Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, contractors, and other non-Federal employees.
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), violence in the workplace is a serious safety and health issue. Its most extreme form, homicide, is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 564 workplace homicides in 2005 in the United States, out of a total of 5,734 fatal work injuries.
An average of 1.7 million people were victims of violent crime while working or on duty in the United States, according to a report published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), each year from 1993 through 1999. An estimated 1.3 million (75%) of these incidents were simple assaults while an additional 19% were aggravated assaults. Of the occupations examined, police officers, corrections officers, and taxi drivers were victimized at the highest rates.
Contrary to media reports, danger often comes, not from within but, from outside your company as-well. From hospital staff members dealing with aggressive patients and family members, to realtors showing homes to individuals for the first time, to corporate executives traveling in foreign countries, lawyers being attacked after an unfavorable court decision, teachers being assaulted by students and parents, or just walking to your car after work, violence in today’s world is spilling over into the workplace.
Catalysts that trigger incidents of workplace violence vary greatly and employees are not always involved. But when a staff member is to blame, the person’s behavior is often in reaction to disciplinary action or a termination.
Unlike youthful robbers, workplace killers are usually older, over 35, and have significant tenure on the job. Almost all are male. Many have been described as “loners” who have been chronically disgruntled and have had problems with authority. The killer profile suggests that they never accept blame for their mistakes and had a tendency to transfer responsibility to others. The profile indicates that they don’t accept change well and are overly suspicious and sometimes even paranoid of co-workers. Many workplace killers believed that they were being intentionally held back from promotion by their incompetent supervisors.
In almost every case following a shooting spree, investigators were able to identify multiple “red flags” that indicated that the worker was angry, frustrated, and blamed their victims for their troubles. Some flags seen in other workplace killers have been a pattern of dehumanizing or objectifying others through comments, rude remarks, and harassment. These blaming behaviors are a way of assigning blame to others for one’s own shortcomings.
Often the conduct increases in frequency and intensity and includes seemingly empty verbal threats. Employers should watch for changes in behavior, attendance, productivity, personal hygiene, and social isolation. Killing sprees usually are the culmination of many years of unresolved personal problems and mismanaged stresses. Problems with alcohol and drugs, financial worries, and marriage and family pressures often aggravated their problems while coping with this fast-paced society.
Workplace Violence Prevention
Workplace violence experts believe that disgruntled employees need to have an outlet to vent frustrations and a pipeline to submit grievances to upper levels of management. They argue that if such an outlet existed then violence triggers would be more than likely be defused. A problem that we now recognize is that supervisors are often ill equipped to handle such emotional needs of those they oversee.
In addition to having knowledge about fair employment practices, discrimination, and drug abuse, now business managers and supervisors need training on how to deal with these potential violence triggers. Problematic employees will still have to be terminated and disciplined, but now more than ever they need to be treated fairly and with dignity.
Workplace violence will not be a simple problem to solve because it is so complex and often involves external pressures unrelated to the job. A simple knee-jerk reaction won’t resolve this problem nor will doing nothing. Metal detectors and armed guards at all building entrances are too extreme of a solution in most cases to be socially acceptable. More gun control legislation won’t solve this problem very soon either. It is recommended that companies adopt a zero tolerance against employee-to-employee violence in the workplace. Key mangers should be trained to detect the early warning signs and how to handle them. A system needs to be in place where complaints are received and investigated. A clearly defined and articulated workplace violence policy is important, along with a fair and even-handed discipline procedure for those would don’t follow the rules.
Like many other problems we face today, awareness and workplace violence education is the key to understanding along with better communication. Meanwhile, corporate America will be addressing workplace violence in various ways. Some are taking extreme physical security measures and shoring up their company policies and procedures. Others are taking the attitude that it won’t happen here and will do nothing. Our society is rapidly evolving and hopefully we will move past this current crisis.