we are better together

Risk Assessment Teams

Christine L. Peterson, CPP, ISPSecurity Program Development, Workplace Violence

we are better togetherWe’ve all heard the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” (or innovation). That is absolutely true today. During COVID-19, we have not seen a big shift in how businesses are set up. What we are starting to see is a major shift in multi-disciplined teams working together. As someone who has helped companies develop multi-disciplined risk assessment teams, I find this encouraging.

Like many of you, I have spent the last several weeks reminding myself that “we grow with change,” “this too shall pass,” and the proverbial “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When this started, I think most of us assumed that we’d work from home for a couple weeks, calm things down, enjoy the spring sunshine, and get back to normal – kind of a throwback to wartime predictions that we’ll send our troops to neutralize the enemy and be home for Christmas.

Now I realize that we are at war with an enemy that we don’t understand. Not only that, but this war isn’t “over there.” It is global, and the only way we can neutralize this enemy is to embrace our differences. We are so much better together, and being together allows us to maximize our expertise and other resources for better results.

Better together. Consider that a moment because it applies to every part of life. As a security professional, I’m seeing this theme take on a whole new meaning at the businesses and municipalities we serve. For over thirty years we have worked with organizations to develop appropriate security programs and controls to protect their critical assets. In almost every case we have run into the firm barriers that divide companies into departments. Departments usually have subject matter experts who don’t know what they don’t know. They were encouraged to focus solely on their mission. Developing true multi-disciplined teams, such as risk assessment teams, was often a challenge.

COVID-19 was like a meteor out of nowhere that wreaked havoc on assumptions and rules as we knew them. Prior to March, who knew that the next “big challenge” would be stay in business, keep all your employees on the payroll and productive, stay innovative, and – oh yeah – do it under a mandate of work from home with daycares and schools closed. If someone had told you that, what would you have said?

I have also begun to realize that the most effective leaders today have come out of the silos to connect with employees and customers more directly and transparently. I’ve heard from HR experts that since the “stay at home” orders began, managers have tripled the communications that they have with the employees they serve. We are seeing CEO’s call employees and communicate in very personal ways. They a sharing of information that would never have been shared so directly in the past. Messages of hope (we are in this together), vision (here is the new plan and how we expect to get there), information (how does this affect the company outlook, customers, you, me), and even bad news (furloughs, lay-offs, closings) are being shared with compassion.

Internally the COVID-19 tsunami is too big for any department or community to shoulder. Subject matter experts have to collaborate, and leaders are asking for advice. And remember those HR folks who are often viewed as a “necessary evil”? They are shinning and are more valuable than ever before. (Side note: Thank you to Capital Associated Industries (CAI) for their invaluable support in the Raleigh, NC area and all the other HR support organizations who have advocated for their businesses and employees. You are super stars!)

So, what does all of this mean to a security professional?

It is a gigantic leap in the right direction. When companies work in silos, they are more vulnerable to victimization and loss due to a security event. Multi-disciplined teams, especially risk assessment teams, are a good tool for prevention of loss.

COVID-19 is a tsunami. It has created a level of stress on employees at all levels of the organization that is unlike anything else. What should you be worrying about from a security perspective?

  • Even good people make bad decisions when under stress. This is true even if everything else in their life is going well.
  • 90% of our decision-making process, as humans, is based on what we can rationalize in our own minds.
  • Stress attacks our mental health and drives behaviors including abuse of alcohol, drugs and other addictions. Trying to take the “edge off” is a slippery slope.
  • Workplace violence can be a response to stress triggers that put our wellbeing at risk.
  • HR folks tell us that only 2% of employees utilize EAP

So, as we enter what seems like week one billion of COVID-19, let’s all consider that it was time for many of the changes we are seeing evolve in the workplace. We are so much better together. Together we will not just survive but thrive as individuals, companies, and communities. Multi-disciplined risk assessment teams are the glue that is holding our communities together today. They are also going to be a critical part of the new normal that we are all craving. They are a key part of an integrated security program that is vital to our future prosperity because they protect our critical assets and drive our economy.

And finally, from a security perspective, our message is very similar to what you are hearing from your HR, medical, and mental health professionals:

At the highest level, employees are looking for leadership, compassion, and a sense of community.
  • Be honest with employees, but also remind employees that they are a part of a larger community.
  • Be seen and be heard.
  • Communicate vision and leadership. Focus on the welfare and encouragement of the employees.
  • We are in this together.
Every company should have a multi-disciplined risk assessment team.
  • These are the people who know who is at risk and which departments or employees may need additional resources/support.
  • If a particular department is critical and has a lot of parents of school age children or younger, childcare support will be critical. Can the company help support this need?
  • Do you have an older employee population? Do they have special needs?
  • If layoffs are inevitable, how can you support employees seek resources such as unemployment and other government assistance? If the company can’t provide wages, can it do something else? Maybe open a food pantry for employees?
  • This team needs to have the authority to develop and deploy customized responses to departmental and individual issues.
Managers and supervisors should be talking with individual employees, by phone if not in person. In addition, they should be communicating via other media resources. This is necessary to support team members and identify potential issues.
  • Know that employees want to be heard and know they are not forgotten.
  • Equip managers and supervisors with information about EAP programs so that they can remind employees that there are resources in place to support them.
  • Provide managers and supervisors with information that they can share with employees on benefits, unemployment options, anything that can support employees and create a sense of support and/or community.
  • Provide training and resources to managers and supervisors to be able to identify employees who may become a threat to the company or who are making threatening statements. Always treat these statements as a red flag. Report these statements to HR, security, manager, or whomever the company designates.
    • Employees are the most at risk when multiple areas of their lives are off the tracks. When we feel like we are a valuable part of our personal and professional community, we can weather significant upheaval and chaos. However, this can change when things get off the tracks in multiple areas, especially when compounded by physical or mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse.
    • Managers/supervisors and co-workers are critical to the ability of any company to conduct threat assessments. They can identify and deploy resources that protect the organization.

Workplace violence is one of those security events that we want to believe will not happen. The effect that coronavirus will have on our employee populations will be significant and will extend for months if not years.

Now is the time to take steps to support employees and our community by providing information, leadership, resources, sympathy, and kindness. It will pay dividends for all of us and support a stronger, more resilient community of the future.