Risk Insights
September 3, 2021

Reconsidering Risk: Incorporating the Human Element into a Company’s Threat Assessment Strategies

Brian Lynch
Executive Director, Safety & Security, RANE

What constitutes risk differs from one business to another, and depends upon any number of factors, to include the company’s size, organizational structure, the industry, and even its company culture.  Each business should consider taking stock not only on how reopening a workplace could impact its employee workforce, but also what factors may be tied to the industry, its location, or employee base that may present unique challenges adding to the complexity of the decision making process.

As a starting point, the organization will need to assess its risk portfolio, prioritizing its identified risks and determining where on that list employee well-being ranks.  This ranking process is certainly influenced by both its organizational culture and leadership design.  

The firm’s focus on employee well-being, from both human resource policy design and execution, to executive leadership commitment and front line management interaction, will certainly pay dividends in both employee performance and engagement as well as influencing employee retention numbers.  In fact, the DDI Frontline Leader Project found that 57 percent of employees left their firm because of their bosses, which included the reflection that senior leaders had within the firm.  And we all know how long the process is to hire into the company, to include the necessary training,  and the costs that that process incurs over time.  

Employee engagement numbers, typically gathered by surveys from outside vendors which gauge that sentiment, certainly have an impact on employee performance, a byproduct of employee commitment to the firm and its mission.  High functioning teams have been shown to have a commitment to the firm, its mission, and to each other.  Compare this end result to the inherent cost associated with employees who are not performing in the most effective and efficient manner, reflective of the attitude that lacks commitment, and/or engagement, to/with the company mission.

The firm’s commitment to the employee is typically shown in a number of ways, to wit, salary and benefits package, training, flexible work hours, ability to work from home, etc. It can also be visible in the firm’s ability to recognize changes in the employee’s work performance, attitude, and interactions with their peer groups and superiors, by offering needed assistance and understanding.  The changes noted may also involve physical appearance which should not go unnoticed because it may portend issues as well.  These changes can be noticed not only by the employee’s direct supervisor but also by his/her co-workers.  It is important for the firm to first recognize these changes and then have the ability to help the employee manage or resolve them through various resources available to the employee, i.e., the firm’s Human Resources professionals, Employee Assistance Programs, consultants/counselors, etc.  The firm’s Human Resources Department typically takes the lead in these types of events.  

Part of the employee equation also involves ensuring that behaviors of concern or risk are identified, which may be influenced by various factors affecting the employee, either at work, or in their personal lives.  These may include marriage problems or impending divorce procedures, dating issues, financial worries, health concerns for immediate family members or parents, siblings, etc.  It may also include work performance issues, co-worker disputes, issues with management and/or direct bosses, etc.  Working in partnership with both the Human Resources and Legal Departments, the Global Security team usually leads this process by which risks and/or threats on the part of on boarded employees are assessed, managed, mitigated, and/or resolved.  This is typically accomplished through a Threat Assessment Team construct.

The greater organization is served by having the aforementioned capabilities available either to the employee or to the organization, to manage for the greater good of the firm.  For the former, each and every employee should have the ability to opt in to the resources available to them to help them manage through the factors affecting their lives.  For the latter, the organization owes it to the other employees of the organization as well as to the firm itself, its board members, investors, etc., to appropriately manage and resolve the type of matters listed.

When management and leadership are effectively working within the firm, engagement with employees is an integral part of the playbook.  When a manager is really engaged with their employees, takes the time to get to know each individual employee, which leads to conversations about what may be happening in their respective lives at any given moment, it is certainly a huge step in the right direction.  The ability for the manager to advise the employee that he/she has the best interests of the employee at heart, and shows in his continued interaction that he/she really cares for the well-being of the employee, that is paramount to the employee understanding how important he/she is to the firm.

Remember, when we hire an employee, the firm is linked forever together with that employee. Whether we like it or not, for good and bad, alike.  In the event of employee termination, through issues with performance, behavior, etc., our experience advises us that the problem may not end at termination.

So what does a Threat Assessment Team construct look like? It begins with members from Global Security, Legal, and Human Resources at a level high enough to be able to make decisions.  Second, it includes internal processes to allow for information to be forwarded to the appropriate departments, i.e., Human Resources, Global Security, etc., with or without attribution, as events and actions may dictate.  Third, the Threat Assessment Team and its actions are supported and monitored by executive management.  Fourth, once information is presented, it has the ability to quickly meet, with defined processes for the conduct of its business, to ensure fairness, thoroughness, and completeness of its proceedings. Actions shall be documented, typically through minutes and monitored or tracked to completion.  Reporting on the process to executive management is built into its procedures.  

I recently spoke with Chris Silva, Behavioral Intervention Team Manager at UCLA University, through my podcast series, RANE Insights on Security with Brian W. Lynch, about some of the key elements that firms should focus on when it comes to incorporating workplace safety and employee mental health into the design of back to work policies and procedures.  A successful plan may positively affect the downstream usage of the firm’s Threat Assessment Team.  

He suggested, in the early stages of the re-opening, that firms should consider loosening some administrative activities, such as timekeeping and attendance related policies.  He suggested that these policies can be gradually phased in again over time, i.e., after 30, 60, or 90 days, and subsequent to the resumption of full workplace schedules.

Silva further emphasized that certain workplace policies should not be relaxed but be strictly enforced from the outset of the return to work.  For instance, the policies dealing with workplace safety matters, such as weapons in the workplace, violence in the workplace, etc., need to be in place.  He noted it’s critically important to communicate adherence to these policies quickly and clearly to all staff once they have been brought back to the office environment.

Silva continued that when it comes to red flags and/or disciplinary actions, the “see something say something” rule applies.  For threat assessment teams, in particular, Silva advised that caution should be applied to ensure cases brought before them are simply not dismissed for a lack of clarity or substance, that each and every case is reviewed in accordance with its prescribed procedures.  For example, a returning employee may have made some comments in the past that caused a coworker some concern which is now brought before the team.  The threat assessment team should take the time for a “deep dive” into that situation, to ascertain the facts of what actually was communicated, in what context, in other words, to conduct a full 360 degree review. This type of matter can obviously have its own set of challenges due to elapsed time, etc., but the investigative process should nonetheless be undertaken.

So, to conclude, the more the firm is engaged directly with the employee, understanding the stressors that may be present in their lives, communicating through actions that the firm has the employee’s best interests at heart, is being cared about, the less likely these problems will go unnoticed which may lead to possibly a much larger issue in the near term, i.e., workplace violence situation.  The ability to identify and manage employee issues, either through the Human Resources Department in most cases, or for a lower number of cases involving a risk or threat situation, through the firm’s Threat Assessment Team, will lead the firm towards a better outcome.

Additionally, the investment in an employee’s overall well-being is tantamount to meeting the firm’s duty to care expectations which may also lead to a better result in its business operations, enhancing an employee’s operational effectiveness, and furthering the organization’s goals.  It may also positively affect employee retention.  And it is the right thing to do.  We have all been through a time hard to compare with any other in modern history, certain core principles, however, haven’t changed.

Ready to get started? Get in touch or create an account

Join the largest community of risk professionals and learn more about our scalable approach to mitigating risk and threats.