The Risk of Workplace Violence Can Be Reduced, But How?

Workplace violence can manifest in many different forms.

  •     An employee who was discharged might come back for retribution.
  •     An employee who is involved in domestic violence at home might be visited at work.
  •     An employee who is a victim of bullying might lash out against the victimizers.  Bullying doesn’t have to be physical, but can be far more subtle.
  •     Random terrorism- wrong place at the wrong time. 

These incidents are often the headlines that grab our attention, because we wonder if it could possibly happen to us, too.

OSHA requires that employers provide a safe and healthful workplace.  Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited, (www.osha.gov).  However, two million American workers are the victims of workplace violence annually and no one is immune.  Data shows that you can expect up to 60% of your workforce to leave within eighteen months of an episode of workplace violence.  Although violence can be completely random and extraordinarily hard to see coming or prevent, this is usually not the case.  Almost always, there are warning signs preceding the event.  For example, after a tragic event we often hear people talking about the perpetrator....  The supervisor knew that the quality of the individual’s work had declined in the past few weeks and s/he had been late for work recently.  Someone else saw the employee in a yelling altercation in the parking lot after work.  Another knows the employee is going through divorce and child custody negotiation.  While none of these observations, individually, generally would be a red flag, all together they might just tip the balance.  If someone, anyone, had noticed and spoken up, perhaps the individual could have been provided with some help and the incident of workplace violence would have never happened. 

Do you have a culture of preparedness at your workplace where staff is trained to recognize and report signs of trouble?

A good workplace violence prevention program must have four key components.

  1. Awareness – Your entire staff should be trained to be more aware of things going on around them.  The military calls this situational awareness, and this can be taught.
  2. Reporting - Everyone must know how to report the behavioral concerns they are now more aware of.  The reporting can and should be done in many ways, but the most critical way to improve reporting is to include an anonymous reporting system.  You will be lacking reporting (data) if there is not a way that all staff can report anonymously.
  3. Central Repository – All data (reports) that you’re now collecting must go to a central place where it can be viewed and acted upon.  The simplest central repository is a manila file folder in HR.  All reports go quickly into this folder.  With each new report received the file is opened, reviewed, and the new report put there.  The opening of the folder is the review of the central repository until someone realizes, “We might have a problem here.  I better call the team together.”   The team can make the best decision only when they have ALL the data.
  4. The Behavioral Assessment Plan – All behaviors are not created equal.  Some should be concerning while others are not.  How do you differentiate between the two?  With a consistent approach where all data is reviewed and evaluated for concern.  This review should be done regularly and in the same way for all reports, every time.  The action plan for the behaviors that are deemed a concern, and the monitoring plan for the action plan must, again, be done the same way each time.  These behaviors should NEVER be evaluated by a single individual but instead a small team of trained individuals. 

Is your organization prepared for an incident of workplace violence?  The risk of occurrence might seem low but if the unthinkable does happen you can expect many ramifications to your workplace.  Will your business survive the tragedy? 

If the risk of occurrence is low, do you worry about the incident?  In the last four years, there have been six lottery jackpots of over half a billion dollars.  That’s a whole lot of money, but the chance of winning is extraordinarily low.  When the jackpot soars to these heights how many of you buy a lottery ticket?  Even when the chances of winning are so extraordinarily low, you still buy a ticket because the reward is so high.  

Two million American workers are the victims of workplace violence annually and no one is immune.  I would argue that the ramifications are high enough for you to exercise a bit planning to improve your odds of surviving a workplace violence incident.  The risk of this tragedy can be reduced and it doesn’t cost much money to do it.

I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you about this difficult topic.  For more information I can be reached at 410-303-0635 or kmercer@firestorm.com.  www.firestorm.com.  Please join me in two weeks for my next topic to discuss how you can use open source monitoring to gather actionable intelligence.