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8 warning signs of volatile employee behavior

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in Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

When workplace violence occurs, employees may say their violent co-worker “just snapped.”

But, the truth is, people usually don’t snap.

They display warning signs long before they actually act out. The key is to talk to employees early in this “pre-violence” stage to offer assistance and/or let them know their behaviors are unacceptable. Too many HR pros and supervisors let things like threats and argumentative behavior slide until it’s too late.

“A lot of people think violence hasn’t occurred unless someone is bleeding, and that’s not true,” says Dennis Davis, author of Threats Pending, Fuses Burning: Managing Workplace Violence and director of client training for the Ogletree Deakins employment law firm.

His advice: Don’t put off confronting potentially violent workers because you fear triggering a dangerous episode or that you will put yourself in danger. Davis urges employers to be on the lookout for workers who display any of these eight warning signs of violent behavior:

1. Fascination with weapons. That’s different than ownership of weapons. (Think Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle character in “Taxi Driver.”)

2. Substance abuse. Research shows a big correlation between substance abuse and violence.

3. Severe stress. Stress is a function of modern society, but people with a propensity toward violence allow that stress to become an excuse for violence.

4. Violent history. “Once people cross that moral, ethical or professional barrier into violence,” Davis says, “it’s a lot easier for them to do it the next time.”

5. Decreased or inconsistent productivity. Employees with a tendency toward violence have a harder time keeping a consistent level of productivity.

6. Isolation, poor peer relationships. Loners are more likely to act violently because they don’t have a social network to work out problems.

7. Poor personal hygiene. These people have moved into the dangerous “I don’t care” phase.

8. Drastic changes in personality. It’s a myth that you need to watch out for ultra-shy or ultra-outgoing employees. Davis says, “You need to pay attention to the person who flip-flops between the two.”

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