Feeling safe at work has taken on a whole new meaning over the past two years. The boundaries have expanded far beyond the badge swipe and have delved into the territory of hybrid work, health screenings and protocols, and an overall feeling of heightened tension due to pandemic stress, political uncertainties, and civil unrest.

These challenges have forced security and human resources (HR) professionals to work harder — and often with fewer resources — to maintain a safe workplace, including considerations of safety for remote employees. Over the past year, HR and security professionals have faced sizable increases in the volume of concerns and threats from inside and outside the organization, while also navigating levels of employee anxiety that are higher than typically seen. 

There are also organizational silos that can make the job of workplace safety harder than it needs to be. When troubling employee behavior is reported to corporate security, HR professionals may have information that could explain the troubling behavior. However, if corporate security and HR aren’t collaborating on workplace safety efforts, that information may never make its way to corporate security, who may respond knowing only part of the story.

But there is good news for organizations of all sizes: it is possible to minimize the risk of violence in the workplace if you have the right process in place to handle threats and troubling behavior. That process is known as behavioral threat assessment – or just “threat management” for short. It has been used for decades to prevent violence in workplaces, schools, and even against public figures. 

There are several resources available from the American Society for Industrial Security, Society for Human Resource Management, and the FBI that can help workplaces build threat management teams and violence prevention programs. Here are some highlights of what those resources recommend:

  • Work as one unit. One of the most important things that workplaces can do to minimize the risk of violence is to find ways to share information across the departments that are often notified about troubling behavior: Human Resources, Security, Legal, Employee Assistance Program, Labor Relations, etc. In fact, a component of best practices in workplace violence prevention is that organizations should create a formal multi-disciplinary team that is responsible for working together to handle threatening behavior. It can even start with a cup of coffee. Email your counterparts in these departments and suggest getting together for coffee to discuss their thoughts on forming a team to collaborate on workplace safety.
  • Get training on threat assessment. The team or group that will be responsible for handling threatening behavior needs to know what to do when a threat comes in. Specifically, the team needs high-quality training on threat assessment & threat management procedures. Make sure the training is provided by threat assessment professionals, with substantial experience in working threat investigations directly. While there are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes “substantial experience,” we typically look for professionals who have at least ten years of experience working cases directly.
  • Encourage all employees to report threatening behavior. Research on workplace violence shows that co-workers often had significant concerns about the perpetrators prior to the violence or even heard about their violent plans beforehand. Therefore, it is important to encourage all employees to notify HR and corporate security if they become concerned about their own safety or the safety of others in the workplace. Early notification allows the team to look into the matter and figure out how to de-escalate the situation and get help to the employee of concern.

While there is plenty pushing against the goal of a safe workplace, it’s important to remember what’s in our control. Threat assessment/management helps identify persons of interest and gather information to assess and manage the person and situation over time. 

How do you actually create a threat assessment program for your organization? Follow the steps in our checklist, Building a Workplace Threat Assessment Program, to help you get started.

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