Don’t make me get the gun out of my trunk! (just kidding)

Seriously, this is no laughing matter. In tonight’s class, we watched a video called “Workplace Violence: First Line of Defense.” The video was a half-hour long, and focus on the prevalence, risks and mitigating strategies related to workplace violence. The number one cause of death for women in the workplace and the number two cause of death for men in the workplace is homicide, and companies need to have effective policies and response mechanisms to address any threats of violence, no matter how trivial they might seem.

We hear about the expression “going postal” and immediately associate that with fits of rage and violence in the workplace, ostensibly in some branch of the US Postal Service. The folks at USPS say it’s a myth …

*Despite a number of highly publicized post office incidents, a Postal Service commission reported in 2000 that postal employees are actually less likely to be homicide victims than other workers. The phrase “going postal,” which the commission noted has become a pejorative shorthand phrase for employee violence, is a “myth,” the report said. (Source: Report of the United States Postal Service Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace, quoted in U.S. Postal Service Annual Report, 2000.)

The video debunked a myth that workers just simply “snap” without warning, stating instead that there are typically indications that lead up to a violent event. Some of the indicators and warnings signs pointed out in the video included a drop-off in productivity, a decrease in performance, increase in noted problems in the workplace with a certain employee, and what could be construed as an increase in paranoia. Additional clues include anger, hostility, fear, and a threatening demeanor.

Unfortunately, supervisors tend to distance themselves from the situation or isolate the employee to avoid a confrontation rather than applying discipline; this actually makes the problem worse!

The following early warning signs were pointed out:

  1. Making direct or indirect threats
  2. A fascination with coverage of or discussion of violence in the workplace
  3. A fascination with fire arms, particularly automatic weapons

Managers need to be aware of the problem, document what has been observed or has occurred, and follow and enforce company policy. Procedures for identifying the issue include interviewing the employee, interviewing the supervisor and interviewing coworkers to verify what was said, who else heard it, and what risks may be involved. Effective intervention may include counseling, disciplinary measures, suspension and termination.

In the video, there was an employee named Carl who was increasingly agitated by quality control scrutiny and other steps being taken by management that he believed were unfair. His supervisor simplified the matter by saying that Carl is “not a happy camper,” but clearly the warning signs were there that Carl was escalating his rhetoric and could already be a danger to his managers and coworkers.

By the way, the FBI offers an 80-page guide to workplace violence, take a look!

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