Workplace Violence Shaun Jain A-43 A furniture store advertised for a deliveryman, then hired a large, muscular man whose application indicated a history of delivering furniture. The store hired him without checking the information on his application. Later, the man raped a customer in her home when he came to deliver furniture. The woman sued the store, charging negligent hiring because it failed to check out the man’s past. Had it checked, it would have found that the man was fired from his last delivery job because he made suggestive remarks to a female customer. And, he was fired from the job before that because he touched a female customer in an inappropriate manner.
Those incidents would have sent up a red flag had the last storeowner taken the time to look. Change the scenario a bit. Consider that the store hired the man, and then received complaints about him. But the storeowner decided to keep him on despite the fact that a problem might be brewing. The man later attacked the customer in her home. The store would then be open to a negligent retention lawsuit.
In either case, the customer would likely win a huge award. Lately, it seems, we can’t avoid hearing, seeing or reading about more incidents of aggression and hostility. Violence has infected the very tapestry of our lives. In our homes. In our schools.
And with frightening regularity, violence seems to have firmly anchored itself in workplaces and organizations across the nations. We have all seen the headlines: “Seven Killed in Boston Area Office Shooting”Gunman kills 1, wounds 3 in Seattle shipyard shooting”Gunman kills 7 in Honolulu office”Gunman in Atlanta rampage kills himself; 12 dead, 12 injured” The Associated Press article “Even best policies wouldn’t stop killer, Xerox executive says” quotes Richard Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Xerox saying “We do have experience with employees going through problems and, by and large, our policies have worked very well with them.” He also said he doesn’t believe Xerox could have done anything to prevent the violence that killed seven of its employees in Honolulu, HI November 2, 1999. Is your company as well prepared as Xerox? Do you have policies and procedures in place to prevent workplace violence? Do your managers and employees know what to do if workplace violence occurs? Just in case you think it doesn’t matter, aside from the human costs, the Workplace Violence Research Institute reports losses in 1995 from workplace violence in the United States alone amounted to approximately $35. 4 billion.
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Is any workplace safe anymore? What can you do to protect your employees from workplace violence? Magnitude & Effects According to the U. S. Department of Justice the workplace is the most dangerous place to be in America. The problem is so pervasive that the Center For Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a National Epidemic.
In fact, workplace homicide is the fastest growing category of murder in the U. S. And homicide is now the leading cause of on the job death for women (and second leading cause for men).
However, the real danger (and staggering cost in both human and financial terms) is the mountain of physical and verbal violence, of which murder is just the peak (representing only 0. 1% of the 1 million victims of physical workplace violence / year).
Notice that instances of verbal violence are 6 times that of physical violence.
1 in 4 workers are attacked, threatened or harassed each year, costing: o $13. 5 billion in medical costs / year o 500, 000 employees missing 1, 750, 000 days work / year o 41% increased stress levels Preventing Violence in the Workplace If on average, 700 workers died each year in the 1980 s, how many others must have been victims of non-lethal attacks? It was reported that more than 2 million Americans, or 15 percent, were victims of physical attacks at the workplace during 1992. Eighteen percent were attacked with a deadly weapon. Other experts believe these figures to be too conservative since they may not take into account acts of violence committed outside, but originating inside, the workplace. Clearly, something must be done. Employees not only deserve a safe work environment, several states mandate it.
... strategies to alleviate workplace problems caused by stress and employee well-being issues is the establishment of company ... organizations - should consider implementing nationwide "healthy workplace weeks" to draw attention to big-picture employee health strategies. One of the most effective ...
Labor attorneys recognize that employers may be exposing their corporations to potentially costly litigations if there is no Workplace Violence Prevention Program and executives are being made aware of the enormous costs associated with incidents involving occupational violence. Three questions deserve closer examination: Why the increase in workplace related violence? How does an incident involving occupational violence affect a business economically? And what can be done to avoid violence in the workplace? The Growth of Occupational Violence Incidents of work related violence were virtually unheard of until the 1970 s. Since then, it has more than tripled. As companies downsize, reorganize, re engineer, and demand more of each employee, stress levels increase to the breaking point, causing work related violence to escalate. Most experts agree that social issues, especially substance abuse, illegal drugs, layoffs, and poverty are major contributors to occupational violence. The ease with which guns can be obtained, excessive graphic violence on TV and in movies, language and ethnic differences among workers, and the general acceptance of violence as a form of communication by a large segment of our population are other causes frequently cited by those closely associated with this problem.
