Corporate America's Role

In Causing Workplace Violence

By Lou Tyska, CPP

Managing Director

There are many who would point the finger of blame at the heads of America's business leadership as being a contributing factor in the issues involving the causes of Workplace Violence or hostile conditions in the workplace. At the very least, some are fostering the atmosphere in which aggressive behavior develops. In order to understand the root cause for such a position you need to look beneath the obvious concerns pertaining to re-engineering, down or right sizing. These "adjustments" in business practices which have consumed the decades of the 80's and 90's, have frequently caused hurtful effects on the workforce as they responded to the requested or mandated changes. In order for America to compete successfully in the global economy everyone would agree that demands for increased productivity and higher standards of quality certainly were justified. However, the workforce was called upon to accomplish these goals with fewer of their numbers, often for less pay and benefits and conforming to a restructured workforce configured with team concepts. All of these are serious adjustments often without employee preparation or planning prior to implementation. It is no wonder then that reactions to increased tension, stress, and in some instances shock resulted in a variety of workplace violence incidents.

*In mid 1996 The Society For human Resource Management, (SHRM), published the results of a Workplace Violence Survey. The survey was sent to 5,000 SHRM Human Resource managers and executive and over 1,000 responded with nearly half of those stating that since1994 they had experienced a violent events from a previous survey which covered the

If we take a look at organizations that have experienced violence we find numerous common denominators among them. Frequently noted are the following:

Ignore the warning signs or signals of individuals or issues;

Deny the existence of the identified issues;

Have no prevention plans but only react to events that occur;

That have both operational and organization communications problems across all levels,

Whose top management participation or support in a violence prevention program is non-existent.

We have not mentioned the fourth influence on workplace violence or the toxic workplace and that is organizational ethics. In the book, "vendetta-American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra," (NY;Harper Collins, 1992), the president of AMEX-James Robinson said, "Integrity is fundamental to every business were in." That is to say it is fundamental to corporations, governments and not for profit groups and without ethics organizational violence can become the operational norm.

We read every day in our newspapers about violations of the law by corporations, organizations and government. Frequently, individuals and the organizations themselves are the perpetrators. We lose faith in the system but, more than those important issues, ultimately we fall victim to stress and tension in both the workplace and our private lives because the process of people and their jobs suffer and anger and resentment results.

The employees of these organizations suffer in many ways and some of these are as follows:

Specific issues of workplace conditions that involve control, power, and authority need to be addressed continually in order to defuse anger, tension, and stress.

With the new business direction of process driven team performance methods, we need to insure balance between the individuals and the team, by fostering stable interpersonal relationships and reducing friction.

The atmosphere of including all in the process supports the goal of bonding between employee and organization. It's more difficult to be angry and to act out when you feel good about yourself and your organization.

Having expressed the view that organizations can support violence in the workplace, let's consider programs which, if implemented by the organizations that experience violent events, would eliminate or limit violence or aggressive behavior from reoccurring. Some of these are:

Implement a consistent pre-employment screening or background investigation of applicants to be hired program. Over one-third of America's companies do nothing to address this situation

Provide access controls or screening of visitors and vendors.

Have in place a policy on the organization's position concerning workplace violence and harassment. Approximately 40% of the organizations that responded to the SHRM Survey indicated they have no such documents in place.

Provide counseling, employee reviews and assessments as needed. Frequently, except for the annual salary review or employee evaluation, there is no feedback. Often this lack of periodic interaction and communication results in no corrective action. The annual review can become the cause of an employee to act out when their perceptions are different from the reviewer.

Formal awareness training along with reasonable physical security techniques are necessary. It must not be assumed that the mere existence of an Employee Assistance Plan, (EAP), or any standard occupational health program can effectively address internal threats of violence. They certainly cannot be handled by traditional Human Resource methods. Violence erupts when organizations fail to recognize warning signs, adverse conditions are not identified and there is no method to correct the atmosphere that fostered the condition in the first place.

Implement methods of reporting employees' concerns or complaints. Systems to report and record these conditions as well as actual events are mainstays on the road to prevention.

Develop and empower and internal threat evaluation ad response team. The mix for this internal group is determined by organizational culture and the existing dynamics of the particular operation. Such an internal response team can assist in preventing overt acts of aggression and minimize the negative impact an actual event may have on the workforce. Organizations that prepare, implement and support these suggestions demonstrate a willingness to provide a safe, secure and productive workplace. There frequently erupts in the workplace overt acts of violence that have been caused because the organization creates a persuasive air of abandonment when it comes to harassment. Before actual violent acts or aggressive behavior erupt, there precedes incidents of sexual, physical threatening racial, religious, ethnic harassment. Such acts of harassment frequently take a severe psychological toll on the victims and, at the very least, adversely impact directly upon productivity for all employees. Often the absence of a method of communicating the abuse is not present or is unclear, Frequently, the abused employee is experiencing fear, shame, or is simply too embarrassed to make the harassment known. We do know that 58% of harassment incidents are not reported and 43% of actual threats are not reported according to Northwestern National Life Insurance. The report also indicates that approximately one-fourth of those who have been Physically attacked don't report it. We also know that the individual victim has experienced the particular harassment anywhere from three to five times.

Not all harassment and abuse takes place in the workplace. It can often begin at home and spills over into he workplace. Five percent of the women victimized at work were attacked by a husband, ex-husband, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the attackers are persons of the same gender. Slowly organizations are beginning to realize that domestic violence can affect the bottom line. More than 60% of the employees who experienced abuse reported for work late, 50% said they were routinely absent, 70% claimed the abuse gave them trouble in performing their jobs, 60% reported being reprimanded on the job for poor performance due to the abuse, and 30% were fired. (US Dept. of Labor) The Bureau of National Affairs reports that each year employers lose between three and five billion due to absenteeism, medical bills, productivity issues, and employee turnover attributed to domestic abuse.

The organizations that will last into the twenty-first century and those that will be successful and profitable will be the one who have demonstrated a caring nature, an ethical commitment, as well as those who have plans for workplace and domestic abuses, harassment's or threatening incidents. Pope John Paul II wrote in a Papal Encyclical "Through work, man achieves fulfillment as a human being. Man shares by his work in the activity of the Creator." Both men and women may accept his comment while understanding that employers must address the expectation that their employees have to be safe and secure in the workplace.