Workplace Violence: Fight it before it fights you
American Military University
Contemporary Issues in Security Management
June 18th, 2017
Part I. Introduction
Workplace violence in the United States is an issue that is not talked about in broad circles or on popular media platforms very often, but it is a highly problematic event that plagues American business and workers yearly. Not only does workplace violence affect employees physically, but it also affects them mentally as fear starts to set it or lack of assurance. All these emotions that pour in lead to a lack of productivity (Emmerik, Martin, & Arnold, 2007) that eventually leads to fewer profits for the company. This is why every company needs to have a workplace violence program in effect at their organization, to make sure crisis management is adhered to and possible threats are averted before anything can happen. With proper programs, policies, and training, it is feasible to lessen the likelihood of workplace violence and create a better and safer work environment for employees.
Several incidents that have gained national attention in the past decade have brought workplace violence to the forefront of business such as the 2009 downtown Orlando shooting where Jason Rodriguez entered his former employer’s office building with a handgun and killed one and shot five others (Orlando Sentinel Staff, 2009). Also, a more recent case like Cedric Anderson, who walked into his estranged wife’s classroom in San Bernardino, California and murdered her and another student, injuring one more (Fernandez, 2017) has stirred up thoughts on workplace violence. Dallas was even shaken with workplace violence when a former employee walked into the office building and murdered his former boss in front of other employees (Fox News Staff, 2017). Both of these cases were just in April of 2017, and these were just the homicides, they do not account for the assaults or threats that go on every day in office buildings, hospitals, retail establishment, or other environments around the country.
The work environments can be a daunting place for clashing personalities. It is built on a hierarchal platform where executives receive excellent benefits for perceived little work and line workers receive reduced benefits for hard work. Mix this with poor management, and this could be a disaster waiting to happen for many reasons, but in the context of workplace violence, a healthy work environment is imperative.
A company’s work environment is its basis for creating the ideas and production for its profits. If the environment is not beneficial to the employee, it hinders employees from doing productive and profitable activities (Amabile et al., 1996). If office space is over packed or not organized correctly, it is going to affect the overall productivity of each staff member and profits will likely decline. This is the same when it comes to workplace violence and other safety issues. If employees do not feel safe at work, their productivity will drop. Employees need a safe space where they can open their minds to do their jobs and safety be the last thing on their minds.
Workplace violence has a vast history in the United States and around the world. Anytime human beings are connected to an environment there are going to be conflicts. If added to the picture, personal feeling, personal finances, relationships, and strong emotions like in society, it is the fuel for violence. Even though most people think of workplace violence as the “employee who went postal”, most incidents of workplace violence include incidents of simple assaults & battery, verbal threats, and harassment (Dillon, 2012).
These types of cases happen more than we often like to think about in the United States. It is estimated that over half of all U.S. companies that have over 1,000 employees experience cases of workplace violence (Dillon, 2012). The retail industry is hit the hardest by workplace violence with 944 victims of homicides from 2003-2008 (Northwood, 2011). However, in these cases, the majority of incidents, 77%, were accompanied by robberies (Northwood, 2011).
In 2005, a survey was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed a mass difference in co-worker workplace violence in State Government sectors (Fig 1) than any other sector (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006). This survey showed State Governments, across the board led workplace violence in every category. The same study revealed that over 30% of private companies with at least 1,000 employees (Fig. 2) saw violence from co-workers and approximately 25% saw domestic violence (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).
Fig 1. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006)
Fig. 2 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006)
Still, workplace shootings are still a deep fear due to the national spotlight they capture. In 2010 there were 405 workplace shootings across the U.S., 295 occurring in non-retail environments (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013). It is estimated that in companies with over 1,000 employees, 70% do not have workplace violence programs to assist in this threat (Dillon, 2012). Not having programs or just having incidents of workplace violence significantly increases employee turnover, low morale among other things (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).
Part II. Identifying the Threat
Threats & Assessments
There are several ways threats can be made, direct, indirect, passive, aggressive, etc. Threats can come from telephone calls or emails even via third person notifications. In the day in age we live in now, society seems to be living on edge on people can often say things they sometimes don’t mean which is why it is essential to take all threats serious but all need to be assessed.
Assessing each threat will not only assist in making the victim of the threat feel at ease it will also allow the company to determine the likelihood of the threat. A threatening communication is a message that states, or could merely imply, some harm is going to come to someone else (O’Hair, Bernard, & Roper, 2011). People who typically mean to harm do not usually threaten their intended targets in person; they tend to place threats elsewhere (O’Hair et al., 2011). This makes it typically difficult for most organizations to assess threats due to focusing on aggressive individuals who threaten people to their faces but as little as one-third do that (O’Hair et al., 2011).
