TRAGEDY

First let me say that my prayers go out to the injured soldiers and their families and to the families of the soldiers and the civilian killed in Texas last week.  What an unspeakable tragedy for the men and women who have volunteered to serve their country and for their families.  It is incomprehensible to me that a person could consider such a despicable act and think that it was a better option than whatever else was going on in his or her life.

Second, let me say that I thought long and hard about writing this post. I was afraid that some of you might take it the wrong way.  In fact, I originally wrote it on Thursday night while watching the events unfold on TV.  I was going to post it on the spot.  Instead I called a good friend who’s husband is currently serving and about to be deployed and waited. I hope it was a good choice, because ultimately I think that it was important to draft this post. That it is simply too important that we all know how to recognize and hopefully prevent something like this from happening again.   

Make no mistake, this was workplace violence and unfortunately, it is all too common.  According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, of the 5,071 workplace fatalities in 2008, 16% were a result of assaults and violent acts with 10% being classified as homicide.  In addition, women are almost three times as likely as men to be murdered in the workplace.  You need to be prepared to deal with, and if at all possible prevent, violence in your workplace and you need to recognize the signs of potential workplace violence.

Of course, given the vagaries of human behavior there is no real way to predict who will and who will not be violent, but there are some things you can look for.  Potentially violent employees tend to share some common characteristics:  They have often suffered from recent stress, they have access to or a fascination with weapons, they tend to hold a grudge, they may be abusers of alcohol or drugs, they often refer to violent acts committed by others and tend to be empathetic of others who resort to violence.

In addition to these potential warning signs, you need to take immediate action when you see people deliberately destroying property, carrying or displaying weapons, threatening others, exhibiting obsessive behavior toward a coworker or doing anything that can be interpreted as weird, bizarre or menacing toward other employees.

You need a process for dealing with this behavior.  First, set up a team consisting at a minimum of members of management, HR, medical staff (say a nurse) if you have them and representatives from the union if you are unionized.  This team should be responsible for writing and enforcing your policy along with assessing and dealing with reported issues under the policy. Second write a policy prohibiting threatening behavior and publish it to all employees.  You all know how I feel about zero tolerance policies so I won’t repeat it here. Third, publish a procedure for your supervisors and managers on how to recognize and what to do when they recognize potentially violent behavior.  Finally, get everyone trained in recognizing and dealing with potentially violent employees.

I hope you found this helpful.  Again, my prayers go out to all of those affected by this tragedy.