Workplace Violence – Warning Signs and Triggers

By Diana Sorrentino, PhD, Director—Security Operations, Lehigh Valley Paladin LLC

In the last issue, we introduced our standing Safety and Security Column by defining workplace violence. We continue with part two, where we will cover basic warning signs and triggers.

In the aftermath of a violent event, people wonder if there were warning signs that were overlooked. The answer is often “yes,” the perpetrator had displayed signs or behaviors that indicated he or she may be on a path to intended violence. The key to recognizing these warnings is understanding your employees’ behavioral baseline.

Behavioral Baseline

A behavioral baseline is the overall attitude, demeanor, behavior, and personality traits you would expect to experience from an employee on any given day and under any given condition. We all experience bad days however, there is a problem on the horizon when a bad day has become persistent and outside the norm.

Personal Inhibitors

Personal inhibitors include a stable home/family, circle of friends outside of work, healthy interests and hobbies outside of work, and financial and psychological stability. The employee enjoys life outside of work and is not defined by their job or company. Strong personal inhibitors will typically prevent a person from developing a retaliatory ideology or moving along the path of intended violence because the individual would have too much to lose.

When personal inhibitors do not exist or are collapsing, the potential for an act of violence increases exponentially—particularly if the individual feels that they have nothing left to lose. The sooner positive intervention can be implemented, the more likely the individual can be moved off the path of intended violence. Individuals without strong personal inhibitors and whose identity and life are defined by their obsessions, job, or company, will possess a high risk for violence following an employment termination or personal life crisis.

Warnings & Triggers

These characteristics are a basic check list of the behavioral or performance issues that may indicate your employee needs assistance or, worse, may be on a path to intended violence:

  • History of aggression, harassment, intimidation, or violence
  • Loner/displays antisocial behavior
  • Displays emotional problems or issues
  • Employment or career frustration
  • Antagonistic, caustic, or hostile behavior
  • Unhealthy obsessions
  • Argumentative or short tempered
  • Inappropriate or unwanted physical contact with other employees or visitors
  • Domestic or intimate violence
  • Paranoia/sense of persecution
  • Personal or family crisis
  • Unacceptable workplace behavior
  • Abrupt changes in behavior or demeanor

These signals can have an abrupt onset or progressively develop over time.

As we have experienced on a regular basis; a problem employee is more often than not an employee with a problem which has manifested to the point where it is impacting their behavior and performance at work. If you do not have an understanding of your employees’ behavioral baselines you will not recognize the early warning signs indicating that a problem is on the horizon. •