For many of us, working near people who are prone to violence is an everyday occurrence. All organizations must develop policies and contingency plans to deal with the threat of workplace violence. They must acknowledge that workplace violence can happen to them, anticipate problems before they occur and act to prevent them.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older – close to 60 million people – suffer from an identifiable mental disorder. And while mass murder at work and elsewhere remains a rare event, worker-against-worker violence and on-the-job homicide happens all too often.
The numbers are gloomy, no matter who studies the matter:
While the most recent of these years, according to the CFOI, have seen a modest drop in incidents in the U.S., the problem is growing worldwide, as found by a United Nations’ International Labour Office study released last year.
Officials cannot control the behavior of others. But they can incorporate guidelines to follow. They just need help. Faced with a range of threats, such as disgruntled employees, domestic violence, stalkers and, of course, robberies, rapes and assaults, American businesses and organizations are hiring consultants in record numbers to design programs that train employees and employers in how to predict and prevent violence on the job. The organization and security consultant can join forces to reduce the risk of violence by developing official policies that address “red flags.” These policies include:
Understanding human behavior is a key ingredient in countering this violence, and management must learn this skill, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Bosses Have to Learn How to Confront Troubled Employees.” The article points to major corporations that have implemented programs that train managers in how to spot troubled, potentially violent workers and have instituted hotlines employees may use to report workplace violence.
A study by the Society for Human Resource Management finds that 68% of employers have a formal workplace violence policy. A survey by the American Society of Industrial Security finds 25% of firms turning to employee training, 15% to zero-tolerance policies and 13% to limited building access in their attempts to prevent workplace violence.
Our understanding of violence and violent behavior has advanced. It is now possible to create psychological profiles to identify who in your organization is most likely to commit an act of violence. Employers need to be on the lookout for certain employee behaviors that serve as warning signs of violence. Red flags include:
Employees who show any one or combination of these behaviors may be a threat to engage in workplace violence. Hostile feelings can build up for weeks, months and even years. The trigger that finally sets them off is generally an emotional event that can happen at any time or in any form. For example, the person might experience humiliation as a result of being proven wrong, losing out on a promotion or pay raise or being rejected by a love interest or spouse.
Organizations going through downsizing need to be especially alert. The stress generated by downsizing may be enough to make a potentially violent employee explode into actual violence.
Explanation: Fear or actual loss of a job can cause significant trauma to just about anyone. To some degree, we all equate our “selves” with our job titles. For example, we tend to introduce ourselves using both our name and job title: “Hi, I am Robert; I am a personal security consultant.”
Ultimately, though, most people are able to separate their identity from their jobs. Being a personal security consultant is what they do, but it is not who they are. But a mentally unbalanced person may be unable to separate self from job. If that person loses a job, he might feel like his life and soul are being taken away and react with disproportionate anger and violence.
It’s incumbent upon employers and their safety directors to understand the signs of violence, identify those who display them and anticipate problems before they erupt. Mentally disturbed and potentially violent people often lack a social safety net. So one thing managers can do to prevent violence is to encourage employees to maintain strong social networks at work. Peers have a way of anticipating disaster before it happens.
Ultimately, however, the organization might have to confront the problem head on and take steps to address the employee and his potentially violent behavior.
When acts of aggression occur in the workplace, somebody has to confront the aggressor and try to defuse the situation. The person—presumably a manager–who does this can apply the principles of conflict resolution when dealing with the aggressor. University of California, Davis’ Division of Human Resources identifies some of the tactics the manager can try:
If these techniques fail to diffuse the situation, you’ll need to signal for instance and most likely need to get law enforcement involved.
It is estimated that 85% of all workplace assaults and 55% of all workplace murders happen in service industry worksites or retail trades. Those whose occupations find them handling money or engaging in person-to-person contact with the public should exercise caution. Random acts of violence continue to hold their own in these spheres, and physical assaults are common in health care and social service–type agencies.
Any company whose workforce’s duties fit the abovementioned descriptions can improve its security by incorporating or utilizing the following:
The responsibility of containing the risk of workplace violence falls upon the employer. Ultimately, every organization needs a prediction–prevention plan that incorporates elements of anticipation and action. Proper hiring and firing practices are essential, too; employers must know what to look for when prescreening potential employees—and what signs to look for in long standing employees. Without taking proactive measures, the company risks huge losses in lawsuits, reputation, and, of course, human life.