Sarasota, FL (workersCompensation.com) – With stress levels running high these days, incidents of violence may be more likely to occur. Predicting when or if someone will become violent is difficult, though not necessarily impossible. Experts say there are situations and signs that employers should be aware of and take precautions to protect themselves, their employees and their companies.
Settling disagreements — among coworkers or workers and customers/clients, performance reviews, a worker being passed over for a promotion, and domestic violence that spills into the workplace are all potential triggers for violence.
“Terminations are a big, big part of this potential issue,” said Oscar Villanueva, managing director of Security Services for R3 Continuum. “Reductions in force, interesting enough, can be a trigger for some issues.” During a recent webinar, Villanueva outlined some red flags and how employers can take steps to prevent violence.
There are certain indicators that, taken as a whole may suggest a person has a propensity toward violence. These include:
- Past or present history of violent behavior.
- Frequent mention or obsession with weapons. “Many people own guns; it doesn’t mean they’re going to engage in violence,” Villanueva said. “So in and of itself it is not a determining factor, but when paired with other factors, it could be something to look at.”
- A sudden change in behavior. For example, someone who was friendly and pleasant becomes agitated and confrontational. “Something is going on that’s cause for concern,” he said
- Issues with mental illness.
- Any talk of suicide or self-harm. “That needs to be looked at right away, Villanueva advised”
- A person believes they are being persecuted at work, that things are unfair or they are being treated unfairly. “Usually someone who is violent is a grievance collector,” Villanueva said. “They go through life thinking everyone is unfair against them, they are being mistreated. They come to the conclusion they need to act out. So if you hear this, pay attention to that individual.”
- Your own gut instinct.
- Anger management issues, such as challenges to management.
“You have to look at the totality of the circumstances,” Villanueva said. “Any one of these on its own is not necessarily something to be concerned about. But if you put this together, you should be concerned and look further into it.”
Having a plan in place is the best way to prevent a potentially violent incident. For example, terminations can lead to violence if they are not handled properly.
“Think ahead and have a plan in place that outlines every aspect of what you’re going to do,” Villanueva said. “You always want to have somebody as a witness. If you truly believe there may be a security issue, you want to have outside help and support to mitigate any kind of risk.”
Rather than a security guard, Villanueva advises having a security person specifically trained to hand such situations.
“Be respectful, that helps eliminate violence,” Villanueva said. “I want to emphasize that letting someone go gently and easily is absolutely the most likely probable way you can prevent issues going on. Make sure they are treated fairly.”
Terminating an employee should not be done in the worker’s or manager’s office. Instead, it should be done in a vacant office or conference room. “You don’t want too many things in a room that can be used as a weapon,” Villanueva said. “Also, you want to make sure that the manager has the ability to escape easily if necessary. You don’t want a barrier between the manager and the exit. Think of this ahead of time.”
Reductions in force can also lead to violence in some situations, especially in the current environment where people may be fearful of looking for another job. “You need to be prepared for this,” Villanueva said. “Plan ahead of time, understand the potential issues that may come up. The majority of employees won’t be happy but can move on. But you may have individuals who could become angry, and potentially violent.”
For situations that don’t necessarily revolve around a specific event, employers and managers should be trained to see warning signs and to address the employee. An employee who is particularly argumentative, for example, should not be ignored. Employers should first do informally investigating and be well informed.
“There has to be some reason for this individual to be argumentative and angry,” Villanueva said. “Do your best to resolve it promptly. Often times it may be some issue behind the scenes you’re not aware of.”
Once there’s an understanding of what may be going on, the employer or manager should engage in effective communication with the employee. “You want to do it in private, you want to show empathy,” Villanueva said. “Imagine being in that person’s shoes … Do your best to listen carefully to what the person is sharing with you – even if it’s an angry outburst.”
Communicating with an angry employee is most successful when the employer or manager is able to keep an open mind, be neutral and stay professional.
“Usually it is not personal,” Villanueva said. “Show respect; people usually respond very well to respect.”