Help everyone at your business watch for the signs of a simmering workplace violence threat


While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports work-related homicides have fallen 52 percent since 1994 – to about 507 a year – many experts feel workplace violence overall has been rising steadily due to economic woes.

According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, more than 70 percent of U.S. workplaces do not have a formal program or policy to address workplace violence. But small businesses want to ensure the physical security and safety of employees, visitors, facilities and its assets. Creating a corporate culture that promotes, “if you see something, say something” can provide lifesaving benefits.

According to ASIS International, an organization of security professionals, milder workplace violence behaviors include disruptive, aggressive, hostile or emotionally abusive actions. Mid-range behaviors include direct, conditional or veiled threats, stalking and aggressive harassment. The most serious behaviors include overt violence causing physical injury.

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Surveillance and background checks are key to assessing how deep a potential problem may be. Occasionally, engaging a terminated, troubled employee may be necessary to stop the progression to more violent behavior. Concern and compassion may help a disgruntled former employee begin emotional detachment from a company and help to diminish anger.

Managers need to make sure all employees understand and recognize the warning signs of workplace violence so everyone can act as eyes and ears to report unusual behavior. There are almost always warning signs of an employee who requires intervention. Assume that any employee who exhibits one or more of the following behaviors needs assistance:

Excessive tardiness or absences – Beyond missing work, an employee may also reduce the workday by leaving early or departing the work site without authorization, and providing numerous excuses for doing so.

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Increased need for supervision – An employee typically requires less supervision as they become more proficient at their work. An employee who exhibits an increased need for supervision may be signaling a need for help.

Reduced or inconsistent productivity – An efficient and productive employee who experiences a sudden or sustained drop in performance is giving a classic warning sign of dissatisfaction. The manager should meet with the employee to determine a mutually beneficial course of action.

Strained workplace relationships – Many classic behavioral warning signs may be identified in this category. If a worker displays disruptive behavior, it’s important for a manager to intervene quickly to defuse a potentially violent situation.

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Violation of safety procedures – This behavior may be due to carelessness, insufficient training or stress. If an employee who traditionally follows safety procedures is suddenly involved in accidents or safety violations, stress may be an issue.

Changes in health or hygiene – An employee who suddenly disregards personal health or grooming may be signaling for help.

Unusual behavior – A sustained change in behavior often indicates an employee in difficulty. Employees are often quick to notice personality changes in their co-workers. The work environment should promote trust and open communication so workers undergoing a difficult period may be offered prompt assistance.

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Fascination with weapons – This is a classic behavioral warning sign that should be easily recognized by co-workers and managers.

Excuses and blaming – This is a classic warning sign that is easy to identify but often ignored by managers.

Depression – Not all individuals suffering from depression are prone to violence. If, however, the depression is evident for a sustained period, professional intervention is recommended.

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TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

The widespread use of mobile technologies poses new risks. Through threatening emails, phone texts or messages on social networking sites, workplace violence can continue, even after you have left for the day. One of the reasons email and text messages play such a pivotal role in harassment cases is their immediate and informal nature.

A growing number of lawsuits and employee complaints include offensive text messages as evidence of the inappropriate behavior. Employees should be told that harassing text messages would be considered violations of company policy. Consider whether text messaging should be allowed on company-issued cell phones. If texting is allowed, inform employees that messages can be obtained by the employer.

Social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have continued to open the door to online bullying. The same precautions should be used for these sites. Employees should understand what to look for, be vigilant and communicate potential problems.

If something happens in your workplace, it is important to act immediately. Focus first on defusing a simmering crisis. Remain calm, listen attentively, always treat the person with respect and dignity. Isolate the situation; set clear limits of behavior.

A mediator or neutral party can be helpful to listen to both sides and facilitate conversation. To avoid additional disruption, separate the involved workers. This decreases the risk of unnecessary confrontation.

An estimated 50 percent of employers say workplace violence crimes or threats are never reported to police or security personnel. Whether an employee is feeling physically or verbally threatened, they should always report these issues.

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