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The Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 570,000 Americans are impacted by workplace violence annually. There are behavior indicators often exhibited in the workplace that have been linked to workplace violence situations.

According to a 2004 USA Today analysis of 224 instances of fatal workplace violence situations, the attacker had left behind clear warning signs.

Workplace violence is attributed to a broad range of behaviors falling along a spectrum that, due to their nature or severity, significantly affect the workplace, generate a concern for personal safety and can result in physical injury or even death.

While every situation and set of circumstances is unique, there are some warning signs that are commonly exhibited by individuals in need of assistance. If you are feeling uncomfortable in any situation with a co-worker, or noticing these warning signs, you should notify a manager or someone in a position of authority within your organization.

Remember that just because someone exhibits one of these behaviors does not necessarily mean they are prone to display an act of violence. It is when someone has a noticeable change in behavior, if these behaviors are observed in combination or if the behavior is displayed constantly that you should consider telling someone about the situation.

Excessive tardiness or absences – An employee who consistently leaves their workday early without authorization, or presents numerous excuses for shortening the workday, should set off an alarm. This is a significant sign if an individual typically is prompt and committed to a full workday.

Increased need for supervision – Generally, an employee requires less supervision as he or she becomes more proficient at their work. An employee who exhibits an increased need for supervision, or with whom the supervisor must spend an inordinate amount of time, may be an individual who is signaling a need for help. Managers should be alert to such a change and consider offering professional intervention if needed.

Lack of performance – If an employee who normally is efficient and productive experiences a sudden or sustained drop in performance, there is reason for concern. This actually is a classic warning sign of dissatisfaction and the manager should meet with the employee immediately to determine a mutually beneficial course of action.

Change in work habits – As in the case of reduced productivity, an employee exhibiting inconsistent work habits may be in need of intervention. If you think about your peers at work, they typically are quite consistent in their work habits. If habits change, the manager has reason to suspect the individual is in need of assistance and action should be taken.

Inability to concentrate – If an employee suddenly is unable to concentrate, this may indicate that they are distracted and in trouble. A manager should be notified to try and encourage the employee to seek assistance.

Signs of stress – If an employee who traditionally has adhered to safety procedures suddenly is involved in accidents or safety violations, stress – a significant contributor to workplace violence – may be indicated.

Change in attitude – A sustained change in behavior often is an indication of an employee in difficulty. People typically are quite familiar with the personalities of their peers and often are quick to notice significant changes. Your work environment should be managed in such a way as to ensure trust and open communication.

Weapons fascination – A classic behavioral warning sign is someone who is fascinated with weapons. This easily should be recognized and reported.

Drugs and alcohol – Watch for changes in the person’s mood or character when drugs and alcohol are used. Often people who have substance abuse problems act out in the workplace and it’s important that every organization have some methodology in place to identify and assist victims of drug or alcohol abuse.

Not taking responsibility for their actions – A person who uses excuses and blames others is a classic behavioral warning sign that is easy to identify but just as often ignored by managers. A worker who engages in this behavior typically is signaling for assistance and may require counseling.

Remember that these only are a few of the possible warning signs of workplace violence. As with any work-related issue, you should report unusual behavior to a manager or someone who has the authority to take action. For more information on workplace violence awareness, visit

About the author: Rich Cordivari is the vice president of learning and development at AlliedBarton Security Services. AlliedBarton provides of highly trained security personnel to many industries including higher education, commercial real estate, healthcare, residential communities, chemical/petrochemical, government, manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions and shopping centers.

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