The Threat of Workplace Violence Looms Mightily

Posted on: January 25th, 2015

Recent workplace and school shooting incidents underscore the importance of having current comprehensive workplace violence prevention and violence response policy and plans in place.  The unfortunate news coverage might have sensationalized the stories motivating workplace managers to deal with their workplace security realities prematurely or inappropriately.

We are finally coming to grips with the reality that workplaces are veritable lighting rods for violence.

If workplace senior leaders care and are concerned about providing for a safe and secure workplace, it requires their leadership,  and that they  understand the risk and respond appropriately in deploying supportive policies, plans and resources. Our response must not be reactionary incident to an active shooter to surface but measured against potential realities and organizational capabilities. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to news media reports that really scare management to make  knee-jerk decisions that result in short-lived training that exposes the organization to other issues.

Dr. Robert F. Hester, Ph.D FBINA, Hester and Associates, Inc. on June 20, 2005 wrote an article entitled: Business Continuity for Small Businesses said, Safety, security and preparedness aren’t routinely a focus in our lives. Being on guard is not something Americans are used to or like doing. Still danger and the threat never goes away; only fades in memory.”

Is Dr. Hester in fact saying that our workplace security policies are like what we see in the African Plains where the Antelopes and the hungry Lions play this cat and mouse game? The Antelope senses, hears and sees the Lions attacking, they run for their lives only to return to grazing after the hungry Lions are feasting? Is that the mentality that drives the workplace security decision process? I do not think so but it makes me wonder what does.

Workplaces must not be quick to judge the misfortunes of others or what happens to other organizations in making hasty decisions without properly assessing and evaluating one’s unique workplace risks. Media interests in making news unintentionally directs the workplace security outcome through sensationalized reporting.  It can cause decision makers to under-value the real threat and the inherent risks. The threat of workplace violence looms mightily as a workplace security concern when poor communications, coordination and collaboration results in a shooting or suicide incident.  Waiting for an incident to occur before taking needed prevention measures contributes to poor morale, lowered production, performance and increased cost associated to victims and co-workers traumatized by the exposure and its memories and other related cost.

If the rationale is to let the media drive the urgency and discussion then the leadership is not being considerate of their realities and the potential for any employee to become a victim or predator. Workplace violence reflects a microcosm of our society tied directly to employee perceptions of their workplaces and their personal issues. Shortsighted initiatives that are more like window dressings lack substantive prevention effectiveness. The reality is that workplaces are veritable lightning rods for violence hence the position that  workplace violence looms mightily in every type of organization and educational setting. Our job is to minimize the risk through proactive prevention strategies and preparation of the workplace.

Minimizing risks requires taking proactive intervention strategies that includes a critical vulnerability assessment of your workplace security, violence prevention  & violence response procedures, physical security measures and workplace administrative and operation’s policies.

While reported shooting rampages have served to raise moral and ethical consciousness and concern, critical thinking and leadership are best desired in rolling out thoughtful workplace violence prevention initiatives. Workplaces must appreciate that unhappy employees don’t wake up one morning consumed with retaliation or getting even. NO, they don’t!!!  The escalation and movement towards homicidal retaliation probably started months earlier if not years earlier and the clues were missed or misunderstood, giving the appearance of negligent supervision and security.  Supervisors who do not examine their employee’s unique permanent and temporary work-sites cannot assess and evaluate the potential risk to their employees who might be exposed to autocratic supervision, toxic employees, and criminal elements.  

Sometimes workplace policies create misunderstandings when the workforce is taken for granted.  Don’t dismiss the possibility of the unintentional consequences of workplace policies contributing to conflict as a result of  employee interpretation and perceptions of the policies.  Supervisors and managers can play a leadership role by being proactive in “prevention” through swift intervention, communication and monitoring. Workplaces can show sensitivity to the fact that employees and non-employees are victims of changes in their family, medical, personal, financial and workplace relationships that are often exacerbated by workplace relationships. Disciplinary Action to include suspensions and terminations are not always the best solution but sometimes necessary. How they  are carried out will have inevitably have bearing on the employees or former employee’s psychology. 

