The Ides of March Have Come: HR Help from Caesar

John Leech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.jpg

Friends, Romans, Countrymen,

Lend me your ears…

Today (Friday, March 15th) is the Ides of March, remembered in infamy as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated. This assassination came shortly after Caesar generously accepted the position of Dictator Perpetuo (Dictator for Life), a charming little title that eventually got him stabbed over 20 times.

Well, the Ides of March have come yet again, and a couple of valuable employment lessons have come with it. 

Lesson 1: Create Leaders, Not Dictators

Before becoming Dictator Perpetuo, Caesar had been an elected leader – and not a single person killed him. It was only when the power went to his head that knives went into his back.

In the employment world, having good leadership is vitally important. Good leaders create productive, happy workers – and these are just the type of people that you want to employ.

Dictatoresque supervisors and managers will likely not result in murder plots, but modern-day Caesars can cause a lot of heartache in the workplace.

Bad leaders equate to high job turnover, unsatisfactory job performance, and possibly even litigation.

HR can help ensure there are good leaders in the workplace in several ways. They can:

  • Hire/promote/choose good leaders;
  • Conduct supervisor training on topics such as leadership skills and valuing employees;
  • Address employee complaints regarding supervisors in an efficient, consistent, and fair manner; and
  • Have open communication with employees, and encourage the same communication between managers and employees, so that the employee feels like part of a team, not part of a master/servant relationship.

Lesson 2: Always Listen to the Soothsayer

According to Plutarch, and later immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, Caesar was told that he would be harmed no later than the Ides of March. When he made it to that day, he told the seer who had forewarned him, “The Ides of March have come.” To which the seer replied, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” Caesar, however, did not take the warning seriously, and you know how that worked out for him.

Similarly, many acts of violence in the workplace will not come out of the blue, but will be foreshadowed by a wide variety of events. It is the signs that are not taken seriously that lead to the most disastrous results.

HR professionals can find the foretelling of violence in many different manners, and they should handle each accordingly.

For example, HR might hear comments and complaints by other employees. If an employee expresses fear or concern about another employee, it should never be ignored. Employees who work with each other every day are best equipped to recognize when something is wrong. Even if they are unsure why they feel the way they do, it is important to go with the gut in these situations.

No, that does not mean fire someone because their colleague hinted that maybe, possibly he or she might one day do something kind of mean. Yes, that does mean pay attention to the worker in question, maybe kindly and non-threateningly talk to him or her, and try to see if there really is a reason for concern.

Other signs of potential violence could be seen in the way the employee is behaving:

  • Signs of aggression: HR, supervisors, and managers should be able to recognize signs of aggression, depression, or other behavioral issues that could lead to a hostile act. Pay attention to bullying and other anger management concerns, and do not treat them lightly.  
  • Signs of Abuse: An employee’s behavior might not lead you to believe that he or she is going to become violent, but if it leads you to believe that the worker is being abused, do not ignore this. Many acts of workplace violence are caused by someone coming in to the workplace in order to hurt a specific employee: e.g., an estranged boyfriend coming in and shooting his ex-girlfriend, and maybe a couple of her colleagues who try to stop him, in a place and time he knows is accessible.

Have a happy March 15th, but remember: beware the Ides of March…. even in the workplace.

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