Aggressors & Victims Who are the perpetrators of workplace violence? Over 80% are male, usually white and over 30. Though news accounts would lead us to believe otherwise, only 3% are former employees (20% are current employees).
Actually, over two thirds of physical and verbal attacks come from strangers (e. g. , during a robbery) or customers. This is especially the case for male victims.
Women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know. For example, domestic violence spillover is the fastest growing category of workplace violence. Who’s at greatest risk of workplace violence? Anyone in a job that involves extensive contact with the public, especially if limited attention is paid to customer satisfaction. (Witness the increasing accounts of airline passenger rage. ) Also, anyone working in markedly bureaucratic organizations where limited attention is paid to employee satisfaction. (It’s no accident that postal workers – more than any other occupation – have “gone postal.” ) In this context, supervisors and managers are particularly at risk: employee boss murders have doubled during the past ten years.
... another persons anger. They are made aware signs of workplace violence. Also, they are taught how to deal with disgruntled employees. ... of betrayal by management, workplace harassment, or downsizing can lead an employee to explode. Other problems include inadequate time to ... access to them. Alcohol and cigarettes are problems that surround violence in workplace. There are many things that people and ...
Can potential aggressors be identified? Yes they can! In fact, 85% of workplace violence transgressors showed clear warning signs that they were “loose cannons.” POSTAL: Profile + Observable Warning Signs + Shotgun + Triggering Event = Always Lethal Profile of potentially violent persons: o Previous history of violence, e. g. , towards women, children, animals o Significant tenure on the job OR migratory job history o Emotional problems, e. g. , substance abuse, depression, low self esteem o Loner, withdrawn; feels nobody listens to him; views change with fear o Antagonistic relationships with others o Some type of obsession, e.
g. , weapons, other acts of violence, romantic / sexual , zealot (political, religious, racial), the job itself, neatness and order Observable Warning Signs: (often newly acquired negative traits) o Strange” Behavior, e. g. , becoming reclusive, deteriorating appearance / hygiene , erratic behavior o Emotional Problems, e.
g. , drug / alcohol abuse, under unusual stress, depression, inappropriate emotional display o Performance Problems, including problems with attendance or tardiness o Interpersonal Problems, e. g. , numerous conflicts, hyper sensitivity, resentment o Violent and Threatening Behavior, hostility, approval of the use of violence o “At the end of his rope”, e. g. , indicators of impending suicide, has a plan to “solve all problems” Shotgun: (not required for non lethal violence) o Access to and familiarity with weapons Triggering Events: (the last straw, no way out, no more options): o Being fired, laid off or suspended; passed over for promotion o Disciplinary action, poor performance review, criticism from boss or coworkers o Bank or court action (e.
... , among many others.Organizations will be the benefactor of increased employee attitude, morale, unity, teamwork, productivity, and an improved ... company's safety problem might not be associated with a person, team, department, or agency but might best be ... consistently being taught through training and educational programs. "Building Employee Enthusiasm" provides a stepping-stone for achieving a better ...
g. , foreclosure, restraining order, custody hearing) o Benchmark date (e. g. , company anniversary, chronological age, Hitler’s birthday [as was the case for Columbine]) o Failed or spurned romance; personal crisis (e. g. , divorce, death in family) That’s how to predict it.
Organizations can prevent employee-initiated violence during the hiring process (e. g. , through careful interviewing and background checks).
For the existing work force, they can use a combination of benevolent, motivational management practices, a zero tolerance violence policy (effectively communicated and enforced), employee training, and appropriate use of counseling, EAP referral and disciplinary action – plus sound security measures. But how can employees protect themselves and their coworkers when faced with a hostile, potentially violent non-employee (e. g.
