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Deterring Workplace Violence

Fall 2010

by Dr. Keith Levick


Customer Care News


our workday begins like any other day — organizing your desk, answering the phone and greeting

visitors as they sign in; you know, the typical

never eradicate such behavior, but we can take steps to deter the violence and aggression found in the workplace.

routine. On this day, however, Bob, an ex-employee, walks in

The profile

ond exchange between you and this man, he pulls out a gun and

lem, psychologists have been hard at work trying to understand

his demands. As people hysterically run for their lives, Bob finds

lethal and lethal acts of violence. Simply stated, non-lethal acts of

demanding to see Fred and Jan, his old managers. After a 30-secpoints it in your face. Stunned and numb, you follow every one of Fred and Jan in their offices, and in a paranoid and psychotic instant he opens fire and kills the managers and himself.

Sound like a scene from a Hollywood movie? Unfortunately,

this is the “breaking story” we see and hear much too often on the

evening news. Violence in the workplace is a reality happening

everywhere. The problem is no longer isolated to late night convenience stores. Hospitals, accounting firms, governmental agencies, corporate headquarters and more are all affected. For many, the workplace presents high stress and daily volatile events.

Since workplace violence is a predominately new social prob-

the dynamics of an attacker. It is important to differentiate nonviolence tend to happen impulsively. An employee who is angry

with another and destroys some furniture would be an example of non-lethal violence. Unlike the non-lethal person, the attacker

who commits murder in the workplace is not impulsive. In fact, he is quite selective and deliberate. The final act is one of a long chain of events.

The warning signs

Upon closer examination, these people present visible behav-

In the past decade, workplace violence has increased more

ioral warning signs. Unfortunately, many employees and man-

• Violence at work accounts for approximately 15 percent of

87 percent of managers who were interviewed after a murder

than 300 percent. In fact, statistics show that:

all violent acts experienced annually in the United States.

• Homicide is the leading cause of workplace death for women.

• Last year, two million Americans were victims of a physical

agers tend to deny and minimize these signs. In one study,

stated they “let things go unattended too long.” They went on to explain that fear drove their denial — fear of confrontation and/ or retaliation.

A manager of a Fortune 500 company tells of a time

assault while on their jobs.

he walked through his department and overheard one of

place of employment.

away.” Unsure of what to do with what he heard, he decided

• Approximately 16 million workers will be harassed at their • One in four people will be affected by workplace violence. Why?

To answer the question, “Why is there a dramatic increase of

workplace violence,” one needs to look at our society. Haven’t we

become more violent over the years? College campus massacres, husbands murdering wives, employees shooting employees, etc. We are besieged with violence on a daily basis. From the daily

newspaper to the nightly news, we have become conditioned and desensitized to violence. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, if the workplace is a microcosm of society, there will be an increase of violence in the workplace.

Furthermore, with downsizing, layoffs and mergers, employ-

ees are working more hours with fewer resources. Stress levels are at an all-time high among American workers. As stress levels

continue to climb, these workers become lightening rods ready to explode. These people are walking a psychological tightrope, and

the employees mutter, “maybe I should just blow some people to make a report to security after two sleepless nights. Fortunately, he made the right decision. Upon their

investigation, security officers found floor plans of the company’s headquarters, several weapons and a list of executives to be killed.

Having an awareness of the common warning signs may

prevent a terrible tragedy:

• Any verbal threat of violence

• Any physical action — intimidation, flashing a weapon, stalking, etc.

• Consistently angry and frustrated — usually associated with entitlement issues such as not receiving a promotion, being demoted, etc.

• Obsessive characteristics — obsessed with a co-worker

(often times romantically), a famous person or an individual with high status

What can you do?

feel secure at the workplace. Like violence in society, we may

eliminate workplace violence. However, if one recognizes some

We can no longer take solace in the fact that employees can

Fall 2010

when they fall, they fall hard, and often resort to violence.

Certainly, one cannot control another person’s behavior or


of the warning signs or a troubled person seeks assistance, the

human resources, security, medical, safety, legal,

• Always take threats seriously. Like a person who threatens

ate response procedures need to be developed. This

following suggestions may be helpful:

suicide, it may be a cry for help.

• Find ways to assist the person by:

• Listening empathetically

• Giving the phone number to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)-Work and Family Representatives

• Referring a community mental health agency, etc. • Recommending a stress management program

• Be sure to follow-up. Call the person to find out how they are doing.

What the organization can do

contacts police, etc.

2. Develop a consistent style of management and philosophy to be driven throughout the organization.

3. Security systems need to be assessed and security training provided for all employees.

4. Training managers and employees in such areas as identifying the warning signs, advanced communication skills, etc.

5. Create a network of support for the identified employee:

• Materials from EAP, mental health services, etc. should be readily available.

• Increase workers’ training around awareness of psy-

proactive in dealing with workplace violence. The typical worker

• For smaller companies where on-site programs are not

often times spends more time at their job than they do with their

own families. An employer has a responsibility to create a workplace that is safe and healthy for employees.

In addition to the human tragedy that results from violence

chological risk factors and coping strategies.

feasible, a liaison should be established with local mental health or social service agencies.

In a society where violence is part of the everyday culture,

in the workplace, there is a great financial loss to the organiza-

the workplace appears a bit safer than the streets. However, vio-

these crimes cost employers and workers more than $55 million

consequences for both employees and the organiza-

tion. In terms of lost wages, lawsuits and missed workdays, annually.

The following are items organizations should consider and

implement to help create a safer environment.

1. Create a Threat Management Team that carries out

Fall 2010

would include an anonymous hot line, a plan for who

As organizations strive to improve themselves, the issue of

violence can no longer be avoided. Companies need to be more

the policy regarding violence in the workplace. This

multidisciplinary team consists of personnel from


EAP and other employees. Additionally, appropri-

lence is an unfortunate reality of our times and has far reaching

tion. Companies need to be more proactive in dealing with

workplace violence and prepare employees for the inconceivable. Although violence in the workplace cannot be eliminated,

employers can provide a safer environment by offering workplace violence training and implementing preventative policies and procedures. CCN

Customer Care News

Deterring Workplace Violence  

Your workday begins like any other day — organizing your desk, answering the phone and greeting visitors as they sign in; you know, the typi...