Workplace violence can have many layers and be much more complex than it appears. In April of this year, a FedEx employee arrived at work and went on a shooting rampage, wounding six people. He then shot himself. Another similar case occurred in July when a Chicago man who had recently been demoted in a company downsizing shot the company’s CEO and then killed himself. The acts committed by these perpetrators and their subsequent suicides suggest deep problems that should have been caught and addressed before these tragedies occurred.
It is certainly vital to train employees to respond appropriately to emergency situations, but training them to identify signs of a potential perpetrator is just as crucial. Teaching employees to recognize “red flags” early on is just as important as response training, and can perhaps prevent future violence.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety published an excellent article (Violence in the Workplace – Warning Signs, March 2006) on warning signs of workplace violence. Obviously, no one can know with certainty whether someone is going to act out, so these signs should be considered carefully and in context. However, the Centre notes that employees should take particular notice if a coworker shows a dramatic change in behavior patterns to a degree that is disruptive to others. Repeated lateness, lower work quality, disrespect for authority, complaining, emotional language, restlessness, angry speech or violent gestures, and threatening or intimidating behavior towards others are all important warning signs to remember. Sudden fascination with violence or weapons should also be taken seriously and reported. EHS Today (Dec 2003) ran an article on warning signs as well, saying that signs of depression and negative behavior must also be considered.
Depressive and negative behaviors are also often linked to suicidal tendencies, from which the perpetrators in these two recent cases clearly suffered. The American Association of Suicidology (Knowing the Warning Signs of Suicide, 2014) says that angry behaviors, recklessness, and dramatic mood changes are linked to suicide. Violent speech and interest in aggression or weapons are also often connected to suicidal tendencies and cannot be ignored. Obviously, these signs of suicidal actions closely coincide with warning signs of workplace violence.
Thus, recognizing and reporting pre-incident indicators can be an effective preventive measure, especially if addressed with an employee assistance program. If employees are trained to identify these symptoms early, devastating cases like these may be stopped before they occur. Workplaces and employees will be safer, and those contemplating violence can receive much needed counseling.