Workplace Violence 101: Post-Event Commentary and Lessons Learned
Incidents of workplace violence saturate our televisions, social media accounts and every other form of communication on a regular basis. These acts of violence, whether in the form of active shooters, bomb threats or other deadly weapon use, are continually covered and presented as growing issues. Businesses, education institutions and organizations must be concerned and educated with how to address these incidents. The time to focus on these issues is not during or after a crisis hits your place of work, it is before. Taking a proactive approach and not only preparing, but also practicing, a robust crisis management plan is the first step.
Creating a stout crisis plan is no easy task; it takes time, dedication and critical thinking. Crisis management planning conducted by Firestorm is based on past experiences and what we have learned from crisis situations.
When we speak with individuals after an incident occurs, the statements we typically hear are:
- “I reported it, but no one did anything…”
- “He was always such a nice guy…”
- “You should have seen the things he posted…”
- “I knew that was going to happen…”
- “Something about him wasn’t right…”
In many cases, people identified warning signs and unusual behavior prior to the event. These people should have intervened, but instead failed to report their concerns.
What If we could stop just one act of violence, a death or suicide? Would it be worthwhile?
Firestorm conducted the crisis management support for the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. After the shootings occurred, then university president, Dr. Charles Steger had to make 32 phone calls to the families of the victims.
Yes. Stopping just one act of violence, death or suicide is worth it.
5 Lessons Learned from Workplace Violence
- There are always warning signs. Before an act of violence occurs, warning signs, red flags, cues and signals are exhibited. Oftentimes, however, these signs – when taken individually – are not considered to be of serious nature, so they are not reported. It is important to look at the signs, otherwise known as behaviors of concern, collectively to establish a pattern and context.
Behaviors of Concern Red Flags: Some are clear
- Comments about suicide should be treated as serious and actionable – They are never a joke! Even if the person says so right after. As you begin to hear conversation about suicide, be aware of additional behaviors of concern.
- Talk about plans to obtain a weapon.
- Intimidating comments about hurting someone else.
- Destroying property.
- Fits of Rage.
- Using the internet and other forms of technology to say mean or embarrassing things.
- Blames others whom they believe to be the cause of their problem(s).
- Files many complaints/grievances.
- Is a loner.
- Obsession with police/military/criminals.
Behaviors of Concern Red Flags: Some may not be as clear
- Fascination with weapons, past criminals or violence.
- Substance abuse with drugs and/or alcohol.
- Suspected abuse in the home, whether as an abuser or the abused.
- Major changes in behavior (withdrawing from friends, activities). Identifying an employee, who was never late for work, and suddenly is late four days in a row, is a change in behavior. Any information that identifies and brings to light behaviors of concern is a form of intelligence.
- Inflexibility and difficulty coping with change.
- Takes criticism poorly.
Anything else that makes an employee worried or not sure what to do about a peer is classified as a behavior of concern. Behaviors of concern may not always be clear, but focus must be on the change of an individual.
- Details are revealed. When people plan targeted violence, 80 percent of the time they tell at least one person about their plans. Attackers also reveal details before the event takes place and obtain weapons needed – usually from their own home or a relative’s home.
- People talk. In today’s world, people who have plans to be violent talk on social media by posting on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Social media presents an opportunity to discover behaviors of concern within an organization. More than 3/4 of the attackers studied were known to hold a grudge or have a grievance at the time of the attack. Many attackers communicated with others about specific people, or specific reasons, prior to the attack.
- People do not always report. Not everyone will report what they learn or see. People are reluctant to become involved in issues and perceived negatively.
- Reporting increases when people can do so anonymously. Implementing an anonymous reporting system is critical. Providing employees with a means to anonymously report behaviors of concern will reduce acts of violence.
Not IF, But WHEN
Disasters, incidents of workplace violence and other crises occur daily. Do not fall into the category of ‘disaster denial’ and be under the false presumption that your organization or school cannot fall victim to a crisis. It’s not a matter of IF a crisis will occur, but rather when.
Firestorm can identify your next crisis, but more importantly, you can. Start by creating a resilient crisis plan, followed by identifying warning signs before they become actions.