Violence in the Workplace: Early Intervention and Prevention

Posted on December 30, 2013 by VITAL WorkLife

older businessman yelling and woman

Workplace violence is an issue very much at the front of everyone's minds. This article provides actionable information you can employ to reduce the likelihood of violence occurring at your workplace.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation—or any other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, contractors and many others.

A number of different actions in the work environment can trigger or cause workplace violence. It may even be the result of non-work related situations such as domestic violence or "road rage."

"Workplace violence can be inflicted by an abusive employee, a manager, supervisor, co-worker, customer, family member or even a stranger," explains Deb Wood, senior consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "Whatever the cause or whoever the perpetrator, workplace violence is not to be accepted or tolerated."

Warning Signs

There is no sure way to predict human behavior and, while there may be warning signs, there is no specific profile of a potentially dangerous individual. The best prevention comes from identifying any problems early and dealing with them.

Be alert for any of the following warning signs:

  • Significant behavior changes
  • Change in mood—from positive to negative
  • Excessive absenteeism or unaccounted-for time
  • Demands on supervisor time
  • Personal issues coming up at work—family, finances, legal
  • Chemical abuse issues
  • Poor interactions with co-workers
  • Concentration problems
  • Periods of aggressive behavior
  • Recklessness with job duties
  • Blaming others for problems or issues
  • Isolation or withdrawal from others
  • Deterioration in hygiene habits
  • Paranoia
  • Romantic obsession with co-worker
  • Fascination with weapons

"Don't ignore the warning signs or tolerate harassment of employees," advises Wood. "Document behaviors and report all threats, conflicts or odd behavior to the appropriate contacts in your organization."

What to Do if You Come Upon a Potentially Violent Situation

Start by assessing the situation. Contact security or police, as appropriate. If possible, clear the scene of other employees. Be mindful of weapons—do not put yourself at risk.

If you can't avoid engaging with an employee who seems prone to violence:

  • Keep a safe distance
  • Maintain non-threatening body language—arms at side, feet shoulder width apart
  • Make eye contact but do not stare
  • Speak calmly and softly—do not make judgmental statements
  • Listen—talking tends to calm people down
  • Stay alert to changes in behavior or movement

Concerned About Workplace Violence?

"Trust your gut," says Wood. "When something's not right, don't feel like you have to be able to diagnose your employee's condition. Just pick up the phone. It's better to call too frequently than not at all."

As a VITAL WorkLife member, your EAP benefit provides free, unlimited and confidential counseling, coaching and support 24/7—not just for you and your family members—but also for your employees and their families. Your benefit also includes free face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals. All you have to do is ask.

When you feel there is a potential for violence or an actual incident has occurred, we can:

  • Help you assess the threat and develop an action plan
  • Coach you on dealing with problems as soon as they surface
  • Provide short—term counseling and referral services to employees
  • Monitor employees working on performance improvement plans
  • Provide assistance for you and your reports in the aftermath of any violent situation

"We've also added a new training around workplace violence," says Wood. "This is an issue very much at the front of everyone's minds. Our training provides practical guidance about early intervention and prevention that every manager and supervisor can use."

Workplace Violence:

A Case Study

What would you do if you were told an employee had told two caseworkers he was going to shoot his supervisor and co-worker because they were bullying him?

In the case of a midsize company with 100 employees, the manager called VITAL WorkLife. He wasn't sure how serious the employee was and didn't want to overreact. The EAP counselor advised him to call the police immediately.

The police came onsite and assessed the safety of the building. The building went into "lock down" mode. The police interviewed the employees and also the suspect.

VITAL WorkLife kept in touch with police and HR throughout the assessment and later went onsite to do a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing with the employees. Employees were encouraged to take advantage of the free, confidential counseling services available to them through their EAP benefit.

In the aftermath, VITAL WorkLife worked with the company's HR department to develop a violence policy that encourages all managers to take the same action (calling the EAP) whenever a threat of violence occurs.

We Can Help

As a VITAL WorkLife member, if you have concerns about workplace violence, don't hesitate to call 800.383.1908 and ask to speak to an EAP counselor—anytime, of the day or night. Access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App.

Helpful Online Resources for Managers and Supervisors:

Your Member Website offers helpful tools and information designed to help managers and supervisors address issues related to workplace violence.

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