You don’t have to look too far to see examples of violence that impact people at all types of everyday locations: homes, schools, churches, movie theaters or offices. In the workplace in particular, incidents of violence are on the rise with employees threatening colleagues or actually harming them or work property. There are also examples where employers did not receive any advance warnings or threats and just experienced blow-ups, dangerous behaviors or catastrophes by former or current employees.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 2 million people are affected by workplace violence. This can include workplace bullies, active shooter situations, and illegal drug use, carried out by dissatisfied clients and disgruntled employees. And this doesn’t include all of the other acts that are not reported, such as harassment, intimidation, disruptive behaviors, and threats or acts of physical violence. After all, some folks are fearful (for good reason) of reporting concerns they may have about potential violence.

OSHA defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed towards persons at work on duty.” They list four categories of workplace violence:

• Violent acts by people (including current and former employees) who enter the workplace to commit a crime.

• Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, etc.

• Violence against co-workers by a current or former employee

• Violence in the workplace by a non­employee who has a relationship with an employee.

While employers have gotten better at preparing for threats of violence, many are still not prepared for how to deal with these threats nor do they know how to cope when incidents actually occur in their workplaces. What can employers do? Here are some suggestions”

• Select employees carefully. This is an employer’s critical first step to ensure that you have done due diligence when hiring employees. Using criminal background checks, reference checks, and standard personality tests might be ways to identify individual with propensities for violent acts or emotional instability.

Match employees’ skills and abilities with the right positions. Provide them with realistic previews of the job demands so that they can self-select whether they want to still apply or opt out of the firm. This can ensure that employees are less likely to become upset or frustrated with the job requirements.

• Provide training on civility and harassment, since these could be precursors to violence as well as hotbeds for stressful environments.

• Make sure your firm has policies to prevent, identify and deal with threats and violent acts before and after they occur. Consider creating a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence and define and educate employees as to what this means. Make sure your policy includes clearly defined sanctions and discipline for breaches of the policy.

• Offer more resources. Set up an employee assistance program and provide counseling and fitness-for-duty evaluations so you can tell if there are issues.

• Evaluate the security systems in place at the firm. Do you need security guards, alarms, or alert systems to reach all employees in case of a problem?

• Keep a record. Managers and HR leaders should carefully document all instances of workplace violence and threats.

• Identify those who can assist. Make sure you have a list of employee volunteers who are trained in CPR, fire safety, police work, etc. to be your allies to help if needed.

• Train employees (especially managers) on what to look for. Know the warning signs of an employee under stress (e.g., substance abuse, erratic performance, extreme fascination with weapons, violent history, poor relationships with co-workers, etc.).  Know how to spot potential trouble (strangers in the building, unusual activities, etc.).

• Have security on hand when terminating a potentially violent employee.

Sadly, we have to worry about violence in the workplace, and it is something that every organization needs to be prepared for. Ask your organization today what preparations and policies they have in place to keep you and your fellow workers safe and secure. After all, your firm should be a place where you are able to engage in fulfilling, interesting work; not a place where you are fearful to walk the halls.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the senior associate dean of learning at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at