Each year, around 700 people are killed in their place of employment. Between 1992 and 2012, there were 14,770 reported incidences of workplace violence – all of these involving victims of homicide. These frightening statistics are a stark reminder that workplace violence is a real possibility and has the potential for extreme tragedy.
Though many cases of workplace violence have led to fatalities, nonfatal cases are even more common. Hundreds of thousands of nonfatal violent crimes have been committed in a variety of workplaces. In fact, it is estimated that about two million cases of workplace violence occur every year, ranging from verbal or physical abuse to murder.
Workplace violence can be prevented by learning to identify the signs of a potential threat and taking measures to keep your workplace a safe, nonviolent environment. Establishing clear policies, supporting your employees, and engaging in ongoing training can all help prevent violent incidents in your workplace.
What Is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence is any threatening or disruptive behavior (including physical violence, harassment, and intimidation) that occurs at a work site. Even the mere threat to commit one of these acts qualifies as workplace violence. Employees, clients, and customers can all be potential perpetrators or victims of violence.
Unfortunately, many incidences of workplace violence go unreported every year. This can be attributed to fear of backlash, such as being suspended or terminated. Other times, victims may not even realize that they what they are experiencing is classifiable as workplace violence. Research has identified certain factors that may increase the risk of violence in the workplace. Some of these factors include:
- Worksites where employees exchange money with the public
- Hostile or unstable people in the workplace (employees or customers)
- Working alone or in an isolated manner
- Providing services that involve personal care for others
- Working where alcohol is served
- Working late at night
- Working in areas with high crime rates
High-risk professional fields include delivery driving, public service, customer service, healthcare, and law enforcement.
Economic Costs of Workplace Violence:
- Productivity loss
- Staff replacement (turnover)
- Loss of management expenses and time
- Loss of company assets
- Negative public perception of the company or organization
Workplace Violence Prevention strategies:
- Establish a policy before an incident occurs. Create a policy that involves every level of the organization: employees, managers, and executives. Ensure that everyone is aware of the policy and are updated as the policy changes. A copy of the workplace violence policy should be distributed company-wide, and upper management should be responsible for making sure every employee understands it. As part of the policy, there should be a clear system for handling and resolving complaints in an expeditious and private manner.
- Maintain open lines of communication. Communication is a key strategy for preventing workplace violence. Perpetrators of violence feed on silence from victims and witnesses. Employees should be encouraged to communicate regularly in team meetings or one-on-one meetings with superiors. These meetings can help diffuse anger and clear up misunderstandings, decreasing the chances of a violent outburst.
- Workplace violence prevention training. Take the time to provide proper and thorough training to promote awareness of workplace violence. Ensure that employees are aware of the signs of violence and how to respond in a dangerous situation at work. Emergency plans should be created and reviewed annually to keep everyone in the company ready to respond to a violent incident, if necessary.
- Establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy. There should be no leeway for perpetrators of workplace violence. Even if it’s only a verbal threat, management cannot allow these incidents to be swept under the rug. This creates a dangerous precedent that your company is lenient on violence or underprepared for a serious incident. Be sure that all employees are aware of the company code of conduct. This will show that your company is committed to keeping employees and customers safe from harm.
- Talk about diversity. Through open, respectful communication and proper diversity training, you can help your team understand that differences between each member are a strength and an advantage. Team-building activities can help employees get to know each other and become more accepting of diversity in the workplace. Hostility towards a particular group of people is a risk factor for violence in the workplace and the world.
- Intervene in conflicts before they escalate. In any workplace, there will inevitably be conflict or power struggle. Upper-level management should take responsibility for monitoring employees and observing how they work together. If tensions are not relieved, they can fester and escalate into harassment or violence. As soon as you see a conflict developing, take steps to provide resolution. Conflict resolution training is very helpful for learning how to diffuse situations in ways that satisfy all involved parties.
- Take steps to help employees build quality relationships. Encourage each person to be open-minded. Let your employees know that each one of them plays an important role in the organization and that their work is appreciated. Show respect and fairness to every employee and encourage this behavior throughout the organization. Feeling that their contributions are meaningless or that they are not valued is a risk factor for employee violence.
- Encourage reporting of unsafe behaviors. Any behavior that is disruptive or makes someone feel uncomfortable should be reported. Employees should feel that they have a safe space to report any questionable behavior in their co-workers. Confidentiality is crucial to employee comfort. Employees should not fear retaliation. By providing employees with a safe reporting outlet, suspicious or harassing behavior can be caught early – before it escalates to a violent incident.
- Handle company assets appropriately. Robbery is often a motivating factor for workplace violence. Keep the number of assets stored at the worksite to a minimum. Using electronic payment systems is one way to reduce the number of assets available for theft. A locked drop safe is also good for discouraging violence by robbery.
- Discourage bullying culture. Workplaces are often a place where social jousting and attack humor are used to entertain and pass the time. Discourage employees from using deprecating humor and from “poking fun” at co-workers. Though some people enjoy these types of jokes, it sends a larger message that the workplace is a place where bullying and harassment are tolerated. Reducing negativity and stress in the workplace should be a top priority. If the workplace becomes an environment that employees fear or despise, retaliation and violence become much more likely to occur.