiring more employee responsibility and initiative, while management philosophy became frozen.

Mantell, who organized psychological services in response to the 1984 McDonald's restaurant massacre in San Ysidro, California, found that routine employee-assistance programs fall far short of detecting and treating disturbed workers. Typically, he reported, they include "two or three sessions with often untrained counselors, sometimes over the phone. In today's society, that is simply not enough."

In the wake of his work with the survivors of both Edmond and San Ysidro, Mantell developed a prevention model to cut down on the number of violent incidents at work while giving a sense of security and confidence to workers.

He put the onus on employers to identify and defuse potentially violent individuals, and stressed that the victims--the management team, supervisor, or persons killed--are never to blame. "It's simply time that corporate America recognize that it has a responsibility to protect its people as well as it protects its equipment and its property. That means taking care of workers from before they're hired all the way through their employment."


In general

o White, male, 25-50

o Low self-esteem

o Loner

o Fascination with the military and/or guns

Those who commit nonlethal violence

o under 30

o history of some violence

o drugs and/or alcohol abuse

Those who commit lethal violence

o over 30

o no history of violence or substance abuse

o delusional, paranoid, few outlets for release of frustration


1. Extensive psychological screening for all potential employees

2. Continual training for supervisory teams to help them detect early warning signs of emotional upset

3. A "golden-rule" attitude in work, wherein employees feel a sense of reward and recognition for their achievements

4. Educational programs aimed at teaching workers how to respond to conflict in personal situations

5. Counseling services for employees and their families for either job or personal problems

6. Proper security measures to protect the organization and its employees

7. Counseling and stress-debriefing in the aftermath of violence in the workplace