The pattern is familiar: Someone goes on a shooting rampage in the workplace, and experts in mental health, law enforcement and the media struggle to find lessons in the aftermath, says the Hartford Courant after the Connecticut office shooting by a fired worker that left eight people dead. Predicting violence in the workplace can be difficult, but in some cases there are signs, said Dr. Harold Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief at the Institute of Living in Hartford. Those include an employee who is rigid, inflexible or unwilling to take feedback from supervisors or coworkers, one who is unable to get along with others, or one who abuses alcohol or drugs.
“Those are glaring signs that are missed in the workplace,” Schwartz said. He added that people with mental illness are no more likely than others to commit workplace violence unless there is also alcohol and drug abuse. Ocurrences of workplace violence across the U.S. are down, possibly because employers are recognizing and addressing issues with employee-assistance programs and other forms of help. Still, an average of three people are murdered at work each day in the U.S., said Larry Barton, an expert in workplace violence who leads seminars for the FBI. Few of those homicides are the results of mass shootings. Barton advises employees to take the same approach toward workplace violence as in reporting suspicious activity at airports and train stations: “If you see something, say something.” Barton reviewed 1,800 incidents of workplace violence over 26 years and concluded that there were signals 71 percent of the time.