Workplace Violence: 36 Warning Signs to Watch for

Would you know the signs of potential violence in your workplace? Don’t go guessing or get caught off-guard. In the first of this two-part series, become familiar with these 36 warning signs to look for to keep your company and team safe, and then join us next month as we provide specific next steps.

It’s never an easy subject, but every business, no matter how large or small, can experience workplace violence. Even the smallest businesses need to allocate the appropriate resources toward workplace security and must take the proper precautions to keep everyone safe.

In the first of this two-part series we will help employers identify signs of potential workplace violence. Next month we will dive deeper into steps you need to take if there’s reason to believe a violent situation could happen in your workplace.

Warning signs and signals

As a business owner, it is crucial that you know and can recognize the warning signs of potential workplace violence. While it can be very difficult to know when a person is going to be violent, and not all people will show the exact signs we discuss here, workplace violence can often be prevented by understanding the behaviors that may result in physical injury or even death. While every situation is unique, there are some warning signs that are generally exhibited by individuals in need of assistance.

•          RELATED: How much do you know about firearms in the workplace?

It is important to note that just because someone exhibits one or more of these behaviors, it does not necessarily mean they are going to become violent. However, you should always be aware of sudden behavior changes.

When it comes to workplace violence, there are many general warning signs.

Warning sign No. 1

Crying, sulking, throwing temper tantrums, or being unable to handle criticism.

Warning sign No. 2

Exhibiting excessive absenteeism or lateness.

Warning sign No. 3

Pushing the limits of acceptable conduct, or disregarding the health and safety of others.

Warning sign No. 4

Showing disrespect for authority or testing the limits of behaviors.

Warning sign No. 5

Increasingly making mistakes and errors, producing unsatisfactory work quality, making poor decisions or refusing to acknowledge job performance problems.

Warning sign No. 6

Swearing or making inappropriate or emotional statements.

Warning sign No. 7

Being forgetful, confused, distracted or unable to focus.

Warning sign No. 8

Blaming others for mistakes, complaining of unfair personal treatment, or insisting that he or she is always right.

Warning sign No. 9

Misinterpreting communication from supervisors or co-workers.

Warning sign No. 10

Being socially isolated.

Warning sign No. 11

Having poor personal hygiene, complaining of unusual and/or non-specific illnesses.

Warning sign No. 12

Holding grudges or making threats, especially against his or her supervisor.

•          RELATED: Here are nine things you should include in your emergency action plan.

There are also some specific physical signs that you should be aware of.

Warning sign No. 13

Flushed or pale face, sweating, pacing, restlessness, or repetitive movements.

Warning sign No. 14

Signs of extreme fatigue.

Warning sign No. 15

Trembling, shaking, clenched jaws or fists, exaggerated or violent gestures.

Warning sign No. 16

Changes in voice, loud talking or chanting.

Warning sign No. 17

Shallow, rapid breathing.

Warning sign No. 18

Scowling, sneering or use of abusive language.

Warning sign No. 19

Glaring or avoiding eye contact.

Warning sign No. 20

Violating someone’s personal space (getting too close).

•          RELATED: Read more from Tim Dimoff on keeping your company safe and other HR topics.

And lastly, be aware of anyone who shows these traits.

Warning sign No. 21

Has a history of, or is enthralled with, episodes of workplace violence.

Warning sign No. 22

Shows an extreme interest in or an obsession with weapons.

Warning sign No. 23

Has demonstrated violent, intimidating or threatening behavior toward a person or objects.

Warning sign No. 24

States intentions to hurt someone (verbal or written).

Warning sign No. 25

Holds grudges or exhibits excessive behavior (repeated phone calls, stalking, gift giving).

Warning sign No. 26

Is argumentative and uncooperative, displays unwarranted anger, is impulsive or easily frustrated, or appears to be unusually stressed.

Warning sign No. 27

Challenges peers and authority figures.

Warning sign No. 28

Has an unreciprocated romantic obsession.

Warning sign No. 29

Is experiencing stressful family or financial problems.

Warning sign No. 30

Displays negative personality characteristics, is suspicious of others, feels victimized or has a difficult time with criticism.

Warning sign No. 31

Displays a sense of entitlement.

Warning sign No. 32

Shows a lack of concern for the safety or well-being of others.

Warning sign No. 33

Is socially isolated or blames others for his or her problems or mistakes, appears depressed or exhibits a sense of hopelessness or heightened anxiety.

Warning sign No. 34

Shows low self-esteem, changes in mood or extreme behavior and/or irrational beliefs and ideas, or demonstrates a sudden or a drastic change in his or her belief systems.

Warning sign No. 35

Sees the company as their "family" or displays an obsessive involvement with his or her job; and

Warning sign No. 36

Abuses drugs or alcohol.