Workplace violence prevention really requires a comprehensive view of workplaces and how best to integrate resources, collaborate strategies and coordinate efforts effectively in managing the potentially hostile workplace settings. (Developing Your Comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Policy/Plan )

Not wishing to rush to conclusions by questioning how effective or ineffective workplace violence prevention efforts might be, workplaces must review their policies and plans annually and take proactive measures to design an atmosphere where employees see the value of “prevention” through management’s commitment as an investment in their safety and security.  In arriving at a proactive methodology the objective is to integrate workplace violence prevention as a seamless “Human Resource Security Initiative”.  Workplaces must be critical of their capabilities and limitations by asking tough questions. We must not allow assumptions, convenience, expediency and expectations to dictate management’s decisions, attitudes and disposition. Inappropriate employee conduct (supervisors and managers alike) must be held accountable as part of building credibility and integrity in workplace violence prevention. To do so, we must ask the following questions:

  • Do we understand the risks?
  • Are we responding properly?
  • Do we monitor and track incidents, situations and people?
  • How could the incident happen?
  • What did we miss that could have prevented the outcome through care, consideration and attentiveness?
  • What did we take for granted and why?
  • How do we interact or fail to intervene?

As passionate workplace leadership, I know how devoted you are so, I do not presume or pretend I have the right answers but, would ask that senior leaders begin a process TODAY to critically assess and evaluate your respective workplace settings and situations to uncover unknown hazards and resolve known hazards and security gaps. Why wait to answer such questions tomorrow when posed by the media, OSHA or a jury?

Through proactive intervention policies and plans the workforce plays a role to enhance their “prevention capability”.  In other words the prevention effort acts as a force multiplier when the workforce understand the responsibilities, duties and the impact. Supervision, leadership, policy design and program development and documentation helps to substantiate and validate management’s commitment and fortifies employee trust and credibility in management’s ability to provide for a safe and secure workplace. Remember, having a physical security presence is part of the strategy but not the solution. But, conducting the critical vulnerability assessment can yield gaps that will allow workplaces to efficiently and effectively deploy security forces.

Putting the threat of workplace violence prevention in perspective at your workplace is important. That the number of horrific workplace related events occur infrequently, should not persuade senior leaders, risk managers or human resources to avoid having the discussion and applying appropriate protective measures.  There is a need to be prepared for the “WHEN” it happens rather than “IF”  it happens.  The phrase threat of workplace violence looms mightily means the threat can come from a variety of different threats that include; current employee, former employee, disgruntled customer, client, patient or student, opportunity criminal or the domestic/intimate partner violence spillover into the workplace. I will not scare readers with immaterial statistics not specific to your respective workplaces at this point but, I will implore you to take immediate action to improve your workplace security and workplace violence prevention posture TODAY.  It is my experience that workplace violence prevention has to become a human resources security mission.  Research shows that employer’s limited resources, misunderstanding of workplace violence prevention and a lack of technical competency may be the challenges encountered rather than a lack of will.  This list of reasons may suggest why?

  1. Denial in terms of we do not have a problem;
  2. It is resource intensive;
  3. Why invest in prevention when we can terminate;
  4. Time is of the essence;
  5. We lack the staff and support;
  6. Cost of training and NO ROI;
  7. The cost of hiring the consultant does not justify the expense.

These reasons however real, imagined or unrealistic to your situation have been chronicled in various surveys conducted by the Department of Labor, American Society of Safety Engineers, ASIS International, Pinkerton and a host of other lesser-known organizations since 1989.  Surveys point to a sense of urgency but a confusing investment and response that illustrates a misunderstanding of the potential threat and how best to deploy the resources.  Contrary to the commonly held beliefs by most that the topic of workplace violence does not affect my business and as such, it is not my problem can not be further from the truth. It affects people, property, premises and the bottom-line. (The Cost of Workplace Violence Prevention and Awareness ).

