Violence In America: a Workplace Responsibility

Posted on: June 30th, 2016

Violence in America is a Workplace Responsibility. It’s about management commitment, investment and leadership if workplace violence prevention is to have any real societal prevention value. I would like to make the leap in searching for a paradigm shift in how workplace violence prevention and violence response is taught in workplaces. For example, teaching warning signs alone will not help in identifying at risk employees or students without observable acts of aggression. “Merely teaching warning signs without connecting behavior and patterns can lead to false positives” (Professor James Alan Fox, Professor, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University and author of Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool Through College).

Recent violent acts of aggression suggest a correlation between workplace violence and violence in America. If we accept the leap that workplaces reflect a microcosm of our society, it’s safe to reason that workplaces have a responsibility to introduce credible workplace violence prevention and violence response policies, procedures and training.  If management commitment believes in the effect of the disgruntled employee, the potential for the “workplace spillover into society” then is a reality. Can workplace management exercise more leadership in its responsibility to manage the potentially hostile workplace settings? The following are employee first hand accounts of just this.

If one believes the news accounts, law enforcement and employee reports, there appears to be a disgruntled employee involvement, and its “workplace spillover into Society” may be a new threat between the recent incidents at San Bernardino, CA and Orlando, Fla.

“In the San Bernardino Shooting incident, “Investigators believe there were three gunmen and one of them had worked at the facility and recently had a dispute with fellow employees, according to law enforcement officials.” (Michael Schmidt, New York Times, Details Emerge of a Deadly Plan)


“Farook… was a 28-year-old public health employee for San Bernardino County, where he had worked for the past five years. According to witnesses, he began to argue with another employee at the office holiday party. He then left the party and retrieved his wife, and both returned around 11 a.m. armed with assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns and dressed in black tactical gear.” (San Bernardino: Workplace Violence or Terrorism?, Stratfor Analysis, December 3, 2015)

The correlation between public violence and the angry/disgruntled employee threat may be an “ambiguous and present danger.” That being the case, I believe that workplace management has a leadership role in implementing and managing robust, agile and proactive workplace violence prevention and violence response policies and programs. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent incidents of workplace violence entirely. However, by implementing comprehensive procedures, educating employees on necessity of recognizing and reporting threatening, suspicious or otherwise troubling conduct, and taking other preventive measures puts an employer in a better position to recognize, confront and perhaps eliminate some of the risk of workplace violence.

“The recent tragic events at San Bernardino, CA and Orlando, FL serve as a reminder of the evidence that forthcoming violence may start in the workplace. In the case of the Orlando shooter, the subsequent investigation had revealed that the shooter made threatening and/or menacing statements at work about his ties to different terrorist organizations. He is also reported to have made statements of support, at work, for the violent and extreme actions of others, such as the Boston bombing perpetrators. Such reports question whether the employer even had a credible reporting policy in place.” (The Workplace Report with Ancel Glink, Workplace Violence – Time for Policy Review, Bob McCabe, Friday, June 17, 2016)

Proper training in aspects of workplace violence prevention teach employees how to best connect the dots between warning signs and aggression as potential indicators of things to come. Employers unintentionally diminish the value of workplace violence prevention by undertaking such training on limited budgets and/or with internal resources using expedient means, measures and time limitations. How does an organization train adults on workplace violence prevention in front of a computer without the benefit of an experienced facilitator to answer hypothetical questions and respond to concerns? Such approaches to training undermine employee confidence, as the training is seen as “checking the box”. Employers have an obligation to attach as much credibility to the importance of the training by not unconsciously sabotaging their own efforts.

Adequate training in active shooter/hostile intruder by an experienced workplace violence prevention consultant who understands organizational design, workplace dynamics and the human relations issues are better suited to correlate workplace violence prevention with the mindset of the active shooter/hostile intruder threat, as a part of the training and consulting process. Employees who are exposed to the 5 (five) stages or 5 (five) phases of the active shooter mindset can make better prevention decisions and draw prevention value from recognizing and reporting strange behavior. The workforce family that spends 1/2 of their 24 hour clock at work often are familiar with co-worker problems and violence prone displays which rear their ugly heads at work. Denial of the importance as a critical workplace safety concern undermines the investment and commitment. Such an unfortunate position reminds me of the old Lee Myles Transmission TV commercial: “Pay me now or pay me later.” The sad truth is that civil liability lawsuits will cost the firm much more that the meager financial investment in the training.