, a customer)? They can call on the POSTAL carrier’s traditional nemesis: DOGGS: Defusing Of Grievance Grants Safety Visualize a big balloon that’s about to burst. The balloon must be gradually deflated (rather than punctured) – by confirming a person’s perspective (without agreeing with it).
Here’s how you do that: 1. Understand the mindset of the hostile or potentially violent person The person has a compelling need to communicate his grievance to someone now! Even if he is wrong, the individual is acting on perceptions that are real to him.
In the overwhelming number of cases, the person just wants fairness. 2. Practice “Active Listening” Stop what you are doing and give the person your full attention. Listen to what is really being said. Use silence and paraphrasing. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
3. Build trust and provide help. Avoid confrontation. Be calm, courteous, respectful and patient; open and honest. Never belittle, embarrass or verbally attack a hostile person. 4.
Allow a total airing of the grievance without comment or judgement Make eye contact (but don’t stare).
Allow verbal venting of emotion. Let the person have his say (not necessarily his way).
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Ignore challenges and insults – don’t take it personally; redirect attention to the real issue. 5. Allow the aggrieved party to suggest a solution A person will more readily agree to a resolution that he helped formulate.
And it might surprise you that the person’s suggestion may be very reasonable. 6. Move toward a win-win resolution Preserve the individual’s dignity. Switch the focus from what you can’t do toward what you can. With the person’s permission, call in additional resources – e. g.
, supervisor, Human Resources, Employee Assistance Program, Security, or Police. The Economics of Violence Top management is just now starting to recognize the enormity of the financial consequences associated with an incident involving workplace violence. The three most affected areas are costly litigations, lost productivity, and damage control. Research conducted by the Workplace Violence Research Institute (WVRI) revealed that multiple lawsuits were filed against the employer in each instance where the act resulted in deaths or injuries.
The causes for the litigations involving acts of violence by employees are generally negligent hiring and negligent retention. Since most cases are settled out of court, accurate average costs are not known. There are, however, several recent awards in excess of 3 million dollars, including the $4. 25 million awarded on December 3, 1993 to a postal employee shot by a co-worker in Dearborn, Michigan.
Lost productivity following an incident is frequently underestimated. Losses in productivity occur throughout the enterprise with decreases of up to 80 percent for up to two weeks immediately after the incident. Losses are caused by the unavailability of the killed or injured worker, work interruptions caused by police and internal security investigations and damage to the facility, time lost by surviving employees talking about the incident and the details leading up to it, decreased efficiency and productivity due to post-traumatic stress syndrome, and time spent by employees in counseling sessions. Every company surveyed by the WVRI which had workplace violence related incident reported a dramatic increase in employee turnover and an equally dramatic drop in employee morale. Among the many reasons cited for these changes is the fact that most individuals readily accept responsibility for their own safety and security at home.
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However, almost all employees feel that it is the employer’s duty to provide a safe work environment. Therefore, employees feel betrayed when a violent incident occurs at work. The direct financial consequences of turnover and low morale are hiring and training expenditures and decreased productivity. Damage control has both tangible and intangible cost factors. Media accounts of the incident, whether accurate or not, and rumors that always follow, may influence the buying decisions of the firm’s customers.
Restoring the corporation’s reputation following charges of incompetent or irresponsible management may require a major commitment of both human and financial resources. Protecting Workers from Violence The final question is: What can be done to avoid occupational violence? The answer is not so much what should be done but what must be done. Since proven methods exist to reduce workplace violence, every company has a responsibility to implement a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Not to do so exposes employees to unnecessary risks and may well violate labor laws in some states. There is, of course, no one solution for all acts of work related violence.
In some cases, such as hold-ups of jewelry, liquor, and fast-food stores, traditional security measures must be implemented. However, those incidents that most people now call “workplace violence” and which involve present or former employees, clients, and customers (including applicants for welfare or unemployment) require the efforts of a committee comprised of representatives of various departments. Depending on the size and complexity of the company, the Executive Committee charged with implementing and administering the Workplace Violence Prevention Program may include Human Resources, Employee Assistance, Legal Counsel, Medical, Risk Management, Security/Loss Control, Plant Management, and Union Leadership. However, for a program with such a diversity of participants to succeed, two prerequisites have to be met.
