What Is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence has become a huge topic of discussion in the U.S. When we think about workplace violence, we most often think about those high-profile incidents, many of which involve active shooters. While workplace shootings are a component of workplace violence, that’s not all that falls into this category.

Preventing workplace violence

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace violence is any act or threat of violence, intimidation or harassment occurring at a job site. Workplace violence doesn’t just mean guns or physical violence.

It can also include threats and verbal abuse. Workplace violence also doesn’t just have to occur between employees. It can also include clients and customers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicide is the fourth-leading cause of occupational injury in the U.S. It’s a huge concern for employers and employees, and it’s easy to feel out-of-control when you see the news headlines, but there are things that can proactively be done both to prevent workplace violence and to deal with it if it does occur.

Some of the biggest risks for workplace violence include businesses that exchange money with the public, and in industries that involve working with unstable people. Other risk factors include working where alcohol is served, and working alone or at night.

Elements of a Good Workplace Violence Strategy

A workplace violence strategy has many different elements.

First is what’s described as primary prevention. These are the efforts that are put in place to avoid having an employee that could potentially become violent, and also the steps taken to avoid a violent scenario.

For example, employers should regularly evaluate their hiring practices to make sure they are able to spot potential threats before they’re over brought onboard. There should also be systemic training used, clear expectations set, and strong supervision. That is like laying the groundwork to prevent possible workplace violence.

The next component of a comprehensive strategy should focus on preventing escalation. This step of a strategy focuses on things that might not be immediate threats but could grow into something serious if not properly dealt with.

Finally, the third layer of an effective strategy looks at what to do if a crisis occurs. What should supervisors do and what should other employees do?

Proactive Prevention Measures

First and foremost, there are some general things a business can do to work on preventing workplace violence.

The foundation should include a detailed harassment policy. A harassment policy should clearly define what is meant by harassment, and how it’s dealt with if it occurs. There should be policies outlined as to how complaints will be dealt with, what consequences will be, and how people will be protected if they do come forward with a complaint. Harassment policies should be distributed to employees, but employees should also be trained on these policies.

There has to be a zero tolerance for workplace harassment and violence as well, and there should be a defined code of conduct. Again, it’s not enough just to have a code of conduct. Employees need to be trained on it.

A business needs to emphasize clear, open channels of communication as well. A lot of times workplace violence is something that occurs after a situation has festered or simmered for long periods of time.

Victims feel intimidated into silence, but that doesn’t have to be the case. When a victim feels comfortable coming forward with harassment or threats right away, it’s more likely that the situation can then be deescalated before it becomes more serious.

Training sessions and education programs have to be a central part of preventing workplace violence. Managers need to be trained on what harassment and workplace violence are, and how to handle everything from what to do if a complaint is submitted, as well as how to de-escalate certain situations.

Training should ideally focus on empowering supervisors when it comes to crisis management, as well as helping these company leaders identify potential problems before they become larger.

The following are some specific steps that can be taken, regarding proactive violence prevention:

  • Do a security audit. Employers should do a full assessment and see where potential threats and weaknesses exist. Managers should look at internal work areas as well as public areas.
  • Create A Team: Employers should put together a team of managers who are the most highly trained in how to deal with violence that might occur. This doesn’t mean all employees aren’t trained, but this team should be the ones that receive specialized training as a crisis response team. The team should not only go through regular in-depth training but also drills. This team should be part of regular meetings where possible threats are addressed, and new risks are identified.
  • Check-In with Employees: It’s essential for employers to be in-tune with what their employees are thinking, feeling and doing. Managers tend to be the front-line here because they’re the ones interacting with employees on a regular basis. It is important that managers use employee check-ins to be proactive. Managers need to be trained on how to identify red flags, and how these things should be reported and documented. There should be a protocol in place for how to deal with employees who are seen as being a possible threat.
  • Foster Discussion: You want your employees to be talking about workplace violence, and where they see potential threats. By having open, honest discussions, it can improve company culture, and that actually goes a long way in terms of proactively preventing violence. Employees should also be educated on the resources available to them if they experience something they see as a red flag.

Having a strong violence prevention strategy in place isn’t just about safety and security. It makes good business sense, because ultimately if a situation gets out of control and there isn’t proper training place, it can cause financial and branding problems for a business. We live in a volatile and unpredictable world, and it’s up to employers to do everything in their power to prevent a violent situation from taking place.