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Preventing Workplace Violence: Warning Signs of Predatory Violence

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Although still a rare occurrence, the frequency of active attacker scenarios has increased in the past decade. Since the beginning of 2017 alone, there have been at least eight high profile incidents of workplace shootings. In this current environment, employers need to take a more proactive approach to ensuring the safety of their employees. An important piece of any workplace violence prevention program is educating everyone in the organization to recognize and report troubling behaviors.

Workplace violence is seldom the freak episode that the media portrays it to be. Most of these attacks are predatory, meaning that they were methodically planned and executed.  People don’t just “snap.” Like a volcano ready to erupt, there are observable warning signs if you know where to look.

Employees who act out in violence often have a history of anger, aggression, feelings of being cheated or wronged, rule-breaking and making others feel uncomfortable. Many smaller episodes usually precede the one incident that gets everybody’s attention that managers and employees may not have reported. It’s usually something that others suspected but couldn’t quite put two and two together.

A word of caution before reading through behaviors associated with violence. The presence of these behaviors does not necessarily mean that someone will be violent, only that there is a concern that needs to be addressed by management. Consider many factors when determining an individual’s violence potential; the presence of these warning behaviors should be examined further by a threat assessment professional. Our goal here is to teach to recognize the troubling behavior.

  • References to workplace or other notorious violence – interest in, obsession with, or repeated references to workplace violence or mass shootings. Views violence as justified, mentions ways to improve on the attack. May also see a strong identification with a radical group; KKK, ISIS, alt-right causes.
  • Threats- written, verbal or other communicated threats; especially if a specific plan to harm or kill is expressed. “If they fire me, they’ll be sorry.” “They don’t know what I’m capable of.”
  • Sense of entitlement – defensive, blaming, feeling that he/she is owed something. Exaggerated perception of self. Dehumanizes others.
  • Grievance – feels as though he/she was wronged, this can be real or perceived. Seeks “justice” for the wrong; will become increasingly preoccupied with obtaining justice.
  • Anger, harassment, or intimidation – pattern of any of these in the absence of insight or remorse, with emphasis on more recent or frequent behaviors.
  • Boundary violations –persistent unwelcome intrusions toward targeted individuals; or disregard for boundary sanctions, or security protocols (I.e., restraining/court orders, police warnings, custody orders, etc.).
  • Stalking of a targeted individual – obsessional following, pursuit, or contacting an individual target; target may be a current or prior “intimate.”
  • Dangerous or reckless actions – including property damage, impulsive/reckless actions, or defiance of safety-related limit setting without regard for the safety of self and/or
  • Paranoia or thoughts of persecution – fears of being harmed or conspired against by others.
  • Delusional thoughts – statements, ideas, actions suggesting lack of touch with reality, particularly if violent in nature.
  • Mood instability – depression, anxiety, rapid mood fluctuations, anger outbursts, suicidal tendencies; intense hopelessness or a sense of desperation over one’s circumstances.
  • Obsession with firearms or weapons – firearms, blade weapons, bomb making materials, military paraphernalia. Recent acquisition of weapons and increased practice in a troubled context.
  • Substance abuse – psychostimulant use (amphetamine, cocaine) in particular; alcohol; or other substance abuse negatively impacting mood and anger control.
  • Major disappointment – recent or impending job loss, unwanted career change, loss of identity related to work. If person has intense job attachment, impact may be more serious.
  • Psychosocial Stressors and Loss – death of a loved one; divorce/separation; financial problems, or other indications of a recent personal loss.
  • History of violence – particularly recent or frequent violent actions.
  • Intimate Partner Violence- As victim or perpetrator. History of partner assault; stalking/harassment behaviors; jealousy toward work relationships.
  • Escalation – Escalation of any of the above behaviors; increasing desperation or distress; lacking alternatives.

Not all people exhibiting these behaviors go onto commit acts of violence, but all people who commit acts of violence will exhibit some combination of these behaviors. The list above is broad in scope in order avoid overlooking a serious situation, and because these behaviors are in and of themselves disruptive to the workplace and should be addressed immediately.

R3 Continuum is available 24/7 to provide guidance to employers regarding potentially violent situations, call 800-274-7470

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