One, the program must have the support and endorsement of top management. This could be evidenced by a letter from the chairman, president, or CEO to all employees and a separate memorandum to all affected department heads mandating their personal participation. Two, the chairperson of the committee should either be an executive higher than the participating department heads or an experienced consultant approved by senior management. How the Executive Committee Functions The committee must first agree on the program’s mission and objectives. Committee members must realize that some tasks can only be achieved through inter-departmental cooperative efforts. Next, the committee should draft company policies, procedures, and regulations for approval by senior management.
Employees should have a clear understanding of management’s position on drug and alcohol use, sexual harassment, threats, intimidation, violence, minimum standards of conduct, dress, and language, etc. There should also be a clear statement regarding items that are prohibited on company property, including parking areas. This of course would include all types of firearms, switchblades and knives with a blade in excess of a defined length. It may also include chains and baseball bats. The committee must be aware of the three primary opportunities to prevent workplace violence: At the time an employee is hired, when he is terminated, and through employee education. New Hire Practices Proper screening procedures during the hiring process will keep potentially dangerous individuals out of the work force.
These procedures should include a clear warning to all applicants that the enterprise conducts thorough background investigations of all new employees and requires a signed waiver to allow the company access to criminal, drivers, employment, financial, military, and other appropriate records. In addition, all prospective employees should be warned that they are subject to random drug and alcohol testing and that failing the test is reason for immediate dismissal. Being made aware of policy, many would-be applicants never complete their application forms. Human resources or security department personnel should carefully check each item on the application. Repeated studies have shown that up to 42 percent of applications contain intentional misstatements of material facts. They include inflated employment periods to hide jobs with unsatisfactory performance, termination for cause (theft, fighting, insubordination), or time spent in jail.
Frequently, applicants list non-existent undergraduate and graduate degrees and exaggerate their position descriptions and accomplishments. It is true that it is increasingly difficult to get meaningful performance and conduct information from a former employer. Frequently, a personal visit to the applicant’s former place of employment will bring more successful results, especially if they are provided with a copy of the waiver signed by the employee. References furnished by the applicant rarely have negative comments. They should, however, be used to obtain names of other people who are familiar with the applicant. These individuals and others whose names will be furnished by them will probably give you the information needed to make a meaningful evaluation.
“Reading” criminal and motor vehicle records may require some assistance from a security practitioner, private investigator, or police officer. A “reckless driving” conviction may be a reduced charge of driving under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. Petty larceny could be a plea-bargained charge of grand theft. Finally, each applicant should be interviewed individually by two responsible members of the company’s staff at different times. This provides another opportunity to question and obtain concurring opinions on the suitability of the applicant. Firing Procedures To reduce the possibility of violence resulting from a termination, policies and procedures should be designed to assist those responsible for carrying out this task.
Although procedures may vary depending on the type of business, the following items should be considered: o Terminate at the beginning or the end of the shift. o Do not allow the employee to return to his / her work area. o Make the firing a statement of fact, not a discussion or debate. o The act of termination and all associated paperwork and other activities including counseling and / or out placement, should take place in the same locale. o The terminated employee’s dignity must be preserved.
o Post-termination communications should be future-oriented. o If a violent reaction can be reasonably anticipated, brief the security department and ask them to stand by. VIOLENCE PRONE BEHAVIOR Research of over 200 incidents of workplace violence revealed that in each case, the suspect exhibited multiple pre-incident indicators that included the following symptoms: o Increased use of alcohol and / or illegal drugs o Unexplained increase in absenteeism o Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene o Depression and withdrawal o Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation o Threatens or verbally abuses co-workers and supervisors o Repeated comments that indicate suicidal tendencies o Frequent, vague physical complaints o Noticeably unstable emotional responses o Behavior which is suspect of paranoia o Preoccupation with previous incidents of violence o Increased mood swings o Has a plan to “solve all problems” o Resistance and over-reaction to changes in procedures Increase of unsolicited comments about firearms and other dangerous weapons o Empathy with individuals committing violence o Repeated violations of company policies o Fascination with violent and / or sexually explicit movies or publications o Escalation of domestic problems o Large withdrawals from or closing his / her account in the company’s credit union.
