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WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AS A SAFETY ISSUE

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AS A SAFETY ISSUE

Workplace violence is an act of aggression, physical assault, or threatening behaviour that occurs in a work setting and causes physical or emotional harm to customers, coworkers, or managers. Broad definitions of workplace violence also often include acts of sabotage on worksite property.

Every act of workplace violence leaves a scar on every person in the organization. One act of violence can change an entire company permanently. The working environment can become so toxic that no work gets done; all employees can think is what happened. From the company perspective, violence also leaves the company exposed to lawsuits that can cost the company lots of money.

Addressing workplace violence before it erupts

Business owners can take several steps to address the spectre of workplace violence. Hiring and interviewing practices should reflect the company’s desire to establish and maintain a good workforce, and the owner should do his or her best to establish a company culture that does not tolerate nonviolent forms of intimidation. After all, insulting and intimidating behaviour, which may lead to physical violent behaviour if left unchecked, can wreak significant mental harm on its victims, and may even provoke a violent response by victims who feel that they have no other recourse. 

Some studies have indicated that victims of harassment actually become less productive than employees who suffer from physical assaults. The best solution to avoiding workplace violence is to discuss it with your employees and have a plan to deal with it before you need it. Business owners should have a written workplace violence prevention plan to show they are dealing with the problem.

Other options include boosting security precautions by adding security personnel or installing mental detectors. Some security consultants urge their clients to make it clear that employee desks and lockers are company property that can be looked through at any time, and they should be encouraged to report all violent acts to legal authorities. 

Finally, business consultants and security experts counsel business owners to recognize that workplace violence does not always stem from internal sources. Indeed the majority of homicides that take place in workplace settings are actually perpetrated by non-employees (angry customers, robbers, irate spouses, or romantic partners).

Stopping Workplace Violence

Businesses can take a number of steps to dramatically reduce the likelihood of an employee carrying out an act of workplace violence. Many of these are proactive in nature, designed to minimize the business’s exposure to violent acts by employees:

Maintain and disseminate detailed policies on workplace behaviour

Adopt a zero-tolerance policy that addresses signs of potential violence. Such policy should clearly state that threats, intimidation, destruction of company property, and violence in any form will not be tolerated and provide for progressive disciplinary action for such conduct. These guidelines should clearly delineate violations that may result in discharge or other disciplinary action so that workers are cognizant of behavioural boundaries. 

In addition, these policies should explicitly state the company’s determination to protect victims and/or informants of violent acts against any form of retaliation.

 

Maintain and disseminate workplace violence prevention programs

This plan should cover everything from investigatory steps to take when an employee exhibits questionable behaviour to the manner in which problem employees are dismissed. These training programs should focus on teaching employees how to recognize and report suspicions activity and should provide written information on whom to contact in an emergency. This aspect of the program needs to be addressed with particular care, for staff participation will only occur if they can express concerns about coworkers in a safe and confidential way.

Other elements of these programs typically include disciplinary training for managers, security plans, pre-employment screening, and media relations of an incident of workplace violence does take place.

Screen Applicants

Every company’s workplace violence prevention program should include a thorough investigation of applicants’ background (including employment history and possible criminal record) and qualification for the job opening. Incidents of workplace violence are more likely to occur when an employee is struggling with his or her responsibilities, so the ability to fulfil responsibilities of the position in question is a particularly relevant consideration.

In addition, interviews should include questions that can help identify potential risky hires. Such questions may include: “What would you do if a fellow employee called you a bad name. Embarrassed you in front of others? What did your previous boss do that made you mad? Tell me about a past supervisor you admired. It is a clear warning sign that a person has a problem getting along with others if he can not identify a single past supervisor he liked.”

In addition to the above background and interviewing techniques, many companies have also adopted drug and alcohol testing, aptitude testing, and honesty testing as part of their overall interviewing process.

Recognize warning signs

Law enforcement and security experts agree that employees who engage in violent acts often, though not always, exhibit behaviours that serve as “red flags” indicating potential problems. These include: engaging indirect or veiled threats against coworkers, paranoid behaviour, unreciprocated romantic interest in a coworker, obsession with weapons, pronounced mood swings, excessive anger over company policies or decisions, decreased productivity, and deteriorating relations with fellow staff, customers, or vendors.

Be cognizant of potential trigger events

Business owners should remember that workplace violence does not erupt for no reason and that if it takes place within the walls of the company, the chances are pretty good that it was triggered by a workplace issue or event. Demotions, critical performance appraisals, layoffs, disciplinary actions, and other professional disappointments can all trigger violent behaviour.

Counselling

Employee assistant programs can be very valuable to workers who are struggling with stress at home and/or in the office. When confronted with a volatile employee, the natural tendency is to fire the troublemaker, which often exacerbates the situation and can provoke a violent episode. The better approach is to suggest to the troubled employee professional counselling. Paying for it out of your own pocket, if necessary, is worth it, if it will avert disaster.

In addition, some employers have instituted policies designed to give employees an outlet for them to relay their grievances and concerns. These avenues range from regular meetings with managers to comment boxes or surveys.

Terminate with dignity 

Employers can reduce their exposure to workplace violence by instituting and carrying out policies that treat terminated employees with respect. In addition, companies are encouraged to offer outplacement counselling for former employees as part of their severance packages. By doing so, however, business owners and managers should discuss possible legal ramifications with a qualified attorney.

Address ex-employees who pose a potential threat

Many businesses erroneously believe that once an employee has been discharged and is no longer in the workplace, the worker no longer poses a threat. But this is not necessarily the case. According to a research study, about 3 per cent of the total number of reported incidents of workplace violence was perpetrated by former employees. Restraining orders, password changes, and other special security measures may be necessary for some situations. 

Bernard TaiwoBernard Taiwo
Bernard Taiwo
I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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