DHHS Workplace Violence Training
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Warning Signs

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An Employee Who is On the Edge!

You may have seen the following video that has been floating around the Internet for a few years. It certainly shows how one employee might have demonstrated some pretty clear "warning signs" that his temper has gotten out of control!

Video Tips: The video above may have played automatically. If so and you want to replay it, click on the "refresh" button at the top of your screen. If you see a still picture in the window above, click on the forward arrow to play the video. If that doesn't work or you see nothing above, try clicking on one of the "Bad Day" links below.

Bad Day Download Site
Scroll down the page and click on one of the links under "Via HTTP".

If none of these videos work on your computer for some reason, go to a video summary for a description.

It seems pretty comical, but if you were the guy sitting next to this out-of-control employee, you probably wouldn't have thought it was too funny! In reality, this was not a "hidden camera" true incident, but rather a staged one. It's a good illustration, though, of a clear warning sign that an employee is in a violent mood and should be reported to management as a precaution (not to mention the destroyed office equipment.)

What are some warning signs to watch out for?

angry man

As you'll see in the statistics section, 25% of incidences of workplace violence involve current or former employees. Sometimes, these employees show some "warning signs" of trouble before they commit acts of violence. Sometimes there are no warning signs and co-workers say that they were completely surprised when violence erupts. Of course, it may be that these surprised coworkers may not have been "tuned in" to notice some more subtle signs of trouble.

So, we'll give you some signs to watch out for. And as you'll learn later in this section, it's good to watch out for certain negative working conditions that can also make workplaces more prone to acts of violence.

You might not see sudden, dramatic changes in employees' behavior that are hard to ignore. As a matter of fact, changes my be more gradual and harder to recognize. The following signs may be indicators that the employee could become violent. They can also be indicators that the employee needs counseling or other help without leading to violence.

Either way, if you notice some of these changes in a co-worker, talk to your supervisor about what you have noticed. Your supervisor is receiving further training on what to do and where to get help if a situation arises.

green light Level One -- The Green Zone
May still be okay, but pay attention
  • Refuses to cooperate with immediate supervisor
  • Spreads rumors and gossip to harm others
  • Argues with co-workers frequently
  • Is short-tempered with clients or customers
  • Yelling on the phone or behind closed doors
  • Shows signs of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Speech is full of swear words
  • Makes unwanted and inappropriate sexual comments
  • Negative changes in behavior, performance, appearance, attendance
  • Difficulty coping with major life change such as: fired, layed off, passed over for promotion, poor performance review, reorganization or uncertain job security, personal court or bank actions (foreclosure, restraining order, custody hearing, etc.), failed romance or marriage, death in family.
yellow light Level Two -- The Yellow Zone
May be in trouble, pay close attention
  • Argues increasingly with customers, vendors, co-workers, management, and clients
  • Stops obeying basic company policies and rules
  • Sabotages equipment or steals state property for revenge
  • Vague threats or references to a plan to "end all of the problems"
  • Talks about wanting to hurt co-workers or management
  • Talks about publicized incidences of workplace violence
  • Sees themselves as victims of management (me against them) and blames them for all problems
  • Shows a new or increased fascination with weapons
red lightLevel Three -- The Red Zone
Immediate referral to management and/or call police/security in extreme situations
  • Repeated threats of suicide
  • Repeated threats to harm or humiliate co-workers or managers
  • Repeated fist fights, shoving, destruction of property
  • Shows weapons or refers to having them close at hand
  • Talks openly about wanting to hurt co-workers or management
watch out

What are some warning signs for organizations?

Studies have also shown that workplace violence often occurs in "unhealthy" organizations. Fortunately, we can do something about this problem!

We'll describe some of the warning signs that make organizations more prone to unhappy employees and possible acts of violence. Then, in the prevention section, you'll learn more about what you can do to make your organization a healthier one if necessary.

top down organization Unhealthy Organizations
If your workplace has problems like the following, be sure to pay particular attention to the "Prevention" section of the library to see how you can help improve your work environment.
  • Human issues and employee morale seem to be ignored even though management may say that they care about employees.
  • Supervisors spend most of their time reacting to crises rather than planning for smooth operations.
  • Too quick to fire employees rather than trying to help them correct problems to succeed.
  • Poor communication -- line staff never know what to expect or why major decisions are made (feel isolated and ignored).
  • One-way communication (top down) -- line staff not comfortable expressing their concerns since upward communication is ignored or not encouraged.
  • Top management never takes the blame for crises -- always placing blame on subordinates.
  • Difficult employees are ignored or transferred rather than dealt with.
  • Hiring supervisors are not encouraged to conduct background checks or verify prior work performance or behavioral problems.
  • Acts of violence, threats, name-calling are ignored.
  • Treating employees who are laid off or fired without dignity or compassion.
  • There are more supervisors and managers with an unfair and authoritarian management style than those with a fair, respectful, "teamwork" management style.

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