During post-incident investigations, employees and co-workers in each case stated that they observed one or more of these symptoms but considered them insignificant or just “weird” behavior. Unfortunately, these employees had not been briefed in symptom recognition of potentially violent behavior, nor given instructions on how to report such information. Employee Education Probably the most effective way to identify and thus have the opportunity to correctly deal with a potentially violent employee, client, or customer is through employee education and the adoption of a “Confidential Information Collection and Evaluation Center” (CICEC).
Additionally, without seminars or workshops, most employees feel that bringing odd behavior to the attention of the company constitutes a form of “ratting” or informing on their co-workers. Not until the system is explained to them in a training session do they realize that reporting such potentially dangerous behavior is in the best interest of all, including the offender. Only if management is aware can they take appropriate actions, including counseling for the troubled employee. The most effective vehicle to deal with the identification, collection, and evaluation of workplace violence related information is the CICEC. Employees are given a toll-free, 24-hour, “800” telephone number to report suspect behavior by a co-worker, client, or customer. Once an employee files such a report, he or she is issued a personal identification number (PIN) to assure continued anonymity and asked to call back at the end of the next business day.
The information is then checked against other information previously received on the same individual. The evaluator, an expert on occupational violence, will brief members of the Executive Committee and make recommendations concerning appropriate actions that should be taken. The requested callback by the reporting employee gives the evaluator the opportunity to obtain clarification or additional information. To be effective, all employees must have complete trust in the integrity and confidentiality of the CICEC. For this reason, only very large corporations should have this function in-house.
Others may select a well-established, reputable outside firm to handle this task. Of the hundreds of inquiries that are received each week by the Workplace Violence Research Institute, none is more pervasive than the question: What is the profile of the individual who commits acts of violence in the workplace? It is true that commonalities exist among the offenders of past workplace violence and that these characteristics will probably appear in future suspects. However, it would be a grave mistake to disregard suspected symptoms simply because the individual does not fit the description of the “profile.” Following are some of the commonalities identified in offenders of workplace related violence: o White male, 35 to 45 years of age o Migratory job history o Loner with little or no family or social support o Chronically disgruntled o Externalizes blame; rarely accepts responsibility for things gone wrong o Takes criticism poorly o Identifies with violence o More than a casual user of drugs and / or alcohol o Keen interest in firearms and other dangerous weapons There is no indication that the social and other issues that are believed to be the underlying causes for the dramatic increase in occupational violence will change in the near future. On the contrary, experts believe that violence, as a form of communication and conflict resolution will continue to increase. Fortunately, answers and methods for addressing the problem are now available. There simply is no good reason for a business, large or small, not to have a Workplace Violence Prevention Program in place.
It protects the employees, avoids costly litigations, preserves the company’s reputation, improves the bottom line, but most of all is morally and ethically the right thing to do. After all, everybody who earns a living has a right to a safe and secure work environment. What’s Growing in the Corporate Culture? Most experts on occupational violence agree that the success of a workplace violence prevention program depends to a large extent on the executive committee set up to establish and oversee the program. The primary function of this committee, which includes the heads of all critical departments as well as labor representatives, is to formulate policies and implement and administer the workplace violence program.
But first the committee must assess every facet of the organization’s existing workplace environment, operations, and strategies. The assessment can be conducted by qualified in-house staff or by outside consultants, as long as management ensures that the review is thorough and unbiased. An experienced, independent consulting team may be the better choice if management suspects that an in-house team will find it difficult to pass judgement on coworkers. The assessment should address the following categories: risk identification; existing policies, procedures, and regulations; management climate; stress and the work environment; competence of supervisors and managers; training programs; trends; and security and safety measures.
