If an employee is in any way susceptible to becoming violent in the workplace, a company is never more vulnerable than after this worker has been terminated or disciplined. During an April 9 workplace violence seminar, Brent O’Bryan, SPHR, vice president of learning and development at Allied Barton, outlined the common mistakes employers make when disciplining or terminating employees.
Some of the attendees at the Cleveland seminar clearly understood the risks involved in not approaching discipline or termination appropriately. One audience member said because his company’s drastic cost-saving cuts have resulted in job losses and a tense environment, HR personnel now ask security to sit in their on layoff meetings “in case something happens.”
Another attendee, who explained that his company soon will shut down one of its sites, said, “There’s a tendency, as you get closer to that [closing] date, that things can go south.”
Employers can reduce the likelihood of a workplace violence incident by handling terminations and layoffs in a professional and thoughtful manner and avoiding the following six common mistakes:
1. Not telling the real reasons for discipline. Employees will recognize when they are lied to, and this anger could be fuel for either a lawsuit or a violent reaction.
2. Poorly planned termination meeting. “You might spend countless time planning an office Christmas party, but no time planning how you’ll terminate an employee,” O’Bryan said. Everything should be planned out – from where the employee will sit for the meeting to who will be present, what will be said, how to respond to anticipated questions and more.
3. Using emotion rather than facts. The employee will feel and perhaps display emotion when he or she is being terminated or disciplined, which is to be expected. But the managers leading the meeting should remain unemotional and simply outline what the employee did (or did not) do. “Just stick to the facts,” O’Bryan stressed.
4. Not treating the employee with dignity. Employees who are being let go or disciplined don’t need to be kicked while they’re down. Keep the tone of the meeting professional and respectful.
5. Not firing someone who needs to be fired. Perhaps the worker in question is a high performer, but he makes other employees miserable. Such a problem employee could negatively impact workplace morale and productivity, not to mention create an environment that might lead to workplace violence. Don’t be blinded by high performance alone.
6. Treating the event too lightly. O’Bryan described the period after terminating an employees as “the danger zone.” This is when an unhappy, frustrated worker could be most likely to turn to violence. Take the event seriously and plan accordingly.
According to O’Bryan, employers who wish to foster the type of workplace culture that does not include the threat of violence involves taking action. Employers should develop a workplace violence policy, establish a leadership position against workplace violence, address inappropriate or worrisome behavior immediately, create an environment of unity and conduct surveys to better understand what employees think and feel.
Above all, a proactive employer must be willing to address questionable behavior instead of turning the other way. This is usually easier said than done for many employers.
“Everything about this topic takes courage,” O’Bryan said of workplace violence. “You have to take action.”
This is an installment in a special series on workplace violence prevention. Access all parts here: