From all the literature and surveys on the topic of workplace violence, it’s clear that CEOs are truly worried about their organization’s workplace violence prevention capabilities in heading off a potential disgruntled employee active shooter threat or intimate partner violence/domestic violence workplace spillover that results in subsequent negative news coverage.
I bet they worry about whether their capabilities are designed to identify gaps in their efforts, the ability to recognize limitations in their resources, enjoy the ability to anticipate problems, understand how to take corrective measures and whether their policies are proactive or reactive. I bet CEOs worry about whether their own commitment is reflected in their budgets, their resources, their awareness, and their support for training.
So, you are the new Human Resource Professional at your company and your CEO calls you into his office to talk about the workplace violence prevention posture. The CEO is concerned about what’s in the news of late, wants to get a baseline of information to help him understand what his posture actually is. What is your baseline of knowledge? What is your reference point of understanding when the CEO ask you?
- where are we with respect to our workplace violence prevention posture?
- do we have a policy that adequately addresses the prohibited conduct and the OSHA 4 Categories of violence?
- do we have a historical record of the type of incidents and can we track such incidents?
- what are we doing to assess and evaluate potential at-risk situations and worksites?
- what topics does the training address and is it providing a noticeable improvement and awareness?
- are we capable of managing at risk situations?
- what are the supervisor’s roles in intervention and prevention?
While you might have had some exposure to workplace violence prevention in the past, nothing has prepared you to the scope of this conversation with your CEO. And while the focus is on the HR Professional within your organization, the CEO could be having the same conversation with the plant manager, safety manager, risk manager or shift managers. He will not want to hear only that workplace violence related misconduct were resolved under Zero Tolerance where disciplinary action and ultimately “termination” were the solutions. He wanted to know what strategic role Human Resource was playing. https://www.naterassociates.com/human-resources-huge-role-to-fill/
As the HR Professional you might be familiar with the workplace violence prevention tools, support and guidance provided by the SHRM organization and you want to lead the way in your organization. Admittedly observe that you do not really have the experience or working knowledge to integrate, collaborate, coordinate, and communicate such resources and tools into an organizational response. https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/Pages/Workplace-Violence.aspx
You have mixed emotions, but you take on the initiative by reviewing the SHRM’s Member workplace violence prevention resources and tools on their website. You find it a plethora of valued information and your confidence is emboldened.
You see the meeting with the CEO as productive and an opportunity to seize the moment to establish a workplace violence prevention program no matter how limited. You are happy to have the CEO’s support. You proceed to acquire the resources needed and acquire the understanding of what workplace prevention entails. You discover that workplace violence was a lot more than I had thought. It’s feels like a paradigm shift at a needed time in workplace and workforce safety and security. What better time than now to start applying risk mitigation, recognizing potential threats, discovering challenges, and dealing with the opportunities while the interest is high.
You recall an old saying – “strike while the iron is hot”.
Your company is planning to return to work during the Covid-19 transitional period, but you will be operating at reduced workforce levels at your worksites while a major portion of the workforce will continue to work remotely or from their homes until further notice. It is an opportunity to get a lot done. But a lot is going through your mind knowing that you are in different times calling for different tactics.
This gradual return to the workplace and the definite need to manage work from home and other remote venues mandates proactive thinking in how workplace violence prevention will be managed going forward. While it may not be a major restructuring or design, a diagnosis or assessment will be needed to assess the posture and show how workplace violence prevention gets implemented. It will be important to have a process as the workplace will be facing new threats from the disgruntled workforce returning to the workplace with a variety of emotional and psychological issues.
There will be conflict and opinions directly related to shelter at home, perceptions, restricted movement, post-election emotional fallout and CDC workplace related risk mitigation restrictions and mandates imposing their freedom. It will be a defiant workforce. The difference is with the CEO’s support, you no longer need to worry about resources at your disposal. https://www.naterassociates.com/covid19-return-to-work-risk-mitigation-challenges-and-opportunities/
You see it the time as NOW for your organization to strike while the iron is hot. You want to seize the opportunity to improve your current workplace violence prevention-security posture or may be even roll out something different that will obviously have the CEO’s attention if not support. You recall that OSHA is the authority on the subject from the SHRM website and decide to check it out. https://www.osha.gov/workplace-violence
To help you implement your plans you search for a likely workplace violence prevention consultant, a partner. You figure that it might be a good idea to begin getting the right answers to your many questions. Why wait? Why not begin assessing the situation, addressing the approach? Why not use the time to meet with staff and supervisors to alert them of your organizational intentions with the consultant present.
When discussing the initiative with staff and managers, you emphasize the importance of being proactive, the need to be empathetic and vigilant in resolving all issues now instead of waiting until there’s a situation that escalates or a surprise active shooter. The ingredients for the prospect of volatility are quite apparent. You quickly learn that workplaces are in fact veritable lightning rods.
