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Manifest Density - Episode 60 - Terri Patterson - Workplace violence and COVID

April 6, 2022


Workplace Violence and Covid

A silver lining of the pandemic was the significant decline of workplace and school violence in 2020. Sadly, it is roaring back. Former FBI agent Terri Patterson discusses this sad reality.

Control Risks | Global Risk Consultancy

Crisis and Security Consulting practice, based in the Washington, DC office. She focuses on the impact of mental health issues in the corporate environment, specializing in threat assessment and case management.

Terri has over two decades of experience leading law enforcement operations, strategic programs and critical incident preparedness. She is a recognized expert in behavioral assessment and risk mitigation, with a specialization in global security solutions to combat criminal and national security threat actors.

Serving in a variety of influential roles during her FBI tenure, Terri has designed and delivered training globally to investigators, intelligence professionals, mental health experts and executives in the identification and mitigation of criminal, national security and insider threats.

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Episode transcript:

The transcription of this episode is auto generated by a third-party source. While Microshare takes every precaution to insure that the content is accurate, errors can occur. Microshare, Inc.  is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Michael Moran [00:00:01] This is manifest density. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Manifest City, your host Michael Moran, here to explore the intersection of COVID 19 global business and society. And if density is brought to you by the global smart building and ESG data company Microshare, unleash the data well today. Really, really interesting conversation. I suggest we're going to have here with Terry Patterson, who had a long career in the FBI and is now a crisis consulting expert at control risks. You are definitely an interesting person. What an interesting, you know, focus area you have workplace school and other shootings. How to prevent them, how to how to mitigate the risk and respond. Welcome to the podcast.


Terri Patterson [00:00:54] Thanks so much, Michael, I'm happy to be here.


Michael Moran [00:00:57] So what is it that got you into? First, the FBI and then in into this line of work at control risks.


Terri Patterson [00:01:07] Well, thank you for asking that I often don't talk about my career before the FBI, but I started my career as a psychologist engaged in threat assessments primarily in the community. And then I spent 23 years, as you have already mentioned, as an agent with the FBI. Much of that time was spent at the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico, Virginia, where I worked on a variety of issues, starting with the beginning with violent crime matters and then transitioning over to as much of the FBI did over to terrorism and violent extremism. And so after retiring from the FBI for 23 years, I have joined control risk and I have been here now for almost two years and I have continued to really try to bring a full circle. The behavioral aspects of mental health and violence. And so certainly I talk quite a bit about mental health in the workplace and how it is that we should always strive for resilience and and positive mental wellness in the workplace. But then sadly, a lot of my work is also spent, of course, on those threats that can emerge when we see this complex combination of factors that can lead to violence in the workplace or in other commercial establishments. And then sadly, I think most tragically in our schools, as you've already mentioned.


Michael Moran [00:02:43] Well, Terry, obviously your time at control risks now has overlapped almost perfectly with COVID 19, something that obviously has been a tragic development for humanity. It's done all sorts of damage, and we've talked at length on this podcast about the economic, social and political impacts of of COVID 19. But one of the silver linings that have been pointed out is when people left the workplace to remotely work and when people actually even were kept out of religious venues for a while and schools. Of course, these tragic events really took a dove. There weren't many school shootings in 2020. There weren't many workplace violence issues that popped up, at least into the news media. How has that developed now that we're hopefully in the late stages of the pandemic and people are going back to their places of work and worship and school?


Terri Patterson [00:03:39] Well, I think you're pointing out, watch it. What is too many people really counterintuitive, right? And I'll just add some numbers to what you have already thrown out. I was reading recently a recent study that really tracks these violent mass attacks, and what was revealed was that since the data has been captured. The last five years has resulted in 20 percent of all of those mass attacks as mass shootings, 20 percent have taken place in the last five years. And when you lay on top of that recent data showing that 20 20 saw more victims of mass shootings than any other year since the data has been compiled, it really is quite compelling. It's alarming. And I'll just add to that for anyone who monitors, reads the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. The Crime Report for 2020, which is the most recent report we have. It was released in twenty twenty one early twenty twenty one. This report revealed that crimes across the board were down. Right. And so this is no surprise to many people when you consider, as you've already pointed out, that we were in the midst of a of a massive national health emergency. People were at home in response to the global pandemic. Most of the population were working from home. But what is surprising is this while the overall crime report indicated that crime was down. The exception to that trend was in two areas aggravated assaults and homicides. And in these two crime areas, we actually saw an increase in the numbers. And so what I'm suggesting here is that when everyone was home, we saw an increase in the number of aggravated assaults and homicides. Probably many of those interpersonal violence individuals who knew one another, engaging in violent acts against one another. Now we're seeing people going back to the workplace, going back out into those areas of commerce. And again, we have the same stressors that have been at play on the population since the beginning of the pandemic. But now we're seeing all of that violence spill out again into our workplace schools and places of commerce. So certainly, it's a concern. We always have to keep our eye on the vulnerability of the population in general as a result of stressors again, that we've seen all talk quite a bit about stressors during our conversation today. And as all of those employees who have been home are now navigating this transition, that's often difficult transition back into the workplace. We have been working with clients to really be prepared for that influx and trying to keep those employees safe and really trying to again shore up the resilience and making sure that that we have what we can in place to to keep everyone safe.