Two-thirds of attackers tell others about their plans to attack or harm individuals (O’Hair et al., 2011). Most of these interactions are with family, friends, other co-workers, or other people whom the attacker has some trust with. In this era of social media, many times, attackers will post threats on their social media accounts before they act (O’Hair et al., 2011). This has been seen a lot lately in terrorism with the Ohio State University incident, the suspect posted on his facebook “he was “sick and tired” of seeing fellow Muslims “killed and tortured,”..” (Grinberg & Prokupecz, 2016). Also with the Orlando, Florida shooting where the suspect pledged his allegiance to ISIS (CNN Wire, 2016). The majority of attackers also do not react emotionally (Harris & Lurigio, 2012). Meaning they do not immediately attack after being angered but typically take a certain amount of time where they think about their attack. This is when the attacker makes online threats or talks to friends and families and when others will see a change in the attacker’s personality often called “warning signs” (Harris & Lurigio, 2012).
When conducting threat assessments on individuals, it is vital to not only look at singular events. People can react differently to news than others based on their life experiences, culture, religion, or even mental illness if applicable (O’Hair et al., 2011). It is important to remember to gauge past and present actions and calculate the threat based on a contextual sense rather than an instinctual one (O’Hair et al., 2011). Once a threat assessment is completed, proper action can be done whether it be employee assistance programs or dismissal or nothing at all.
More and more companies are implementing conflict management teams inside their operations to deal with workplace violence threats. As more cases evolve on the national level, employee fear rises and creates anxiety that can handicap the activities of the business. Conflict management can be described as using interpersonal skills or diplomatic skills to relieve conflict between people (Godiwalla, 2016). This takes exceptional skills which many different managers do not have. Managers are undertrained in most cases to adequately manage conflicts on the routine basis, just a standard argument between two employees, let alone an employee who is having thoughts of committing workplace violence.
This is why companies have begun to create specialized teams to handle perceived conflicts outside the usual arguments. These groups are typically referred to as The Risk Assessment & Management Team or “RAM” (Kenny, 2010), and they are highly trained in conflict management along with threat and risk assessments. These teams can work with line supervisors to properly train them on conflict management and run programs within the company such as an anonymous hotline for threats or and some anonymous notification system.
The RAM teams responsibility is ultimately to identify and mitigate the risk of workplace violence (Kenny, 2010). They do this through the identification of early warning signs, patterns, and trends of possible individuals, then try and mitigate the risk by diffusing the situation, employee assistance, or some other program (Kenny, 2010). The point of the RAM team is to be the backbone of the company when it comes to workplace violence and depending on the size of the enterprise; it could be just a part-time team all the way to an entire department for an international corporation.
The other responsibilities of the RAM team should be to advise stakeholders regarding policies and procedures when it comes to workplace violence. Executive management should give RAM team members the authority to do what they need to do without distraction from other supervisors when it comes to their job which must be written as a policy. Being that early intervention is crucial to stopping workplace violence (Kenny, 2010) RAM must have a close and trusted relationship with all employees within the company. RAM members must be trusted with confidential information from employees and sensitive information about employees.
Part III. Mitigating the Threat
A mitigating factor for workplace violence can be the overall security design of the facility. A proper security design can affect the mindset of threat and prevent an attack (Tseng, Duane, & Hadipriono, 2004). Specific environmental factors can be set up to destabilize a possible attacker’s decision-making ability and cause them to re-think their plan. This can delay the attack, creating the needed time for witnesses to observe the attacker and notify the right personnel, or it can cause the attacker to cancel the attack altogether (Tseng et al., 2004).
This practice is referred to as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and is typically used during the design phase of a facility. There is also an economic theory referred to as the rational choice theory. The rational choice theory can be described as when a human as all the information they need to know about multiple things, strategies, cost, benefits, etc., they will choose the one that best meets their needs utilizing all the information they know (Meyer, 2012). This means humans are self-serving typically and tend to think rationally about the best choice for themselves. An example of this would when people go shopping for a new sofa, they are presented with many options, and the majority of individuals gather information and compare it with the information they know about their financial lives, bills, savings, etc. They then make the most “rational choice” on which sofa they can afford.
However, most would assume an attacker that is coming to harm someone is already in some altered mental state. There is a substantial likelihood the adversary is not able to process information and make rational choices cognitively. However, studies have shown, most workplace violence offenders plan their attacks over time (O’Hair et al., 2011) so the chance of a more rational mind is increased. Research suggests offenders that do not act spontaneously, such as in the case of road rage can still think rationally.
