Violence in the Workplace

Many companies and respective employees are taking precautions and preventative measures to curb violence in the workplace and properly respond in the event that an act of violence is committed. Workplace violence can have a detrimental effect on a business, from management and employees to public perception and sales. The Society for Human Resource Management report on Workplace Violence published in 2012 found that 36% of organizations reported incidents of violence on business property. Taking precautions to avoid instances of workplace violence and responding appropriately to address an act of violence are important considerations for businesses and employees alike.

Understanding Violence in the Workplace

There are many causes of workplace violence. The reasons touch every aspect of society, from economic and structural, to societal and relational, to psychological and mental. There is an on-going debate as to the cause for the violence.

According to studies conducted by the Workplace Violence Research Institute, several factors that contribute to the likelihood of workplace violence include understaffing, failure to train management to recognize and defuse potential problems, failure to provide services and help to those who exhibit violent or aggressive behavior, and the attitude that violence will never happen in their place of employment.

Types of Violence

Workplace violence is an umbrella term that can include acts that damage the resources or capabilities of the organization. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse that occurs in the work setting. Many employers include bullying, obscene phone calls or texts, or an intimidating presence under this umbrella term. Additionally workplace violence includes domestic violence that leaves the home and occurs at the place of business.

NIOSH identifies four types of perpetrators of workplace violence. First there are those who commit workplace violence with criminal intent. Most often the individual has no relationship with the business and is involved in committing a crime against the company. The crimes can include robbery, shoplifting and terrorism. According to NIOSH 85% of occurrences of workplace violence fall into this category.

The second classification for those involved in workplace violence are disgruntled customers or clients. This group includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and others for whom the business provides a service. According to NIOSH a large portion of these acts of violence occur within the healthcare industry. Police officers, flight attendants and teachers are other examples of workers who are at-risk. This category accounts for the smallest number of workplace violence incidents, about 3% of workplace homicides.

The third category for perpetrators of workplace violence is worker-on-worker. This individuals in this group are either employees or past employees of the company. Usually the crime is committed with specific intended victims. These crimes account for about 7% of all violent deaths in the workplace.

The final classification is of the people who do not have a relationship with the business but rather have a personal relationship with an employee. Victims of domestic violence that occurs at a workplace accounts for about 5% of all workplace homicides.

Who is Affected by Workplace Violence?

The effect that workplace violence has upon the business and the community is long-reaching. It may be nearly impossible to detail all of the implications of such violence. Certainly the business, the individuals who make up the business, the local community and the consumer are effected by workplace violence.

The impact of workplace violence on the business can be staggering. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that workplace violence costs employers $727.8 million each year in lost productivity alone. Added security, workers’ compensation costs and litigation add another $590 million annually. Additional direct costs include health care pay-outs and increases, crisis intervention costs, and counseling expenses for the victims, their families and other employees.

Business Policies to Respond to Workplace Violence

Violence in the workplace can be classified as an emergency in the work environment. Companies often form policies to structure the procedures that should be followed by management and employees if such an event were to occur. Company policies may vary, but often include many of the following ideas:

  1. Emergency procedures and policies form the structure through which emergency situations can be handled.
  2. An emergency policy provides structure by which the circumstances of the violent event can be objectively evaluated, clearly defines the individuals responsible for examination and evaluation of why the event occurred, what might have been done differently during immediate response time, and how the event was handled and responded to.
  3. Business policies pertaining to the response to workplace violence may outline a communication plan to provide information to both employees and the general public. Clear, concise and prompt information to employees can ease their mind, reduce rumors and speculation, and minimize the chance of additional risk or danger.

Business Practices to Prevent Workplace Violence

Many companies have begun to address the growing problem of workplace violence by installing security systems that can monitor the entire property. The systems often employ a combination of camera monitoring and security patrol.

Some businesses have discovered that strengthening their employee behavior policies can provide beneficial structure and expectations for the workers. Zero-tolerance policies, not only for inappropriate aggressive behavior but also alcohol or illegal drug consumption on company property, can assure that the standard of behavior is set and appropriate discipline measured out in advance.

Employee training can often assist prevention by making both management and workers more aware of the signs and symptoms of violence. The immediate supervisor of an employee may be trained to intervene with workers who are at-risk and are displaying unusual behavior.

Some businesses are choosing to establish employee assistance programs, either through the health insurance options or local independent service organizations. Physical examinations, counseling and medication can be used to provide the employee with a healthier approach to life.

How a Business Promotes Recovery Following an Act of Violence

For many grieving a loss that is the result of workplace violence the grief may be intense. The grieving is natural for the loss of life, but it is also for the loss of safety and security at the workplace. Some of the surviving employees may have also experienced personal fear or harm during the event. Some individuals may have witnessed the act of violence and death. Many different emotions are involved as management attempts to comfort and protect the employees while also protecting the interests of the business.

Often workplace violence will attract groups of people who are either investigating the violence or attempting to report about it. Media personnel, emergency and first-responders, police, attorneys and coroners will have a presence for many hours after the event. Their presence can often intensify the overwhelming feelings and frustrations for management and employees.

Management can help the process of recovery following a violent tragedy by considering several key concepts.

  • Violence in the workplace resulting in injury or death may make employees feel that workplace security has been compromised and may be fearful to return to normal behavior. Consulting with the workers who were immediately affected by the event, as well as receiving input from local security, sociology and psychology professionals may help with the healing process.
  • Following an act of violence in the workplace it may be helpful to provide controlled discussion times for employees to openly discuss the incident and offer the availability of professional counselors or trained staff which may be appropriate releases for the anger and promoting recovery.
  • Many businesses, schools and hospitals bring in professional counselors on site following workplace violence. Finding outside resources quickly can be one of the most important steps toward healing that the business takes.

Statistics on Workplace Violence

Businesses that have suffered violence at their site are a part of a growing number for a variety of reasons. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, violence contributed to almost 20% of occupational fatalities. Homicide victims at work average a little over 700 victims a year, with workplace violence affecting females over males by a margin over 2 to 1.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about two million workers in the United States annually are victims of some occurrence of workplace violence, a number that is on the rise. While some occupational groups, like public servants, health care employees and teachers, are at higher risk than others, all workplaces should take steps toward developing prevention strategies.

It is difficult for any business to anticipate when a violent act may occur and traumatize the workplace environment. Well-defined plans, implemented by calm, strong leadership can provide a solid foundation for helping workers recover from an act of violence at the workplace.