Michael Moran [00:06:39] Terry, hold that thought. We're going to take a break to hear from our sponsor. OK, I'm back with Terry Patterson, former FBI agent and security and crisis consultant at Control Risks. We're talking about what COVID did to the really sad rate of workplace and its place of worship violence in the U.S. in particular. I'm Terry. Can you take us through what it's like to engage with a client? You know, whether that is a house of worship or, you know, a big company or a school system and try to get them ready to prevent these things and to spot the potential problem before it happens.


Terri Patterson [00:07:23] Sure, Michael, I think so. First, I think just to I'll I'll start with what is, you know, what I see as routine policies and procedures that I think every client should have in place, right? And that revolves around workplace violence prevention and ensuring that you have that. All of our clients have a solid and robust workplace violence prevention plan. And so what we have been spending a lot of time doing is going in reviewing those plans right now, especially again, as I mentioned before, as clients are finding that they're bringing people back, they're bring their employees back into the workplace after having been away for many months. They're finding that this is a good time to really review their policies, review their procedures and make the appropriate updates that they need. And so we're certainly helping with that as a result of that. Again, we have been advising on policies and procedures. We have been putting together guide books or playbooks so that each member of that crisis management team knows what their role is when it comes to workplace violence prevention, and they're able to engage appropriately and really early on in the process. Most of that revolves around identifying behaviors of concern, having a process in place to escalate those concerns. And then again, having at the corporate level, those executives who are responsible for managing and implementing that program. We've been providing a lot of training training to frontline supervisors in particular and human resource professionals really helping them again to recognize and understand the trends related to workplace violence and concerning behaviors, helping them to understand and to implement a good process by which problems and concerns can be escalated, either through the front line manager or anonymously, as has the employee might wish. And then again, to be able to address those concerns early and often. A lot of that training has been dealing also with just de-escalation, how it is that managers and human resource professionals should deal with and talk to employees who are in crisis. Because while today we're talking about really that dark side of stress and what can happen when you have lots of psychological stress compounded with basic personality or disposition or concerns and a personality that seems to go to violence for resolution of conflict? And then a whole host of other factors that come together to lead to violence. That's really what we're talking about today. But we also have to keep in mind that there are always those employees in the workplace who are just dealing with routine day to day stress and they are experiencing crises as well. So we want those frontline managers and human resource professionals to really be comfortable, engaging people when they're in a crisis. So we've been doing a lot of training around de-escalation as well. And so a lot of what we've been doing really is around prevention and then engagement. And then, of course, if all else fails, we really don't want to get to this side. But if all else fails, then of course, response. And so we certainly have been stepping in when when our clients do experience a crisis of some sort and that generally entails in conducting a threat assessment and then helping their client put together some threat mitigation strategies in order to keep the workplace safe.


Michael Moran [00:11:19] Let's talk for a second about how the H.R. departments or security departments and companies. Are they being proactive in terms of like serving people's social media? And is that part of this whole thing now? Because, you know, let's say 15 years ago, that would have been pretty unthinkable that your boss is snooping around and things like that.


