Predicting Workplace Violence is Difficult

Following the workplace shooting at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, Mass., experts question whether companies can predict potentially violent employees during the hiring process, CNN reported Dec. 29.

Michael McIntyre, a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Tennessee’s College of Business Administration in Knoxville, says companies can effectively spot employees with aggressive tendencies. He recently designed a test for job applicants that he says can uncover violent tendencies. "It was designed to identify and hopefully stop these sorts of events," said McIntyre. Unlike other tests given to potential employees, McIntyre said his tool is presented as a reasoning test.
"People aren’t being told they’re taking an aggression test. People don’t know what’s being measured," said McIntyre. "We’re identifying a personality type that does, in extreme, what you saw in Massachusetts. People who feel like victims, who feel they’ve been mistreated and exploited and abused and feel the need to retaliate against their provoker."

But Mark Braverman, founder of CMG Associates in Newton, Mass., questions the validity of the test. "Any psychologist will tell you it's impossible to predict human behavior," he said. "The problem is that employers, like anyone else, are looking for an answer that will make them feel more comfortable." Employment laws also prohibit employers from asking questions about applicants' mental-health background.

Companies have been using various tests to determine how applicants might work with others. According to a recent survey conducted for the Society for Human Resource Professionals, 22 percent of human-resources managers said they administer personality tests to job aspirants. "I think it's definitely a growing trend right now," said Angela Georgallis, a spokeswoman for the group. "There's a lot of talk about it."