Workplace violence is one of the most significant detriments to the American workplace, costing businesses more than $70 billion a year and leading to the loss of about 600 lives.
Despite these shocking numbers the vast majority of companies have no program in place to deal with workplace violence.
This article will provide the basic steps to address and minimize violence in your workplace.
Developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention program
The implementation of a workplace violence prevention policy, documentation system, prevention team and specific prevention strategies should be publicized company wide, and appropriate training sessions should be scheduled. The demonstrated commitment of management is crucial to the success of the program.
Your documentation system will be how you track incidents of workplace violence, reports of employee behavior and more. This documentation is valuable to assess the need for action to reduce or mitigate the risks for workplace violence and implement a reasonable intervention strategy.
The written workplace violence prevention policy should clearly indicate a zero tolerance of violence at work, whether the violence originates inside or outside the workplace. By zero tolerance most employees will communicate to employees and have them sign documentation indicating that they will be terminated from employment if they partake in violence while in a working capacity or against a co-worker or client outside of work.
Each employer should establish a person or team responsible for handling and dealing with reports of violent behavior. These teams should include representatives from human resources, security, employee assistance, unions, workers, management, and perhaps legal and public relations departments. The charge to this team (person) is to assess the threats of violence and to determine what steps are necessary to prevent the threat from being carried out.
In addition the violence prevention program needs to include emergency procedures in the event of a violent incident. These procedures should explicitly state how the response team is to be assembled and who is responsible for immediate care of the victim(s), reestablishing work areas and processes, and organizing and carrying out stress debriefing sessions with victims, their co-workers, and perhaps the families of victims and co-workers.
Finally you need a training program on workplace violence. Training employees in non-violent response and conflict resolution is proven to reduce the risk that volatile situations will escalate to physical violence. Training should not be regarded as the sole prevention strategy but as a component in a comprehensive approach to reducing workplace violence.
Training should emphasize the appropriate use and maintenance of protective equipment, adherence to administrative controls, and increased knowledge and awareness of the risk of workplace violence.
Identifying employee violence
It is important to remember that all workplace violence does not originate in the office.
Possible external factors that can lead to office stress and violence include psychological problems, alcohol or drug use, and familial stress. Internal triggers of workplace violence include romantic obsessions, feeling abandoned, humiliation, feeling overlooked or possible feelings of anger because of knowledge of a pending layoff or furlough.
It is important to defuse the causes of workplace violence before they escalate into a full blown event. To do so it is important both managers and employees are able to recognize the signs of pending workplace violence.
The following are indicators that can signal the risk potential of violent episodes:
- Sudden and persistent complaining about unfair treatment
- Blaming of others for personal problemsBehavior changes
- Deterioration in job performance
- Wishing harm on supervisors or other employees
- Paranoid behavior
- Sudden increased absenteeism
- Sexually harassing, or obsessing, about a co-worker: sending unwanted gifts, notes, unwanted calling, stalking
- Increased demand of supervisor's time
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Talking to oneself
- Instability in family relationships
- Financial problems combined with not receiving a raise or promotion
- Poor relationships with co-workers or management
- History of violent behavior
- Previous threats, direct or indirect
- Presenting and talking about reading material that is violent in nature
- Carrying a concealed weapon, or flashing one around
- Quiet seething, sullenness
- Refusal to accept criticism about job performance
- Sudden mood swings, depression
- Sudden refusal to comply with rules or refusal to perform duties
- Inability to control feelings, outbursts of rage, swearing, slamming doors, etc.
If an employee demonstrates any of the indicators it is important that they are referred to the appropriate person in your organization. It is imperative the person addressing the employee showing these characteristics responds in an empathic, caring and non-shaming manner.
If interested in receiving a free safety meeting on workplace violence e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.