Terri Patterson [00:11:42] Well, you know, I think that we have a variety of clients, of course, and clients are engaging in a lot of different mechanisms to try to identify risk early and try to identify concerning behaviors early. Certainly, we recommend educating the workforce, educating those front line managers, educating human resource professionals. That's always what we recommend first. There's a lot of research out there suggesting that bystanders, those individuals who are close to a person who will later engage in violence, there are bystanders, always who see a number of indicators that that would suggest that violence may be coming right and that violence may be around the corner. And so we always want to suggest we always want to recommend that training be pushed out and be implemented in order to identify some of those concerns early on. But in addition to that, of course, monitoring social media platforms and online forums for threat streams for deteriorating sentiment. I think in general, a lot of our clients are engaging in social media monitoring. I'm not suggesting that they're monitoring individual employees social media platforms, but I'm suggesting that in general, they're monitoring platforms for negative sentiment related to and coming back to the client company. So certainly that is something that is, I think, being utilized quite often as an intelligence function just to identify early some of those threat streams and and threat actors that may be out there. This is really right now. It's certainly pertinent because we all know that there is a lot of stress around social and political differences, ideological stressors that individuals are experiencing. We've seen a rise of violent extremism that poses a range of risk to businesses that go beyond the individual employee who is experiencing psychological stress as they come to work every day. And so this is also something that corporate leaders have to keep their eye on. And and certainly we're seeing the social media platforms being monitored, as you have suggested, as a way of trying to identify early some of those threats that would derive from ideologically motivated insiders or outsiders.


Michael Moran [00:14:21] I want to go to your behavioral psychology expertize, and let's think about COVID. As a experience we've all been through some accepting it more as reality than others, but it has affected just about every life on the planet. What is the difference now post-pandemic as people start coming back into the office place? What are the new things that people are being stressed by? What are the new flags that you've got your eye on to try to prevent people from starting to move down the line of something troubling?


Terri Patterson [00:14:57] Well, I think COVID 19, of course, has led to enhanced challenges on the workforce in a hole in a variety of ways that we've all heard about the shift to remote work and then the transition to hybrid models. And then more recently, of course, as you and I have discussed, this return to the workplace has led to increased levels of stress as employees navigate what seems to be a constantly shifting landscape. And so change is always we say change is good, it is good, but it's also stressful. And so we continue to hear about tensions and polarization. In addition to that, the tensions and polarization around what I just mentioned, social and political issues that is leading to discord within families and communities and now spilling over into the workplace as issues related to COVID 19 like mask mandates and vaccinations have also become politicized and are triggering associated ideological grievances. So we have all of these challenges that have really led to unprecedented issues that we've heard about again over the last two years and really have led to employee vulnerability at its highest. And that vulnerability in the in the best case scenario threatens productivity, threatens stability. And then, of course, in the worst case scenario, threatens the security of the workforce or the workplace rather and caught right in the middle, of course, of the employee. And there are the employers, the leaders who are trying to balance a safe and healthy. Environment, while also trying to respect the individual concerns and the needs of their employees. So we've been talking quite a bit about the stress that is associated with the pandemic. I certainly believe that the better we all understand those trends and the trends that we're going to continue to see, then the better we're going to be able to address the issues and continue to build productive and resilient workplaces. That's the goal, right? But again, as we know, we also are seeing and we will continue to see that, you know, stress can also lead to a really destructive and and violent threat as well. And so we see the manifestation of that every day when we turn on on the news. So I think I can't possibly overstate the concern that we have as we start bringing people in back into the workplace and we still have these unprecedented levels of stress. And while we're in flux until we really get settled in, I think we're going to continue to see alarming rates of just problematic behavior. Again, most of it hopefully around productivity, around various issues that are going to disrupt just the positive environment in the workplace. But again, we always have to keep our eye on those individuals who are overwhelmed by stress who have that disposition that tends to move them to violence as a result and moving to violence in order to deal with any kind of conflict. And that is our concern, of course. And so I can't overstress the importance of trying to manage overall the stress levels in the workplace, but also really trying to identify early and often those behavioral indicators of that trajectory to violence.


Michael Moran [00:18:42] How are you going to take a quick break? Listen to a word from our sponsor. All right, Terri Paterson, security and crisis expert and former FBI agent, I have one last question. The pandemic itself has sent well during certain stages of it, sent most of us who could to work remotely. The stress doesn't necessarily end, and there have been some people who even say it's become a more stressful world because you're never off, you're always on and always at the beck and call of your colleagues. And is there something special about the remote situation? Have you have done any consulting with companies on how to deal with that very unique kind of stress because we made, for instance, live in a world now forever where remote is a piece of it?


