When word of a workplace shooting comes on the news, it brings terror to us all. The reasons why are obvious, of course. At that moment, we realize that this kind of violence can happen to anyone in any office across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shootings account for 80% of all office homicides and 12% of those were committed by co-workers and former employees. Though, as random as these cases seem, experts say there are clear warning signs building up to such a rampage. To help you better understand the dangers, The Stir has enlisted the help of Robert Sollars, a 23-year workplace violence expert and consultant, and noted forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman to break down how to identify a possible shooter.
Who is the typical workplace shooter?
The average profile of a perpetrator of workplace violence states that the most likely age group is between 25 and 44 years of age.
Are there certain emotional cues a potential workplace shooter typically displays?
"They may exhibit a variety of behaviors, all reflecting their inner turbulence - like a pot ready to boil over," says Dr. Lieberman. "Some may become argumentative, aggressive, or bullies. Others may try to intimidate by talking about their gun collection or how tough they are. Still others may become quiet, withdrawn, preoccupied, depressed and sullen."
What about specific behaviors that could become worse over time?
Among the telltale signs, details Sollars, are:
- Attendance Problems
- Concentration Problems
- Continual Excuses
- Cruelty to Animals
- New Fascination With Weapons
- Free Expression
- Impact on Supervisory Time
- Inconsistent Work Habits/Decreased Productivity
- Obsession With Police/Military Tactics
- New Religious Fervor/Political Affiliation
- Poor Health & Hygiene,
- Poor Relationship Skills
- Safety Issues Serious Stress
- Unshakable Depression
- Unusual or Changed Behavior
- Obsession With Violent Music, Movies and Video Games
Those are a lot of red flags. Is there a certain combo that is especially worrisome?
"If someone exhibits 2 or 3, the chances are they won’t do anything," says Sollars. "But the more they do exhibit then it may be time to worry. Not saying that they shouldn’t be reported, but you get the idea." Essentially, you have to make a judgement call.
Do these shooters typically have a certain kind of childhood?
Many shooters will have had a precarious childhood during which they felt helpless or experienced abuse, say the experts. In some instances, violent behavior is learned at a young age and then triggered by an event later in life. Most of these people are well into adulthood, which means the stress or pressures of ‘real life’ start to get to them in one way or another.
What sparks this kind of rampage?
Feeling constantly mistreated, undermined, or bullied are potential triggers, but "there are many things that can and do set off these people," explains Sollars, author of One is too Many: Recognizing & Preventing Workplace Violence. "No one just snaps. It's usually a slow build up, like a pressure cooker." However, he notes a shooting can be a violent reaction to something that occurs on the way to work or right after they get there. Nevertheless, the anger and resentment would have been simmering for quite some time before them.
Outside the office do potential workplace shooters act a certain way?
"Potential workplace shooters feel powerless in general," says Dr. Lieberman. "When they resort to bringing a gun to work, it is their ultimate way of trying to prove to the world that they are powerful, after all. A gun is a phallic symbol. Men who use guns to kill unconsciously feel like they are 'small' men, so they use a gun to feel 'big.'"
They may also be dealing with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, or depression. Those signs may manifest at home long before co-workers notice them. "You can hide many things under a smile and a cheerful attitude," adds Sollars.
What should someone do if they suspect a coworker is a danger?
The general rule should always be, if you see something, say something. "Tell your supervisor, the director of human relations, or the boss why you suspect your co-worker is a danger," informs Dr. Lieberman. "If you are afraid that your co-worker will retaliate against you, then do it anonymously. You can type out your concern and put it in a sealed envelope on the desk of the person you're reporting to. And if nothing is being done soon enough, consider reporting, anonymously, to the local police."
Have you ever been concerned about a co-worker?
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