The term “workplace violence” has become part of the American consciousness, conjuring frightening daily headlines about bogeymen with deadly weapons targeting offices, distribution centers, schools and public venues.
Workplace Violence is on the Rise
Although most of us will not face violent situations at our workplace, violence is on the rise. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), there are two million incidents of workplace violence each year. This is a staggering number, yet we also know these incidents are vastly underreported. Furthermore, workplace violence is the third-leading cause of death at work in the United States.
As your organization considers strategies to keep employees safe, including those working remotely or on client sites, it’s important to recognize that workplace violence encompasses a broader spectrum of negative behaviors beyond extreme violence. OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.”
What is the solution to helping prevent small or large acts of workplace violence? One powerful strategy is for employees to speak up when they witness concerning behavior among their peers.
Speaking up Should be Foundational to Your Organizational Culture
Speaking up is one of the most important components of an organization’s workplace violence prevention program. The organizational culture should encourage everyone in the company to report warning signs or concerning behaviors. Recognizing these behaviors or warning signs as potential precursors to incidents of workplace violence is the first step. Some of these warning signs include:
- Inability to cope with new and major personal life problems: divorce, illness, financial or legal issues
- Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
- Unexplained increase in absenteeism
- Noticeable decline in appearance and hygiene
- Bullying or other aggressive behavior
- Suicidal; comments about “putting things in order”
- Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace
- Fixation on violence, firearms or other weapons
Reporting is Supporting
The goal of early intervention is to provide support to employees. This support over report concept is essential to change the perception that reporting concerning behavior will lead to disciplinary action. Rather, it indicates an ethic of care within an organization. To help mitigate a difficult situation, the organization should provide its workforce with an employee assistance program and other resources to help persons of concern navigate their challenges before the situation potentially escalates into a larger problem.
Training and communication efforts should be focused on helping all employees understand the broad spectrum of concerning behaviors of which to be aware, how stress can contribute, how to identify and resolve early conflicts or issues, and the importance of elevating certain situations that might require threat assessment and management support.
Sikich’s Workforce Risk Management team can walk you through best-practice-based workplace violence prevention principles and help you design the right program that results in a safer workplace and has the added benefit of improving the culture of the organization. Contact us today: