Part 2: HR Planning to Prevent Workplace Violence

Previous articles in this series: Part 1:HR Principles Guiding Workplace Violence Prevention

Roles in preventing workplace violence

There are four entities to be considered when developing policies and procedures on the management of potentially violent employees: The individual, the work unit, the company and the community. The company’s role varies regarding these groups. The company has a duty to protect all employees from workplace violence. The company must listen to unit supervisors and co-workers who  disclose information or fears about an employee. The company has a responsibility to have reasonable policies that guide company operations regarding employee violence (see part one of this article). Finally, if a disgruntled employee makes threats to employees, there could be a moral obligation to inform authorities because employees can be at risk both at work and in the community. The nature and clarity of these threats can provide guidance here.

The individual employee

It’s helpful to focus on the individual employee’s history and behavior to determine the risk for violence. Over the years, I have found that looking at employee behavior overall, not just one or two incidents, is key to accurately assessing the potential for violence. But first, what are the basic emotional skills that every employee must have for reasonable chance of success?

Mental and emotional basics for every employee

Does the employee have sufficient emotional health and maturity for the workplace? Recruitment interviews and reference checks should reveals whether there are red flags in any of these areas.

  • Reasonable self-awareness and self-assessment of his/her capabilities;
  • Reasonable perspective on his/her own performance strengths and weaknesses;
  • Reasonable accurate perception of how he/she is seen by management, peers;
  • Reasonable perspective on personal responsibility (blaming others or accountable for the consequences of their poor performance?);
  • Reasonable acceptance of performance criticism; and
  • Ability to see things from someone else’s perspective.

A particular employee’s potential for violence

When HR sees red flags going into a performance counseling with a particular employee, there are some simple questions to consider.  The focus needs to be on observable behavior, behavior changes and employee disclosures. Here are a series of questions that get at the employee’s observable behavior in the workplace as well as their potential state of mind:

  • Is the employee’s employment status about to change involuntarily and what is their potential awareness and acceptance of this change?
  • Has the employee made any overt or veiled threats against the company or employees?
  • Has employee asked for accommodations or disclosed mental illness or emotional difficulties?
  • Has the employee made complaints about others that proved to be false or unfounded?
  • Has employee disclosed significant life stressors: recent or pending divorce, financial difficulties or personal loss?
  • Do the employee’s performance history, counselings and results reveal troubling patterns?
  • Does the employee have a criminal background?
  • Has the employee talked about revenge, fights outside of work or violence, generally?
  • Have there been any observable, recent behavior changes? Odd behaviors or performance changes?

The key here is to trust your instincts.  Seasoned HR professionals generally know to trust their instincts or “gut feelings.”  When you have that uneasy feeling, consult an informed and neutral third-party – perhaps an HR colleague to see if he/she shares the concerns.

Part 3 in this series will cover the planning for an intervention, next.

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