It’s the stuff of old Hollywood movies and adventure novels. The Caucasian male with angry eyes and military background whips out his machine gun and takes everyone out. That “look,” or profile, was the old way of identifying potentially dangerous people.
The problem with profiling is that it unfairly singles out a type of person according to physical characteristics, while ignoring behaviors that can often indicate a propensity toward violence. The key to prevention is to intervene early when these indicators are first recognized.
Be a good listener
Did something happen on the job that changed a person’s point of view? Is something going on in an employee’s private life that is affecting that individual’s attitude? Listen to the grapevine. If other employees become afraid of an individual, take note and take action.
Indicators of potentially violent behavior
• Direct or veiled threats of harm, e.g., predicting that bad things are going to happen to a co-worker. Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying, or other inappropriate and aggressive behaviors (physical or verbal).
• Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees.
• Brings a weapon to the workplace, makes inappropriate references to guns, or exhibits a fascination with weapons.
• Statements show fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicate approval of the use of violence in similar situations or the use of violence to resolve a problem.
• Statements indicate desperation (over family, financial, and other personal problems) to the point of contemplating suicide.
• Unusual or extreme changes in behavior.
• History of violent behavior (including post-employment).
• Paranoia and perception that individuals and/or everyone is “out to get the employee” or is against the employee.
• Inability to take criticism and/or responsibility for own problems, perceives that others are to blame and may verbalize the desire for revenge.
• Poor impulse control, displays anger and an escalating propensity to push the limits of normal conduct, with a disregard for the safety of coworkers.
• Any words or conduct that may cause concern that a person may act out in a violent manner.
• Personal life crisis, e.g., work-related circumstances such as termination, disciplinary action, financial problems, or relationship issues.
The more indicators an employee exhibits, the more concerned the supervisor should be in carefully evaluating the situation. Employers should ensure that they are (or an incident response team is) prepared to assist supervisors and other employees in dealing with such situations. According to John Tsukiyama, Director of Pacific Threat Management Services, one of the most serious errors an employer can make is to deny a problem exists. If employees are afraid of an individual, respect their fear and investigate. “No one just blows up. There are always warning signs,” cautions Tsukiyama.
Prevention, Policies & Preparation
“Workplace violence rarely occurs without warning signs” says John Tsukayama, Director of Pacific Threat Management Services. “When a CEO of a company calls me at two in the morning afraid for his life, I know there were steps that should have been taken earlier to prevent the situation from escalating to this point…Too often people call us in for a ‘last minute fix.’ They’re going to fire someone that morning and they’d like a security guard. Instead of following a plan, they react in fear.” Tsukayama stresses, “The farther upstream you can address the problem, the greater your chances for a peaceful outcome.”
Three Steps for a Safer Workplace
Conduct background checks – The best way to prevent violence is at the time of hire. Check all references. If someone is applying for a managerial or otherwise critical position, hire a private investigator to conduct a thorough background check. The initial cost will save you tremendous grief and money by helping you avoid potential problems.
Set policies regarding workplace violence – Establish and enforce consistent rules regarding fighting, harassment and violence on all levels.
• Are your discipline proceedings fair and consistent?
• Are there fair grievance opportunities?
• Do your supervisors promote a respectful workplace?
• Are your supervisors attuned to potential warning signs?
• Do you have a threat management plan?
• Consult a Threat Management and
• Assessment Specialist – A protection professional can help you craft policy and assist with the training of supervisory personnel. When you uncover a dangerous situation, don’t try to handle it by yourself. Hire a Threat Management Specialist to intervene on your behalf.
1Source: Workplace Violence: Prevention, Intervention and
Recovery, page 21 –22.