Workplace Violence Warning Signs

Employee Assistance Program representative on phone making referrals for employees

Every year, more and more people report violence in the workplace.

In fact, 17% of workplace deaths were the result of violence in 2016.

Sadly, it’s estimated that 25 percent of all workplace violence goes unreported.

While stress and anxiety are clear front-runners to the causes of workplace violence, it’s still unclear as to what exactly causes this phenomenon.

So, when does a workplace become dangerous? Here are five warning signs you should watch for at your place of business.

1. Direct/Indirect Threats

One in four full-time workers has been harassed, threatened or attacked. In fact, co-workers accounted for most of the harassment, followed by customers.

An employee may express outrage and blame against others through direct or indirect threats. They use direct intimidation, verbal and written threats to create fear, stress and anxiety in their targets, for example:

  • Statements like “Someone is going to pay for this” or “He better watch his back” are indirect threats that could lead to workplace violence.
  • Making statements like “If I had a gun right now I’d blow him away,” or “I’m going to mess you up so bad you won’t know what hit you” are considered direct threats.
  • Direct threats can also be nonverbal, such as the display of a weapon during or after an argument.

If you have a gut feeling about a person who may become violent, don’t ignore it. You should contact your supervisor immediately to report your suspicions.

2. Unmanaged Anger/Stress

Individuals who do not have anger management or conflict resolution skills can be a danger in the workplace. This type of person may be emotional and impulsive, leading them to act out towards others or themselves. These individuals may act in the following manner:

  • Being loud and acting unusually agitated
  • Indicating they have “no options”
  • Damage property, such as throwing objects or pounding a table with their fist
  • Refuses to follow policies and procedures in a volatile fashion


3. Paranoia

Paranoia causes people to feel as if others are conspiring against them.

Similarly, people who are delusional may believe outlandish conspiracy theories, make wild statements and view the accidents and mistakes of others as intentional and directed toward them.

A paranoid or delusional individual and an inability to cope with stress could become violent at work. This is especially true if the person feels unappreciated or feels as if they have no control over their workplace life.

4. Emotional Abuse

Verbal or physical abuse in the workplace can cause workplace danger. Bullying, threats or disrespect can cause people to become fed up.

Unfortunately, this type of workplace can be very toxic to employees and can occur between co-workers, the management or even with customers.

5. Unprepared For Crisis

Effective managers understand that crisis preparedness is a leadership responsibility. These managers give crisis management just as much attention as any other management function. However, all too often employers are not prepared to effectively respond to a critical incident in the workplace.

Here are some signs a workplace is not prepared for a crisis:

  • Lack of crisis response plan
  • Failure to perform a risk management assessment
  • Failure to act on warning signs
  • Indifference to employee needs
  • Poor management of employee terminations or downsizings
  • Poor communication between labor and management
  • Withholding critical information about situations

Centerstone can provide help to local, state and national businesses and organizations plan for and respond to workplace crises. Learn more on our business and industry page.

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