Terri Patterson [00:19:34] Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. And and remote work certainly isn't free from stress, right? We know that and we have talked about it quite a bit. We have we've seen increased domestic violence. Of course, we've heard a lot about that. We've seen increases in a whole wide range of issues, even as employees who are working remotely. We saw over half of the working age population reporting a decline in their mental wellness during the height of the pandemic, while most people were at home. We saw prescriptions for antidepressants increased 34 percent and anti-anxiety prescriptions rise 19 percent in 2020. And then, of course, we just continue to see what what psychologists refer to as the comorbidity of these mental illnesses, along with substance abuse, which leads to a variety of negative consequences, all while people were at home and working from the safety of their home. Right. And so certainly being at home brings a whole host of other issues we've had. We've heard from employees that they've had a difficult time turning work off when they're at home. We've heard employees say, and we've seen survey after survey that suggests that the stress of trying to navigate child care or or elder care or all of the household duties that would come with just staying at home with a full time job was also very stressful. And so certainly we have not seen working from home or remote work alleviate stress. Certainly the young, the youngest in our workforce, Generation Z, the Zoomers, we refer to them normal and millennials reported more symptoms of mental illness. Then they're they're more tenured counterparts while they were working remotely. And so certainly for them, as they're just starting out their career, they're trying to get settled into the workplace and really trying to make those connections, maybe find people who they can rely on for mentorship, as you and I had talked earlier. This was all disrupted with with COVID 19. And so they have had a particularly difficult time just trying to get started and get off the ground with their career. So I think this is something that our clients certainly continue to grapple with. How is it that they're able to find the right balance and have the structure that the workplace provides continue as they bring people back to the office, but then also being sensitive to the the flexibility that employees are saying they really need and they value. So I think that's going to continue to be a challenge. And then of course, we have these issues around a remote workforce and some of the challenges that it brings just in terms of issues like insider risk. Right. We've seen ongoing challenges as some of our clients have navigated issues around, of course, employee stress, compromised coping skills and then managing these hybrid models of remote and returned to work structures. Because there's the recognition that, you know, remote work is becoming a permanent reality for some segments of the workforce. And so these shifts are really requiring our clients to continue to examine their insider risk posture against the continuing need for flexibility and resilience building. And so we know, of course, based on years of research and experience, we know that there's a constellation of factors that influence insider risk. We know that there's a dynamic nature, those factors that can enhance the risk posed to businesses that are not adequately prepared. And we've long argued behavioral researchers that most threats can be prevented with early and or and robust responsiveness that addresses the risk well in advance of a malicious act. And so we certainly continue to experience a greater reliance on digital solutions to insider threat. But in case after case, we also see the need for a behavioral assessment of those early indicators of an emerging problem. And so I bring all of this up. Because again, when you have a remote workforce, it's harder to identify often those behavioral indicators and then you're giving people access that otherwise they wouldn't have in a remote environment. And so we just keep beating this drum around insider risk as well that comprehensive programs really should be put in place before the manifestation of anomalous behavior. And it really must incorporate behavioral experts to meet best practice and industry standards. So again, we're seeing a wide range of issues related to remote work, and I think we're going to continue to see those issues, issues around employee wellness, issues around culture and maintaining the culture of of of the of the workplace and the brand. And then, of course, all the way over to insider risk and that emerging threat that comes from having a remote workforce get trying to maintain control of of, you know, your information. So we're going to continue to monitor that. We're going to continue to provide support there as we have really for the last year and a half, Terry.


Michael Moran [00:25:25] This has just been fascinating. I wonder if if our readers wanted to continue to learn about this or follow your work, what would you suggest?


Terri Patterson [00:25:35] Well, Michael, I'm I'm always available, of course, on control risks. XCOM can find me. They are easily. I also have a profile on LinkedIn and certainly would welcome an ongoing discussion with anyone who finds this topic of interest.


Michael Moran [00:25:49] It's it's a sad irony that that workplace violence and school violence is a happy victim of COVID. And it's even sadder that now that the pandemic is relenting a bit, that we're seeing it come back. Of course, you can learn more about Microshare at WW W Microshare Daddario and its ever smart solutions that boost efficiency, enable cost savings and bring safety and reassurance to people inside of buildings very relevant to this conversation. You can also subscribe to the podcast Manifest Density there or download it on Google Play and iHeartRadio and iTunes and Spotify. We have not dropped off a Spotify yet, but that'll do it for this week on behalf of Microshare and all of its global employees. I'd like to say thank you again to to Terry Patterson and wish you all wellness and a good week. See you next week.

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