As we close this topic, workplace violence continues to be a serious business security threat today facing the workplace ranking right along with Business Continuity/Business Interruption, Terrorism and Cyber and Computer Crimes.


4 Responses

  1. Buck Blackburn says:

    Felix You are so right in your analysis and foresight. Our program you helped us design and implement is outstanding. The article rang true and this line stood out to me: “Workplaces must be critical of their capabilities and limitations by asking tough questions”. I recall those conversations we had and made our senior management focus on. Their support was critical and made for an outstanding Workplace Violence Prevention program. It is not “ is WHEN”. We are prepared…I wonder if other companies are ready?

    Buck Blackburn
    GMAC – Director of Facilities and Office Services

    • Felix says:

      Mr. Blackburn, the threat of workplace violence looms mightily but especially in those organizations that are reluctant to expose the workforce to the realities of workplace violence. By avoiding the adult discussions, workplaces increase the risk of their workforce by not preparing them appropriately. Who within the negligent organization will want to take the stand to answer the question; WHY NOT? I think your organization was open-minded and receptive to new ideas, your leadership played a significant role in recognizing that being prepared was part of management’s interest in rolling out your program. If you recall, you began the process when you allowed me to conduct the workplace violence prevention critical assessment and analysis of your workplace security and polices. Any success achieved is entirely a factor of the value your senior management placed on workforce and workplace safety and security. GMAC does not consider workplace violence prevention an unnecessary cost but rather a necessary investment in the employee and stakeholder safety and security. It’s true, “Workplaces must be critical of their capabilities and limitations by asking tough questions”. Workplace Violence is not about training only but about the incorporation of training to support policy, procedures and plans. If you recall, out training was the outgrowth of your policy, procedures and plans. Management’s commitment and investment are the ingredients that forge the success of any workplace violence prevention initiative. Preparing for the “WHEN” has to be an organizational goal at all cost, just because it’s about people and the organization’s treasured reputation. Employees and those they serve are unknown risk that must be addressed through formalized initiatives. You manage that risk quite well.

  2. Kevin Behr says:

    Mr. Nater,
    Your article and systematic analysis of work place violence is a required infusion for the work place. When CEO,CFO, and Boards of Directors makes this part of the culture then response and vigilance of the work place become part of the daily operation. Also a focus on work place bullying can be helpfull to the overall equations. Thank you for sharing your expertise for the rest of us to emulate.

    • Felix says:

      Mr. Kevin Behr, thanks for your insightful and critical thinking comments on the topic. Because workplace violence prevention requires a critical thinking perspective, CEOs, CFOs and Boards of Directors can help the ongoing nature of the process by getting involved as part of the systematic analysis and required “infusion”. Combating the threat of workplace violence is an integrated and collaborative venture coordinated through the efforts of a senior officer of the organization, school, university, college or hospital. It should not be an HR or security mission but a collaborative venture with respective coordinating roles, functions and responsibilities. To infuse accountability in program management, I am suggesting that there’s a fiduciary responsibility sitting squarely on the laps of the CEOs,CFOs, and Boards of Directors in providing oversight management that insures the culture is proactive and not reactionary. Practicing the “IF” it happens mentality is not a sound business-security management philosophy. Senior leadership can lead the effort by insuring resources are aligned, dedicated and managed and the investment is not seen as a “cost” but rather an investment in people and the workplace (schools, universities, colleges and hospitals). Though the discussion always focuses on the employee or former employee threat, workplace violence prevention includes at risk situations emanating from employee on employee, former employee and non-employees, criminals in armed robberies and external threats posed by domestic/intimate threat spill over into the workplace. Such an effort requires coordinate multiple intervention strategies. Appropriate response and thoughtful vigilance is a full-time job easily supported by reporting and tracking and monitoring software, trained supervisors and managers and an informed workforce as components of intervention strategies. To your point, too many organizations have disjointed, distorted and fractured approaches to workplace violence prevention that include separate approaches to bullying, sexual harassment, harassment, assaults and criminal activity rather than under the workplace violence prevention program.

What are your thoughts?