Even as a small business, it is important to have a workplace violence prevention policy and program that takes a comprehensive approach to identifying hazards and reducing the risks for your organization. Remember, employers have a legal obligation to provide employees with a safe workplace.

Be sure to check out the second of this two-part series next month as we discuss specific action steps you should take if you do suspect an employee exhibits any of these signs toward physical violence.

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at

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  • Next up: Workplace Violence: 5 Ways to Protect Your Business
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  • Workplace Violence: 5 Ways to Protect Your Business

    Around the country, aggressive behavior has become the norm. Even in Northeast Ohio, there are an average of three or four threats of violence each month. It’s more important than ever that small businesses take steps to protect staff, according to Timothy A. Dimoff of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc, who spoke during a recent meeting of COSE’s Safety Council

    Around the country, aggressive behavior has become the norm. Even in Northeast Ohio, there are an average of three or four threats of violence each month. It’s more important than ever that small businesses take steps to protect staff, according to Timothy A. Dimoff of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc, who spoke during a recent meeting of COSE’s Safety Council.

    Dimoff, a member of COSE’s Expert Network, identified five ways small business owners can begin enhancing their own workplace security in 2017. 

    1. Human Intelligence. It all begins with hiring the right people, which can filter out potential problems. Thorough pre-employment background checks can single out job candidates who might not be a good fit for your organization.

    2. Written policies. If it’s important, write it down. That thinking also applies to establishing policies on how the company deals with workplace violence, bullying, etc. These formal policies set the tone that the company will not tolerate any violence whatsoever.

    3. Building check-up. A total physical security analysis and vulnerability assessment is huge. This means physically securing both the inside and outside of your building and eliminating any weak links.

    4. Employee training. Put your staff through training programs that will teach them how to recognize and prevent an active shooter situation and how to respond if one does occur.

    5. Plan ahead. Keep workplace violence prevention as a front-burner topic at your place of business. Don’t fall into the mindset of, “It can’t happen here.” It very well could and you need to be prepared.

    Learn more about COSE’s Workers’ Compensation Program or contact the Workers’ Comp team via email at or via phone at 216-452-0100.

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  • Next up: Workplace Wellness: Diversity, Employee Engagement And Business Growth
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  • Workplace Wellness: Diversity, Employee Engagement And Business Growth

    Every employer wants a staff that’s innovative, productive and creative. One way to achieve those goals is to make diversity a priority both in how you build your staff and operate your business. Tameka Taylor of Compass Consulting advises small business owners to take a long, hard look at their employee base before they make a hire. Is the staff in danger of falling victim to what Taylor describes as the “Mini Me Syndrome”? That is, do the employees look and sound a lot like the owner?

    Every employer wants a staff that’s innovative, productive and creative. One way to achieve those goals is to make diversity a priority both in how you build your staff and operate your business.

    Tameka Taylor of Compass Consulting advises small business owners to take a long, hard look at their employee base before they make a hire. Is the staff in danger of falling victim to what Taylor describes as the “Mini Me Syndrome”? That is, do the employees look and sound a lot like the owner?

    “Our natural tendency is to bring people in who look, think and act like us,” Taylor says. “While I love myself, I don’t need five of me on my team because then there are a lot of things I’m missing out on and a lot of opportunities I’m not thinking about.”

    Also, Taylor suggests being as inclusive as possible of your employees once you have your team in place. “Belonging is one of those needs we all have,” she says. “Inclusion fits right in there. If people don’t feel like they’re valued and respected in the organization, they’re not going to stay. They’re not going to be loyal. They’re not going to give their all.”

    * RELATED: Learn how workplace wellness programs engage employees

    Business diversity extends beyond just hiring, Taylor continues. Are you going to the same events all of the time that brings you into contact with the same group of people? Diversify that, too. Go to new events and meet up with new people.

    * RELATED: Check out COSE’s Events Page for programs that will help you make new connections

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  • Next up: Workplace Wellness: Steps to Creating a Culture of Good Health
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  • Workplace Wellness: Steps to Creating a Culture of Good Health

    If you want your employees to “be well”, you’re going to have to take a proactive approach.

    By now, company leaders realize they can’t simply tell their employees to “be well” and then expect all will actually be well.

    At the October meeting of the Northeast Ohio Safety Council, we will discuss the importance of wellness programs and offer some strategic tips on how any company can easily ensure a successful program that benefits everyone from the top on down.

    RELATED: Learn more about the Northeast Ohio Safety Council

    Total Worker Health® (TWH) is an approach that includes policies, programs and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.

    A culture of good health will amplify the safety culture that is most likely already in place in your company. Successful wellness programs can bring positive results to employees and leadership alike, such as:

    1. Better employee engagement and improved morale

    2. Lower healthcare and workers’ compensations costs

    3. Increased productivity

    RELATED: The Tangible Benefits of Workplace Wellness

    There are some strategic steps to making a wellness program a key business focus at any company. Appropriate leadership staff can successfully implement these programs by:

    1. Adding wellness policies to existing company policies, mission and vision statements in support of a healthful workplace: healthy snacks in the vending machines, no-tobacco policies, reminders to employees to get up from their desks and move, etc.