Thinking about all of this, why sometimes do people buy the expensive sofa that puts them in grave debt? It is something many people have done, and it is something that the security environment of a facility needs to do for potential attackers. A well thought out security environment should provide obstacles to anyone looking to cause harm, forcing someone with evil intentions to make irrational choices to continue. Having access control systems in place or more extended walkways in public views, or forcing interaction with other people will more than likely make the attacker make irrational choices which will lead to either delaying the offender or even creating an environment where the attacker becomes deterred from committing the act.
The security environment plays a vital role in all potential attacks on a facility but in particular to workplace violence incidents. Just like conflict management, immediate interception and displacement can often produce significant rewards. Creating an environment that offers availability to employees with correct credentials but requires unauthorized individuals to make irrational choices to enter will make the facility a safer place. When people make irrational choices they often become more stressed and end up making mistakes putting themselves in dangerous situations that will lead to adverse outcomes for their ultimate objectives.
Training employees is a crucial factor in preventing workplace violence. Whether the company needs to hire outside resources or can use support from within to train its employees, providing adequate knowledge of what to do can save lives and the company. One form of training that should be conducted is what to do in the case of an emergency situation such as an active shooter. Another form should be on how to identify co-workers who may be presenting early signs of problems.
All of the training should lead into how employees can report issues they notice. They should be able to report these matters quickly, and signage should be posted around the facility to keep them reminded. Another part of the training should be to inform them of the resources the company offers to assist them if they are going through difficulties. Emphasis should be placed on the confidentiality of these resources and packets as well as signage should be provided.
This training should be provided during orientation of new employees to familiarize them with this information, and current employees should be required to take a short refresher course every couple of years on the company resources. When it comes to what to do in the time of an emergency, this training should be held yearly and be held if any modifications are made to the facility, so employees are familiar with the layout of the environment and any evacuation plans that are set forth. Precautions should be used when employees are let go due to the possibility an ex-employee might know these evacuation plans and set traps for evacuating employees.
One of the primary programs a company must have to fight workplace violence is an Employee Assistance Program or EAP. These programs are workplace resources designed to assist employees with problems impacting work performance (Hardison Walters et al., 2012). EAP’s are also a cost-saving measure for companies saving them anywhere from $5.00-$16.00 of healthcare investment cost on every dollar spent on the expense of the program (Carchietta, 2015). The EAP has been in use for a while and has been a success. However, employees do need to know about the benefits and confidentiality of its use. When EAP’s were first introduced they only covered issues like substance abuse, however, now they include a lot more issues including mental health, intimate partner violence, financial issues, and more (Carchietta, 2015).
When it comes to workplace violence, ex-employees are not the only threat. Domestic violence, dating violence, and inter-office arguments can lead to violent acts in the workplace. Having an active EAP program can allow for the ability to mitigate these risks. People go through hard times throughout their life and having a company who will stand with them and offer them confidential assistance will mean a lot to them and lower the chance of violence in the workplace. These programs, although confidential, when it comes to specific issues such as domestic and dating violence, should share information between only a select few individuals..
Another program that should be in place is a hotline and email contact site where anonymous employees can contact to report suspicious behavior by other employees. This program should be taken with caution and only be given access to by a select few on the RAM team. All of these programs should be marketed well within the work environment. Branding the EAP and hotline is key to having employees reach out for help (Carchietta, 2015).
Financial Loss from Workplace Violence
The cost of workplace violence is immense. Not only in human life or the psychological toll it can take, but the financial toll it can take on a company as well. Workplace violence can be compared financially to sexual harassment cases due to the mental status it puts on employees (Dillon, 2012). As mentioned prior in this paper, the morale within the company can drop significantly after workplace violence or even the threat of workplace violence driving overall profit margins down (Dillon, 2012). Not dealing with conflict instantly can drive employees to not only lash out violently but also lash out criminally in other ways, such as theft or sabotage (Dillon, 2012), or even if they are capable, theft of trade secrets.
Other than the loss of life that can potentially come with workplace violence, companies can suffer financially. Whether it is through lawsuits or adverse brand reputation, a company that has been exposed to an incident of workplace violence is guaranteed to see a loss. The only way to mitigate this loss is with a plan of action to deal with conflict and crisis before it gets to the point of violence.
Something as simple as verbal threats can have an adverse impact on employee morale, it can be unneeded stress, lack of productivity, high turnover, and give the brand a bad name to potential recruits (Emmerik et al., 2007). Having safeguards and countermeasures in place to handle these situations will reduce the risk of violence and increase productivity for the business creating both a win for shareholders and a safer environment for employees.
Establishing anonymous or confidential programs will help employees feel safer while at work. Anxious employees who see written policies and physical security measures implemented will allow some of those anxieties to fade into the background so they can stay focused on work and not on their safety. Having trust in an employer that they will be a protector is vital to an employee’s psychological contract with the company where they believe the employee is giving their time and expecting to at minimum be protected while doing so (Emmerik et al., 2007).
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