Workplace Violence Happens! Are You Prepared?

Posted on: April 12th, 2015

Minor incidents of workplace violence occur daily in every type of business whether you know it or not or care to know about it. Workplaces experience varying levels of verbal abuse, name calling, harassment and intimidating behavior by employees on employees, non-employees and others. The concern is whether the workplace has policies and procedures in place to handle such incidents and reports.  When organizations fail to implement proactive workplace violence prevention policies and response plans or adopt changes in their approach to worker security or workplace security posture will ultimately invite other relative inhibitors.

When these incidents occur, they usually  go unreported. Whether reported or not, they affect employee morale, production, performance, attendance, labor and legal cost and even medical cost.

Surely you are aware that TODAY, violence can affect any workplace. No workplace setting or situation is immune. On February 16, , 2012 a Long Beach, CA federal immigration agent was shot and killed by a coworker at the workplace, after shooting and wounding his supervisor. On February 22, 2012 a New Britton, CT hospital maintenance employee shot and wounded two co-workers. On February 20, 2012,  Norcross, GA a family owned SPA erupted into gun violence leaving 5 dead at the Sunjung Beauty and Health Sauna.

A recent survey by Allied Barton Security Services entitled “Violence in the American Workplace” revealed that 52% of Americans working outside their home have “witnessed, heard about, or experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace.” The survey also linked the likelihood of workplace violence to low employee morale. Low morale is the outgrowth of perceived or real outcomes. Swift intervention can identify contributing factors and risk indicators.

Is there an organizational workplace violence prevention plan and violence response plan for when violence happens where you work? Does your Workplace Violence Prevention Policy include plans and procedures for reporting and handling minor incidents of harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, name calling, bumping and shoving that frequently escalates to physical altercations and ultimately threats of bodily harm? Are supervisors aware, connected? Are they listening and observing and taking corrective actions? Are supervisors trained in inspecting the employee’s work environment to make note of potential at risk situations requiring additional care and attention?

Is there a Workplace Violence Prevention Reporting System for employees to report incidents of workplace violence? Or, are you a victim of the myths of workplace violence that it won’t happen here or workplace violence is not preventable? Is your investment in workplace violence prevention based on the above myths?

Just having a written document is not enough. Is your organizations engaged in addressing reported incidents of workplace violence to avoid conflict and correct known hazards? Is the effort coordinated between Security and HR and other departments?

Are there procedures in place for the sharing of information to insure risk minimization efforts are effective? Are the results of assessments and investigations filed away in “a blackhole” without the benefit of sharing lessons learned or informing victims of the outcome?

Does your company offer Workplace Violence Prevention Training? How frequently? On a 1 -10 point  scale, how effective do you believe that training is? If you want to know how immaterial training really is, ask the employee six months later what he or she learned and has it made a difference in their outlook?

Does your organization include immediate protective measures? Things like movement to safe harbor rooms, movement to escape and evade the threat or your first encounter with police searching for the shooter? Your initial exposure to the police in an active shooter incident could be traumatic. Is the workplace violence response plan considered a part of your organization’s emergency preparedness posture? How is the threat of violence in the workplace communicated? How is information conveyed during an incident? How would you know the threat has been cleared. How is that communicated?

My experiences is in alignment with the Allied Barton survey. Low morale is a risk indicator that contributes to employee disputes, argumentative and confrontational employees, disruptive behavior and disgruntled relationships. These indicators become apparent during an incident assessment. Often, participants and witnesses disclose the cause of violence is a part of management’s failure to identify, address or correct on-going issues. Some examples of management’s contributory factors include favoritism by supervisors, failure to recognize the impact of workplace policies on organizational effectiveness, unfairness in the disposition of grievances and untimely resolution of employee conflicts.

The transition from the Disgruntled Employee to Hostile Intruder (Active Shooter) isn’t an apparition, it occurs over time right under your eyes. And, most likely you were surprised at the outcome. Don’t BE surprised! BE prepared. Proactive Workplace Violence Prevention is a workplace force multiplier.

Considering the severity of the risk, don’t you agree that employers should focus their energies on taking proactive measures to aggressively address risk factors, and warning signs. This effort must be a part of an ongoing process. Climate assessments should focus on factors that impact low morale to identify the root cause. Annual Workplace Violence Prevention Assessments should be designed to take advantage of employee concerns and the workplace’s capability to address the threat of the hostile intruder. Assumptions lead to the perception of insensitivity leading to additional assumptions that when left uncorrected fester and escalate into irreconcilable differences.

To mitigate the risk, employers should conduct annual assessments to evaluate their capability to respond to a hostile threat but also take aggressive intervention action before an incident becomes an unmanageable one. This is precisely why I offer “Tiered Segmented Training.” Supervisors and employees must become cognizant of responsibilities at each level. Remember, just having a zero-tolerance isn’t enough. Using the zero tolerance policy as a threat to disciplinary action is an irresponsible tactic when not incorporated as part of a larger workplace violence intervention strategy. Discipline without  corrective action is shortsighted.

Maintaining and enforcing tough anti-violence policies that places employees on notice that violent behavior will not be tolerated alone, doesn’t improve morale NOT without correcting the contributing factors or risk factors.

Employers should avoid the temptation of relying on termination as the solution to the problem. Improperly resolved issues are exacerbated during the terminations process. Organizations must strive to identify contributing factors, risk factors and root causes if they are to provide for a safe / non violent workplace. Intimate Partner/Domestic Violence should be integrated under the workplace violence prevention umbrella for maximized and effective communication and coordination.

Organizations that implement proactive workplace violence prevention programs tend to have credible reporting measures in place, have some form of access controls, employees are aware of their mutual responsibilities, training is relevant and appropriate, there’s accountable and responsible supervision manage the potentially hostile workplace. For greater value,  assign workplace violence prevention to a program manager.

What are your thoughts?