Recently, there was a situation in my town where a guy who’d been fired from a company came back and made all sorts of threats. This wasn’t anything that made the news, I just happen to know a few people who work there. It never amounted to anything but this sort of thing has been happening rather frequently around the country for a while now.
Back in the day, I taught corporate classes about workplace aggression. One of the first things we taught was many warning signs of potentially violent workers. As I always stressed, the presence of one or more of these tendencies or behaviors should not be seen as definitive evidence that someone was about to go postal. Rather, you need to see them in context first and understand the overall situation. They are just what I said — warning signs.
1) The person is short-tempered and argumentative. While we all know at least one jackass who just can’t seem to get along with anyone, it is a warning sign of potentially violent behavior.
2) Signs of drug and alcohol abuse. Quite often, those who become violent do so under the influence of alcohol or another drug.
3) The person is having difficulty coping with a major life event, such as the death of a loved one, failed marriage, or extreme financial issues. It isn’t usually one single thing that sets someone off but rather a cumulative effect of several stressors.
4) The person talks about news stories concerning workplace violence, particularly in some sort of positive manner. Comments like, “That guy had the right idea,” are warning signs that the person might be planning something.
5) Sees themselves as always being the victim and never to blame for anything. They often exhibit a “me versus them” mentality.
6) Shows a fascination with weapons. Now, settle down all you firearm enthusiasts. It is one thing to talk about your new rifle with a buddy and another thing entirely to make frequent references to co-workers about your vast arsenal in an obvious attempt to make them uncomfortable.
7) Talks openly about wanting to harm co-workers or supervisors. Hey, we all have a bad day and most of us have probably said something we later regretted. But if a guy is frequently talking about wanting to lie in wait after work for the line supervisor to kick in his teeth, that’s a problem.
8) Exhibits a violent temper. If you have a co-worker who frequently punches things when frustrated, or throws tools in anger, that’s something that should concern you.
Odds are pretty good that your workplace has some sort of plan in place for incidents of workplace violence. These plans would likely include not only what to do if Joey shows up one day with a rifle and starts shooting but also what to do if you suspect a potential problem. Find out what the procedure is and follow those guidelines as needed.