What's the Big Deal With Workplace Violence?

Homicides in the workplace, despite what you might think from reading the news, are not reaching epidemic proportions in this country. They are not even increasing. The total numbers are about half what they were in the early 1990s. Not counting the...

2) Negligent retention. Don't keep problem employees on the payroll. Give them every opportunity to improve. Take disciplinary action if improvement does not occur. Don't transfer your problems to another department. Past workplace shooters had been on the job for a while. Rarely were they new employees. They had been kept on the job because of unearned acceptable ratings.

3) Negligent training. All employees should be trained to recognize problem employees. I taught a class at Indiana University on private security. The students had an assignment dealing with the workplace violence issue. They were to write a report and make a presentation on an incident of their choice concentrating on the background of the perpetrator. We discussed warning signs. There are many indicators, but three became especially noteworthy after about 300 of these presentations:
'The offender was a loner or one who lacked social support.
'The offender had an unusual fascination with guns.
'The offender was anti-management. He placed blame elsewhere and was unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions. He possessed a constant "They done me wrong" attitude.

A reporting system should be established. Proactive policies and procedures should be developed and all employees should be made aware of them and their purpose.

4) Negligent supervision. Supervisors must step up and confront employee problems as they develop. Don't ignore or pass the problem to others. Understand the importance of documentation and seek training in effective intervention techniques.

Change the Policies
Here is a proactive policy that can provide many advantages to your company. Develop a standardized exit interview for everyone who leaves your organization. It should include those who retire, those who leave on their own and those who are terminated for cause. The interview serves multiple purposes.

1) Reduce losses by recovering equipment issued to the employee. Otherwise they might leave with credit cards, laptops, cell phones, pagers, or other expensive items. Worse yet, the employees might leave with keys, identification, access control cards or other methods that allow them random re-entry. In the 1987 USAir plane crash that killed 43 people in California, an armed, disgruntled employee, recently fired for cause, was allowed on the plane because his identification was never confiscated. He shot his former boss, who was on the plane, then shot the pilots.

2) Departing employees are usually more willing to provide constructive criticism than they might have been while employed. Their information might be very beneficial in the development of a more harmonious workplace.

3) In the case of an employee terminated for cause, the interview itself becomes an assessment process. You are evaluating a potential threat. Have security personnel close by. If the fired employee shows signs of remorse or regret or offers apologies, then perhaps there is less of a future threat. If threatening words or strange demeanor are displayed, then red flags should go up regarding possible problems later on.

Educate Thyself
There are a lot of good books, articles and videos available on this topic. An Internet search can produce valuable help. Nothing will educate you better than going through an incident, but you can't afford to wait for on-the-job training. Here are a few other ideas to help you in the development of your proactive plans.

Take advantage of excellent training programs already used by human resource departments, such as anger management, dealing with non-productive employees, CPR and other first aid classes, the hiring and firing process and developing a harmonious workplace.

Develop a relationship with local law enforcement. Invite them to some of your management or other training programs. Develop an understanding of the support they will provide in various scenarios.

Don't think that all problems are caused by subordinates. Management personnel are sometimes the problem.

The primary concern, in potential problem situations like those discussed above, is always for the safety of people. Don't be paranoid about the workplace violence issue. Be prepared by focusing on proactive measures.