How to Prevent Workplace Violence

People who work together eight hours a day, forty hours a week become a constant fixture in each other’s lives. Days, months, or years of problem-solving, competition, attitudes, prejudices, tempers, and stress bring the potential for workplace violence. Problems in the workplace come in all shapes and sizes, and unfortunately, there are times when they are so severe they are illegal. I am going to highlight the causes, warning signs, and ways you can help prevent workplace violence in your business.

Since no two incidents are exactly the same, it is impossible to predict when or where acts of violence might happen. But these common factors tend to come into play.

Overworked Employees
It’s not always easy to leave personal issues at the door, and coupled with a bad day at work they can cause an employee to snap and lash out in a harmful way. Overworking employees creates a stressful work environment, and if an employee is also battling personal issues, it can potentially lead to a violent situation.

Ineffective HR Department
Not having a competent HR department where the employee can find support to their stress and overwhelm is another factor in workplace violence. An efficient HR department can guide a person to find solutions to their problems and to use the employee assistance program (EAP) to help diffuse a potentially violent employee before they escalate to violence.

When managers or HR professionals ignore the potential for violence in the workplace, they avoid making policies, holding employees accountable, or using conflict resolution, leaving everyone vulnerable without skills to diffuse potentially violent situations.

Lack of Conflict Management Training
Whether it is a customer who feels cheated or an employee who feels wronged by a coworker, conflict management should be taught to all employees to help them know how to handle difficult situations.

Warning Signs Ignored
Employees who were interviewed after an incidence of violent behavior in the workplace said that they had seen signs in the coworker’s behavior prior to the event but didn’t take action. Supervisors, managers, coworkers, and human resource professionals need to be trained to identify the signs of potential workplace violence.

Dr. Lynne McClure, a nationally recognized expert in managing high-risk employee behaviors before they escalate to workplace violence, says that there are eight categories of warning signs that signal the potential for workplace violence to occur.

1. The employee acts out his or her anger by yelling, shouting, slamming doors, throwing objects, and so on.
2. The employee takes no responsibility for his actions and blames others for his mistakes.
3. The employee does what she wants, regardless of the negative effects on others.
4. Passive-aggression; the employee talks positively but behaves negatively.
5. The employee is rigid, inflexible, and controlling. She won’t try new technology, wants to be in charge, or purposefully withholds information.
6. The employee deals with stress by lying and/or taking part in addictive behaviors such as drugs or gambling.
7. The employee suddenly acts in ways that are out of character and/or inherently extreme.
8. The employee is remote, has poor social skills, becomes fixated on an idea, and/or an individual.

McClure advises that when a manager, supervisor, or HR person sees these behaviors, they need to document it and take action immediately. They should talk to the employee, discuss the behaviors, and offer support to help them make changes. If necessary, the employee can receive disciplinary action or termination. It is essential to create a plan of action to help the employee make the changes and to continue monitoring their behavior until the appropriate results are achieved. Make sure to have a signed agreement with the employee that if the desired outcome is not obtained by a specified time, the employee will leave the workplace by choice or by termination.

Ways to Prevent Workplace Violence
Training and being aware of the signs of workplace violence can help you anticipate and take actions that may prevent it from happening. Being proactive in creating a safe environment for employees is the key to preventing workplace violence.

Have a zero-tolerance policy toward any act of workplace violence that results in strict disciplinary action and establish procedures to help resolve potential violent behavior if you see warning signs. If an employee violates the policy, make sure that HR takes action to remove the person from the workplace via suspension or termination.

Build relationships with each employee, so you notice when their behavior is out of the ordinary and encourage supervisors, managers, and other workers to report unusual employee behavior to human resources.

Create an emergency action plan and add it to the employee handbook, informing employees of their options for addressing workplace violence and the exit strategy if necessary.

In conclusion, business owners are liable for making their premises safe for employees and customers. The costs of workplace violence are high and not only result in loss of valuable employees but can include expenses for medical and psychiatric care, lost business and productivity, repairs, higher insurance rates, or increased security costs. Training managers to identify warning signs allows Human Resources time to work with the potential perpetrator to prevent violence and keep the workplace safe for everyone.

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