Workplace violence is an ongoing global problem, particularly prevalent here in the United States. Unfortunately, although 2 million American workers will experience workplace violence in the next 60 days, non-fatal injuries and illnesses are grossly underreported.
Do we have to wait until workplace bullying, aggression, or violence reaches the level of homicide or suicide before it is truly recognised as a silent epidemic? Or do we need to take action now in order to identify, discipline and terminate workplace violence on a mass scale?
Situations that may seem relatively placid at first such as petty arguments and remarks can quickly escalate into dangerous situations. Workplace violence is fast becoming recognized as one of the number one threats that businesses are concerned with.
Why is Workplace Violence Underreported?
Lack of communication, awareness, and lack of incentive seem to be the top reasons that people fail to document and report non-fatal injuries or workplace threats. One of the key points here is that many employees and employers do not have clear directions as to how workplace violence is defined and how to regulate and discipline such violence should it occur.
Fear of Retaliation and Snitch Culture
As childish and unfortunate as this may sound, many employees lack the confidence to stick up for others in fear of retaliation and also for self-preservation within the workplace. To combat this, employers need to make it clear to all employees that all those reporting an incident will be treated with respect and anonymity where appropriate. They will need to support and protect employees from harassment, retaliation and intimidation at all costs.
Lack of Procedures and Policies
Many companies do not have a working guide on workplace bullying and violence procedures and policies. Therefore, when witnessing violence, harassment, or bullying, employees may simply not know who to turn to and what to say. This can be confusing and frustrating, particularly for those that are feeling victimized in their place of work. Companies should clearly outline a member of staff that can be approached and addressed professionally and confidentially in a time of violence or crisis.
Procedures and disciplinary actions must be outlined in order for all members of staff to be aware of the consequences of workplace violence and misdemeanours, along with what their particular company defines as violence or bullying. It really is a shame that in a lot of working environments, people are too scared to speak out against people that make them feel uncomfortable on an ongoing basis.
Lack of Training
In every business, it must be seen as paramount for staff to be trained by an in-house expert or an outside source that qualifies in defining and counteracting workplace violence. This should be by way of a training day or a staff handbook with regular email reminders. Workplace violence must be recognized, and so must the measures that each individual company has in place to deal with such violence as it occurs.
Unfortunately, bullying doesn't just happen on a school or college playground. In the workplace factors such as gender, race, and sexuality can all become areas that attract discrimination and sometimes violence.
In the US there are almost 500 homicides per year in the workplace, this is a staggering amount that needs to be recognized. Many of these deaths probably started off as small incidents. Incidents that could have been mediated professionally before they escalated to loss of life!
Addressing Workplace Violence
You don't need to have a huge encyclopaedia outlining every possible form of violence and bullying for your employees to live by…
A simple crisis plan can be produced by your HR and management team and disseminated amongst employees. This plan can contain a list of things that could happen, and what to do should they occur in your particular workplace.
However, employers should treat potential threats of workplace violence and disruption as seriously as all other crisis event such as natural disasters or cyber-attacks. Many of these potential threats and coping strategies should be outlined in your workplace business continuity plan.
On a periodic basis, workplaces should conduct practical walkthroughs of potentially dangerous workplace situations. These situations can simulate violence or threats of violence. Take a disgruntled employee for example. This could be somebody whose employment has been terminated that feels as though they have been treated unfairly. They may cause a scene in the workplace before they leave, threatening to get revenge on management or any other members of staff that they feel are responsible for their termination. This is just one scenario where violence could become an outcome as people overthink situations and want to take matters personally and into their own hands.
Another situation may be a series of threatening phone calls, text messages or emails that are being delivered to a member of staff. Although these kinds of threats rarely escalate, staff need to know who to report them too and what disciplinary measures are in place to deal with such acts of aggression.
Without practicing for these real-life situations, it's unlikely that you or your team will have the necessary experience to respond professionally and quickly when they occur.
Utilize an Emergency Messaging System
These days, there are many companies that offer mass communication solutions and emergency messaging systems that can keep all parties informed within a business at all times. These messaging systems are easily put in place and can be pre-programmed to reach all key employees, stakeholders, and customers via a medium of communication that is relevant and satisfactory to each individual.
In the event of a major incident of workplace violence such as a shooting or a hostage situation, emergency messaging systems can save lives. They can often be accessed online by members of staff so that they can confirm their whereabouts and let people know that they are safe.
In ay case, workplace violence should always be reported as soon as it starts. What seems like harmless playground bullying today, could quickly escalate into something deadly.