By Dr. Sabrina Brandon Ricks, SBR Workplace Leadership Services
According to research completed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), active shooter incidents are on the rise and steadily increase year after year. Based on a longitudinal study that was completed by the FBI, approximately 70% of mass shooting incidents take place in the school or a place of commerce (that is, at work). There are many politically charged conversations that have arisen regarding gun control restrictions and the like. However, one of the items to address in the forefront is how to identify the danger for yourself, as a frontline employee in the workplace.
Historically, it has often been stated that colleagues saw a change in an individual prior to the violent incident. Once you work with someone for a while, you will notice their baseline behaviors, such as how they greet you daily, how they groom themselves, how they dress, their overall demeanor and personality, and more. This is the “norm” for an individual which typically remains steady from one day to the next. This is not to say that someone cannot have a bad day or an off day, but if things are consistently changing over a period of weeks, it is worth noting.
Following are four tips to help you take the “temperature” in the workplace to determine if your colleagues exhibit behaviors that could lead to dangerous activity such as a violent act in the workplace:
Tip #1: Changes in appearance.
Although anyone is capable of making a change to their appearance, if there are changes that seem out of character over a period of days or weeks, take notice. For example, if an individual who normally takes great pride in their grooming and dress starts to grow stubble, stops combing their hair, stops getting regular haircuts, suddenly grows a long beard or mustache, seems unkept, stops ironing their clothes, stops wearing makeup or accessories, appears disheveled, and completely unlike themselves, this is a sign that something may be wrong.
Tip #2: Changes in demeanor.
If an individual normally has a certain personality and seems to change, this may be a sign that something is wrong. For example, maybe they are normally friendly and approachable and now seem to be easily irritated, complaining often, blaming everyone else for things they are responsible for, cursing more, more aggressive, more likely to get into your personal space, more likely to shout or raise their voice, more likely to withdraw or stop talking, or more absences from work than usual. These are signs that something is wrong.
Tip #3: Admittance of intentions.
If a colleague begins to make threatening comments, even in a joking way, take it seriously. For example, if a colleague goes on and on about how much they hate someone and plans to do them harm, take that seriously. If someone often brags about having the means to bring harm to someone, take it seriously. If a colleague presents themselves in an aggressive manner, such as standing uncomfortably close to you, pointing in your face, leaning over your desk, and making inappropriate comments, take it seriously.
Tip #4: Social media postings.
Social media has become a normal means of communication with colleagues, friends, family, and the general public. If you are connected with a colleague via social media and they begin to make postings that are concerning, take this seriously. For example, if there are postings about doing harm to themselves or others; even if the postings are presented as memes, jokes, GIFs, photos, quotes, or otherwise, do not ignore the concern. If there are postings displaying weapons or stating explicit harm, take this seriously. If they begin to post articles that support violent intent in some capacity, take this seriously.
What can you do?
Combined behaviors from each of these tips is certainly a reason for concern however it does not necessarily mean that each individual that displays these characteristics is going to display a violent act. It simply means that you should pay them more attention and not ignore the signs.
You may choose to express concern to a coworker directly by simply asking how they are doing and how things are at work and showing genuine concern for the answer. This could help a colleague feel heard, acknowledged, validated, and cared for which could deter a violent act. You may choose to share your concern with human resources or the entity your organization has in place to address concerns (i.e. union, employee assistance program, etc.). Human resources should have an employee(s) trained to address employees where a concern may be present without being accusatory.
It is essential that all organizations offer active shooter or workplace violence training that describes what to do in the event of a violent event, such as active shooting, at work no matter what type of work environment you work in. SBR Workplace Leadership Services can provide guidance in offering trainings on this topic, as well as additional organizational trainings and workshops, executive coaching, curriculum design, and more. Contact SBR Workplace Leadership Services to learn more.