There has been much written and discussed recently about the increasing threats we face from violence in public spaces. Festivals, malls, and schools have been targeted by active shooters, which has raised anxiety and concern for everyone regardless of their political position. On the right, many are concerned about the possibility of restrictions to accessing firearms, and on the left many are concerned about the threat of violence presented by the proliferation of guns. Guns and gun violence are complex matters that require serious and well thought out responses.
In the workplace, emotions can often run high. Most people spend more time with co-workers than even their own families. People need their jobs to pay their bills. The workplace is where we meet, make friends, socialize, and sometimes even find dating partners. These close, sometimes intensely emotional relationships can result in violence for the same reasons that violence occurs outside the workplace. Violent acts are often preceded by intense emotions; this NOT to say that intense emotions are often followed by violent acts.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? If we could predict violent acts simply by, say, looking for intense emotions on the part of our employees, we could have a better chance at preventing it. Workplace violence was declining for many years, but is recently back on the rise. Assault in the workplace now is the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths.
Here’s some recent workplace violence statistics to put the problem into perspective:
Beyond the personal costs, workplace violence hurts organizations as a whole. A half-million employees miss an estimated 1.8 million work days each year due to workplace violence — resulting in more than $55 million in lost wages. For injured workers, 21% required 31 or more days away from work to recover, and 19% of the incidents caused employees to miss 3 to 5 days away from work.
In the early 2000’s, I conducted research at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. My research attempted to predict violent behavior in prisoner populations. My team and I looked at several personality characteristics, analyzing which were most likely to precede violent acts.
We found that prisoners who scored high for antisocial personality traits (a person who only cares about themselves) and scored low on intelligence tests were most likely to act on violent tendencies. A couple of caveats here: Your employees are not prisoners, and IQ tests are only loosely correlated to general intelligence. That being said, if you have a person who doesn’t care about others and struggles to solve problems, you’re more likely to find violent outcomes from that person.
Even one workplace death is too many, so being aware of the predictors of workplace violence can help us act before it’s too late. Rare events that are high consequence are the most difficult to manage. We must manage them, though, because if we don’t our safety, health, and prosperity are threatened. They happen infrequently enough that it’s difficult to stay alert to the signs. What should you, as an employer, look for?
All employers should have a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy written into their employee manuals prohibiting workplace violence against or by their employees. Consider establishing a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention program or employee manual. Train all employees in the policy and inform them that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. You can also offer additional protections such as:
Employees can reduce their chances of being a victim of workplace violence if they:
In short, recognize that those who threaten violence need to be taken seriously. In most cases, those committing workplace violence gave warning signs. It is up to us to heed those warnings. Document, investigate, and remediate!
NOTE: AccompliCenter, our staff, our owners, and our customers are all deeply saddened by the recent tragic events in Dayton, Ohio, El Paso, Texas, and Gilroy, California. Our hearts go out to the families and communities stricken by the senseless, unnecessary violence that has torn apart so many peoples’ lives. If you are struggling with grief and loss, seek help here.