Americans may joke about "going postal," but the sad fact is that statistics show workplace violence is no laughing matter. Between 2004 and 2008, an average of 564 work-related homicides occurred each year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Most of these homicides were robbers, but roughly 68 a year are coworkers and former coworkers.
You can't guarantee someone doesn't bring a knife or gun into your clinic, but experts say there are things to watch for in potentially violent coworkers. In a recent story from the Society for Industrial and Organization Psychology, management expert Paul Harvey shared some warning signs that may help you avoid or respond quickly to a violent situation with a coworker or former coworker.
Watch for coworkers who respond to criticism or being fired by blaming others, Harvey says. These coworkers may not scream and yell, but they point the finger when it comes to work setbacks. They say they're being singled out, picked on, or unjustly punished.
Another contributor to workplace violence is the workplace itself, according to Harvey. Even the cliché, "going postal," which reminds us of a spate of Postal Service workplace violence years ago, may have have been a matter of workplace factors as much as employee factors. Workplaces at risk report working more with the public, having a mobile workplace, working with unstable or violent people, working in high crime areas, guarding valuable goods or property, and working in community-based settings, rather than typical private industry.
Management teams should work to reduce stress for the sake of all workers, but also as a safety mechanism to avoid workplace violence, Harvey says.
Harvey also counsels management teams not to let fear of workplace violence and overpreparation make them stressed or paranoid. Harvey says there is no "silver bullet" to perfectly protect against workplace violence, so be sensitive to employees, and make sure that, in the event of a robbery or coworker violence, everyone knows what the escape plan and response is.