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December 14, 2009

Stress in the Workplace

In Joshua Ferris’ national bestseller, Then We Came to the End, he details the foibles and tedium of modern office life through the story of a group of Chicago advertising employees attempting to find meaning and continued employment during the dot-com bust. The novel was a National Book Award finalist and deemed “One of the Ten Best Books of the Year” last year by at least seven top book reviews. It’s one of the funniest novels I have read in a long time.

In the midst of the humor, one episode in the book struck a chord with me. After one employee, Tom Mota, is fired, his fellow workers begin to wonder if Tom might return to the office seeking retribution. As Ferris describes it:

Tom subscribed to Guns and Ammo. He had a sizeable collection of firearms in his possession. Most of those guns, however, were collector’s items and probably couldn’t even fire anymore. Well, some of us thought, what’s stopping Tom from going out and buying new guns? How easy it is to visit a gun show and later find yourself in possession of the assault weapons ideal for a situation like the one we were envisioning...[or] after some less-than-truthful data entry, using a shady Internet dealer, he might be taking possession of those unsportsmanlike items from a UPS man even as our debate raged.

Ferris succinctly captures the real possibility of workplace violence and the touch of anxiety many workers feel. An average of 500 homicides occur in U.S. workplaces every year and a 2005 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that workplaces where guns are permitted are five to seven times more likely to be the site of a workplace homicide compared to workplaces where guns are prohibited. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, since 2005, the National Rifle Association has pressured at least 12 states to enact laws that restrict employers’ ability to exclude firearms from their premises.

Hopefully, our legislators will acquire the backbone necessary to stand up to the gun lobby at some point in the near future so future readers will see novels like Then We Came to the End as nothing more than fiction.

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