Violence prevention techniques for today's over-stressed workplace

Mention the words "workplace violence" and horrific images come to mind. People immediately think of shootings like the one at a mail processing facility in Southern California where Bruce Clark, a 22-year U.S. Postal Service veteran, shot and killed his supervisor. Or they envision incidents like the one at a manufacturing plant in North Carolina where James Davis killed and injured four people. Such portrayals of workplace violence dominate the media, but they actually account for a small percentage of occupational violent acts. Emotional harassment, physical aggression, sabotage, vandalism and theft are more common violent acts. Combined with incidents of workplace homicide, they cost companies approximately $35.4 billion annually in legal expenses and lost profits. In order to reduce workplace violence, employers need to adjust their corporate culture. Regardless of your industry, warding off signs of workplace violence not only makes sound business sense, but it also helps your company improve employee security and safety issues. The following guidelines represent an approach to warding off workplace violence. Embrace new ways of managing conflict and disciplining employees Shame and degradation are at the root of all violent acts. Unfortunately, many companies inadvertently promote such emotions, which in turn can lead to violence, in the disciplinary and conflict resolution tactics they employ. Berating employees for not meeting deadlines or sales goals, threatening job loss in response to a behavioral problem, and ignoring work well done cause employees to feel undervalued and humiliated. Rather than instill negative emotions in response to a problem, those in leadership positions need to set a new model for conflict resolution and discipline. For example, if you encounter an aggressive employee who routinely threatens coworkers, steals supplies, or even shows signs of physical violence, first talk with the person privately in an attempt to uncover the root of the violent behavior. Perhaps the person is having marital problems at home and is taking out those emotions out on co-workers. Or maybe the person does not have the proper skills and training to competently perform his or her work duties and is using aggressive behavior to mask the embarrassment. The key: show compassion and understanding so people will be willing to open up and release their pent-up emotions. Create an environment for honest communication Just like societal cultures, corporate cultures instill certain values and goals into those people immersed in it. Corporate cultures that inhibit honest communication between departments and/or employees or that reward people for "going with the flow" and "not making waves" breed an environment of fear, isolation and mistrust. As a result, employees feel as though they must always keep their guard up and never reveal their true opinions. Employees need to feel and believe that they can openly communicate dissatisfaction, frustration and opposing opinions to their supervisors and co-workers. They need to know that supervisors will respectfully listen to their concerns and will give each person's suggestions serious consideration. This does not mean that employers must act on every suggestion employees make, but it does require management to acknowledge each person's concerns and reveal why the company won't remedy certain situations. Only when employees feel that they have choices and are being treated fairly and with dignity will they be less prone to violent outbursts in order to make their point. Focus on the people in the company, not on the company itself Many company leaders are so concerned with the bottom line that they forget it's the people who make the bottom line possible. As a result, whenever a violent act occurs at work, the company's sole focus is on how the event will affect profits and/or productivity. When employees experience this sort of response to violence, they feel further victimized The company is not the victim in workplace violence. The people harmed or the relationship destroyed is the true victim. These true victims need to be the focus of any violence-resolution process. For example, if an employee is verbally abusive or is threatening co-workers, instead of talking to the person about how such behavior inhibits productivity and causes profits to drop, explain to the individual how his or her actions are causing hurt feelings, humiliation and fear. Bring the ramifications of the person's behavior to as personal a level as possible. People identify with other people, not with company profit-and-loss statements. They will respond more positively when the discussion has a personal focus and shows the damage in human terms. Lead by example Regardless of what the employee manual dictates, employees will follow the tone and example management sets. Whether they are issues of privacy, communication, or workplace violence, your employees are likely to follow what you do, not what you say. If employees witness you berating others or acting aggressively, they are likely to respond in a similar fashion. Likewise, if they see the management team talking openly with each other and resolving conflicts in a civilized and non aggressive manner, they'll follow that example as well. When you demonstrate in your daily actions that any form of workplace violence is unacceptable, your employees will learn non confrontational forms of conflict resolution. Shift your company's focus Give your organization the best chance for success by eliminating those factors that could drain profits and destroy employee relationships. When you transform your company's atmosphere from one that breeds violence to one that actually prevents it, you encourage your employees to work together to seek peaceful resolutions, while you help them unlock their full potential at work.
A Vicki Sanderford-O'Connor is the president of ClariQuest, Inc. and the author of the book The Power in Compassion: Transforming the Correctional Culture. She can be reached at vicki@rcip. com.
Copyright Commercial Finance Association Sep/Oct 2002

Source: Secured Lender
Date: 09/01/2002
Citation Information: ISSN: 0888-255X; Vol. 58 No. 5; p. 52-54
Author(s): Vicki Sanderford-O'Connor