“He was such a nice guy…” or was he?

“He was a great guy. I would never have thought he would do something like this.” Similar statements are common on the news after a workplace violence incident. Neighbors and casual acquaintances will frequently describe the killer as someone who seemed “fine” and appeared to be a “nice guy.” When we ask those who actually spent the most time with the person, namely his coworkers, again and again, a completely different picture emerges.

While there is undoubtedly no entirely definitive profile of a workplace violence killer, certain characteristics and patterns emerge in numerous cases too often to ignore. These similarities are present time after time, and yet workplaces still remain unaware or uninformed as to pre-incident indicators and what to do once they recognize such behaviors. Granted, we have taken some action regarding our response to active shooter scenarios. Many companies, schools, hospitals, and other entities now have active shooter procedures, where in years past there were none. These procedures are undeniably a vital component of any current security plan. But prevention measures are just as vital, if not more so.

Experience has shown that employee discipline and termination can be an extremely volatile time; therefore it is crucial for companies to train managers and supervisors in best methods of disciplining and terminating employees in order to avoid pitfalls that put them at risk. I have discovered that managers are commonly put into their positions with little or no training on how to handle such situations. This is unfair to the supervisor and those he or she supervises. Providing managers with tools and skills to handle difficult circumstances and to de-escalate potentially violent situations is essential. Additionally, policies must be drafted, clearly communicated to all employees, and enforced equally. Once a policy violation occurs, the offender should be notified and appropriate action must follow. Swift, reasonable, and impartial discipline that is well documented is a must. Procedures should also be drawn up to cover the termination process itself – escorting the former employee off property, retrieving keys and badges, changing access codes, etc.

Equally important is educating front line employees to recognize and report pre-incident indicators and behaviors that often precede violence. These employees are frequently the first to recognize behavioral changes and warning signs. After one workshop covering workplace violence prevention, an audience member shared his story with me. He was working in a factory several years before when his coworker, angry about not receiving a promotion, came to work and killed the manager. This man went on to say that he was sorry that he had not received workplace violence prevention training before the incident occurred because he now recognized behaviors in the individual who did the killing that he hadn’t been trained to recognize before. His compelling words were, “Maybe if we had had this type of training, this incident could have been prevented.” Prevention training will not stop every workplace violence incident, but if it prevents even one, isn’t it worth it? Continue reading ““He was such a nice guy…” or was he?” »

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Another tragedy…

Another day, another tragedy. This time at a UPS service center in Birmingham. A 23-year employee who was recently fired came back into the workplace Tuesday, September 23, and killed two supervisors and himself; and now three families’ lives are changed forever.

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It is difficult to say at this point if something could have been done to prevent this horror from occurring. Time and time again we witness someone who has made the decision that life is not worth living when they lose their livelihood, and they don’t seem to be able to see beyond that event. They fixate on the supervisor as being the cause of their problems and decide that ending that person or those persons’ lives is justified. And in the vast majority of these cases, they take their own life as well. Continue reading “Another tragedy…” »

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Warning Signs of Violence

Workplace violence can have many layers and be much more complex than it appears. In April of this year, a FedEx employee arrived at work and went on a shooting rampage, wounding six people. He then shot himself. Another similar case occurred in July when a Chicago man who had recently been demoted in a company downsizing shot the company’s CEO and then killed himself. The acts committed by these perpetrators and their subsequent suicides suggest deep problems that should have been caught and addressed before these tragedies occurred.
It is certainly vital to train employees to respond appropriately to emergency situations, but training them to identify signs of a potential perpetrator is just as crucial. Teaching employees to recognize “red flags” early on is just as important as response training, and can perhaps prevent future violence. Continue reading “Warning Signs of Violence” »

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Talking with bank robbers…

I first read about Jay Dee Giles in 2005.  He was before an Alabama judge being sentenced for bank robbery, and his words caught my attention,  “…your honor, prison is where I need to be.  I think I belong in prison.  With my drug habit, that’s where I belong.”  The judge agreed, and sentenced him to 12 years.

Unusual words from a criminal.  It was then that I decided I wanted to interview Giles.  Ever since I produced my first robbery training video in 1998, I had envisioned how I would create the next one.  In the first production, I had interviewed victims of bank robberies and included portions of their testimonies in the video.  I had decided that this time, I would talk to bank robbers – and Jay Giles, a serial robber, would be one of them. Continue reading “Talking with bank robbers…” »

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Workplace Violence Policies and Programs Must be Communicated

“What should we do if we notice someone who fits the profile of an enraged employee?”

“What if we are going through a hard time and would like to talk to someone?”

These questions came up in recent in-house training sessions I conducted on workplace violence prevention and response.  There happened to be a supervisor in one of the classes who told the group that their company did in fact have an employee assistance program and could provide counseling for troubled employees.  This was news to the employees. Continue reading “Workplace Violence Policies and Programs Must be Communicated” »

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Advice for Job Seekers

What advice would you give job seekers to improve their interview skills?  That was the question asked in a recent poll of potential employers.  The top three responses shocked me (I don’t know why; nothing should be shocking anymore).  The number one tip to remember when interviewing with your potential employer is “Don’t appear disinterested.”  REALLY?  Continue reading “Advice for Job Seekers” »

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How Aware Are You?

How aware are you of your surroundings? Do you survey the parking lot before you exit a store to walk to your car? Do you take the time to plan ahead in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations? Do you look inside the convenience store before you enter? What if you pull into your bank to use the ATM – do you assess the area first? Continue reading “How Aware Are You?” »

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