February 2014
Critical Response AssociatesVolume 14 Issue 1



Welcome to our belated "Happy New Year" newsletter. I know that we are a bit late on this - but being based in Atlanta, we can always just blame it on the snow. It has been an interesting winter, with less casework but with an increase in the delivery of training and prevention programs. I am very pleased to say that the heightened awareness in workplace violence has translated to a generally higher commitment to developing prevention programs. 


Which leads us to an introduction of our feature article, written by our newest associate, John Manelos. We are very pleased that John has decided to come out of retirement to join CRA as a Senior Associate. As the former VP of  Security and Crisis Management for BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, John is uniquely qualified to advise us and our clients on matters related to corporate security and program issues.


John and I have had numerous discussions recently on the importance of workplace violence prevention programs, and the relative difficulty that large organizations have in adopting a more proactive, as opposed to a reactive approach. I have asked him to write a brief article that summarizes some of our conversations and perspectives on the subject. For those of you that are having difficulty incorporating this kind of program in your workplace, John may be a helpful resource.


Hoping that you all are well, and are staying warm.


Marc McElhaney, Ph.D. 

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Recalibrating Workplace Violence

As a "Safety Issue"

One would think that it would be self-evident that the prevention of workplace violence is primarily a "safety" issue. And one would think that companies would in turn, address this issue within their usual safety programs and protocols. But this is not generally the case.


Why is that? And why does it matter?


Aggressive individuals in the workplace most often come to the attention of Human Resources or Corporate Security, as the result of "an incident". However, as most of you know, the reality is that our investigations reveal a history of ongoing, high-risk behaviors that have preceded the incident. The problem is that this kind of reactive approach will not work for the long run, and will ultimately be a costly alternative.


It has typically been left to Security and Human Resources to come up with preventive strategies - and the experts generally agree on what is needed: a workplace violence policy, reporting mechanisms, awareness programs for employees and management, incident management protocols, identification of threat assessment resources (i.e. behavioral experts), etc. The "Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention" Standard, recently developed by ASIS and SHRM (WVP1.1-2011) addresses this well.


Many of you have gone through this process and have developed effective workplace violence prevention programs for your company, but some of you still struggle to land this for your organization. Why? Generally, it's because you lack the necessary resources, but more importantly, this issue has yet to capture the attention and commitment from the very top (CEO, President).


To successfully "land" a workplace violence prevention program the approach needs to be top down, not the other way around. Corporate Security and Human Resources are sometimes considered cost centers, with limited budgets and personnel. To adopt and implement policy requires senior management approval. To fund prevention programs usually exceeds the budgets of HR and Security.


Members of senior leadership are like many others: they may associate workplace violence with those tragic incidents which are reported in the media. These are often viewed as "one-off " events, perpetrated by a "crazed", atypical individual - something that "probably won't happen here."


One of the things that we have learned over the years is that this is often not about the atypical, "crazed" employee. More often than not, this is about people who, due to a variety of circumstances in their life, have arrived at a point that they become at risk for engaging in aggressive behavior toward others. These may be individuals, for example, who are suicidal due to a series of recent losses in their lives. Further, these individuals have, at various times in their lives (and maybe for most of their lives) been considered quite "normal".


No organization is immune to these kind of human experiences. Developing a preventative strategy that aims to manage the consequences of these events through an early intervention process, should be considered as a core safety issue, and as a necessary cost of doing business.


None of that will occur unless it has the understanding, endorsement and commitment from the very top of your company. As Security and HR professionals, it is your job to make this risk known and understood by your leadership, and to provide recommendations to mitigate this risk.  


This is not easy, but this kind of leadership-supported program is critical for employee safety and for the company's viability - and it will cost far less than the price of a single incident.


John Manelos, CPP