Violence in the workplace an unfortunate fact of life


                                                       Sally Ford


      Every day we hear of more violent acts taking place in our schools, in our homes and on our streets. But violence in

      the workplace is a real threat to employers as well.


      Each year, 110,000 acts of violence occur on the job. Businesses are so worried about the onslaught of workplace

      violence that many wonder when, not if, it will happen to them. Consider these grim facts:


         ·         The size of a company has little to do with acts of workplace violence -- small businesses are just as likely to

            experience violence as large organizations.

         ·         Workplace violence is the No. 1 cause of death for women at work.

         ·         Almost 20 percent of the reported acts of workplace violence occur in the Midwest.

         ·         The most common targets are women, employees over 60 and managers.

         ·         In 1994, 1,070 murders occurred nationally on the job.




      A variety of work-related situations set the stage for violence. Discharge from one's job provokes many violent acts.

      Occasionally, hostility emerges during performance appraisals. Family members of disgruntled employees might

      pummel the employer. Conflict between the employee and the supervisor can result in more than a screaming

      match. Occasionally, unhappy customers seek violent revenge.




      Although paranoid, hostile, "hot-tempered" personalities and thieves are more prone to violence than others,

      personality profiles that can predict violence are controversial. Studies show that the following personal

      characteristics and environmental factors often lead to violence on the job:


         ·         Most violence is perpetrated by males ages 30 to 40.

         ·         Perpetrators often are migratory, socially isolated (and use the company as a surrogate "family") and absent

            from work often.

         ·         Violent employees frequently abuse stimulant drugs and/or alcohol.

         ·         Poverty and financial stress are common environmental characteristics.

         ·         More than 70 percent of perpetrators use guns.

         ·         Violence occurs most frequently within public, delivery and retail industries.

         ·         Employers that lack feedback systems and counseling and that are generally non-nurturing to their

            employees suffer more workplace violence than concerned employers.

         ·         Domestic violence often accompanies or precedes workplace violence.


                                               Effects on the workplace


      Workplace violence obviously affects the entire organization, resulting in demoralization, anger toward the employer

      and increased absenteeism and turnover. The employer often is devastated by non-budgeted costs for workers'

      compensation, settlements, lost productivity, recruitment and increased insurance premiums. Demoralization can

      poison the organization indefinitely.


                                                   Prevention tools


      Employee/customer hostility, coupled with accessibility to a workplace, is an open door to violence. Employers

      should take a hard look at their accessibility and security systems. Hiring an outside security service that is

      interactive with employees (they don't just stand around and wait, but mingle with the employees) appears to be an

      effective prevention tool. Other prevention tools include:


         ·         Checking background for new hires and suspicious employees, including criminal, civic and credit records.

            Follow legal procedures by consulting with your company attorney or a human resources management firm.

         ·         Training all employees and managers in safety and crisis management. This is mandatory for the wise


         ·         Offering employee resources such as an employee assistance program's counseling and feedback

            systems that can mitigate or halt the hostility that prefaces workplace violence.

         ·         Exit interviews, which provide a variety of data for employers. They also serve as a venting and grieving place

            for a discharged employee.

         ·         "Climate surveys," which help detect workplace hostility, anger and perceived injustices that play heavily into


         ·         Disciplinary programs that realistically focus on the employee's problems or deficiencies and don't focus on

            the employee personally.

         ·         Alternatives to reductions in force, such as across-the-board hour or wage cuts for all; this diffuses personal


         ·         Policies and procedures that realistically address workplace violence. Include safety issues, training and

            reporting systems. Create and maintain a safety committee to "watchdog" potentially violent employees and


         ·         Reviewing and modifying your procedures for performance appraising, discipline, suspension and

            terminations carefully.

         ·         Considering your company's "culture" with the end goal of being a nurturing and empowering employer.


      Workplace violence is a real and contemporary threat to all employers. Always remember that an employee's or

      customer's perceived injustice or inequity, coupled with subsequent hostility, is the hallmark of workplace violence.

      Diffusing hostility during an employee crisis situation (such as poor performance appraisals and discharges) is

      paramount to impeding violent acts.


      When the employee is "trapped" without recourse, even Mr. or Ms. Average can lash out with violence.


      Statistics cited are from The U.S. Bureau of Labor 1994-95 and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and

      Health 1995.


      Sally L. Ford is president/CEO of Ford Consulting Group, an outsource for HR management, management training

      and HR administration services.


      © 1997, Kansas City Business Journal