The threats come from a disgruntled current and former employee active shooter and the intimate partner and domestic violence workplace spillover are real and present threats. You are convinced that both topics are preventable situations with an organizational response. You discover a plethora of resources limiting your excuses. You realize the significant role HR can play in implementing, coordinating and managing the effort. https://www.osha.gov/workplace-violence
You are interested in addressing both the current and future threats affecting your worksites and day to day threats posed by a disgruntled workforce subjected to CDC (Center for Decease Control) risk mitigation strategies and the OSHA 3900 Document. You anticipate conflict emanating from the CDC risk mitigation strategies that will strain workforce patience and coping skills. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/workplaces-businesses/index.html
You sense a melting pot of personalities, emotions, anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, and politics coming together in a post covid-19 and post-election work environment, issues you will have to deal with. It starts to become clear that there is a paradigm shift the HR professional may have to be prepared to deal with and represent as the organization’s focal point in managing the threat of workplace violence. The approach called for a thoughtful and considerate one. Discipline and “terminations” must not be the immediate or necessary solutions in every case unless you want to increase the unemployment rolls. Mental health will be dominant factor employer consideration
As the HR Professional, there are perceptions, impressions, opinions, false flags, misunderstanding and confusion about workplace violence and (school violence) prevention that will need to be rectified. You will need CEO and senior management support in getting their commitment and investment. You must understand the need and importance for applying warning signs, risk factors and contributing factors are prerequisites in any effective workplace violence prevention initiative.
You’ve read enough about potential myths like workplace violence is not preventable, workplace violence won’t happen here or even that background screening will help in identifying the potential insider threat. You want to add perspective.
You diagnose the significant challenge as one of understanding how best to approach workplace violence prevention in this new era. You confirm that not assuming, avoiding convenience and never being expedient (ARC Factor) are key in minimizing risk and managing threats. You caution your CEO and senior managers to avoid common phrases and vernacular. You discourage the CEO against viewing the “Covid-19 Return to Work” as a “new normal” yet, but encourage rather a “transitional interim” towards a stabilized period where Employers and the Workforce can see the light at the end of the tunnel in working together for the future. https://www.naterassociates.com/osha-general-duty-clause-workplace-violence-prevention/
In as much as Employers have a duty and responsibility to provide for a safe and secure workplace (OSHA Duty to Warn Clause) how it is achieved is not only a mandate but also a moral, ethical, and legal obligation. Providing for a safe and secure workplace can be effectively implemented through organizational engagement. You want to be logical, thoughtful, and as comprehensive as possible.
The paradigm shift being considered in this blog will have long-lasting positive benefit to the organization in creating trust, confidence, and respect in the employer’s intentional commitment. Employee perception of disparate treatment will drive the thinking and the behavior that fuels the emotional contagion, rationale, and justification to exact their vengeance.
It will be the role of the Human Resources Professional in alignment with others organizational leaders to create new skillsets in helping the Employer anticipate the challenges by being in position to intervene early. Emphasizing the importance of giving employee reports and complaints credibility that will aid in proper solutions early on and dispelling the notion that management’s only interest is discipline and “termination”.
So where would I suggest you begin as the HR Professional? Since you probably know enough to get rolling, I would ask you to take a program manager view of how to go about establishing your approach. One example of “HOW” in creating an effective workplace violence prevention posture is by building management credibility, confidence, and trust through the role of engaged supervisors. Supervisors will need to become centers of influence that lead by example in being able to recognize the potentially volatile workplace environments, respond to issues and situations and make appropriate decisions. Having the HR Professional’s backing, the ability to manage threats and mitigate risks on the spot will be essential in containing escalation and managing risks.
- recognizing warning signs, risk factors and contributing situations
- learning how to manage situations
- managing one’s behavior in managing the potential hostile workplace
- discovering what being proactive really means
- using and relying on organizational resources
- leading with purpose
- seizing the moment
- assessing and evaluating situations on the spot
- conducting comprehensive worksite specific assessments
- reporting, advising, and informing all involved
Why a comprehensive worksite assessment in the first place? A comprehensive assessment could very well uncover gaps in the existing violence prevention initiative that could help thwart the next homicidal threat, workplace suicide or intimate partner workplace spillover violence. Gaps may include unintentional consequences of policies, procedures, protocols, access control, visitor management, separations and discipline and new employee screening. Comprehensive takes into consideration the worksite specific nature, policies, plans and procedures, technology, supervision, and training.
During this transitional interim period engaged and involved supervision will be key. Success will be predicated on management’s commitment to empathetic leadership while providing for a safe workplace in addressing inappropriate conduct through root cause analysis. Treating employees with dignity and respect will take on a different meaning that shows sincerity, care, and concern for their well-being.
Author: Felix P. Nater, CSC Chief Security Consultant, Nater Associates, Ltd. is a retired U.S. Postal Inspector and current security management consultant with over 30 years of experience and expertise. Office: 704-784-0260 / Toll Free: 877-825-8101 https://www.naterassociates.com.
Thank you for the information you sent. It was a complete and very direct policy that everyone needs to follow. Most companies do not understand the violence that could occur at your job. I know places that have basically locked their employees in the work areas. These people do not have a clue, in handling violence at work.
Thank you for your interest Cynthia. You have touched on several issues that go to the core of misunderstanding. You are right in many ways. The object of the prevention policy should be twofold: mitigate threats and risks to the workforce and others and protect the employer from charges of negligence. However, the misinformed go to extremes believing such measures you speak of are the best they can do when in reality they are not practicing prevention but fear. Fear of employee physical violence drives management to apply security measures they feel will deter the violence without really assessing the problem, situation or condition that might lead to violence. This is the best they are willing to do.
Their tactical decision to lockdown is reactionary thinking that violence is only homicidal and not nonfatal like harassment, threats, intimidation, sabotage, bullying or tampering with systems. The consequence of what you describe is counterproductive. I bet an employee survey would prove my point. Stay proactive Cynthia.