UT Arlington management professors argue that employers can prevent workplace
violence by keeping dangerous employees positively engaged and closely
supervising them to ensure they get the help they need.
M. Ann McFadyen and James Campbell Quick.
Campbell Quick and M. Ann McFadyen of the College of Business management
department analyzed FBI reports, case studies and human resource records to
focus on the estimated 1 to 3 percent of employees prone to workplace acts of
aggression, such as homicide, suicide or destruction of property.
team advances the case for “mindfully observing” employees and found that human
resources professionals and supervisors can advance health, wellbeing, and
performance while averting danger and violence by identifying and managing
high-risk employees, anticipating their needs and providing support and
“The cause of these problems are
understandable and predictable,” said Quick, a Distinguished Professor of
Leadership and Organizational Behavior. “And many times these violent incidents
shouldn’t be viewed as random or surprises.”
The paper, “No
Accident: Health, Wellbeing, Performance … and Danger,” is
published by the Journal of
Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance. The two teamed with
Oklahoma State University’s Debra Nelson on the study. Nelson is the Spears
School of Business Associates’ Chaired Professor of Business Administration and
Distinguished Professor of Management. She also was the 2004 Goolsby
Distinguished Visiting Professor.
“Corporations need to plug troubled employees
into the social network immediately so they don’t store up these negative
feelings whenever and wherever they get them,” said Quick, who also holds the John and Judy Goolsby-Jacqualyn A. Fouse
Endowed Chair in the Goolsby Leadership Academy. Quick also is a distinguished
visiting scholar at Lancaster University Management School in the United
College of Business Dean Rachel Croson
said this type of research adds insight for businesses in the real world.
“Businesses often look at these problems
only after they occur,” Croson said. “This research offers companies action
steps they can take to prevent such tragedies from occurring. It not only helps
people but could save lives.”
McFadyen’s role in the research was
looking at positive and negative deviant behaviors among employees. Positive
deviant acts will often benefit the organization (i.e. going out of one’s way
to help another). Conversely, negative deviant acts will likely have an adverse
impact on the organization and have the potential to put the organization or
others in danger.
The study noted that the low intense
negative deviant act of incivility is often the starting point of the
escalation to more dangerous and violent behavior.
“Incivility toward another includes
gossiping, texting in meetings, withholding information, ignoring or simply a
general lack of respect or regard for others,” McFadyen said. “What is
concerning is that incivility is on the rise in the workplace, with the
majority of employees reporting that they have been the target of incivility by
Research indicates that most
organizations have training on ethics and diversity, yet few provide training
McFadyen said the study gives guidance
on how to train supervisors to recognize and monitor incivility.
“Incivility, left unchecked, may lead to
more dangerous acts”, McFadyen said. “Research indicates that, while not all
acts of incivility lead to violent acts, all violent acts in the workplace were
preceded by acts of incivility.”
One challenge, Quick said, is that
employees often cannot be pre-screened for these tendencies. He said dangerous
employees don’t often show the inclination for dangerous behavior during the
“It’s often something that those
employees get once they’re in a job,” Quick said. “That’s why socialization and
making sure employees air out what’s bothering them are two big factors in
whether the behavior eventually becomes an incident.”
Quick said it’s imperative for
organizations to keep the employees talking about what it is that’s bothering
“You can’t allow the dangerous employee
to bury the issue,” Quick said. “And sometimes organizations have a problem in
wanting to see the issue come to the surface. Organizations have to admit they
be part of the problem.”
Quick and the team take actual cases
where dangerous employees took action that ended in a wrongful death, sexual
assault and management harassment. The team also looked at one positive organizational
case where harm and death were averted.
In addition, the study also shows what
organizations and people need to do to right themselves after dangerous
employees’ behavior leads to a violent incident.
Quick said the study outlines a
four-step approach if the worse should happen:
- Contain the perpetrator or problem.
- Provide physical and mental caregiving for
victims of the incident.
- Encourage forgiveness of the dangerous employee.
Forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing or forgetting a
- Learning from the dangerous employee’s incident.
The University of Texas at Arlington is
a comprehensive research institution and the second largest institution in The
University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked
UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in
2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in
the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.