When Employees Snap

For Linda Stein's personal assistant, there was only so much verbal abuse, so much marijuana smoke and so many threats that she could take before she eventually snapped.

And on Oct. 30, Natavia Lowery allegedly did just that.

The 26-year-old personal assistant to the celebrity real estate agent reportedly grabbed a yoga stick out of her boss's hands and repeatedly hit her over the head with it, bludgeoning Stein to death.

Lowery, who allegedly told police that she snapped because of how badly her boss treated her, is currently being held in New York City without bail on a second-degree murder charge.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a press conference that Lowery "claimed that Stein had been verbally abusive to her," and "on the day of the murder had blown marijuana smoke in her face over her objections."

Stein had allegedly used "profanity" and wielded the yoga tool in a "derogatory" way.

Lowery's family told the New York Daily News that the personal assistant's confession was coerced and argue she is innocent.

Lowery isn't the first employee to allegedly snap on her boss. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 516 workplace homicides in 2006, and there are numerous historical examples of violence at work, sometimes involving multiple deaths.

In 1986, U.S. Postal Service worker Patrick Sherill opened fire and killed 15 of his fellow co-workers. Sherill's rampage coined the term "going postal" -- a phrase used to describe disgruntled employees who eventually lose their cool, either by walking out on the job or, in Sherill and Lowery's case, turning their frustrations into fatalities.

The Psyche Behind 'Going Postal'

'"Going 'postal' happens, and it happens far more than any of us would like," said Harvey Hornstein, professor emeritus of psychology at Columbia University and the author of "Bosses and Their Prey." "Why does it happen? It's a combination of at least two conditions,"Hornstein said. "One is related to the humiliation and the mistreatment felt by the employee, and the second is usually personal."

The pressure of working in a hostile environment can push an employee to want to lash out. But Hornstein noted that while things like intimidation and humiliation can create an unhealthy work environment, employees who are moved to actual violence likely have other unaddressed personal or psychological problems that make them more likely to attack.

"You may feel the impulse that you'd really like to smack [your boss] in the face, but most of us when we experience it can control it and sit on it," said Hornstein. "Some people, sadly, because of their current condition or life history, aren't able to control that impulse, so it pops out, takes over their lives, and they act in ways that are very harmful to others and they snap."

There are several things bosses commonly do that often make employees angry and may trigger a violent outburst, said Hornstein.

"Humiliation in private and public settings, name calling, foul gestures and tones are all obviously abusive," said Hornstein. Taking credit for employees' work, speaking condescendingly to them and generally treating them impolitely or are other common causes of workers' discontent.

"When you treat someone uncivilly, it's not just the insult of the moment that's harmful, it's what you're saying to them between the lines," said Hornstein. "You're telling them they're not in a class of person that deserves that kind of respect and that they're part of this minority, perhaps, that deserves less."

Working Closely More Stressful

In Lowery and Stein's case, the fact that their work relationship was solely with one another -- rather than a typical relationship between a boss and employee in a larger workplace environment -- may have put even greater strains on both parties.

"In general, if you're the only person working and you don't have places to get away and it's generally just you and the boss, it's more of a pressure cooker," said Gini Graham Scott, a psychologist and author of "Disagreements, Disputes and All Out War." "The obvious kind of thing to do in the case like that is just to leave the job or walk away, but [Lowery] anted out of rage."

Scott told ABCNEWS.com that she's heard hundreds of anecdotes about nightmare bosses who virtually tortured their employees. One particularly cruel boss would have employees do research for months on end and then when the projects were completed, would tell employees that the research was no longer needed.

How Common Is Snapping?

While many people were taken aback by news of Stein's brutal murder, some would argue that it's not too surprising for an employee to turn against her employer, especially one who has been consistently abusive.

But more often than not, experts told ABCNEWS.com that while feeling resentment and anger toward your boss is perfectly normal (and very, very common), the majority of unhappy workers find healthier means of dealing with their workplace frustration than Lowery allegedly did.

"Most people do something socially appropriate to deal with their rage. They go play a tennis game or blow some steam off on the stranger next to them on the bus," said Marlin Potash, a psychotherapist who specializes in work and relationship issues. "Or they decide they're going to move up in the organization and prove their worth -- most people don't act out in ways that are so extreme and so tragic."

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