Rick Shaw, founder and connecting the dots officer of Awareity, discusses workplace violence warning signs and gap elimination.
Q. Warning signs are sometimes observed before an act of workplace violence occurs. What are some of these signs?
A. Warning signs are changes in behavior and behaviors that are more frequent and more disruptive in the workplace. This could include becoming distracted, making mistakes and blaming others, disrespecting authority, missing work more often and showing up late, changing health or hygiene habits, talking about grievances and being a victim, holding grudges and talking about negative things that might happen, as well as posting social media messages that become more aggressive.
Q. Are these warning signs usually reported?
A. Post-incident evidence overwhelmingly exposes numerous and common gaps, silos, and disconnects, including people, departments, systems, egos, and policies that prevented warning signs from being shared with the right people who could take action to disrupt, intervene, and prevent violence before it escalated.
Even when organizations collected warning signs and shared them with the right people, there were often intervention and prevention failures because of gaps in communication with members of the community, such as law enforcement, social workers, and mental health professionals.
Q. Why do these gaps and disconnects exist in the workplace?
A. Policies usually direct employees to report warning signs to supervisors, managers, or trusted adults—who are often not trained to act, are not consistent in their actions, or cannot take action. This can create silos where individuals are holding vital pieces of the puzzle about concerning behavior, but are unable to see the bigger picture—an actual threat to the organization.
Employees may not trust reporting to supervisors or management due to fear of retaliation or fear for their own safety if not protected. Employees may not report concerning behaviors if a real anonymous option, such as a hotline, does not exist.
When employees do report warning signs and that report is not followed with proactive actions to address the behavior, they often will no longer go out of their way to report future warning signs.
Q. Outside the workplace, what other disconnects exist in reporting warning signs?
A. Overwhelming evidence in post-event reports reveals that some of the most important—and critically needed—warning signs are observed by family, friends, significant others, and other community members. They may not report them to law enforcement because they fear for their safety or fear being attacked or criticized in the public eye.
Warning signs and other critical pieces of the puzzle can also come from social media. In multiple shootings such as the one targeting former U.S. Congress member Gabby Giffords and the on-air shooting in Virginia, the attackers posted social media threats prior to the acts.