I have been teaching workplace violence prevention and active aggressor classes for many years. I continue to be asked questions related to these subjects and thought I would put some information together for those in our industry. We are beginning to see people slowly return to the workplace after the 2020 Covid hit so it is probably a good time to study people who come to work angry. Earlier today a friend informed me that over a year ago his boss told him that if the department improved production by $650,000 then everyone in the department would get a bonus. No one in the department was told what the actual bonus amount would be but everyone knew that a bonus would be forth coming if they all did their part. The year ended and production improved by $1.4 million. They are now months passed the year end. Nobody in the department has received a bonus and there has been no discussion of a bonus. My friend tells me that given COVID and other issues he would certainly understand if the company was unable to pay a bonus at all. He is mad because, “no one has come forward to talk about or even discuss the bonus situation and he is ticked”. A number of employees have already left the company, a few are actively looking for new jobs and he is in discussions with a couple of companies himself. “Bob” is mad and the solution is easy – acknowledge that he is mad, own the commitment that was made or simply have a discussion about why you either cannot or will not pay the bonus. This is just one example of a situation that continues to play itself out over and over again.
I receive phone calls from clients on a regular basis asking me to send one of our folks to the workplace. The call seems to come in on Friday around noon more so than any other time of the week. The person calling generally is the director of human resources or security and are asking me to send one of our protection specialists (a PPO with a gun) because the company is going to terminate someone. They want us there with a gun because they are afraid that Mad Bob, Mad Fred or Mad Suzy will go ballistic and shoot the place up. Let’s take a few minutes and look at what makes people mad, some of the psychological variables related to this issue and the important factors to evaluate related to the mad or potentially mad employee.
It is not unusual to be asked, “can you predict if this person or that person will be violent at work”? The question itself is dangerous. Overall I say no but there are certainly those situations when any one of us can look at the totality of the person and the situation and say yes you should have seen that terrible incident happen. Let’s begin with what is it that makes people mad? There are a number of studies and surveys that you can ascertain and review. I will attempt to simplify this by sharing my list based upon twenty-five years of loss prevention/asset protection experience. The number one element that I have seen is this: the employee does believe that they are being listened to. You (i.e. supervisor, manager, director, etc) are not listening. In talking with one person (an employee who worked there for 12 years) in a client’s workplace last year he told me the following: “our company remolded the parts operational floor where he worked”. He told me that he has not been consulted by the company and felt “insulted” by not being considered for input. He said he “had a better plan”. When the work was completed it resulted in the company being able to improve efficiency and eliminated the two temporary employees per shift that been in place for almost a year. He said he tried to give input but no one would listen. He was angry at not being heard. I spoke with the other workers in the department about the violent outrage and the remodel. The other employees shared with me that everyone had been given the chance to give input and they thought the company did a great job on the work. In fact, each employee received more work room and new tools do their job.
The next issue that I have seen play out multiple times is perceived unfairness. Mad Fred did not get the promotion, it went to Johnny because he and the boss are lunch buddies. Fred would tell you that he has better reviews and is a better worker and he may or may not be correct. The issue is not the unfairness – it is the perception of unfairness. Many times this comes back to lack of communication either on the promotion process or to the person who did not get the promotion not getting enough face time with the boss. The face time I mention is directly related to the discussion of why Fred did not get promoted and specifically on what he needed to do so he could be promoted next time. These are tough conversations but the right people in charge need to have them. The issue of unfairness builds in the minds of people that a wrong was be set right. The person taking the action to fix the wrong thinks they can feel a true sense of satisfaction – the two immediate questions are 1) how far will the person take their action and 2) can they control their actions?
There is also the issue of being mad at the boss, the structure or the system since all three of these elements tend to go together. I’ve seen these issues play out mostly around bonus pay or promotion but the issues tend to unfold over time and not at the time when the bonus or promotion did not take place. It would be that instead of promoting from within the company (the structure) has decided to hire from outside because they specifically want fresh ideas in certain positions. Some will interpret a decision like this as seniority does not mean anything with said company or it can be spun in other directions. Regardless of how this element is viewed the key here is to have constant communication with employees when change occurs. Letting employees know they are valued and important is critically important but keep in mind, the employee will judge the boss and the structure by the actions that are taken. When the actions taken, the words that are said and the company values are not consistent and followed you can count on having a problem. One example of this is something that I have seen a number of times over the past few years and one that I am seeing more and more. Bob is sales manager or account manager for Company “X”. At the beginning of last year Bob was given specific sales goals to achieve. Bob is now ten and a half months into the current year and has achieved 130% of his sales goals. Bob and his wife are expecting a full bonus pay out at the end of the year. AT the end of month 11 Bob is brought into his bosses office and informed that “the company” has changed the sales goals for the year. The company has decided that Bob must sale an additional 60% on top of the original goal in order to get a bonus pay out. Guess what? Bob is very angry! Bob feels cheated and believes that he was lied to. It is thought that the company never intended to pay the bonus. Add to all that Bob also thinks that his boss will max out on his bonus because of the sales that Bob and the other team members have made. Company “X” now has a major problem.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lists the following reasons for primary grievances (listed in order of strongest to least): Adverse interpersonal action against the person, adverse employment action against the person, general hatred of others, adverse governmental action against the person, adverse academic action against the person, adverse financial action against the person, domestic issues, hate crime and ideology/extremism. The list certainly high-lights placing blame on others for multiple issues while not accepting personal accountability of those very issues.
