School shootings have, tragically, become an all-too-common part of the world in which we now find ourselves, for reasons that are too complex to speculate on here. Yesterday’s killing of Dale Regan, the Headmistress of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, from which both of my children graduated in recent years, is only the latest to hit the news. I wish I could be confident that it would be the last.
Dale was a precious woman whose influence on my kids, and thousands of others, can never be taken away. Nevertheless, the loss to her family and friends, the school, and our community is immeasurable, and impossible to understand.
In reality, this was not so much a school shooting as it was a workplace shooting. Shane Schumerth, a teacher whose employment had been terminated on Monday, March 5, returned to the campus the following day, with an AK47 assault rifle concealed in a guitar case, entered Ms. Regan’s office, shot her to death, and then killed himself. That’s about all I know. Anything more would be speculation.
My purpose is not to point the finger of blame at anyone. My considerable experience as a parent at this school for more than ten years told me that the school’s leadership handled everything with an abundance of caution, with wisdom, and with the utmost care for its students, faculty, and staff. I don’t know the circumstances around Schumerth’s hiring, or what led to his firing.
Seeking to salvage something useful from the tragedy and loss here, it occurs to me that it would be a good idea for employers everywhere to take time, now, to review how they hire people, and how they fire them, should the need arise. Some thoughts:
- Unfortunately, our overly litigious society has made it more difficult to learn salient issues regarding a job candidate’s previous employment. But it’s not impossible. Do what you can, within the law, to find out what you need to know about those you plan to hire. Especially if their employment puts them in contact with children. I don’t know, in this case, that more information about the killer’s background could have prevented his being hired. It certainly would in some cases.
- We should respond, but not overreact to tragic events like this, with respect to security. I suspect that the Episcopal School of Jacksonville will become a less accessible place than it has been. That’s a necessary casualty of what happened. I hope the school will exercise wisdom, judgment, reason, and balance with this, and I expect that they will.
- If you’re a manager with a good reason to end someone’s employment, do NOT let the fear of reprisal deter you from doing what needs to be done. However…
- Review your existing procedure for terminating people’s employment. Do you even have one? Getting fired is one of the top 2 or 3 most traumatic events many people will ever experience. Most will respond like healthy minded adults. But not everyone. Schumerth did not.
- Be thoughtful about how, when, and where you deliver the news. Ensure that you have effective security measures in place. Think through the possibilities, even the unthinkable ones. Especially the unthinkable ones. Maintain a heightened sense of awareness for a reasonable period after the event.
- The Society for Human Resource Management has an excellent, instructive article on the subject, that is, unfortunately available only to SHRM members, at http://bit.ly/Abg6hM. If you’re a member, click and read it. If not, search your available resources for information and guidance on how to prepare against violence at the workplace, especially in termination situations.
And finally, don’t let the day end without hugging someone you’re on hugging terms with. It is no revelation when I state that none of us has a guarantee on even the next minute. Although I wasn’t thinking about this at the time, I’m awfully glad that the last time I saw Dale Regan, we hugged.
Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette are the authors of several books on leadership and the workplace. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, will be published by John Wiley & Sons in June of 2012. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.