Dispelling 3 Common Myths about Workplace Violence Prevention and Workplace Security

Posted on: August 3rd, 2018

When I speak with people about the topic of workplace violence prevention, their responses indicate their understanding of what constitutes workplace violence prevention.

“Our Zero Tolerance Policy addresses our workplace violence prevention efforts”.

“Management deals with such problems with discipline and if necessary we terminate the problem employees.”

“We call the police when we have a situation we can’t handle.”

“Security problems that our employees have in the community are referred to the police.”

What I hear are cookie-cutter responses because workplace violence consist of physical violence and non-violence related behaviors like harassment, bullying, name calling, verbal abuse, intimidation, threatening conduct, stalking, sabotage and cyber security threats. It is not waiting for the homicidal incident! OSHA documents about 2 million such incidents annually. We believe that number is much higher simply because it is underreported as workplace violence.

In short, what I hear is a rational that seems devoid of an articulated top down organizational workplace or school prevention and violence response strategy. It appears that prevention is based on assumptions, convenient decisions and expedient actions.

They seem not to know what they don’t know and convinced themselves they know – “Doing the same thing over & over, expecting different results.”

Here are the 3 of the most common myths most often applied over the years:

MYTH #1: Workplace violence will not happen here.

“Too many workplace cultures subscribe” to the theory that Zero Tolerance puts employees on notice that such behavior will not be tolerated. Experience has shown that employees are reluctant to report their co-workers if it means disciplinary action. Others believe that their background screening will help them hire the right person. Truth is that background screening cannot predict what an employee with diminished coping skills will do in the future in managing conflict. So applying the “walk like a duck it is a duck” euphemism may not apply in addressing workplace violence. Best Practices have a place so long as they are not applied as a blanket solution without adaptability and flexibility.

Some organizations believe that employing armed guards will discourage the homicidal threat of violence. The question I always pose is who protects the workplace against the lone armed guard. The solution is not the lone armed guard but the prevention strategy.

With the emphasis on the homicidal threat of violence the nonfatal acts of violence are treated as employee misconduct and improperly addressed. Contributing factors are rarely identified because the focus is on the employee misconduct and not “why” the employee became aggressive, confrontational or threatening. So while the focus may be on the active shooter threat, we forget to focus on prevention to identify the contributing factors that might very well lead to such aggression and a civil liability suit for failing to foresee a recognizable hazard.

Assumptions about workplace violence and the value of prevention nullify the thinking required in the development of a comprehensive holistic workplace violence prevention program intended to be proactive.

MYTH #2: Workplace violence is not preventable.

This myth more or so applies to the threat posed by the non-employee opportunistic criminal, armed robber or domestic violence/intimate partner violence threat but should not apply to the employee threat. The employee threat is PREVENTABLE. There are workplaces that subscribe to the common belief, at least in part to the notion that the disgruntled employee is hard to detect and therefore hard to deal with. As such, workplaces do not invest in developing adequate prevention strategies, measures and procedures to proactively engage prevention measures. The reasoning may defer to this belief due to expediency in their efforts because it may lack senior management commitment and investment in proper training and alignment of resources.

Creating a culture of organizational responsibility, accountability and leadership can go a long way towards building employee trust and confidence in reporting their observations. Key is to create employee engagement based on credibility in reporting, accountability and supervision so that witnesses and victims can believe proper action will be taken. .

MYTH #3: We have workplace violence under control.

We have things under control is the typical response I’ve heard from larger organizations that believe they have matters under control and they very well may have. In speaking with some of their representatives, I am impressed by the level of commitment and investment. While they  rely on their Zero Tolerance Policy there appears to be a coordinated effort between Human Resources, Security and other departments. However, I wonder how many of such organizations have actually surveyed their workforce in receiving actual feedback? In order to tap into their workplace realities, management must ask the workforce about their experiences and actual impressions in evaluating the organization’s workplace violence prevention posture. Transparency in responding to employee reports and complaints will give the prevention effort credibility.

Maximize the Prevention Value through Multiple Intervention Strategies

Prevention is directly linked to how organizations intentionally manage the workplace violence prevention policy/plan/program. Workplaces and educational institutions that make a management commitment and deliberate investment in applying Multiple Intervention Strategies will have a clear advantage over those that live in a world of ‘MYTHs”.  Deferring issues and situations to their local law enforcement rather than investing in a proactive workplace violence prevention initiative may expose their liability.

Supervision, coaching, counseling, EAP, training, and performance improvement plans are examples of Multiple Intervention Strategies that may avert disaster. I find “Employee Engagement” as a new component of a Multiple Intervention Strategy from the standpoint of an engaged workforce built on employee trust and confidence. “Employee Engagement” is measurable. For example, Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion dollars each year.

According to Accenture, less than 50% of CFO appear to understand the ROI (Return on Investment) in human capital. Could this perception play a role in supporting a strong argument for why the above myths exist today? After all, by understanding and measuring the threat of workplace violence against poor productivity and performance, medical and injury compensation and time and attendance, impact on the organization’s bottom-line can be measured along with identifying ROI.

I think correlation is significant in helping to understand impact. The World Health Organization reports that stress cost American Business an estimated $300 billion annually. On the other hand, workplace violence is estimated to cost $121 billion annually. One can safely conclude that stress is a by-product of harassment, bullying and other related behaviors. Time away from work results in an average of 3.5 lost days per workplace violence incident recorded. Out of court civil law suit settlements average $500,000  Nonfatal assaults results in 876,000 lost work days annually. How do these areas help your organization develop your own metrics?

In Closing…

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Would you agree that by understanding the “WHAT, HOW and WHY” of workplace violence prevention and understanding and measuring employee satisfaction, productivity and impact on the bottom-line, effective programs can be developed and managed? Drawing a correlation between workplace violence prevention and employee engagement can help enhance the organizational response and begin to appreciate the value of proactive intervention. Hasty intervention and speedy response to employee complaints and observations will help organizations avoid being surprised by the active shooter. Remember that a workplace or school active shooter is a failed workplace or school violence prevention policy.

2 Responses

  1. Inclusive and important article, Felix!
    Prevention goes a long way. I’ve worked within the field
    and have seen fabulous results with excellent training and coaching.

    • Felix says:

      Thanks for stopping by Eileen Lichtenstein. The biggest challenge I believe workplaces and schools have with workplace violence prevention is recognizing and accepting the responsibility of the non-security personnel in managing and preventing the threat of violence. I couldn’t agree with you more that prevention goes a long way if and when the training is effective. I enjoy your input and feedback.

What are your thoughts?