Our other articles on workplace violence describe its nature and scope, our POSTAL formula and behavioral profile, and defusing techniques. Here we describe the warning signs and triggering events … and what to do when you detect them.
The POSTAL Formula for Workplace Violence Prevention:
Profile + Observable Warning Signs + Shotgun + Triggering Event(s) = Always Lethal
The Profile is most useful during the hiring process, to screen out potential perpetrators. For your existing workforce — and when dealing with outsiders — we turn to the…
Observable Warning Signs
These warning signs, which can be newly acquired negative traits, parallel and overlap the profile, but now we focus on current behavior. So, instead of a previous history of violence, our first warning sign is observed…
- Violent and Threatening Behavior
For Patrick Sherrill (the first postal worker to “go postal” in 1986), it was tying up neighborhood dogs with bailing wire and a strong fascination for weapons.
In general, this also includes:
- Destruction of property or threats of sabotage
- Disregard for the safety of others or violation of safety procedures
- Threats, intimidation, bullying, e.g., Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech and Harris and Klebold of Columbine (as both perpetrators and victims)
- Violence against a family member, e.g., Mark Barton murdered his wife and children just before his Atlanta day-trading massacre
- Stalking or harassing others. Cho was involved in at least three stalking incidents, the first occurring 18 months prior to his rampage. Also, he placed harassing phone calls to his roommate and took cell phone pictures of female students’ legs under their desks.
Patrick Sherrill’s neighbors noted his strange behavior in the neighborhood — mowing his lawn at midnight and peering into neighbor’s windows while wearing combat fatigues. His coworkers said he preferred his own company and described him as enigmatic. Cho was known as the question mark kid. He had an imaginary girlfriend who lived in outer space.
In general, strange behavior can include:
- Becoming reclusive, e.g., a sudden withdrawal from friends or acquaintances
- Poor personal hygiene or a deteriorating and unkempt appearance
- Inappropriate dress, e.g., Cho never took off his sunglasses, even indoors
- Bizarre or paranoid behavior
- Erratic behavior or an extreme change in behavior
For example, Patrick Sherrill was often angry and frequently depressed. A district court found Cho to be: “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.” Professors described him as insecure and depressed, as were the boys of Columbine. This also can include:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Appearing to be under unusual stress; signs of depression or despondence
- Inappropriate emotional display, e.g., screaming, explosive outbursts, rage, crying
Sherrill’s coworkers perceived him as a problem employee and a consistent non-performer. Virginia Tech declined to divulge details about Cho’s academic record, but Cho’s mother was increasingly concerned about his inattention to class work and his time spent out of the classroom. Performance problems also can include:
- Inability to concentrate … decreased energy