“I knew something like this would happen.”
That’s a phrase uttered all too frequently by co-workers of an active attack suspect.
Your bank’s employees represent your best chance to mitigate workplace violence (WPV) risk. The challenge is to equip those employees with the knowledge and means to safeguard your business. That stewardship mindset, which views employees as custodians of your bank’s reputation and safety, requires equipping staff to understand the “Three R’s” of workplace violence: Recognizing the warning signs and indicators; Reporting concerns; and Responding appropriately when the risk becomes a reality.
In last week’s installment of this two-part workplace violence prevention series we discussed the basic building blocks of a workplace violence policy and program including the four types of WPV, the data and definitions behind WPV, crafting a corporate policy, and engaging employees in reporting and response. In this article, we explore in depth the essential elements of an employee-driven stewardship model that protect your bank and its people from harm—i.e. the “Three R’s.”
Recognize warning signs
Any successful workplace violence prevention and response program teaches employees to identify the warning signs and indicators of potential violence. Security and risk professionals as well as local, state or federal law enforcement, are all available to assist with training your employees to understand the behavioral signs of impending violence in their co-workers, customers, and other professional or personal contacts. On-line and video learning modules can also be utilized for training sessions, brown-bag lunch meetings, or professional development days.
Teaching the WPV warning signs also means dispelling the myths often perpetuated by media reports following spectacular mass attacks or shootings. For example, when neighbors or distant relatives of an attacker are interviewed they sometimes say things like, “He just snapped,” or “This came out of the blue.”
The reality is quite different, however.
People don’t “just snap.” Comprehensive studies of mass attacks reveal a clear path to violence that moves from aspirational to acting out—sometimes quite quickly, if the right triggers present themselves.
In the recent Parkland, Fla., high-school shooting, classmates, faculty, and neighbors of the shooter saw the warning signs and indicators and notified law enforcement or other officials dozens of times. To those who knew him, the Parkland school shooter most certainly did not “just snap” but was on a path to violence in the absence of intervention.
Commonly recognized warning signs include:
• Obsessing (preoccupation or constant worry about a single issue)
• Disturbing writings or drawings
• Talk of hurting others or themselves
• References to weapons and/or violence
• Menacing or erratic conduct
These concerns are heightened when coupled with: diminished performance; frequent unplanned absences or tardiness; poor co-worker relations; divorce or break-ups; unexplained bruises; and restraining orders. In fact, data tells us the leading root cause of workplace violence is domestic tension that spills into the workplace.
Reporting—make it easy
In dozens of interviews with co-workers and family members of mass attack suspects, a common articulated theme is that they knew something was wrong and could end in violence, but they didn’t know what to do or who to tell.
Once employees become familiar with the indicators, management must provide a means for them to act on their concerns and then must have a mechanism in place to responsibly address those concerns. Your WPV policy should include multiple avenues for employees to comfortably report their concerns without fear of retribution. Even anonymous reporting, sometimes frowned upon in other matters, should be made available to employees, especially in small environments.
Reporting methods should be communicated to employees in numerous ways. These include posters in break-rooms, email reminders, and intranet home page links to a reporting tool. Small banks in particular, where “everybody knows everyone,” might want to offer an external contact number for reporting. Perhaps a community mental health center or your Employee Assistance Program vendor can partner in this endeavor.
Once employees report a concern, the ball is in management’s court. An effective WPV program includes a strong protocol to address reporting in a professional, credible, and timely manner. If employees perceive that their reports are not taken seriously, you may never receive another report.
Assemble a workplace violence council including your HR leader, legal advisor, and security director, and preferably, a mental-health professional. Keep the team contact numbers in your smartphone to quickly convene a meeting.
Sometimes the risk becomes reality. Preventive measures, training, and personnel actions can’t always predict and prevent the myriad vagaries of human behavior. Preparing your employees to survive an active attacker is a logical part of any WPV Prevention and Response program.
Such training need not be burdensome nor protracted. For example, using the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” video—easily accessible on YouTube—takes less than 15 minutes but could save lives. The simple act of thinking through “what ifs” with employees to strategize where to run, what rooms and offices have locking doors to provide concealment, and what items in an office can be used to fight an attacker, is time well spent.
Employees who understand that their safety is your top priority, and that everyone plays a role in ensuring a safe environment, will develop the stewardship mindset and contribute to an effective and credible workplace violence prevention program. Enlist your employees in your program development and keep your business safe and productive.
About the author
Frank Figliuzzi is the Chief Operating Officer of ETS Risk Management, Inc., and consults with global clients on Workplace Violence, Insider Threat, and Investigations. He was the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and served as a Special Agent for 25 years. He also works as a National Security Contributor for NBC News.
Read Part 1: “Workplace violence: It could happen here”