Remember, anger is a normal part of being a human. Being mad is not right or wrong, its what you do with your anger that makes right or wrong. My top three elements for people getting mad are1) not being listened to, 2) perceived unfairness and 3) the boss, structure or system. While there are many other elements and plenty of examples let’s take a look at some of the psychological variable related to this subject.
Can we predict violence? You will have to answer that. I would suggest that you can evaluate the data and determine the validity of a threat or possible action. The following three elements are the pieces that help in a critical evaluation. The first element is situational variable, the second personality variable and the third is the behavioral variable. These three pieces will allow you and your team to make a more objective decision related to the critical evaluation of your situation.
In the situational variable we want to look at the situation as we know it and as the employee perceived it – you are correct these two views may or may not even remotely resemble each other. What emotion is in play here? Is the person a grievance collector? Does he/she have a fixation on weapons or violence? Is the situation something that is easy to fix? A big misunderstanding? A promise made by manager that no longer works here? Did we listen to the employee? Were we fair? Did we put the screws to the employee? Evaluate the situation objectively. Yes, the employee really did throw things at other employees, or she did threaten the manager — evaluate and take the appropriate action. Do not make these evaluations in a vacuum.
In the personality variable we look at some factors that sometimes are hard to evaluate and be completely objective about. What is the persons personality telling us? Has the personality changed over time? If so, how long ago? Was there a stressor that we know about? Do we know if the person is using drugs or alcohol (legal or illegal drugs – and abuse of legal drugs)? Are there money issues (major bills, unpaid taxes, vehicle repossession, foreclosure, etc…)? Is he/she about to lose their job with you and they know it? Marital issues? All of these are major stressors – add them together and you may have a major problem brewing on your work doorstep. An objective example: if the person is going thru a divorce then you can count that alone being a major issue with possible significant financial ramifications. Add to that separation from the children, loss of current living situation and now you have the most significant of stressors on the person – now add the drug or alcohol issue, plus violence fixation? How is your evaluation looking?
The behavioral variable looks at a few other factors. What behavior are we seeing or hearing? Is the person being delusional? Paranoid? Is he/she experiencing erratic behavior? Are we seeing depression (remember, there is a difference between being depressed and clinical depression)? Emotional issues? Can we explain the current behavior (i.e. we know about the pending divorce, major car wreck etc…)? Have we offered assistance? When you put all three variable elements together we have a much better ability to assess a possible credible threat or critical action. This writer received a call from a human resources director that went something like the following. HR: “We are about to fire one of our IT employees. Can you send someone over with a gun to be here for the term? We are afraid that he will blow up and do bad things?” Rod: “Can you give some information on what is going on? And information on the employee?” Turns out the employee had made a direct threat to shoot his manager. In fact, he had actually grabbed the manager by his shirt and told the manager, “I’m gonna shoot you right here in front of the world”. The confrontation and the threat had occurred two weeks to the day before I received the call. I asked the HR Director why was there a two-week delay and she told me that she had just found out about the situation. Our team performed a quick background check and social media check on the employee. The employee who was 23 years old had recently passed over for advancement due to not meeting company goals. We found two recent driving under the influence arrests. We also found pictures of his gun collection on his Facebook page – we could count at least 23 weapons and an untold amount of ammunition. Of great importance was a Facebook post he had made the night before. The picture was of a suppression device for one of his handguns – he had ordered the device exactly two weeks before this and had received it the night before. The overall evaluation revealed that there was more than ample evidence to suggest an action plan. Yes, he was terminated that day but multiple steps were taken for the protection of all employees and the manager involved. Additionally, a very specific conversation and exit strategy was put together and followed. The employee is an active employee with a different company located someplace in North Texas.
Keep in mind (as you review this information), when looking at an active shooter post autopsy scene the U. S. Department of Justice reports that “active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors (an average of 3.6 stressors) in the year before they attacked”. Additionally the DOJ reports, “on average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter”.
Take a look at your current plans and make sure you have all the elements covered. There are certainly more things that can be discussed and more things to do but hopefully this information will help you should you have any issues.
Rod Fulenwider is the Vice President of D & L Protective Services located in Dallas Texas and is a board member of the International Supply Chain Protection Organization. D & L provides security, safety and asset protection services to clients worldwide. Their primary services are executive protection, workplace protection, investigations, surveillance and consulting. Rod speaks regularly on the subject of Active Aggressor Prevention as well as other security related topics. He is a 25 loss prevention/asset protection professional and executive. Rod can be reached at (214) 801-3472 or his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.