As businesses begin the planning process for bringing their workforces back to the office and for scaling up their operations in the wake of a global pandemic that shutdown, or at least significantly slowed, much of the economy the impact of the last two years on the potential for workplace violence and other security related risks cannot be overlooked.
Over the last eighteen months the risk from criminal acts that businesses face has shifted drastically in many cities around the world. With increasing levels of crime due to factors including financial hardships brought on by the pandemic and decreased police presence or shift law enforcement priorities in the wake of civil unrest. It is imperative that before bringing the majority of the employee population back into the office that the company fully assesses how or if the risk from criminal acts has changed for each of its locations, and then adjusts its physical security measure to adapt, as measures that may have been wholly adequate pre-pandemic no longer address the levels or types of crimes that are occurring in the location a year and a half later. The business must also understand the effect on employees, as these increases in crime have been extensively covered in the media, which has become an even more important window into the world for those stuck in their homes, and whether valid or not have created an impression that the world outside of the home is increasingly unsafe.
Stress related to these concerns over increased victimization risk, infection, financial hardship, isolation, and political incivility all driven by a twenty-four hour a day news cycle have had a serious impact on the mental health of many employees. Adding to this the stress of trying to resume “normal” operations and once again changing how they work, and concern related to their safety as they are forced back to the office will create an increased potential for stresses that can lead to interpersonal conflict between co-workers or hard feelings toward their employer.
Organizations with well-developed threat assessment and management or insider threat programs rely heavily on the observation of changes in an employee’s baseline behavior that could indicate that they are either escalating toward committing an act of workplace violence or another act against the organization or are themselves the victim of domestic violence or another situation in their personal life that may follow them into the workplace. The majority of these observations come not from the members of the threat assessment teams or corporate security themselves, but from those who work most closely with the effected employee. In a pandemic world where social distancing and remote work became the rule rather than the exception, interactions between co-workers and between managers and their direct reports have decreased in frequency to a level that these subtle changes in employee behavior that may have served as an early warning sign can be easily overlooked.
To counter this potential, organizations will need to ensure that they are providing their employees resources to help them manage the accumulated stress from the pandemic along with that caused by a return to work. Additionally, security training for employees, particularly that related to identifying and reporting behaviors that may indicate the potential for an insider threat, escalating workplace violence, recognize sign of potential victimization, and how to manage escalating behavior from customers and co-workers.
With indicators potentially being more difficult to identify due to the remote environment it will also be imperative that the disparate functions that may identify an insider risk are communicating with each other on a regular basis. Operations, Security, Information Security, Human Resources, and Legal Counsel may all have small bits of information that together can form a picture that will allow the organization to address behavior before it escalates and prevent an incident.
It is also important for the organization to be able to speak to their employees who are returning to work about the realities of shifting crime risk, separate actual risk from perceived risk driven by media reports, educate them regarding measures that the organization has taken to help keep them safe in the face of any actual increased risk, and refresher their memories on specific emergency repose plans for their location. Facilitating these conversations can go a long way to relieving some of the stress those employees returning to work are feeling and can potentially prevent an incident.