Of all a manager’s nightmares, the worst is that of an employee turning violent against his or her co-workers.

It’s one thing to have to discipline somebody for failing to perform, for absenteeism, or for disobeying orders. It’s quite another to think about an enraged employee punching another, or imagine somebody stalking from cubicle to cubicle firing a weapon.

Prevention beats cure
When it comes to workplace violence, prevention is obviously much preferable to any cure. And the best way managers can prevent violence is by knowing the early warning signs of someone who is likely to become violent – and intervening before anything happens.

Surprisingly enough, the first of these signs isn’t one you pick up by observing the potentially violent employee; rather, you’ll see it among his or her co-workers.

Useful fear
That sign? Co-workers are afraid of the person in question. Human beings have a deeply rooted and highly refined sense of self-preservation, and this makes them very good at noticing potential threats – such as a colleague who’s dangerously unstable.

If an employee comes to you with fears about another employee, take these steps:

  • Ask what specifically what the employee has done to worry the person you’re talking to.
  • Find out whether the fear of this employee is widespread among co-workers. (You don’t want to persecute somebody based on one individual’s possibly idiosyncratic concerns.)
  • If you’re satisfied that people have legitimate reason to be worried about the employee in question, report the matter to HR for monitoring and/or further action.

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