    2. Applying marketing principles: Treat your program like a product you are selling. Make sure you’re developing and circulating materials that promote your health policies.

    3. Focusing on benefits over features: What do employees hope to gain from participating?

    4. Developing an incentive plan to entice employees to buy into your wellness program. Consider your workforce when coming up with ideas. Perhaps your staff would be more motivated by paid time off rather than money in their pockets or gift cards.

    But, as we all know, buy-in needs to come from the top and leadership teams should be obvious supporters of the wellness initiatives. They can illustrate their commitment by engaging in several easy tactics:

    1. Holding walking meetings

    2. Setting aside specific time for exercise

    3. Paying for smoking cessation programs

    4. Adding specific PTO for wellness appointments

    Leadership support is so important. Taking a couple of minutes to jump on the company treadmill during lunchbreaks or choosing a salad over a cheeseburger at a working lunch meeting can go a long way. The biggest mistake a company can make is launching a wellness program when there is opposition in the upper levels of management. When leaders show they are advocates for the program and encourage by example, suddenly health and wellness are seen as genuine organizational priorities.

    RELATED: Workplace wellness strategies you need to know

    Traditional occupational safety and health protection programs have primarily concentrated on ensuring that work is safe and that workers are protected from the harms that arise from work itself. Total Worker Health® explores opportunities to not only protect workers, but also advance their health and well-being by targeting the conditions of work.

    Imagine a workplace where it’s not simply that employees leave at the end of their shift in the same condition they arrived, but they leave in a better condition.

    Shanna Dunbar, RN, is founder and president of Workplace Health Inc.

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  • Next up: 3(ish Minutes): Workplace Wellness Strategies
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  • 3(ish Minutes): Workplace Wellness Strategies

    Here's how to get your employees on board with your wellness plan.

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  • Next up: Your How-To Guide on Engaging Millennials in the Workplace
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  • Your How-To Guide on Engaging Millennials in the Workplace

    If you give them face time and take action on their ideas, you’ll be well on the road to engaging your millennial workers.

    In my last blog post, I dived into what the data tells us who millennials are, their traits, how they like to work and more.

    There were three main points that I made:

    Point No. 1: They want to make a difference.

    Point No. 2: They are achievement-oriented.

    Point No. 3: They stay in positions for only 1.8 years on average.

    So, now that you know who they are, let’s jump into how do you engage them.

    Step one: Face time (and I don’t mean on your iPhone)

    First, “talk” to them. Sure, millennials grew up in a tech savvy world, but they still appreciate the opportunity for some face-to-face time, especially if it comes with one of two things:

    • Face time with the CEO; and
    • the opportunity to do one of their favorite things: make change.

    If talking to each millennial isn’t realistic, send out a survey or poll to ensure their voice is heard. This ties back to the first point I made above: They want to make a difference.

    Step two: Take action

    Next, once you have some feedback, show that you are taking it serious. Each company will have to do what works best for them in terms of showing millennials that their opinions matter, but here are some initial thoughts that don’t have to cost a lot.

    • Form a task-force to address the issues raised. Engage these Millennials by making them a part of the team. This ensures their voices are heard, plus gives the opportunity to manage a special project or task.
    • Develop some type of leadership development program. If you are a smaller company, you are likely not going to be able to create a robust program in house, so outsource it. Again, ask the millennials about what topics they’d like to learn about, what they are aspiring to do, etc. and give them the ball to run with. Ask them to report back their findings and create a plan. It might be as simple as each individual participating in two events per year, to a professional development budget or even outsourcing to organizations like Engage! Cleveland that specialize in this for a nominal fee.
    • Recognize their hard work.I don’t mean just in the work place, but on these special initiatives they are engaging in. It doesn’t need to be a promotion, but maybe a certificate of recognition, a half day day of PTO or a shout out at a staff meeting. Make sure you are recognizing the extra effort.
    • Encourage them to participate in things outside of the workplace. Help them engage in their community and with their peers. Millennials wants this and are incredibly happy when employers support it. I am not talking about the typical stiff, awkward networking events that some employers’ minds immediately jump to. Let them pick.
    • Take them to that big client meeting. There is no better way to engage them than by giving them a seat at the table to ensure their voice is heard.

    What’s your strategy for engaging the young professionals in your workplace? Use the social media sharing buttons at the top of this article to tell us all about it.

    Ashley Basile Oeken is president of Engage! Cleveland, a nonprofit whose mission is to attract, engage and retain young, diverse talent to the Greater Cleveland area. Learn more about her organization’s work by clicking here.

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