Everyone deserves to feel safe at work. Unfortunately, more than two million people are affected by workplace violence every year, disrupting peoples’ well-being and community.
Workplace violence instances, which range from physical violence to verbal intimidation, come with incredible consequences. In 2017, the last year that significant data is available, more than 18,000 workers experienced nonfatal injuries, and, tragically, 800 workers died as a result of workplace violence.
Consequently, nearly one in seven employees feel unsafe at work, a devastating reality that demands a response. To protect their team members, facilities, and bottom-lines, businesses need to know the risks and strategies for work place violence prevention.
Four Types of Workplace Violence
Workplace violence always comes with repercussions, but it’s not a monolithic occurrence. Rather, it contains different expressions that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has classified into four types:
- Type 1: Violence committed by criminals unaffiliated with an organization. By far the most prolific expression of workplace violence, these incidents account for nearly 80% of workplace homicides. Typically motivated by theft, this type of workplace violence is particularly acute among specific occupational groups, like taxi drivers, late-night gas station clerks, and other hazardous occupations.
- Type 2: Violence directed at employees from customers, clients, patients, students, or inmates. These attacks typically occur while workers perform their normal services. They are often unpredictable, triggered by an argument, service quality disagreement, or delayed assistance.
- Type 3: Violence enacted by present or former employees. Workplace disagreements, changes to employment status, or other conflicts often preceded these instances of workplace violence.
- Type 4: Violence committed by someone affiliated with an employee. Intimate acts of violence often stem from relationship disagreements, separation, or divorce. Both types three and four typically include warning signs, making work place violence prevention programs especially important for keeping everyone safe.
Understanding the different types of workplace violence can help businesses develop work place violence prevention programs and policies, empowering all employees to play an active role in facilitating a safe workspace.
Understanding the Risk Factors
Workplace violence has devastating consequences for all parties. When employees don’t feel safe, they are less committed, productive, and engaged. Of course, when workers experience a violent act at work, the long-term social, emotional, and mental health implications are especially catastrophic. Therefore, identifying the risk factors for violence in the workplace is a critical next step for preventing incidents before they occur.
Individual Risk Factors
While imbuing a particular risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is poised to commit an act of violence, compounding risk factors, including those associated and unassociated with work, can help identify those at risk of committing workplace violence. According to the American Psychiatric Association, this includes:
Work-Related Risk Factors:
- Unsatisfied by treatment from a supervisor
- Feels picked on, isolated by supervisors
- Downsizing or reduction in force
- Treated unfairly or particularly inhumanely at termination
Personal Risk Factors:
- Divorce or personal stressors
- Love relationship gone sour, lover seeks revenge
- Viewing violent propaganda, engaging with extremist or conspiracy theory-related groups online, or communicating with violent threat actors through chat rooms or other online platforms.
Organizational Risk Factors
While personal risk factors influence workplace violence, they are often exacerbated by organizational factors. For example, budget cuts, pay freezes, diminished pay raises, a hostile work environment, and routine management changes can trigger violent action in vulnerable employees.
Most acutely, evaluation methods and metrics can contribute to aggression, as poor evaluations can activate other risk factors leading to an incident of workplace violence. Companies can mitigate these risks by increasing transparency in the evaluation process and empowering their workers’ growth potential.
In a post-pandemic operational environment, these risk factors are especially apparent. Not only are many employees navigating pandemic restrictions, economic uncertainty, and shifting job requirements, but they are doing so from an increasingly remote environment where diminished social engagement and regular interactions can make it more difficult to support workers’ needs.
Ultimately, understanding the risk factors is the first step toward creating a cohesive plan for protecting employees from all types of workplace violence.
Employer’s Role in Prevention
The problem of workplace violence doesn’t fall squarely on employers’ shoulders, but they do have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for their employees.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, federal agencies have the purview to ensure the general overview of worker rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).”
In other words, companies have a responsibility to comply with the duty clause, which mandates a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
What’s more, various state laws may invoke additional workplace safety requirements, making compliance a multifaceted priority.
However, embracing workplace safety best practices isn’t just a regulatory concern. It has both moral and practical implications. As The New York Times best selling author Dan Schawbel recently wrote, “employers who prioritize safety will win the war for talent.”
In an increasingly competitive work environment, companies can’t afford to deprioritize worker safety, and many are ready to take action.
How to Make Your Work Place Violence Prevention Solutions Work
The right work place violence prevention solutions enable employers to mitigate risks, empower employees to take protective action, and eschew complicated requirements. The Society for Human Resources Management recommends all companies create workplace violence policies and procedures that encompass reporting, investigations, response protocols, and hazard reduction.
Here are several specific strategies to make your company more secure.
- Accept the possibility that violence can occur at your workplace. This will let you focus on developing prevention strategies and training employees on how to identify potential risks.
- Review your recruiting and hiring practices. Pre-employment background checks identify potential red flags and give employers extra information to guide their hiring decisions. Businesses should rely on background checks that are FCRA compliant while avoiding workarounds, like harnessing data from social media or people-search sites, to complete candidate profiles.
- Create and enforce anti-violence policies. Workplace violence is often the culmination of unacceptable and repeated harassment. In the MeToo era, we have too many examples of overlooking the bad actions of powerful leaders, high-performing employees and average colleagues alike. Safe workplaces have a zero-tolerance policy for violence, intimidation, and harassment.
- Demonstrate care. When harassment complaints, safety concerns, and other reports go unnoticed or unheard, employees are less likely to report future incidents. Demonstrate care by listening to your employees and taking concrete action to address their concerns.
- Create communication protocols. Do your employees know where to turn if they have concerns about their safety? Create a communication “chain of command” that’s easily accessible to all workers.
- Enroll your employees for OneRep. Our privacy protection tool helps businesses safeguard their workers’ information by removing sensitive data and personal details from the internet. This is especially relevant for people in high-risk occupations affected by workplace violence and retaliation.
- Provide access to conflict resolution services. Empowering employees with viable alternatives to violence can help reduce instances of violence while contributing to an overall improvement in workplace satisfaction.
- Emphasize respectful treatment of all employees including those who are terminated. If you need to fire someone, do it with sensitivity, in a way that preserves the employee’s dignity.
- Install routine security procedures when employees are fired. An exit interview and other essential procedures like collecting company keys and ids, deactivating passwords, etc., will help finalize matters and alert you to any potential problems.
- Monitor your facilities. Deploying security guards, surveillance technology, and visitor check-in stations can help reduce instances of violence by deterring bad actors and placing barriers between them and your teams.
- Reduce your in-house assets. Deter robberies by reducing the amount of cash and other valuable resources that are stored on-site. Use signage and other displays to convey this message to criminals.
- Train employees to identify risks. When workers know how to spot risks, it’s possible to stop a violent act before it occurs.
- Practice your response. Schools have been conducting disaster readiness drills for years, and it’s time for businesses to do the same. ALICE protocols and other established standards offer out-of-the-box solutions for workplace safety.
- Commit to being an organization of nonviolence. Each of these strategies is only effective if organizations commit to their implementation and improvement. Safety matters, and it takes commitment to make it a reality for all workers.
- Review and improve. Workplace safety best practices continue to evolve, and businesses need to evolve with them. Continually review your work place violence prevention protocols, and improve your practices through routine updates.
Workplace violence is a tragic, often unavoidable reality that impacts millions of people each year. Companies that are committed to their employees, customers, and reputation will take the steps necessary to secure their most valuable commodity – their people.
Do you need help making this priority a reality in your business? Contact us to get started.
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