Experts say most perpetrators of workplace violence signal that they have a problem. Prevention means staying alert to those signals, encouraging employees to report potential problems and practicing response plans. Share these pointers with your HR and management teams.
1 Build a response team. Recruit a core group that includes HR, security, business unit management and, if possible, a trained mediator and a crisis counselor. Practice responses to simulated scenarios for each person's role. Specify what is tolerable behavior on the premises, what will lead to removal, and when it is appropriate to disable an employee and call the authorities.
2 Know the law. Your rights and responsibilities in a crisis vary depending on who is acting violently. Is the person an employee or a stranger? Has he threatened someone, or is he just acting erratically? Bring in local law enforcement to educate your team on the state laws that will govern your response.
3 Watch for signs. Make sure employees know to always report suspicious comments or behavior to the CSO or HR (or both) no matter how minimal the threat seems. Watch for events that can trigger violence: being passed over for a promotion, marital strife and, especially, public embarrassment. Educate managers on how to recognize those signals. (One tip: Never publicly insult or criticize someone who is behaving badly.)
4 Defuse a simmering crisis. Separate bickering employees' work spaces. Give an angry employee time off to cool down. Transfer a worker to eliminate a strained employee-manager relationship. Take performance reviews out of managers' hands and give them to a neutral third party. Most of all, treat people with respect.
5 Remove the source. Evacuate the target of a violent person's anger. Have that person leave the room or go home. You might also arrange to protect him until the crisis is diffused.
6 Use a mediator. A neutral person can help defuse a conflict. Appoint a plainclothes security staffer trained in mediation and crisis counseling to handle the conflict. A person in authority, or in uniform, can make an agitated person feel cornered.
7 Isolate in a neutral office location. This separates the employee from the source of his anger. Choose this site during planning. A crisis team member should be ready to call police.
8 Escort and warn, or disable. If the person turns violent, disable him by pinning him to the ground, for example. Get police onsite as soon as possible. If the person appears calm, escort him off the premises. Inform him that he is no longer welcome on the property.
9 Stay vigilant. If the person is an employee, cancel access cards and network accounts. Inform office building tenants of the incident; include a picture if possible. Brief guards and surveillance staff to be on the lookout in case the person returns.