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It seems like every other week there is a news story that makes our HR professionals cringe. Whether it is about dangerous working conditions at an Apple factory in China or a CEO resigning after a scandal, there is always something to talk about.

This week, of course, we have to talk about the pilot.

(Side note: we can’t take credit for the catchy headline that one goes to the New York Post.)

We’re sure you’ve heard about the JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon whose erratic behavior mid-flight caused him to be locked out of the cockpit and restrained by passengers.

According to his co-pilot, Osbon’s behavior became ominous shortly after takeoff. Then, at 34,000 feet, his rant started. While running down the aisles, he yelled about Jesus, Sept. 11, Iraq, Iran and terrorists.

While it’s unknown what exactly caused Osbon’s mental breakdown, some sources are speculating that job stress had something to do with it.

This isn’t the first time a JetBlue employee has made the headlines for unpredictable behavior. In August 2010, a flight attendant popped a beer, deployed an inflatable emergency chute and slid from the aircraft after an on-ground dispute with a passenger.

The craziness doesn’t stop there.

On March 9, an American Airlines flight attendant was removed from a plane in Dallas when she began ranting about 9/11 and plane safety.

And these incidents are not isolated to aviation jobs. Just last week, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for killing 17 civilians in two southern Afghanistan villages earlier in March. Some observers suggested he snapped in response to the stress of repeated active-duty deployments in a war zone.

And who can forget our blog a couple of weeks ago about the Foxconn workers who could no longer take the horrible working conditions of the factory and threatened to jump from the roof? (Read that blog here).

On a lighter note, there was also the recent meltdown Jason Russell, the face of the Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign video that went viral over night. Sometimes people just can’t take the pressure.

Some jobs, of course, are more stressful than others. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of American workers say their jobs are very or extremely stressful.

Stress factors include: physical peril, having one’s own or other people’s lives in one’s hand, travel, uncertain income, deadlines, working in the public eye, competitiveness, physical demands, environmental conditions, hazards, and meeting the public.

There are also outside factors that can heighten our stress at work: a bad divorce, a death in the family, or a sick child can all be added burdens.

But what can employers do? How can employers possibly know that an employee is about to snap?

There are a couple of preventive measures employers can take to avoid situations like JetBlue and Foxconn.

First, as the employer, you need to be aware of warning signs that something is wrong with one of your employees.

Common warning signs include:

  • An employee has a change in behavior or mood. Maybe one of your outgoing employees become withdrawn.
  • An employee’s performance slips. When employees are upset, they do not perform as well. They may show up to work late, stay for less time, be disorganized and/or decrease work quality.

If you sense that something is wrong, talk to the employee. Employers must encourage an atmosphere of open communication. Let your employees know they can come to you with any issue. As an employer, if you think your employees are not happy with you, then talk to them. Ask, “How can I be a better supervisor?” Asking your employees for feedback will not make you look weak; instead it will show your employees that their opinions matter.

Secondly, you can offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

EAP is a worksite-based program designed to assist organizations in addressing productivity issues and assist employee clients in identifying and resolving personal concerns, including, but not limited to, health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress or other personal issues that may affect job performance.

It is important to note that you shouldn’t wait for employees to come to you to express feelings of stress. Employees are reluctant to come forward to reveal problems they may be having because they are afraid they will be taken off of the job. Additionally, employees in the past, who might have taken time off during a stressful time, cannot afford to in this economy. What we’re trying to say is, you need to be on the lookout for possibly overworked, over stressed employees about to meltdown in your office. One way to do this is to complete performance reviews more than once a year. By assessing your staff, you will be enlightened as to what exactly is going on in your business.

But we understand that as a business owner or CEO, you don’t have time to always be worrying about whether or not one of your employees is going to pull a Jason Russell. Don’t let HR issues keep you up at night. With Integrity HR as your strategic partner, we take the headaches out of HR. We’ll even do the all-night worrying for you! To learn more about our HR Outsourcing services, click here.

Now, back to the story.

On Wednesday, Osbon was suspended from his duties and charged with interfering with flight crew instructions. According to the Department of Justice, this charge could be punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Finally, we always like to remind our readers that employees are people, too. We all get stressed and overwhelmed and sometimes we all go a little crazy. So keep an eye on your employees so you recognize when they just can’t take anymore. And hey, don’t forget about yourself. You could probably benefit from a little R&R as well.

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.