Stressors are the physical, psychological, or social forces that place demands/pressures, either real or perceived, on an individual. These stressors may cause psychological and/or physical distress, that evolve into noticeable warning signs. Since stress is considered to be a well-established correlate of criminal behavior, there is a wide variety of potential stressors that have been identified including financial pressures, physical health concerns, interpersonal conflicts with family, friends, and colleagues (work and/or school), mental health issues, criminal and civil law issues, and substance abuse.

Media coverage of workplace violence can also be a catalyst for an employee seeking revenge. In today’s society, instant and excessive media coverage sensationalizes incidents of violence and gives individuals seeking retribution a new rationalization to his/her perceived problems.

Additional Stressors

  • Death of a friend or relative
  • Marital problems
  • Sexual stress/frustration
  • Care-giving responsibilities

Violence Warning Signs

  • Unresolved grievances
  • Obsession with the job but has little, if any, involvement with coworkers.
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Exhibits paranoid behavior
  • Has been rebuffed for making unwanted romantic advances toward another employee
  • Excessive displays of temper – aggressive outbursts
  • Ominous fascination with weapons – bringing weapons to work
  • A history of testing the limits of rules, regulations and social norms.
  • Intimidating others and/or instilling fear in peers and supervisors
  • Expressing extreme depression and/or anger
  • Bizarre comments or behavior, especially if it includes violent content or ideation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse problem
  • Holding grudges – inability to handle criticism, habitually making excuses and blaming others
  • Rigid and inflexible
  • An obsessive involvement with a job – no outside interests
  • Changing events that generate additional levels of stress
  • High level of stress in the job caused by labor problems, policy changes or the introduction of new technology.

Verbal Clues

  • Make threatening statements to kill or harm self or others, direct or veiled.
  • Verbalizing a violent plan or preoccupied with other incidents of workplace violence.
  • Exhibits confrontational, attitude with anger that is easily provoked, unpredictable, restless or antisocial behavior.
  • Exhibits behavior that is intimidating, belligerent, insubordinate, defiant or challenging.
  • Blames others for anything that goes wrong, with no sense of own responsibility.
  • Recurrent suicide threats or statements
  • Verbal wishes to kill, be killed or die
  • Threatens to bring weapon to school/work
  • Brags about having weapons
  • Threatening/harassing phone calls or e-mails
  • Statements of hopelessness
  • Bragging of violent behavior/fantasies
  • Challenging or intimidating statements
  • Excessive profanity (contextually inappropriate)
  • Name calling or abusive language

Bizarre Thoughts

  • Persecutory delusions with self as victim
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions in general
  • Command hallucinations
  • Grandiose delusions that involve power, control and/or destruction
  • Significantly deteriorated thought processes

Behavioral/Physical Cues

  • Shows a recent and marked decline in performance.
  • Physical altercation/assault upon others – frequent fighting
  • Inappropriate weapons possession or use
  • Writings/drawings with intense violent themes
  • Following/surveillance of targeted individuals
  • Short fuse, loss of emotional control
  • Bullying or victim of bullying
  • Deteriorating physical appearance/self-care
  • Isolating and withdrawn
  • Signs or history of substance abuse/dependence
  • Signs of depression/severe mood swings
  • Inappropriate displays of emotion

Note: Even if an employee exhibits all or some of these indicators, it does not necessarily mean he or she will act violently in the workplace. However, should an employee exhibit some of the above characteristics, it is prudent for management to intervene as quickly and directly as possible.


Silver, J., Ph.D., J.D., Simons, A., & Craun, S., Ph.D. (2018, June). A Study of the Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters [Scholarly project]. Retrieved July 2, 2018, from

Tully, E. J. (1994, August). NEIA Associates – Workplace Violence: How Police Can Help. Retrieved July 4, 2018, from


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