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It’s a scene that has become all too familiar in the workplace: A disgruntled former employee opens fire on a number of workers before killing himself. This unfortunate scenario reared its ugly head again on June 5, when John R. Neumann Jr., 45, who had been fired in April, entered the Fiamma Inc. building in Orlando at roughly 8 a.m. ET and opened fire, according to Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and USA Today.

Four of the victims, three men and a woman, were found dead at the scene, the sheriff said. Another man died a short time later at a hospital. The body of Neumann, an Army veteran discharged in 1999, was also found at the scene.

Demings said Neumann had previously been accused of assaulting a co-worker but not charged. The victim in that case was not among the victims, he added.

Psychological Tests are Not Reliable

The problem in such cases is that standardized psychological tests are not reliable or valid tools for predicting which persons will be violent, according to Bruce Blythe, an internationally acclaimed crisis management expert and author of Blindsided: A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace. “The capability simply doesn’t exist to pick the ‘needle out of the haystack’ through psychological tests and fitness-for-duty exams,” Blythe stated.

While there are no methods that can completely and accurately predict which specific employees are going to become violent in the workplace, various guidelines offer important and defensible considerations for assessing the likelihood of workplace violence.

Warning Signs

Employers and employees need to recognize the warning signs of workplace violence so that everyone can act as eyes and ears to report unusual behavior, according to Mimi Lanfranchi. (At the time of this writing, she was a Senior Vice President with Allied Barton Security Services.)

Lanfranchini stresses that managers must be alert to these indirect pleas for help (and utilize key resources such as the EAP): 1) excessive tardiness or absences; 2) increased need for supervision; 3) reduced productivity; 4) inconsistency; 5) strained workplace relationships; 6) inability to concentrate; 7) violation of safety procedures; 8) unusual behavior; 9) substance abuse; 10) excuses and/or blaming; and/or 11) depression.

Methods for Determining Who is most Likely to Become Violent

While there are no methods that can completely and accurately predict which specific employees are going to become violent in the workplace, various guidelines offer important and defensible considerations for assessing the likelihood of workplace violence. According to Blythe these methods include, but are not limited to the following:

* Assessment of potential violence needs to consider the psychological makeup and behavioral tendencies of the threatening person. Questions about anger problems, sense of entitlement, depression, and/or suicide are important. Does the person engage in poor judgment, repeatedly mention violent methods to resolve a personal issue, or demonstrate negative coping skills? Substance abuse is also often correlated with violent offenders. A history of violence is the best predictor of future violence.

* Assessment of potential violence should also include “context” and the evolving situation. Typically, a good starting point is to understand that potentially violent and threatening individuals almost always feel unfairly treated. Are there job problems, especially insubordination? Does the individual overly identify with his/her job position?

* Another important consideration pertains to people who know or have had contact with the threatening individual. A key indicator of intended workplace violence is to assess the “gut level feeling” about violent propensities from people familiar with the individual. Do people in the workplace (or others) feel afraid or intimated by this person? Does the EA professional, management or employees have an intuitive sense that the individual is someone who could become violent in the workplace or elsewhere?

It is also worth noting that, according to Blythe, only 36% of workplace assailants commit suicide. This means that 64% aren’t suicidal enough to kill themselves following violent acts.

This article is not all inclusive of Blythe’s or other professionals’ methods for assessing individuals at risk for violence. Neither should it be construed as legal advice, but as an overview of good business practices.

 

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