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Can an Employee Assessment Prevent Hiring Violent Employees?

September 10, 2015

employee-violenceAny time incidents of workplace violence make the news, businesses and employees wonder if someone at their office might be the next to lash out. But how would you evaluate the potential for violence? Is it even possible, not to mention legal, to accurately assess which employees and job candidates might be most likely to perpetrate violent acts? The answers lie in how employee assessments are structured and evaluated.

What to Look For

Although the research is not entirely conclusive, three personality traits seem to be the common denominators of workplace violence and violent criminals in general: external locus of control, negative affectivity and interpersonal insensitivity.

People with an external locus of control do not feel that they are in control of their lives. They tend to be fatalistic and perceive that things happen to them randomly, rather than as a result of their actions. They often feel persecuted and victimized by others. Over time, feeling out of control can result in a high level of stress, which may lead to irrational or violent action against themselves and others.

Negative affectivity, or attitude, refers to a person’s way of looking at the world. People with a high level of negative affectivity:

  • See the glass half empty instead of half full
  • Look for hidden agendas and conspiracies
  • Are likely to be cynical

High levels of negative affectivity have been shown to be statistically significant in predicting poor job performance. In other words, poor attitude tends to mean poor performance.

Criminal and violent offenders have lower levels of interpersonal sensitivity and have a much lower need for affiliation than non-offenders do. Moreover, they don’t necessarily view interactions with others as positive experiences. They tend to be loners, are less likely to be concerned about the needs and feelings of others and believe that others are not concerned about their needs and feelings. Therefore, they are less likely to care that their actions may hurt other people.

Best of Both Worlds 

While people who are low in each of these three areas have an elevated propensity for negative behaviors, such as tardiness, absenteeism, accidents, poor performance as well as violence, the converse is also true. People who have an internal locus of control, have a more positive attitude and have higher levels of interpersonal sensitivity are likely to be better performers, come to work on time, and get along with others. So, the best strategy is to set a lower limit on these three areas to screen out individuals who pose a higher risk for a broad range of negative behaviors AND select individuals who are higher in all of these areas. You will screen out high-risk candidates and improve the quality of your workforce at the same time.

Results in Action 

When an Ohio-based manufacturing plant opened, every candidate was given a battery of assessments, including tests for negative affectivity. Minimum cutoffs for negative affectivity were not established for this plant. Instead, a compensatory evaluation model was chosen, allowing the overall average score to cancel out lower scores in other categories.

Nine months after the plant opened, Select International reviewed the original test scores of everyone who had been terminated, quit or gotten into serious conflicts with supervisors and co-workers at the plant. We found that 70% of those people had negative affectivity scores significantly higher than the rest of those who were hired. As a result of those findings, minimum cutoff points were instituted for negative affectivity scores and were applied in the next round of testing and hiring at the plant. Employee turnover and erratic behavior among the workers dropped significantly after minimum cutoffs were applied.

So what do I do now?

By looking for positive indicators and establishing minimum cutoff scores below which you will not hire, employers can comply with the law and also locate the best employees while simultaneously learning which employees may have the highest propensity for violence. By testing for these positive characteristics, hiring people who score the highest, and establishing a test score below which you will not hire, employers can weed out potentially dangerous poor performers and find the best people at the same time.

5 Steps to Getting Started with Manufacturing Employee Assessment

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.