The Five Phases of Workplace Violence

What we are learning is that there can be five phases an individual goes through that indicate they are pre-disposed to workplace violence. Being aware of these phases is one way to prevent such incidents, and should they occur, mitigate them for the safety of all.

Here are the five phases of workplace violence:

Phase 1. The Bubble Phaseworkplace violence

The bubble phase often begins when a minor incident at home or in the workplace makes someone – consciously or subconsciously – become angry. It could be a mediocre performance rating, bullying or put-downs by fellow staffers, or failure to get an expected job promotion or raise. Whatever the issue, an undercurrent of anger has developed.

Phase 2. The Steam Phase

It is considered normal and healthy for individuals to “release some steam” when angry. This is often all that is needed to put the anger behind them. In the workplace, this steam release can display itself subtly. For instance, the individual may fail to perform an ordinary chore, refuse a requested task by responding, “that’s not my job,” or perform it poorly. These are all subtle forms of rejection and defiance. If the worker is letting off steam, the anger may pass, the staffer may even apologize for their actions, and the disobedience stops. However, all too often in the workplace, the irritation increases and becomes progressively more dangerous. 

Phase 3. The Boiling Phase

At this point, negative emotions are surfacing to the top. The individual’s anger and frustration are no longer subtle but become evident in verbal and behavioral ways. For instance, the individual may:

  • Spread rumors and gossip to harm others.
  • Make unwanted sexual comments or innuendos
  • Frequently argue with fellow staffers, vendors, and customers.
  • Blame others for their failings.

Phase 4. The Pre-Eruption Phase

At each phase, intervention is possible. But it is at this stage – pre-eruption – that intervention is most necessary. Those around the individual begin to feel he or she is “losing it,” by displaying unusually belligerent and angry behavior. Among the behaviors exhibited in the pre-eruption stage are the following: 

  • Blocking someone’s path 
  • Abusive or threatening language
  • Physical fights
  • Destruction of property
  • Suicidal threats. (This is anger internalized)

Phase 5. The Eruption Phase

We can compare this to a volcano erupting. No single trigger causes spewing lava to be released that day or that hour. The volcano has traveled through stages – phases – leading to the eruption. These are like the phases an angry or unhappy person goes through before committing workplace violence. 

Why that day or time is selected is sometimes unclear. What is clear is that during the eruption stage, the person begins reacting forcefully, sabotaging equipment, stealing property, and may begin harming others.

Preventing the Eruption

Having an effective Workplace Violence Program in place can help prevent workplace violence from occurring.

Attend our upcoming Free Webinar: What Is a Workplace Violence Program and Why Do I Need One?

It will be presented by Oscar Villanueva, COO of TAL Global, and a recognized expert on this topic. His experience with the U.S Postal Inspection Service, handling workplace violence at various levels of the organization, is now widely considered the “gold standard” for keeping the workplace safe and secure.


Apr 27, 2023, 11:00 AM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

For more information, or to register, click here.

© TAL Global, 2019