Because employees are a microcosm of our society, those who commit such crimes reflect our communities. Perpetrators exposed to at risk environmental factors such as difficult and domestic and family lives, financial burdens exacerbated by hardships, medical problems and other personal problems increase vulnerabilities and gaps in physical and personnel security. Prone to aggression these employees can become the aggressors, attractive pawns who blame others and likely victims who don’t report the victimization. In his book, “In Search of the Miraculous”,  Russian philosopher Peter Ouspensky lists four basic causes of negative emotions: (1) justification; (2) identification; (3) inward considering; and (4) blame. It is blame that especially generates anger. Ouspensky believes that the trigger of anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and frustration is blame.

Since the Orlando shooting massacre, the phrase, “If you see something say something” has been tossed around by law enforcement.” What better way for workplace management to recognize a leadership responsibility in helping employees recognize warning signs, acts of aggression before some of the signs mentioned above are manifested and overlooked and something like a shooting at work or a public placed tied to a workplace issue ever happens.

14 Responses

  1. Anthony Patillo says:

    Felix, I could not agree with you more. We sometimes don’t see the problem that is festering right under our nose. The workplace of today can be inhuman and lacks empathy. Not recognizing the cry for help or the need to be understood can prove to be fatal.

    • Felix says:

      Tony, thanks for taking the time to share your experienced perspective. I happen to agree with you as well. The behavior that contributes to disgruntled behavior generally starts in a workplace culture that fails to establish boundaries thereby creating a permissive environment where victims feel helpless and aggression runs rampant. Further contributing to this culture is the lack of a credible reporting system employees trust and have confidence in. Because employees spend 1/2 of their 24 hour clock between travel and work at their workplaces, they become familiar with the problem situations and employees first but are reluctant to report their observations for many reasons. Quality training is non-existent as management pursues expedient convenient training models designed to be “cost effective”. In short, they sabotage their own efforts by not training to their policies and plans. So until personnel, security and operational policies, plans, procedures are aligned workplaces will never achieve a common sense approach to workplace security and workplace violence prevention.

  2. “Workplace spillover into Society”

    Felix you have perfectly and succintly addressed this huge societal dilemma in a few words. Brilliantly stated.

    • Felix says:

      Kathleen, recent violent acts of aggression do suggest a correlation between workplace violence and violence in America. Accepting the leap it’s safe to reason that workplaces have a responsibility to introduce credible workplace violence prevention and violence response policies, procedures and training to help employees better understand their responsibilities and mitigate risks. News accounts, law enforcement and employee reports, corroborate my position that there appears to be disgruntled employee involvement in the recent shooting incidents that placed others at risk. Proper training and response can help mitigate risk at workplaces and public settings.

      • Felix says:

        Recent high profile shooting incidents clearly suggest that employee ownership of workplace violence prevention is a critical expectation. So, while proper training increases awareness and offers options, training alone is not the solution. Workplaces must have a senior management commitment and investment in workplace violence prevention that is clearly articulated throughout company policies, plans & procedures in the form of responsibility, accountability and consequences. Management sets the culture that’s fueled by management commitment, supported by strategy and effective training, training that helps bridge the communication gap and informs employees of their expectation and options.

        The perception of employee apathy is directly tied to employee perceptions and experiences Employees who witness misconduct, hear threats, or make observations but do not come forward, may not not come forward because it’s their perception of “us” against them for the following reasons.
        – no trust in management
        – dissatisfaction in management’s handling of the issues
        – no credible reporting system
        – no credibility in reporting
        – lack of swift intervention by management & HR
        – poor supervisory intervention
        – presumption of guilt/rush to discipline
        – no sense of problem/conflict resolution

        Before training can truly be the solution, it must go beyond warning signs and risk factors. There must be an alignment between policy, plans, procedures, security, training and people.

  3. William Losefsky says:

    Felix highlights the importance of proper workplace violence training that should be an important concept of all employers today.
    Be prepared is what Felix is identifying.