Risk identification. Persons who commit acts of violence in the workplace fall into three distinct categories; a particular occupation or workplace may be subject to more than one type. o Type I. The offender has no legitimate relationship to the workplace or the victim and enters the workplace to commit a criminal act, such as a robbery. Likely victims of these offenders are taxi drivers and employees of small, late-night restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, and gas stations. More than half of the workers killed die at the hand of these offenders.
o Type II. This perpetrator is either the recipient or the object of a service provided by the affected workplace or victim, such as a current or former patient or customer. o Type III. The offender has an employment-related involvement with the workplace. This relationship may be direct or indirect.
It usually involves a current or former employee, supervisor, manager, or executive; or a current or former spouse, lover, relative, or friend. Existing policies. In determining the appropriateness of workplace-violence-related policies, procedures, and regulations, the assessment team should review how the company handles incidents. Is there a policy manual? If so, the assessment team should review it. It should compare those procedures to what actually occurs in each office or department. Is the policy rational and enforceable? If it is not being followed, is it because the procedures are not well conceived or because employees have not been trained? Other issues to be addressed regarding the review of policies and procedures include the following: ? Is there an overall policy that commits the company or agency to provide its employees with a safe and secure work environment, free of violence, threats, intimidation, and any form of harassment? ? What is the head of security’s position within the management structure? Management’s view of security is of critical importance since the employees’ attitude towards security staff members is a clear reflection of management’s attitude.
? The assessment team should focus primarily on security and safety measures that relate to the prevention or reduction of attacks on company personnel by insiders or outsiders. However, occupational hazards should not be overlooked since they often contribute to workplace stress, which in turn has been found to be a contributor to workplace violence. ? Among the security and safety measures to be examined would be: the safety of parking areas (adequacy of lighting, the presence of video surveillance, security patrols, past incidents); access control and identification policies regarding employees and visitors; fire, panic, and intrusion alarms; cash handling procedures; and loss prevention measures. ? Another concern would be corporate policies on workplace conduct and possessions. Does the company prohibit employees from bringing onto company property specified items, such as firearms? Is the policy enforced? (Local customs may dictate a certain amount of discretion in this area, but the assessment team is not making recommendations; it is merely recording the status quo so that the executive committee may devise a policy based on an informed view of current conditions. )? What is the company’s policy regarding drug and alcohol use and possession on company property? Does it conduct tests or searches? What happens if an employee comes back from lunch inebriated? Are the policies implemented as intended? ? Does the company have contingency plans and a crisis management team? Do the plans address workplace violence incidents specifically? Are crisis management team members and employees in general educated and trained with regard to the plan? Has it ever been tested? If so, were analyses conducted and changes made as recommended addressing any weaknesses in the plan? ? Does the company have assistance agreements with local law enforcement agencies? Does it keep lines of communications open through liaisons? ? With regard to human resources, employment application screening should be thoroughly reviewed, including the company’s approach to drug testing, background investigations, and psychological testing.
For current employees, the team should review policies concerning minimum standards of conduct, sexual harassment, tolerance to infractions, and disciplinary actions. Specific attention should be given to recording whether these policies are enforced in an appropriate and consistent manner. ? The team should also assess termination procedures and post-termination policies. For example, does the company pay for the terminated employee to receive out placement service? Such a post-termination service can help the ex-employee and show that the employer cares. It also gives the company some knowledge of how the former employee is doing.
Among the other questions to be addressed are the company’s in-house medical capabilities and access to nearby private or public medical facilities; its public relations strategy; and its legal department’s performance regarding issues such as negligent hiring, training, and compliance with federal health and safety rules. This list is not all-inclusive, but it provides some sense of the manner in which the assessment team must record and evaluate policies and procedures. No department or policy field should be left unexamined. Management climate. Management’s commitment to specific programs and its attitude towards a variety of related issues has a great impact on the effectiveness of the workplace violence prevention program and the degree of participation and involvement by the organization’s employees. It is, therefore, important to identify, evaluate, and promote the commitments and attitudes.
At a minimum, the following issues should be addressed during the work site assessment: ? Management style? Organizational roles and responsibilities with regard to the workplace violence prevention program if one already exists? Management’s attitude and involvement regarding employee assistance programs and employee training. ? Management’s approach to performance evaluations, promotions, and rewards? Management’s philosophy regarding teamwork – does management set itself apart from the work force? To what extent to company policies treat all employees the same? ? What is the company’s experience and management’s attitude regarding interdepartmental cooperation? Lateral and vertical communications? Stress. Stress, whether caused by on-the-job or external factors, is a major contributor to workplace violence. Naturally, the causes of stress vary greatly among organizations.
