Violence in the workplace an unfortunate fact of life
Every day we hear of more violent
acts taking place in our schools, in our homes and on our streets. But violence
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
Diffusing hostility during an
employee crisis situation (such as poor performance appraisals and discharges)
paramount to impeding violent acts.
When the employee is
"trapped" without recourse, even Mr. or Ms. Average can lash out with
Statistics cited are from The U.S.
Bureau of Labor 1994-95 and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and
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