Workplace Violence

Ten Tips for Preventing Workplace Violence

It seems as if every day we hear about another incident of violence; violence at schools, violence in our communities and unfortunately violence in the workplace. Is your organization prepared to deal with an act of violence? Do your employees know what to do? Who to call?

Today’s business leaders must be prepared to act quickly and decisively when and if an act of violence occurs. It’s difficult to be proactive because no one expects violence at work but the statistics tell us that it is a valid concern. During the last decade homicide was the third leading cause of death for all workers and the leading cause of occupational death for female workers. In 2006, New York State enacted legislation requiring public employers to perform a workplace evaluation or risk evaluation at each worksite and to develop and implement programs to prevent and minimize workplace violence caused by assaults and homicides. Workplace violence can occur in the workplace or outside of the workplace. It can occur at any hour of the day, and any day of the week. Violent acts have occurred at restaurants in Paris, on college campuses in the United States and many other locations. Workplace violence can occur anywhere. How your employees deal with disruptive, threatening and violent behavior can help minimize workplace violence. Pretending that workplace violence will never happen where you work is not the best approach. Here are a few tips for minimizing workplace violence:

  1. Hire the right people. Make sure that the interviewing process includes reference checking. Complete thorough background checks when the position requires a background check. Ask behavioral questions during the employment interview such as, “Can you tell me about a time when you lost your temper at work? What happened?” If the answer to the question sounds scary you might not want to hire the individual!
  2. Educate your managers to recognize disruptive, threatening and violent behavior and give them the tools to manage the behaviors. Conflict at work is normal, violence at work is not. When conflict occurs, managers must have the problem solving skills to resolve the conflict in a timely manner. When conflict isn’t resolved, employees can get irritated and aggravated. The next thing you know, the aggravated employee starts to threaten co-workers, not a good situation.
  3. Pay attention to inappropriate communication. Employees are expected to use appropriate communication skills in the workplace, yelling at a co-worker, disrespecting a co-worker and/or embarrassing a co-worker is not appropriate communication. When an employee displays inappropriate communication, he/she needs immediate coaching.
  4. Provide harassment awareness training for employees. We know that it is against the law to create a hostile work environment. Make sure your employees understand what a hostile work environment is and the process to follow to report an incident.
  5. Know who to call for help. If you employ internal security professionals, make sure your employees know who they are and how to reach them. If you rely on external law enforcement professionals, have the phone numbers posted. If you need help dealing with a difficult person, call for help. Don’t try to be a hero.
  6. Watch for patterns of unusual behavior. A valued employee starts calling in sick, missing deadlines, acting withdrawn and starts blaming others for mistakes at work. There could be a potential problem.
  7. Be aware of drug and/or alcohol abuse at work. If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available, refer troubled employees.
  8. Follow proper termination procedures. Terminating an employee is never fun. There are a variety of reasons for terminating an employee. If you are terminating an employee for a performance issue, make sure the corrective action process has been followed and the employee is not surprised about the termination. One of the biggest problems with corrective action is that Human Resource professionals tend to drag the process out and the poor performing employee doesn’t really believe that he/she will be terminated. When the termination actually occurs the employee is in a state of disbelief. After the disbelief passes, the employee is often angry. If the employee becomes angry while still at work don’t ignore the anger. Get some professional help for the employee.
  9. Share your workplace violence policy and emergency plan with staff. If an incident of workplace violence occurs you want to make sure your employees know what to do. Create a plan and communicate the plan to every employee. Share the plan with every new hire. Consistently review the plan with employees. When children are in school, we conduct fire drills as a preventive measure. Conduct a workplace violence drill as a preventive measure!
  10. Provide a safe work environment. Every employee deserves to feel safe when travelling to/from the workplace. Place lights in the parking lot, provide car service home when employees work late at night, suggest that employees travel in pairs when they are visiting high crime areas and/or dangerous locations, offer self defense classes for employees and consistently talk about safety in the workplace.

Unfortunately, there will be times when you take preventive measures and try to do everything in your power to prevent acts of workplace violence and you still fail. Workplace violence is often unpredictable but educating your employees is a step in the right direction.

George Clark is retired from the New York City Police Department. George spent the majority of his career working on the streets of New York City in a high crime, drug infested neighborhood. During his time with the NYPD, George received training for homeland security and threat hazard recognition and emergency actions. He currently consults on security issues and speaks on workplace violence prevention. You can reach George at 845-294-7089.