November 14, 2009
Protecting your office against workplace violence
If you've been following the headlines lately, you might think that workplace shootings are the rule rather than the exception. But according to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, nothing could be further from the truth.
"A much more common cause of death is robbery, which causes approximately 1,000 deaths from violence in the workplace each year," write Institute founders and workplace violence experts Steve Kaufer and Jurg Mattman.
But since many of us still have gun-wielding colleagues fresh in our minds, I thought it would be helpful to mention some signs that a coworker may be unstable -- and what to do about it. For tips, I spoke with employment attorney Steve Stimell of law firm Bryan Cave LLP, who counsels organizations on implementing workplace violence policies. Here's what he suggests:
Pay attention to severe changes in behavior. "Warning signs are some of the same things that you might see with any member of society: becoming very argumentative or uncooperative, having emotional outbursts, starting to blame others for things, looking distraught," Stimell says. Likewise, if a formerly sociable colleague takes to hiding in his or her office with the lights down, shades drawn, and the phone turned off for two weeks without explanation, that could be a sign something's wrong. Ditto for the coworker who starts showing up to work drunk or high.
Take advantage of employer support systems. "A lot of companies have an employee assistance hotline that you can call any time of day or night if you need help or have concerns about a coworker," Stimell says. If not, and if you can't find anything in your employee handbook about what to do if you're concerned about a coworker's severe behavior changes, don't keep it to yourself. "You're always better off reporting it to HR or a manager or supervisor so they can deal with the situation," Stimell says.
Of course, many incidents of workplace violence occur without warning, despite the background checks employers conduct at the hiring stage and the security systems they have in place. And some office shootings are the result of domestic violence or stalking situations, not internal employees.
Besides, just because a coworker is depressed or has fallen on seriously tough financial times doesn't mean he or she will show up at the office with a pistol in hand. Still, it's helpful to be aware of the workplace resources at your disposal should you need some advice or help.
Readers, do you know what services your employer has in place for mental health and workplace violence concerns?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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