Recent headlines regarding workplace violence, especially active-shooter incidents, are a sobering reminder of the randomness of violent acts and the fact that they can happen anywhere. But while raw statistics and painful images may garner a lot of well-deserved attention, it is short lived, with many in the corporate world confident in the idea that “it won’t happen here.” As security professionals, our job is to identify, evaluate and mitigate risk. Whether it is a veiled threat, an active shooter, or something in between, we know that no one is immune to violence in the workplace. So how do we leverage what appears, sadly, to be the new normal, and champion for a proactive mitigation strategy?
"Bridging the gap requires not only a commitment from your leadership, but a willingness to engage in candid and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with employees"
Perhaps the most striking takeaway from the raw statistics detailing violent workplace incidents is the importance of employee education and awareness. Fannie Mae, like many companies, has a workplace violence policy, and our Code of Conduct emphasizes our commitment to a workplace free of any acts or threats of violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening or disruptive behaviors. However, while a zero-tolerance policy is a great start it does not bridge the gap between well-intentioned policy makers and employees.
Bridging the gap requires not only a commitment from your leadership, but a willingness to engage in candid and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with employees. Yet that engagement must balance the benefit of raising awareness with the risk of creating an environment of counterproductive anxiety. The workplace is a microcosm – issues people may be having at home can find their way into the office. Though typically not violent manifestations, they can reveal themselves in problematic ways – perhaps an argumentative co-worker, an indirect threat, a thrown stapler or worse. Studies of workplace violence consistently reveal stages of escalation, which managers and co-workers tend to ignore or tolerate. The question becomes: Do your employers know how to report a concern and do they have confidence it will be addressed? This leads to the next question: Do you have a trained team in place equipped to handle these types of incidents? This is where taking a proactive approach is key to employee safety.
At Fannie Mae, the security team engaged partners in HR, employment law and compliance to advance the goal of retaining a crisis consultant and formalizing a threat assessment team. This partnership was a force multiplier, providing visibility and support across the enterprise. Threat assessments, with real-time support from our consultant, are now addressed by a team with representation from each of these disciplines. We have also used this as a platform to educate our employees by way of internal blog postings, panel discussions, and site-specific safety and security training. From a value proposition angle, we have seen an increase in reporting of problematic behaviors. This is welcome news as it demonstrates employee awareness, confidence, and empowerment.
Workplace violence is an unfortunate reality and the results can be devastating. A critical component of safety in the workplace is employee awareness and engagement, coupled with a formal process to proactively address concerning behaviors. Encouraging a culture of transparency, honest dialogue, and security awareness is a mitigation strategy with inherent value. It promotes trust and fosters a safe and secure workplace. It also positions us to address issues before they escalate.