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Meltdowns! The process used by individuals to, formally, self-destruct in front of anyone occupying a seat in the organization’s public arena. This, typically, unpredictable event has slowly and steadily moved from being a minor annoyance underneath the radar to a to a full-scale event that only lacks the planned whistles and fireworks of the WWE’s Smackdown. The one thing that the Smackdown and the individual Meltdown have in common is both love a crowd. It is not a mere coincidence that the number of, reported, individual meltdowns have escalated in recent years. What we have learned, along the way, is that, economic prosperity has a calming effect and tends to suppress those parts of our personality border on lunacy. In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to say that there is a greater tendency to tolerate random acts of ‘Melt downing’ because of the number of support systems that emerge in business settings when things are going well. At the very least, we could always say to the ‘Melt downer’, “Go take a vacation, your job will be here when you get back.” Since we can no longer guarantee to John and Josephine Meltdown that their job awaits upon their return, the strains of modern day economic times have forced the fringe part of that lunacy into the center of the bell curve. So, the observed frequency of the meltdown makes it seem more like normal behavior. What was once ‘shocking’ is now ‘shacking’ (we learn to live with it). Does the stress of a strained economy translate into a double O Shocking license to disintegrate?

Human behavior is a flexible, adaptable part of the human experience such that our range of tolerance expands with the times. However, we have, for good reason, drawn lines in the sand as a way of saying to someone, ‘That’s far enough!’ What’s left unresolved, in these current times, who is supposed to say to the person having the meltdown, ‘That’s far enough.’ For example, at a meeting where the team found itself running a little behind the completion date for the project, one employee chose that moment to engage in a verbal yelling match with someone who had asked a very simple, non-blaming question. The melt downer verbally attacked and accused everyone of plotting against her. There were a number of obscenities that worked their way into the yelling, and the recipient of the attack, to her credit, wisely said nothing that would further spark a meltdown-in-progress. However, the team, rightfully, looked to the project leader to address the behavior, and he didn’t. Unfortunately, the project team leader or the melt downer’s immediate supervisor never confronted the behavior. It was attributed to the pressure of the moment and dismissed as a non-reoccurring event. Sadly, it occurred again and again. There was, also, the incident of the employee who returned from the cafeteria, after discovering they no longer carried an item that he wanted, and preceded to kick his trashcan, throw files off his desk and pound on his computer. He’d either forgotten or ignored the fact that his cube is, also, a public arena. It was the third meltdown that he’d had in two weeks. The behavior was never confronted. No one said, ‘That’s far enough!’

As the incidents rise, the tolerance increases, or should it? Are we unconsciously saying, “There but for the grace of Prozac, go I?” We know we spend a lot more time in our work environments and we know that we have a few more stresses than we are use to having. We know that the workplace has become a surrogate home and our colleagues are extended, deeply dysfunctional family members. However, the first step in confronting the turnaround of an individual or an organization, starts with that someone who is willing to say, “That’s far enough!”

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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