    • Felix says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and post a comment Bill. We all know that employees spend more time at work than they do at home between travel and time spent working. We also should know that workplaces are veritable lighting rods reflecting a microcosm of our society. Yet very little attention is spent on comprehensive workplace violence prevention strategies, tactics and training as outlined in the OSHA 4 Categories of Workplace Violence. Recent workplace shootings have sprouted the call for active shooter training as the solution when in fact it is the result of a failed prevention initiative. Active shooter content tends to be generic assuming the shooter shares a common motivation across workplace settings while in reality workplace shooters and educational shooter are motivated by specific related factors not seen in public/mass shooting not including San Bernardino, CA and Pulse Social Club, Orlando, FL that had a workplace/terrorism bent. Training the workplace must be specific in helping the workforce understand the value of prevention, hasty reporting and management monitoring and intervention. Trainers must be in a position to address workplace specific prevention measures and not just generic content dealing with warning signs and red flag. Workplaces can maximize their training investment and enhance their credibility by insuring workplace violence prevention consultants have requisite expertise and experiences in training and preparing the workplace for the WHEN rather than the IF it happens.

      • We know that never is a solution… These statistics are amazingly alarming. I’m taking a bit of a different approach with a Corporate Wellness Collaborative offering seminars and workshops. We’ll be glad to pass along your concerns when appropriate. See the link about this on

        • Felix says:

          I would be pleased to hang up my consulting shingle if HR and senior management would adopt your approach and training programs. My pragmatic holistic approach is a consulting philosophy that typically integrate your content into my deliverables in bringing about a cultural investment supported by the C-suite and management commitment. Your approach is not different but complimentary tied to your Corporate Wellness seminars and workshops. If HR & Sr mgrs would adopt your approach it would achieve my prevention intent of treating employees with dignity and respect from hiring to retiring. But the employee threat is only one risk category of 4 workplace violence categories. I would be happy to pass along your link

  4. Well stated, Felix. I hope this is read and acted on by HR across the US.

    • Felix says:

      Thank you Eileen. One who maintains that HR across the US should be more proactive rather than reactive, they hold the key to open the door of opportunity. Workplaces tend to apply band aids and theories rather than pragmatic applications. I try to understand their reasoning for not being more engaging in the implementation of an organizational strategy but I am lost for words. I hear from other HR Professionals that HR doesn’t want to create more work for themselves, they have enough work to do, they don’t have C-suite support or senior management commitment and there is no money for training. Yet, there are 2 million instances of WPV reported annually (DOJ) that number is much higher because many employees do not trust the workplace or the workplace does not have a creditable report system in place. Intimate partner violence is alarming (CDC) and I do not see any correlation between this issue and workplace violence prevention. Workplace bullying is out of control, far more prevalent at workplaces than at educational institutions (DOJ). Stalking is growing in workplaces. Workplaces have not listened to critical thinkers instead have adopted expedient, cost effective measures that almost invariably expose the organization to allegations of negligence. Workplaces are incubators for the hostile threat posed by the disgruntled employee and the disgruntled intimate partner who have access. Simply put management refuses to assess and evaluate their workplace violence prevention posture. They rather continue doing the same thing expecting different results.

  5. Stacey Porter says:

    Your article was very enlightening. I agree with everything you highlighted in the article. Companies have do a much better job training their employees and ensuring the training process is aligned with the policy and procedures.

    I’ve seen too many times from employees just “checking the box”, as you stated when it comes to training. It would be beneficial if companies had some sort Critical Response Team in place to assist their peers in the event of a crisis situation. Often times, you have personnel that are more comfortable expressing situations with their peers.

    Workplace violence has been on the rise and continues to have a huge impact on companies and our communities. Unfortunately, this is something that will not subside, but the better personnel are trained, the better companies will be prepared to combat workplace violence.

    Thanks again.

    • Felix says:

      Thank you for your time and input Stacey Porter, I appreciate your interest.

      One would have to convince me that those involved or assigned to workplace and school violence prevention understand how to manage it.

      I don’t accept zero tolerance is the solution as it’s seen as a disciplinary tool by employees.

      Supervisors could play a greater role but don’t because they do not understand their resources; including Alternatives to Discipline and use of Alternative Dispute Resolution process and receiving advice & counsel regarding personnel and regulations?

      Workplace violence prevention is a management initiative that gets relegated and delegated without oversight from the c-suite.

      I like your idea of deploying critical incident response teams. It would show a shared sense of responsibility and commitment.

      Perhaps your organization might find my thinking helpful. I can be reached at877-valu101.

What are your thoughts?