Are We Setting Our Employees Up to Fail… or Worse?

Hiring the right people and supporting them might deter some incidents of workplace violence.

Before I begin, let me make one thing very clear: there is absolutely no justification for workplace violence. No matter how awful someone at work behaves, it is not an excuse for the victim to reciprocate by being passive aggressive or threatening, or beating up or shooting his or her “aggressor.” 

Also, not every violent incident that occurs on the job can be avoided. There are many personal and professional factors that combine to predispose a person to acting out. When an incident occurs, it is important not to blame the victim.

Still, management at any organization must take a close look at how we are selecting our employees. Are we putting the right individuals into the right positions, or are we setting them up to fail by assigning them duties they can’t possibly handle? Also, could our own behavior be perceived as disrespectful in some way and push someone who is already unstable (in part because that person is failing miserably at a job he or she shouldn’t have in the first place) over the edge? 

I’m covering this topic because I recently reviewed the police report of a fatal workplace shooting. Interviews of witnesses indicate: 

  • The gunman (employee) was not qualified for his assignment. In previous jobs, he had received good job performance reviews, but in this assignment, he was underperforming.
  • The gunman and his immediate supervisor — who was the murder victim in this incident — did not get along, and most of the employees believe that the gunman was not being treated fairly by management (he was going to be fired)
  • The gunman’s immediate supervisor lacked good communication and interpersonal skills 

Although the employee/attacker in this case had no right to commit murder, considering his work history, I can see how if any of these factors had changed, this situation might have turned out differently.

CS readers are constantly telling me how important it is to hire the right people with the right personalities and qualifications for the job. Recruit the appropriate person and foster an environment that is respectful and supportive, and he or she will thrive.

I also hear complaints from you about being forced to promote individuals beyond their capabilities or hire someone who isn’t qualified. This can result in resentment by other employees as well as defensiveness by the new hires who usually know they can’t handle their responsibilities. 

With the case I just described, both the gunman and his supervisor appear to have been in jobs that did not suit them, and their workplace environment exacerbated the problem.

These factors don’t explain everything with this case or other incidents, and the individuals who act out must bear a significant portion of responsibility for their behavior. That said, if we as employers don’t see how we can contribute to the problem, we are certain to put our organizations at greater risk for incidents of workplace violence.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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