Should I report an insane co-worker to human resources?

My colleagues and I are convinced that one of our co-workers is insane. The details are bizarre and too numerous to go through, but as an example, when collecting clothes for needy children we found that this worker, who admitted to never having been in a relationship, mentioned that he had a basement full of toddler clothing. When I told him about an encounter with a pushy beggar, he said: “You should have sliced his hand off with my knife.” I have this fear that something bizarre will happen and then when the police ask: “Were there any signs?” we’d answer: “Sure, tons of them.” Yet what were we going to do? Go to human resources and tell them he’s crazy?

Manager, male, 34

LUCY’S ANSWER

This man doesn’t sound terribly dangerous to me. I suspect he’s far less likely to be a paedophile than any of your more normal seeming colleagues – the very last thing any paedophile would do is boast about the cute children’s outfits stored in his basement. Neither is he likely to be a knife murderer – as they tend not to make jokes about slicing off hands either.

While he may not be dangerous, there are three other possibilities: he may be mentally ill; he may be a misfit; or he may be a perfectly normal man who makes jokes that you don’t get. I’m ruling out the third option because your colleagues don’t get the jokes either, which suggests that there is something genuinely odd about him.

Most readers think that you should mind your own business, but I don’t agree. I hate the way that most people in offices ignore their colleagues’ distress signals and congratulate themselves on the fact that they are respecting their privacy.

I think you are right to ask what to do, but wrong to consider going to HR unless you know someone there who is unusually sensitive. You don’t have any strong evidence against him, and if you draw HR’s attention to his behaviour you are inviting them to be crass and make things worse.

If you want to help, I suggest you try to talk to him. Only by getting to know him better will you get an idea what can be done – if anything.

If, as I think most likely, he turns out to be a genuine eccentric, you should tell your colleagues to stop huddling in an anxious group around the water cooler and to enjoy his oddity. For all the talk about diversity, modern offices are stuffed full of people who devote themselves to behaving just the same as everyone else. Genuine weirdos are almost never hired and certainly not promoted. If you have one, you are lucky as they make working life slightly less dull than it might otherwise be.

Dear Lucy

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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