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Most violent incidents at work take the employer by surprise, but they don’t have to. Forensic psychiatrists at the Isaac Ray Center for Forensic Psychiatry at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago say there are several warning signs that an employee might exhibit violent behavior. They offer these precautions:
1. An employee with a fascination for guns is more likely to commit a violent act in the workplace. But psychiatrists differentiate between gun ownership, or collecting, and an obsession with guns. The gun fanatic feels empowered by having or owning a gun.
2. An employee with a substance-abuse problem is more likely to commit a violent act than someone who does not have an alcohol or drug-abuse problem.
3. Be aware of severe stress in any employee. Stress does not cause violence, but it does create an environment in which it is more likely to occur.
4. An employee with a violent history is more likely to commit a violent act in the future.
5. A severe change in an employee’s personality, for example, is a warning sign to be aware of. A quiet worker who becomes argumentative, or vice versa, is another warning sign.
6. A significant decrease in an employee’s productivity may be a tip-off to watch out for.
7. An employee who is isolated socially or has poor peer relations could be a candidate for potential problems.
8. An employee with a significant change for the worse in his or her personal hygiene can indicate a problem. Look for signs such as the employee who used to be neat who now comes to work unshaven or wearing the same clothes as the day before.
9. Severe changes in psychological functioning. For instance, a man who works in the mailroom who hears voices only he can hear or the staff member who begins to see his fellow employees as part of a conspiracy to harm him.