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NSC 2017: How Employers Sow the Seeds of Workplace Violence

Expert says seeds of workplace violence are planted when an employee is given authority over coworkers but is not given training on how to manage.

I. David Daniels, chair of the National Safety Council’s government and public sector division, knows about workplace bullying as a past victim and expert. He spoke to attendees at the 2017 National Safety Congress in Indianapolis about preventing bullying, harassment and violence with a focus on the public sector.

Daniels focused his session on what leads someone to commit an act of workplace violence, what leads up to it and ways to prevent a situation from escalating.

Planting the Seeds

The seeds of workplace violence, he said, are planted when someone is given power over coworkers, but he/she isn’t given proper training about how to manage.

“[Employers] make sure they have the technical skills necessary, but not the human skills and how to handle them,” Daniels said.

Likewise, overall company culture could lead to a negative environment. Standards that allow and incentivize bullying, social recognition for negative behavior and a culture that glorifies the ability to amass power over other positive attributes could open doors to bullying and harassment and eventually violence.

“Culture is the fertilizer to incivility, bullying and violence,” he said.

Keeping a Situation from Growing

The main culprit is managers not recognizing that managers should think every policy or procedure will be followed in the same way by every employee.

 “The rules say everyone will do this, but the rules aren’t perceived by everyone in the same way,” Daniels said. “We assign intent, but people interpret things in different ways.”

There are four different types of workplace violence, including:

Type 1: Violent acts by people who have no other connection with the workplace other than to commit the crime (such as robbery)
Type 2: Directed at workers by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates or any others for whom an organization provides services.
Type 3: Violence against coworkers, supervisors or managers by a present or former employee
Type 4: Domestic violence that follows people to work – violence committed in workplace, but the perpetrator has a personal relationship with employee such as spouse or domestic partner

Bullying is one of the earliest warning signs of workplace violence. The worker might intimidate another employee, be discourteous/disrespectful, uncooperative and or verbally abusive.

If nothing is done, the situation could escalate to the person arguing with customers, vendors or coworkers or to refusing to obey policies and procedures.

A workplace violence situation requires an immediate response when a worker poses a threat to themselves or others. This could come in the form of suicidal threats, physical fights, destruction of property or a display of extreme rage or utilization of weapons to harm others.

“When these seeds start to sprout, we need to recognize it and intervene early,” Daniels said. “It’s small things that get people wound up.”

Managers and supervisors should employ a number of prevention strategies to encourage a positive company culture that does not foster bullying, harassment or violence. Methods include:

  • Promoting sincere, open and timely communication among managers, employees, organizations
  • Offering support for professional development
  • Fostering a family-friendly work environment
  • Promoting quality of life (job satisfaction)
  • Maintaining mechanisms for complaints and concerns and allow them to be express in non-judgmental forum that includes timely feedback to initiators of bullying and harassment
  • Maintaining impartial and consistent discipline for employees who exhibit improper conduct and poor performance

Handling Workplace Violence

Workers should be educated on all aspects of workplace violence. Managers should communicate awareness and train them about how to spot potential situations.
Supervisors also should be aware of early intervention techniques and what to do when faced with problems. Both workers and managers should know who to call for assistance.

There are many ways to keep potential workplace violence situations from occurring or escalating. First, all physical and verbal threats should be reported. If a worker is acting out or angry, the violent person should not be touched, and a calm, non-confrontational approach should be used to defuse the situation.

Most importantly, all threats should be taken seriously, Daniels said.

“If I were to sum this presentation up, I would say just be nice to people, and this is both private and public sector,” he said to the audience.

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