Following is a list of stress related issues the assessment team should review. ? Does the work environment emphasize common goals and cooperation or competition? When employees must carry out tedious and boring tasks, does management address the effect the repetition of this type of work may have on morale? Does the company offer employee-friendly schedules, such as flexible days off? ? Are employees well suited to the job and adequately compensated for their skill level and market segment? Are they treated professionally? ? Do employees have reasonable work accommodations or must they tolerate noise, bad air, cramped quarters, poor equipment, and other irritants? ? Do employees have concerns about job security? Are they given support through programs such as employee assistance, counseling, and stress management programs? Supervisory competence. In most of the large and mid-sized companies, a promotion to supervisor or manager involves hours of training in subjects such as interpersonal relations, conflict resolution, stress management, and communications. Unfortunately, many more employees assume supervisory positions without the benefit of such training. This situation is particularly true in operations that require minimal skills, such as fast-food establishments, warehousing, packaging and distribution, and no technical assembly lines. Assessors should identify these deficiencies.
For example, do they have communication and conflict resolution skills? Is there a clear chain of communication in the event of a problem; for example, is there an 800 number an employee can call to report workplace concerns? The following are some issues that require examination: ? Communications skills including the ability to speak the language of the supervised employees? Awareness of cultural and ethnic differences? Competence in stress management? Competence in effective conflict resolution? Ability to carry out objective performance evaluations Training Task-related training improves productivity and employee job satisfaction. The complexity of today’s working environment requires a host of employment-related instructions. Employees have to have at least a working knowledge of many of the laws affecting the organization or industry. What is and what is not permissible is frequently a mystery to employees and only clarification in the classroom will remedy the situation. Physical security Despite the fact that most workplace violence is internal, it still makes sense to include security systems and physical security measures as part of the complete, integrated approach to combating workplace violence.
For example, an employee who has been terminated but failed to surrender his ID badge might pose a threat to the workplace. With an integrated system, if the former employee presents a canceled card to an electronic reader, it will trigger an alarm. The system could also display a stored photo image of the employee to the on-site guard and print out a copy for distribution. In addition, when the alarm is registered, a nearby closed circuit TV camera is automatically positioned to view the door, giving further information to security personnel. Although most companies wish to create and maintain a safe working environment, the reality is that most firms can neither afford nor wish to build a security fortress. The control of workplace vulnerabilities, risks and potential losses require a sound and efficient integration of electronic and physical security elements and prevention and employee-care programs.
The first step in including technological improvements to the security program is an assessment of threats, risks and needs. The major shortfalls of ineffective programs are poor planning and failure to define the system’s parameters. In addition to electronic and physical boundaries, many companies rely on security personnel, either proprietary or contract security officers. Again, failure to define the goals for security personnel is the major reason for security inadequacies. Trends Trends are frequently important indicators of how well or how poorly a company manages its work force. Trends in absenteeism, tardiness, accident rates, volunteerism, and attendance at company functions identify strengths or weaknesses in employee morale, loyalty, and job satisfaction.
The assessor should not only compare the organization’s current performance to its past performance but also the organizations own performance to that of other businesses of similar type, size and employee demographics. Among the indicators that should be examined are productivity; employee turnover (including reasons given by the employees); terminations for cause, suspensions, and other disciplinary actions; absenteeism and the reasons given; on-the-job accidents and their causes; other security and safety issues; employee complaints about working conditions; lawsuits filed against the company by employees, clients, and others (and reasons).
Gathering the data An accurate assessment of the work environment cannot be made without candid input from employees at all levels. Unfortunately, employees may be reluctant to speak honestly for fear of reprisal.
