Reflection in the Wake of Tragedy

WorkplaceViolenceThe deplorable acts of violence by a disgruntled gunman last week in Virginia really rattled my cage.

I was actually in Virginia for a training class, watching the local news in my hotel room that morning. I left about 15 minutes prior to the on-air incident, so I was as shocked as anyone when I heard what happened.

Rightfully so, the story got national (and international) attention. Over the past week we’ve continued to hear stories about the gunman’s troubled past, especially as it relates to some of his aggressive, confrontational, and accusatory behaviors. He obviously made a lot of his former coworkers uncomfortable and even frightened. In hindsight, of course, we can clearly understand why those fears were warranted and valid.

It does no good to Monday morning quarterback the security procedures that “could have” prevented the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. The reality is that news reporters rarely have any security protection unless the situation at-hand or location is already dangerous by nature (i.e., a war zone). The story Parker and Ward were covering didn’t rise to that level, so unless news stations are going to start sending armed escorts along with every field reporter, this incident will likely remain very isolated and uncharacteristic of the industry.

Let’s hope that’s the case.

Even so, it is certainly critical to take a look at what steps can be taken to minimize risk of violence in the workplace. Nearly all of the gunman’s former colleagues from a variety of news agencies recall aggressive or threatening behaviors directed at camera operators, producers, and other reporters. Aside from terminating an employee who exhibits these behaviors, what else can be done to deter the threat posed by someone like this? I contend that although no employer can realistically “force” an employee to take anger management classes or seek behavioral treatment, companies can take steps to create a zero-tolerance environment when it comes to aggressive or threatening behaviors in the workplace. – the kinds of behaviors that can mount into a bigger problem without intervention. These steps can be covert or overt depending on the environment, but consider the following ideas and think about how your sense of personal security might be affected stepping into these environments as an employee:

 

  • There is a professional security officer visible on-site at random intervals and present in all termination/discipline meetings.
  • The company hires a consultant to conduct a threat assessment on the physical work site. Employees are interviewed about potential risks and follow-up actions are taken by the company to prove its investment in employee safety.
  • There is an anonymous reporting mechanism for employees to submit concerns about observed behaviors, conversations, etc. that may impact workplace safety.
  • There is a known security response plan and crisis team that has tools available to defend against non-lethal threats in the workplace.
  • There is a workplace-wide monthly or quarterly security drill featuring live scenarios based on documented or past situations.

I know some naysayers will claim that steps like those I listed above are just “feel good” ideas, but we know that having security plans/procedures in place is better than nothing. It’s up to company leaders to make sure their plan is followed and practiced so that incidents of violence in the workplace can be mitigated or deterred.As I said at the onset, nothing would have realistically stopped the ambush Parker and Ward faced last week. They were innocent victims who lost their lives to a highly-motivated, aggressive killer. If we learn nothing else from their deaths, let’s at least start talking about what we can do to deter or redirect anger and aggression in the workplace so those feelings don’t boil over to the level of murderous behavior.

You can’t take that action back.

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