3 Signs of Workplace Violence and How to Mitigate Them

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Despite the rising number of horrific incidents related to workplace violence, many employers continue to believe the common myth that “it will never happen here.” However, approximately two million employees report at least one violent incident in their office per year. In addition, 1/3 of HR professionals reported they would be unsure of what to do in a workplace violence scenario. Smacking a violence prevention poster up in a break room isn’t going to mitigate all risks of violence.

In order to be proactive and protect your clients, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs, always keep them at the top of mind, and know what to do if these behaviors are detected. By taking note of these sometimes crystal-clear warning signs and being prepared to act on them, you’ll make safety a top priority to your clients. Here’s how you focus on workplace violence prevention:

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Negative Changes in Behavior & Extreme Passive-Aggressiveness

Let’s use an imaginary coworker, Harry, as an example. He typically comes to work with a smile on his face, ready to conquer her agenda for the day. Suddenly, he begins acting off-balance and no longer seems like his usual self. He doesn’t talk as much as he used to, snaps and sometimes screams at others when stressed, and seems to stop caring about deadlines or the quality of his work. Even though this may solely be a phase related to something in his personal life, sudden and extreme changes in behavior may indicate a potential for violent behavior.

From day one, your client should keep an eye out for signs of escalation. If the negative behavior stops after appropriate warnings, discipline, or some time off work to rest, there’s probably no cause for alarm. If the employee refuses to shape up, however, it may be best for the employment relationship to end. This sort of behavior is unacceptable on its own whatever else it might lead to.

Another hypothetical coworker, Sarah, has been acting passive-aggressive. One day you arrive at work to find an email from her in your inbox that contains some nasty comments about a colleague. Perhaps that colleague had just reached one of their goals or had taken credit for something Sarah said she had actually accomplished. Instead of her directly confronting that colleague and expressing how she feels, she sends disrespectful emails and soon starts sabotaging the work of others. Even if these behaviors are infrequent and don’t appear as physically threatening, never ignore them. As with sudden changes in behavior, passive-aggressiveness and “aggressive aggressiveness” are inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. Correcting these behaviors before they get more extreme can help the employee fix the employee’s attitude and help make the workplace a safer environment.

Prevention Tip #1: Even if it feels frustrating, keep communications with that employee as healthy as possible by communicating in a nonreactive and respectful way. Most importantly, inform a supervisor about what has been going on.

Outrageous Demands Or Hopelessness

For almost two months, your colleague, Jim, has been extremely demanding. You find out that a few months back, your boss changed what his role entailed, after years of doing the same thing every day. As a result, Jim has been incredibly unrealistic with his expectations—he requested a significant pay raise while also requesting an extra three weeks of vacation per year. It’s important for your clients to be aware of this sort of situation; outrageous requests that are not fulfilled may justify violent behavior in the employee’s mind. To them, using violence may serve as the answer to achieving a specific goal.

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You’ve noticed your other colleague, Brian, making hopeless comments such as “Things will never get better here” or “I will never be able to improve my performance.” While these comments appear fairly innocent, they could potentially serve as an indicator of violent behavior. If this employee is just having an awful day, there is most likely no reason to worry. However, if Brian has been making these comments for a prolonged period of time, his behaviors should further be evaluated. While the chances of these comments indicating potential violence are slim, it’s still important to keep an eye on the employee and know when to act. Creating a safe and supportive space for employees to get the care they need can go a long way. Employee assistance programs, generous paid time off, and health benefits may be worth considering.

Prevention Tip #2: Advocate for the importance of mental health. Implementing programs that are easily accessible by your employees is likely to improve their overall wellbeing while breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. Quick and effective ways to advocate wellness may include a wellness stipend for gym memberships or access to a meditation app.

Verbal Threats

Your manager, Amanda, has been outwardly aggressive towards your entire team over the last few months. She will ridicule your work and make insensitive comments relating to your personal life. These hurtful comments transition into verbal threats, such as “Finish this project by tomorrow, or else…”  While reading this, it’s probably fairly obvious that these comments are threatening; however, it may come to your surprise that 95% of employees that experienced situations of workplace violence saw the signs ahead of time and stayed quiet. The threatening employee gets a ‘high’ off of the excitement of their threatening words. They also could be subconsciously seeking help; they may want someone to catch them before they commit the act.

Prevention Tip #3: Employees affected by verbal threats should report the incident, and employers should investigate. Advise your clients to implement employee safety programs or take training courses to know how to safely take action in a similar situation.

Without keeping these signals top of mind, it becomes all too easy to let them slip by and go unnoticed. It’s time to fight these horrific instances of workplace violence seen on the news almost every day. Advocate for the safety of your clients and their employees by sharing these safety tips with them.

It’s imperative for businesses to understand the warning signs of workplace violence and how to prevent such occurrences. In order to develop a deeper understanding and confidence level in staying safe at work, sign your clients for ThinkHR’s Workplace Safety, giving them and their teams the insight and tools necessary to mitigate safety threats.

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