These ideas, when used effectively and early enough can help employees, supervisors, managers, and their representatives from HR, Legal, EAP, and other stakeholders in the organization, to intervene in cases involving threats from people inside or outside the organization.
Better Background Checks and Hiring Practices
If a good predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior, then we need to do a better job of pre-screening employees. The applicant should do most of the heavy lifting here, by providing waivers for background screens done by reputable investigative firms; written permissions to contact former employers; copies of past performance evaluations; and answers to interview questions not just about technical competencies, but about their ability to work with others.
Constant Security / Access Control Improvements
Since many big and expensive security changes are made in the aftermath of an incident, we need to be better at making smaller improvements over time. It’s not necessarily the installation of a $100,000 CCTV system that will keep the facility safe; it’s often more about making sure all of the key card readers work and that employees are reminded not to prop open the facility doors. Small changes and security upgrades over time can be easier for senior management to swallow and can reinforce the idea that a protection mindset is always in place.
A Security Culture Driven By Employees
Every employee should feel like he or she is in charge of keeping the facility safe. There should be visible rewards (public praise, time off, gift cards) for employees who report physical security issues. There should be support and an immediate response to employees who report behavioral problems, threats, or criminal activities involving co-workers, customers, ex-domestic partners, or strangers. (This could involve the use of anonymous tip lines.) If employees ever say, “I knew about his disturbing comments before the shooting, but I didn’t know who to tell,” then we have failed to create a challenge culture, where they know who and when to speak up, both with and in confidence.
High-Risk Customer Service Training
Employees who deal with the angry public or with difficult clients and customers should know how to set personal and professional boundaries (i.e., not allowing angry callers to swear at them), how to use high-stress communication tools to de-escalate people who will not listen, how to change the ratios of confrontation – by bringing in more help from staff or supervisors – and when and how to report security problems.
Identifying Hunters or Howlers
Dr. Fred Calhoun and Steve Weston have done significant research, training, and writing to support their groundbreaking model that some people “howl” (make overt threats, draw attention to themselves, frighten others intentionally) and some people “hunt” (develop a hidden plan, acquire the tools to harm others, work in stealth, and attack with little or no warning). As Calhoun and Weston so accurately put it:”Howlers don’t hunt and Hunters don’t howl. When Howlers start to hunt, they are no longer Howlers.” The exception to the Hunter-Howler threat dynamic is when the victim and the suspect have had a previously intimate relationship. When the suspect says, “If I can’t have her, no one else will,” we take these threats very seriously, as they are the mark of a Hunter.
Safe and Humane Discipline and Terminations
Many organizations see the wisdom of a humane HR approach called “benevolent severance.” Here, the terminated employee who has been fired for threatening behaviors is given a parting package that may involve severance, continued medical benefits, access to continued EAP care, outplacement help, agreement for how to handle reference calls, and a single point of contact in the HR office to manage his or her needs. The point to this benevolence is not to reward threatening or dangerous behaviors; it is to help ex-employees into a “soft landing,” by co-managing their exit from the organization in a way that minimizes their ability to use revenge as a reason to lash out.
Consequence-Based HR and Security Department Thinking
There must be consequences for employee behaviors that put the organization at risk. The HR Department can do its part by supporting the frontline supervisors and department heads; using coaching as a pre-discipline step to focus on small behavioral issues (where warnings, boundaries, and reminders about policies can help) and enforcing the progressive discipline policy in ways that suggest the company is firm, fair, consistent, and especially, proactive.
Threat Assessment Teams (TATs)
The key to success when responding to any threat of workplace violence is the use of Threat Assessment Teams. By gathering the stakeholders into a room or via conference call, we can come up with a viable plan in a short time span. This includes representatives from HR, Security, Corporate Counsel, the EAP provider, mental health professionals, threat management consultants, local law enforcement if applicable, the union representatives, safety and facility directors, or the employee’s direct supervisor. Not every person in these groups needs to attend the entire meeting. Some people can come in, provide a key piece of information, and leave, so the core TAT can then take every piece of gathered knowledge about the person or incident to create a list of potential solutions.
Using Safe Rooms and Evacuation Drills
Like the use of TATs, the next best response to the threat of an active shooter is to either evacuate or go to a safe room, using a “shelter in place” protocol, and wait for the police response. The use of safe rooms in school shootings and workplace violence incidents has saved lives, with the caveat that it is not a perfect solution to the homicidal intent of a perpetrator. Safe rooms could include a break room, restroom, training classroom, conference room, supervisor’s office, storage closet, or any other (preferably windowless) room that can be locked or barricaded.
All of the previous nine are useless without this last one. Business owners, executives, directors, department heads, and frontline supervisors need to exhibit courage and respond to any potential workplace violence threat. There is a tendency on these cases to “wish it away” and hope that inaction will lead to a solution.
We aren’t trying to create a nation of tattle-tale employees. We aren’t trying to turn our workspaces into locked-down prison camps. We are trying to be responsive to potential behavioral, HR, and security situations that may put the organization at risk.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, is a San Diego-based speaker, author, and trainer. He has spent his career focused on high-risk employee problems, crime and violence prevention, threat assessment, and workplace and school security issues. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration; an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 15 books on business, HR, and police subjects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht