Are You UnSafe at Work?

I don’t know if this is the appropriate time to discuss workplace violence. Over the last few weeks, there have been headline-grabbing incidents of workplace violence in America. The latest was when an employee entered his workplace, killing five people and injuring nine.  However, as I contemplated whether I should write this article, I remembered this quote. “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

We cannot wait to stop workplace violence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 37,520 different incidents of workplace violence. There are over 100 a day. According to one article, assaults resulted in over 20,000 injuries and 392 fatalities.

However, most cases of workplace violence are not headline-grabbing incidents, they are the daily occurrences of bullying, intimidation, abuse, threatening behavior, and assault in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) breaks workplace violence into four categories: Criminal Intent, Customer/Client, Personal Relationships, and Worker-on-Worker Violence.

As leaders, we are responsible for protecting our employees while they are working for us. But how do we do this?

This was the topic of our latest podcast. (Click here to listen)

As I said before, the second-best time is now. The best way to handle workplace violence is to be proactive and not wait until it happens.

Here are eight quick tips for organizational leaders.

  1. Be Proactive. If you never think workplace violence will happen, you are wrong and unprepared. In 2022, over 37,000 incidents of workplace violence took place in the United States. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace violence is underreported by eighty percent.
  2. Know what Workplace Violence is: Although the headlines grab our attention when there is a school shooting or death at a nearby factory, most workplace violence is not reported in the news. Workplace Violence is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in their employment. Bullying is considered workplace violence. It is a pattern of behavior that harms, intimidates, undermines, offends, degrades, or humiliates an employee in front of other employees or customers.  
  3. Create a Zero-Tolerance Policy: There is some debate about whether a zero-tolerance policy is too harsh. Experts argue that there should be room for management judgment. I am not a hundred percent sure. Still, at the very least, every company must have a policy where workplace violence is unacceptable, and swift action is taken when it arises.
  4. Know the warning signs: Although not a hundred percent, usually the coworker or customer will show signs that they may become violent, including behavior change, history of violence, threatening behavior, intimidating behavior, increased personal stress, a marked difference in mood or behaviors, and finally, social isolation. As leaders, we must know the signs and act appropriately within our organizational guidelines.
  5. Develop an action plan: How will you and how will your company respond when workplace violence occurs? We don’t want to discuss it, but we need to in case it happens. You should develop a plan for any type of workplace violence, from simple bullying to an active shooter. Note: Yes, thinking about workplace violence can trigger negative emotions but better than waiting to deal with the aftermath of workplace violence.
  6.  Take stock of your risk: Review the security protocol around your building. How easy is it for someone to enter your building? Is bullying an acceptable part of your organizational culture? Is violence? I remember working at a company where it was unusual for disputes to be settled in loud yelling matches that sometimes got physical.
  7. Train your Employees: Employees will always be your first line of defense. Discuss with them the impact of workplace violence and why it is unacceptable in your organization. Instruct them on what to do when they feel unsafe and how to respond to workplace violence.
  8. Finally, hire an outside expert to help. It is amazing how much an outside expert can see that we can’t. A friend always says, “You can’t read the label from the inside of a jar.” This is especially true when reviewing your preparedness for preventing workplace violence.  

I worked for a large electronic retailer as their business continuity manager. I had many conversations about how we can keep our employees safe from domestic relationships gone wrong, celebrity stalkers, guns in the workplace, lack of security protocol, and bullying. The outcomes were always better prepared when discussed these incidents in advance.

If you want to learn more about preventing workplace violence, check out the HR Stories Podcast, where every story has a lesson.

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