Workplace violence: The psychology of a disgruntled employee who kills

WATCH ABOVE: Mark McAllister looks at the Virginia shooter’s state of mind and other cases involving disgruntled employees resulting in murder or violence.

TORONTO — A disgruntled ex-employee of Virginia news station WDBJ-7 shot and killed two of his former co-workers on Wednesday before eventually turning the gun on himself. While rare, unfortunately violence from disgruntled employees does happen.

Last year in Edmonton a Loblaw’s warehouse employee stabbed six of his co-workers, two of whom died. And in 2010, a suspended car dealership employee fatally shot a co-worker and wounded another before taking his own life.

Global News spoke to an expert on this topic. His views are based on experience and does not refer to any specific case.

Potential recipe for murderous revenge

“Generally when you have this type of workplace violence, if there’s anything like a formula, you can take anger plus paranoia plus depression equals some kind of explosion,” said Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Florida.

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“Basically, ‘I’m mad at you, you did something wrong to me, it was unjust and unfair. And the only way I can redress the insult is to kill you.

And I don’t even mind if I get killed because I’m too depressed and I’m going to go out in this Rambo glory.'”

“Many times when you look at individuals who have committed workplace violence and survived the incident, when you interview them afterwards you find that they’ve thought about it for some time — stewed over it for days, weeks, months, even years. They may have made some practice runs, rehearsed it.”

Miller explained that while the person’s initial feelings of anger may sometimes subside, they can be triggered by another setback later in life, such as getting fired from their next job or even being broken up with.

Portrait of a killer

Of course, we all suffer setbacks in life.

“Just because you have an argument with somebody at work,” Miller said though, “you don’t have to automatically assume they’re going to come back and blow up the place.”

The vast majority of us won’t react with murder, no matter how much injustice we may be dealt with. So what differentiates us from those who do? Well, as disgruntled as some of us may be, most have the ability not to go past “the tipping point.”

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Instead, we may focus on the positive. So if you lose your job, you may tell yourself that at least you still have your family, Miller said.

“Individuals who commit these types of impulsive violent acts… may have been overly invested in that work role. So when they lose it, they literally have nothing else.”

He added that they also tend to “have very weak egos.” That may manifest itself as a narcissistic borderline anti-social disorder. In other words, they need constant reminders that they’re special in some way.

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When you look at their work history, “almost always…no one is surprised that it was this guy.” And, according to Miller, it’s usually a man. It may be one who has filed grievances, had multiple arguments with co-workers, and became angry when he was disciplined.

“There’s always going to be a very small violent subpopulation in every culture, in every racial group, in every country,” Miller said, “that’s going to be like a runaway train.”

For more on what employers can do to help prevent workplace violence click here.