Change-Management Can Have an Over-Reaching Impact on Workplace Violence Prevention

Posted on: March 8th, 2015

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. I have been a part of the workplace violence prevention effort in one form or fashion prior to the Edmonton, Oklahoma Tragedy of August 20, 1986 when Patrick Henry Sherrill, shot and killed 14 co-workers, wounded six, then shot himself inside the post office. But violence in the workplace was not alien to the Postal Service as Postal Inspectors dealt with armed robberies of letter carriers and post offices.

Workplace Violence continues to be a legitimate workplace security concern that may be ripe for a paradigm shift, changing traditional approaches in favor of more Robust, Agile and Proactive (RAP) strategies and tactics. While terrorism still ranks high on the list of workplace security threats, workplace violence by its ominous name continues to weigh heavily as a critical factor impacting people security, morale, performance, production, efficiency, injury compensation and medical costs as well as the legal cost of defending serious injury and negligent homicide and training allegations. Workplace violence and workplace terrorism are concerns worth insuring such preparedness and training is relevant and competent. The December 2, 2015 San Bernardino County Shootings teaches us many lessons learned we must adapt to current workplace violence prevention and workplace security measures. “Free” training is relevant but only if one considers the source and the organizational value. 

As a tangible factor, personnel turbulence can be measured. In 2008 the consulting firm CPP conducted a study that revealed employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in the United States.  

The intangible cost from the daily non-violent workplace avenger and disgruntled employee before transitioning to violence are hard to measure until uncovered in the aftermath.  Credibility in reporting can expedite the reporting and decision process. Beyond the emotional and physical impact on the affected employees, significant impact on diminished performance and production are the outgrowth of victims suffering from low morale and lack of confidence in the employer’s capability to provide for a safe and secure workplace all affect the bottom-line. This perception of a lack luster investment in people security effects witnesses and their families who are cognizant of the perceived questionable management commitment and distrust the process.

Recent events in the news continue to validate the reality that the threat of workplace violence is a genuine human resource security concern that can come from a disgruntled employee, estranged spouse or an intimate partner relationship.  Long gone is the correlation between having conducted a thorough background check as a way of identifying those with predisposed violence related and criminal tendencies. Employers have gotten better at screening these potential predators out. Oddly enough, we’re discovering that employees with non-criminal history are just as likely to commit an act of homicidal violence as the predisposed criminal.

Nevertheless, warning signs can help when the right personnel are trained in avoiding false positives. In understanding that our workplaces are a microcosm of our society and communities, multiple intervention strategies are required to effectively mount a proactive workplace violence prevention campaign in conjunction with warning signs and credible reporting.  Workplace violence prevention cannot be a reaction to an event as in the case of an active shooter or hostile intruder but, rather, an ongoing process and measured responses. Robust, Agile and Proactive (RAP) strategies provide for aggressive intervention, accountable supervision, responsible alignment, internal reporting and audience specific, segmented training as critical components of an investment in workplace violence prevention through multiple intervention strategies.

Homicidal acts of violence by employees, spouses, domestic and intimate partners and/or criminals in the commission of violent crimes have been occurring frequently and without regard for the type workplace (healthcare or educational institution). We see in recent news reports that the disgruntled predator doesn’t discriminate.  Violence can occur from disgruntled family members in business related disputes gone awry, students upset about grade scores and intimate relationships, angry individuals, and despondent patients and family members in healthcare centers and nursing homes.  

We saw in a Columbus, Ohio incident, February 14, 2012 that the weapon of choice can be a knife affecting the emergency alert, response and communication time between the events, reporting and the 911 Call.  In the Ohio incident, four people were stabbed emphasizing the importance that workplaces understand the response and prepare for threats appropriately. The disgruntled threat can come at any moment from any source and with any weapon. February of 2012, we saw the rare case of the Immigration Agent who shot his manager and was shot and killed by another Agent, clearly validating the need for every workplace to have workplace unique and specific countermeasures in minimizing the potential of workplace violence as a function of their environments. In other words, let’s change the way we’ve been implementing and managing workplace violence prevention by taking proactive measures that increases workforce readiness and employee trust and fidelity in the process. Change is needed in how employers manage their workplace violence prevention policies and plans. Who says that Human Resources can’t share the responsibility with Physical Security, leaving HR as the Program Manager and Security as the Incident Manager?

Making a paradigm shift in how workplaces have traditionally responded to reports and threats of workplace violence isn’t easy but, it can yield proactive value when integrated into a comprehensive violence prevention initiative. Dismiss the temptation to make assumptions in assessing at risk situations and individuals. We must come to grips with the reality that although workplaces are not immune from the threat of unprovoked homicidal violence, workplaces can reduce risk by increasing their response to workplace violence prevention by taking every report seriously in resolving at risk situations or conditions.

“To Properly address the threat from within, experts in the field of workplace security and workplace violence prevention can play a significant role in helping to shape and recommend strategies that help improve worker safety and security”.  

Managed intervention and prevention strategies can empower employees and the organization in taking effective steps to address troublesome individuals and at risk situations by preparing the workforce to take immediate protective measures to reduce their risks in responding before, during and following any reported threat of violence. Become change managers, by modifying current approaches to workplace violence prevention. Adopt appropriate robust, agile and proactive strategies that integrate and collaborate the effort through a coordinated response. No one says your approach has to be a template or restrictive, only defensible.

The following Workplace Violence Prevention solutions can be effective in any workplace setting:

– assessment of early warning signs through some form of behavior assessment model;

– commitment to conduct annual workplace specific assessments in evaluating and assessing known and discovering unknown hazards impacting safety and security;

– employ flexibility in evaluating current physical security, visitor management, access control measures and terminations in helping to identify gaps in security;

– conduct frequent work-site analysis and employee assessments to identify, correct/resolve immediate concerns;

– assign a senior manager as the workplace violence prevention program manager to provide oversight, continuity, coordination, collaboration and integration of effort;

– conduct and conclude hasty workplace investigations to identify root causes, contributing factors and at risk situations; and:

– consider retaining an external consultant to serve as your technical Advisor.

In the end the ultimate goal of the workplace violence prevention initiative is to create an empowered workforce capable of applying the right mix of proactive strategies and tactics designed to address their unique aspects of their workplaces. Working in concert or independently as part of the risk minimization effort.

“Don’t overlook your corporate counsels, and labor attorney recommendations. Risk and compliance managers offer perspectives from their points of view. When considered as part of a coordinated effort, they are all priceless and worth their weight in gold as key components of your proactive strategy”.

Remember that when you engage your legal team they can be very effective NOW and TOMORROW. They are anxious to be engaged now as part of the employer’s management commitment and investment in proactive workplace violence prevention measures.

What are your thoughts?