Staying Ahead of Workplace Violence by Identifying Behaviors of Concern

By Denise Johnson | August 24, 2016

In most incidents involving violence in the workplace, there are warning signs that precede an event, according to Jim Satterfield, president, COO and founder of crisis coaching firm Firestorm.

According to a Firestorm survey, more than 90 percent of employees are concerned about workplace violence, while only about 50 percent have had any formal training related to it.

During a recent University of Alabama/Firestorm webinar on the subject, he offered potential warning signs for employers and a template to identify and address potentially violent behavior.

Violence prevention starts by identifying behaviors of concern, he explained. Employers need to focus on identifying behavioral warning signs and actions in advance in order to intervene prior to a violent act taking place, he said.

Many employers have no formal structure to address observations beforehand. Satterfield explained the value in having a central data repository because it can assist in connecting the dots of what may appear to be unrelated behavior. Documentation of what co-workers and employers see and hear, as well as documentation of an employee’s actions, are to be included in the repository.

Satterfield offered the hypothetical example of employee Fred Rogers who receives a poor work performance review and is visibly not happy. Rogers argues with security personnel at his workplace and the incident is documented in a security log. A co-worker says Rogers made threatening statements and his absenteeism increases abruptly. Rogers’ social media posts say that he has been treated badly at work and that he will make them sorry.

If there is no central data repository, then all of Roger’s potential warning signs might be missed or shrugged off.

Often a person planning to commit a violent act will tell at least one person, according to Satterfield, and 60 percent of the time he or she will tell two or more people.

Employees can help identify potential co-workers at highest risk by noting whether an employee has experienced multiple pressures, such as a divorce or change in job performance, made specific threats, been mocked by co-workers or has brought a weapon to work.

Satterfield said that a breakdown in support factors, personal factors and workplace factors can lead to violence.

Some behavioral red flags of employees at risk may include:

  • Suicidal thoughts;
  • Has weapons;
  • Makes intimidating comments about hurting someone else;
  • Destroys property;
  • Displays fits of rage;
  • Blames others for problems;
  • Files many grievances/complaints;
  • Has frequent bouts of depression;
  • Has had bouts of substance abuse;
  • Exhibits major changes in behavior;
  • Appears paranoid;
  • Takes criticism poorly;
  • Is a loner;
  • Obsessed with the military, police or criminals.

Even if red flags are identified, Satterfield said that protective factors like community involvement, positive coping skills, family and friends can reduce the threat.

Employers that develop a program to identify red flags develop a behavior snapshot over time. This snapshot encompasses psychological and biological, social and peer, family, workplace and threat-related behavior.

He identified four key assessment program components:

  1. Awareness – Satterfield suggests management and workers look, listen and report.
  2. Intelligence – Prescreening with background check, social media monitoring, offer an anonymous reporting tool.
  3. Central repository – All tips go into a central repository. Human Resources is notified. A threat monitoring team made up of at least three people, one each from Human Resources, security and operations.
  4. BeRThA plan – (Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment) Threat monitoring team screens reports, categorizes risk, actively monitors situation to resolution.

According to Satterfield, some ways employers can reduce the threat of workplace violence are by:

  • Developing a workplace culture of dignity and respect;
  • Having up to date policies and procedures;
  • Training all employees on the warning signs;
  • Developing a reporting tool;
  • Making sure physical security, such as fences, locks and cameras are in place.
  • Monitoring social media.
  • Ensuring response protocols are in place.

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