The headlines are filled with the actions of desperate people. Millions of refugees risk everything to crowd onto unseaworthy boats for a 50/50 chance of making it to Europe. Why? Because the odds are even worse if they stay home.

Most parents can relate to this feeling; is there anything you wouldn’t do to keep your children from starving? It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs played out at the most basic level. And we often see it in the business world when people feel they can’t control even the most fundamental aspects of their work life.

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People who find themselves in untenable work situations – for example, trapped on a failing project – may react with a range of desperate behaviors. It can seem relatively innocent at first – calling in sick more than usual, sloppy documentation, or ducking out of meetings. But if the situation gets worse – so can the behavior.

Desperate employees – people who feel they have no options – might lie, steal, sabotage a co-worker’s project or even resort to violence. As managers, when we see the warning signs, we need to perform triage, identify the pain points, and help surface all of the viable options.  Granted, it isn’t always easy. I’ve seen desperate people acting out over rumors of layoffs. But once they are told the truth – even by confirming the layoffs – they know where they stand and the desperation-driven behavior disappears.

Don’t punish desperation – defuse it.