5 Tips for Speaking With Employees About Security Threats (Without Causing Alarm)

Though many businesses are spending more money than ever before on cybersecurity, many continue to be woefully unprepared for physical security threats. This doesn’t just apply to the implementation of technology like security cameras or improving access control, either …

Many of today’s inefficiencies are a simple result of the fact that businesses don’t speak with their employees about potential security threats. Like it or not, companies need to be prepared for such incidents, because the risk is more significant than ever before.

For example, FBI data reports that between 2000 and 2013, there was an average of 11.4 active shooter incidents per year. However, 2018 saw 27 active shooter incidents in 16 states — more than double the previous average.

Not all physical security threats are so dramatic, of course. Disgruntled employees can be responsible for theft, sabotage, and disclosure of confidential business information. In fact, research has found that employees are responsible for as much as 80 percent of “damaging incidents” in the workplace, making them a far more likely risk than a cyber-attack.

In light of all this, it is clear that management needs to address these critical issues with their employees and do so in an appropriate way that will help everyone take ownership of their safety and thus, create a force multiplier for the reporting of concerning behavior.

1) Explain Foundational Issues

While active shooter incidents are consistently making headlines, it appears some organizations are burying their heads in the sand. Simply put, some don’t think it could happen to them. Educating employees is the first part of the equation in deterring acts of violence.

Training should start early. New hire orientation should relate the basic facts of workplace violence — including the reminder that harmful behavior also includes psychological and behavioral aspects, not just acts of physical violence.

Teaching employees what risk factors may be present in the office and helping them learn what to look for will ensure that they are more confident to report concerning behavior. Remember, the tone of these trainings shouldn’t be geared toward scaring employees.

Explain things in a matter-of-fact manner so that everyone is on the same page.

2) Establish a Clear Workplace Violence Policy

One of the best ways to alleviate fear — and to ensure that you are fulfilling your responsibility of providing a safe workplace — is to implement a clear workplace violence policy. During the same training meetings when you go over the foundational aspects of workplace violence, you should also review your company’s policies.

Workplace violence policies should have a zero-tolerance attitude towards acts of physical violence, threatening remarks, intentional damage of property, sexual harassment, and bringing weapons into the office. The consequences of such actions should be made clear to all employees.

When going over your company’s workplace violence policy, you should also communicate the physical security procedures that your company is implementing (such as regular security assessments and ongoing security policy review) to mitigate risk.

3) Help Employees Feel Safe When Reporting Issues

Because many incidents of workplace violence are the result of an internal threat, no workplace violence policy is complete without a clearly defined reporting procedure. Help employees understand that they have an obligation to report problematic behaviors to management to protect the well-being of everyone in the company.

Some employees fail to report dangerous behavior due to fear of repercussions from management or the individual they are reporting. HR should allow for anonymous reporting while also committing to follow through and investigate any reported issues. Allowing for multiple anonymous reporting methods, such as tip lines or a comment box, can further alleviate these concerns.

When employees have confidence that they will be safe when reporting a potential concern, they will be more likely to report, which will better position your team to mitigate a threat.

4) Educate Your Team About Problematic Behaviors

Everyone in your organization, from supervisors to lower-level employees, should receive training that will help them better recognize concerning behaviors. Changes in behavior, disrespect for authority, declining work performance, verbal threats, suicidal comments, weapon possession, and other aggressive actions could all indicate the potential for workplace violence.

Employees should be taught how to recognize these warning signs in others and themselves. Help your team understand that even seemingly minor issues — including troubles in someone’s home life — can often be a precursor to more significant problems. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It can also be helpful to remind your team that these aggressive behaviors are often a “cry for help.” The earlier one intervenes, the easier it will be for a potentially violent employee to receive counseling or other assistance that will help them get their lives back on track. Being proactive in the use of your employee assistance program could pay significant long term benefits.

5) Define the Incident Management Process

Your employees will feel much safer if the incident management process is clearly defined — including how to respond to an emergency like an active shooter situation.

Explain what actions your human resources team will take after aggressive or unsafe behavior has been reported. Don’t be afraid to outline the process step by step, as this will help employees understand that their reports are taken seriously. Remind employees that information gathering, screening, and additional investigative steps are necessary to accurately evaluate a potential threat.

Take the time to create a detailed plan for responding to an emergency.

Train your team on what they should do to protect themselves during an active shooter event. Go over these plans in meetings and conduct training drills so that everyone knows how to respond appropriately should an incident occur.

Being prepared will save lives.

Good Information Is the Foundation

We live in a time when it is easier than ever for misinformation to spread across the web or in the workplace. You shouldn’t let headlines or rumors unnecessarily scare your employees. By taking a proactive approach and confronting these issues head-on, you will give your team confidence that you care about their safety.

As you provide adequate training and establishing sound security processes, your employees will be better prepared to respond appropriately should an incident occur. Your organization won’t be considered to have been negligent in preparing your staff should an act of violence take place. Ultimately, by speaking with employees about potential security threats now, shows commitment to your most valuable resource — them.