6 Workplace Behaviors to NEVER Ignore
It seems as though the news in the past few years has been full of stories of violent behavior in the workplace, with conduct ranging from harassment and bullying, to shoving, fist fights and stabbings, and in some rare cases, to incidents involving firearms and active shooters.
The Bureau of Labors Statistics estimates that over 2 million people per year experience some form of violence in the workplace. This begs the question: what can be done to prevent workplace violence incidents, either from occurring or from escalating once the cycle of violent behavior begins?
What can be done?
One of the first and most important things any workplace can do is enact a plan that includes a workplace violence prevention policy, followed by training for all employees, managers and executives by a threat assessment professional with experience in workplace violence prevention. The goal for the plan is simple: if something doesn’t feel right, we want our workforce to know the mantra: see something, say something, do something. In order to be successful, we must communicate the importance of reporting and responding to threatening and violent behavior in the workplace.
Speaking of reporting, the organization must have a clear reporting structure for any violence or threats of violence witnessed by employees or bystanders, and well-developed procedures for investigating and responding to these reports when they occur. The organization is also well-served in these instances by establishing and maintaining good relationships with local law enforcement, a vetted threat assessment professional, and their Employee Assistance Plan.
However, in light of all of these guidelines for our HR clients, we are often asked:
- WHAT behaviors should we be paying attention to?
- WHEN should we get concerned?
- WHERE do we go for help?
These are great questions, and it has been our experience that it is common for threat assessment cases to come to us long after the first signs of a problem were noticed.
Early intervention is key!
One of our first recommendations is that it is very important to respond to concerning behaviors or statements on the part of an employee (or customer or vendor) as soon as we become aware of it. And by the way, it’s human nature to hope a problem will just “go away” and resolve on its own, but in many cases, unchecked problems do just the opposite, and escalate to the point where more serous intervention is required.
Recognizing behaviors of concern
So, what are some of the most important behaviors that HR professionals and managers need to take immediate action on to help prevent violence in the workplace?
Below are some of the things we view as “red flags” – and while certainly not an exhaustive list, they are behaviors that we commonly hear about when employers are trying to determine their risk for violence in the workplace.
Further, we want to emphasize that these behaviors are not predictive of violence in and of themselves. That is, if you see some of these behaviors in a person of concern, it does not automatically mean they will become violent. Rather, presence of these behaviors can indicate:
- That an employee (or customer or vendor) is struggling
- That inquiry into what is driving the behavior is warranted
- That assessment for violence potential may be indicated
The 6 "red flag" behaviors
- History of violence -- Aggression toward others including fistfights, pushing, shoving and sexual assault, fascination with incidents of workplace and other types of violence, obsession with weapons, demonstrated violence towards inanimate objects (slamming a phone, punching a wall), and evidence of earlier violent behavior.
- Threatening behaviors -- Stated or implied intention to hurt someone (can be verbal or written), holding grudges, escalating threats.
- Intimidating behaviors -- Argumentative or uncooperative, displays unwarranted anger, impulsive or easily frustrated, challenges peers and authority figures, willfully disobeys workplace policies and protocols.
- Increase in personal stress -- Unreciprocated romantic obsession, serious family or financial problems, recent job loss or personal loss, physical or mental health issues, abuses drugs or alcohol.
- Negative personality characteristics -- Suspicious of others, sense of entitlement, cannot take criticism, feels victimized, shows a lack of concern for the safety or well-being of others, lacks empathy, blames others for his/her problems or mistakes, low self-esteem.
- Marked changes in mood or behavior -- Extreme or bizarre behavior, irrational beliefs and ideas, appears depressed or expresses hopelessness or demonstrates heightened anxiety, marked decline in work performance and/or attendance, demonstrates a drastic change in belief systems, socially isolated.
From a workplace violence prevention standpoint, it is vitally important that HR and management address these issues as soon as they become aware of them.
Additionally, comprehensive training furthers the organization’s workplace violence prevention initiative by raising awareness on the part of both employees and managers about what to look for and where and when to report behaviors of concern.
In our many years of experience, we have seen time and again that timely reporting can make the difference between early and proactive intervention for a troubled individual versus crisis management for a situation that has escalated to a dangerous level.