“Underlying this progression of actions
may be an intense feeling of loss, a vacuum
created by the absence of a highly valued
sense of safety and security in the workplace. Feelings of alienation and disorientation may become overwhelming and lead
to erratic, exaggerated and violent behavior.
It is as if there had been a divorce with all of
the anxiety and uncertainty associated with
the loss of and conflict with an important
attachment figure,” says Tanenbaum. “This
is one way of understanding the magnitude
and potential negative consequences of loss
of security in the workplace.”
Watch for behavioral
Per Tanenbaum, risk factors associated
with those who turn violent and may
even become active shooters include:
• Expressed threats (direct, veiled, con-
•Boasts of prior violence (bragging
about losing control);
• Confused thinking;
• Change in speech (increased pitch,
slurred, repetitive word use, parroting, forced or strained);
• Speaking to others as if they are not
• Non-verbal signs (personal space violation, finger pointing, making fists,
heavy or shallow breathing, person
refuses eye contact);
•Red flag work issues (job perfor-
mance difficulties, interpersonal
problems with colleagues, long-term
arguments with coworkers);
Increased use of alcohol or substances,
increased severe mood swings, persis-
tent blaming of others, increased talk of
problems at home, escalation of domestic
problems into the workplace, empathy
with individuals committing violence and
unsolicited comments about firearms.
Insurers who offer workplace violence,
active shooter, EPLI, D&O and such other
types of coverage should consider including
questions on their application forms asking
if the insured has a violence prevention
policy, safety-training plan and employee
assistance program (EAP). These initiatives
could help de-escalate and even prevent vi-
olence and accompanying losses.
Given the current climate, businesses
should have “a written workplace violence prevention policy that is not hidden
in the back of an employee handbook.
It should be accessible to all. Employees
should be made aware of it upon hire and
reviewed at a bare minimum annually
thereafter,” advises Charlotte McDonald,
MSM, PHR SHRM-CP.
McDonald, who possesses more than
a quarter century of experience in hu-
man resources explains, “Supervisors and
managers should be fully aware of the
policy and how to promptly address sit-
uations as they arise.”
It is much better to deal with mole-
hills than mountains where safety is
concerned. Employee relations problems
can escalate when left unchecked. To-
day’s workplace bully may be tomorrow’s
workplace batterer or active shooter. Ad-
dress unacceptable conduct promptly.
If an employee appears to be hostile or
angry towards co-workers or customers,
the supervisor should meet with that employee in private and discuss the observed
conduct. Never attack the person. Instead,
focus on the undesired observed behaviors.
Sometimes the root cause of the behavior may have little or nothing to do with
work. The employee may be struggling
with issues such as domestic violence or financial woes. EAP services could help the
employee gain control of these personal
problems and turn things around regarding conduct and work performance.
McDonald stresses safety is everyone’s
business. “Sometimes, for instance, employees who are key lock badge holders
may be reluctant to tell an important client
or a VIP they cannot walk in behind them.
‘Piggy-backing’ should be avoided at en-
trances and secure rooms inside the build-
ing. Employers should instruct employees
that no matter who the person is, they must
never assist anyone in bypassing established
security measures,” McDonald states.
Training and preparation can be the
difference between life and death in an
active shooter situation. Being aware of
how colleagues are acting, having a plan
for reporting and addressing different
forms of workplace violence, and providing de-escalation training are proactive
actions to help reduce some of the risk
Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq. (bonczyklaw@
gmail.com) is an attorney and
the founder and president of the
Workplace Violence Prevention
Institute, a Florida-based not-for-profit corporation. Visit www.
org for more information.
KEYS TO REDUCING
Dr. Tanenbaum offers the following
de-escalation suggestions if faced
with an agitated person in the
workplace or other setting:
• Show respect and address
by the person by name.
• Ask: “May I help you?”
• Speak slowly
(use simple words).
• Allow time for reflection.
• Give options.
• Ask for their idea or solution.
• Offer “fake” attention.
• Roll your eyes.
• Make false promises.
• Get in a power struggle
(i.e., raise your voice).
• Meet an angry person
• Say “calm down.”