For the assessment to succeed, senior management must communicate to each employee that total honesty during the interview is not only desirable but also essential. A management style that makes staff worry about “informers” is counterproductive. Employees must further be assured that comments will be given in confidence and with anonymity. Findings will not be associated with any one employee’s remarks. Employees must never face repercussions for voicing their opinions. The assessor may choose to select employees at random for face-to-face interviews or use other criteria for the selection process, such as employee suggestions, performance evaluations, or absentee and sick leave records.
These interviews demand exceptional skills on the part of the assessor. The assessor should have basic investigative skills. For example, he or she should be able to put the interviewee at ease, ask open-ended questions, and convey to the interviewee that the interviewer relates to their concerns. If the work force includes significant numbers of non-English speaking employees, an assessor with at least a working knowledge of such languages should conduct the interviews. Coworkers should never be used as interpreters. Where translations are needed, an interpreter from a professional translation service should be retained.
The interview is not intended to be highly structured. The assessor should encourage the employee to comment on any work-related topic. If the employee needs some guidance, however, the assessor may address any or all of the following issues: o Working conditions o Coworkers and supervisors o Corporate culture o Management style o Quality of supervision o Policies and regulations o Training Final report Experienced assessors perform their task with a minimal amount of disruption to the company’s daily operations. When they have completed their work, they should provide a report to management containing a detailed discussion of their findings, including distinctions between factual determinations (such as whether alarms work), and alleged but unsubstantiated deficiencies. For example, during employee interviews, several employees may say that the only way to get promoted is by drinking with the boss and his buddies, claiming essentially that it’s just an old-boy network. That assertion may or may not be true.
The assessor should attempt to verify the allegation and should note his or her findings in the final report. The primary purpose of the assessment is to identify conditions as they are, not to make recommendations. Therefore, unless requested by management, the assessor should leave the choice of solutions to the executive committee. If solutions are requested the assessment team should place the recommendations in a separate section of the final report apart from the findings regarding existing conditions. The assessor’s report should contain an executive summary giving senior management a concise overview of the findings. The report should then address each item examined and the findings in detail.
Management’s perception of the workplace can be far from reality even in the best of organizations. By obtaining a thorough workplace assessment before taking action, the executive committee is more likely to succeed in its efforts to prevent incidents of workplace violence. Planning for the crisis Despite all the best planning, policies and practices, and despite dealing fairly with all employees and having a model prevention program, an incident could happen. What can be done then? Plenty, if you have planned for it.
A crisis response plan detailing the steps to be followed is necessary. Not only is a response plan effective for workplace violence, but also for other human-made or natural disasters, such as a chemical spill or an earthquake. The plan should outline the duties required to respond to a crisis properly. An effective plan involves most departments. Form a team with representatives from all areas within the company that could be affected. This team will design the plan, implement it and, most importantly, test it.
Only plans exercised, revised and remaining fluid are effective. A plan written, put in a binder and never removed from the shelf until as incident happens is dangerous because it creates a false sense of protection. Write the plan, test it, and then continue to test it. CONCLUSION Although some industries and occupations seem more predisposed to workplace violence, no work environment is immune. Incidents have occurred in three-person businesses as well as those employing thousands of workers. No company can completely prevent or eliminate workplace violence, but with proper planning and effective programs, the chances of such violent occurrences can be dramatically reduced.
Eliminating violence in the workplace should be a top priority for every executive, manager and team leader. And if your organization hasn’t experienced this issue yet, be glad. Do not, however, be content. Rather than doing nothing or waiting until a serious act of aggression occurs in your organization, get proactive by training your team to eliminate violence before it happens.
In an age of leaner organizations, greater demands are placed upon people at all levels. There is pressure to do more with less. The last thing an organization needs is a catastrophic incident of domestic violence in the workplace. Such an occurrence not only destroys lives but also may destroy an organization’s ability to survive. While not all organizations have work place violence policies and procedures, many organizations do have many of the underlying components of work place violence policies and procedures, such as grievance procedures, supervisory training and outplacement services. While work place violence is generated from a variety of sources, the effects that employees have on the organization are greater than the effects of other sources of work place violence.
Unless and until those who run organizations familiarize themselves with the threat of domestic violence in the workplace, exposure to such a threat may become a reality.