Until recently, there was limited understanding of the scope and
detrimental impact of workplace violence. Traditionally,
organizational leaders have held a not-in-my-back-yard mentality,
thinking, "Our people aren't violent. That wouldn't happen here."
From disgruntled employee shootings, to robbery, to acts of
sabotage or harassment, workplace violence is now gaining
world-wide attention. In the United States, road rage incidents,
workplace shootings, and terrorist activity have made safety a top
workplace issue. Assaults and violent acts, although non-fatal,
result in time away from work for the target of the violent
behavior, as well as for co-workers. Workforce productivity and
morale falter. Complaints of a hostile environment and lawsuits for
negligence and injuries resulting from workplace violence have
resulted in substantial settlements.
Before, during, and after
Strategies for addressing the issue of workplace violence focus on
preventing or reducing the number of incidents through some form of
training initiative. A proactive training strategy generally
includes defining workplace violence, stating policy, identifying
actions to take when violence occurs, increasing employees' coping
skills, and building critical incident teams. A reactive training
strategy generally focuses on triage, generating a quick response
by prescribing actions to take after a critical incident of
A recent survey of human resources practitioners in a variety of
private and public sector organizations indicates that training
efforts to address workplace violence coluld be targeted more
carefuly. The complexity of workplace violence demands a thoughtful
diagnosis that provides a clear assessment of the organization's
current situation so that chosen strategies are appropriate. In
organizations that have had no experience with workplace violence,
the top strategy was to provide training that defines workplace
violence and safety issues and actions individuals can take to deal
with workplace violence. In organizations that have had a recent
incident, training was not seen as beneficial during the reaction
period as proactive leadership acknowledging the issue, stating a
position, and communicating the position through formal channels
(e.g., meetings, discussions, emails, posters). Similarly, in
organizations that have had a prior incident, training was not seen
as beneficial. Strategies deemed more effective after an incident
were establishing organizational policies on violence (i.e., zero
tolerance) and consistently enforcing/reinforcing policies
governing workplace behavior.
Given limited resources for addressing workplace violence, the
choice of strategies, whether proactive or reactive, should be
appropriate for the as-is condition of the organization. While
potential strategies for addressing the issue of workplace violence
are plentiful, choosing among the proactive and reactive strategies
should be based upon the organization's experience with violence.
Organizations having no experience with workplace violence may
benefit most from training, particularly experiential programs.
Training may not be the best strategy for organizations
experiencing violence, however. Those organizations may benefit
most from visible, supportive leadership, such as reassuring
employees through a town hall meeting. Organizations that have
experienced violence in the past may benefit most from consistent
enforcement of a zero tolerance policy.
Identifying the as-is condition, choosing appropriate strategies
based on that condition, and aligning the chosen strategies with
the organization's business strategy are key steps in ensuring that
efforts to address workplace violence are effective.
Practitioners must assist employees and management in creating
awareness and addressing workplace violence. Some individuals who
were not expected to need assistance may, in fact, need some form
of developmental support. For example, one participant in the
aforementioned survey noted that counseling services provided by
his organization after 9/11 were only available to those employees
who had a relative that had been killed or injured. The participant
noted his own emotional reaction to the event and expressed
frustration at the organization's policy: because he did not have a
relative directly involved he was ineligible for counseling.
Organizations should ensure that there are strategies in place to
address differing experiences with violence. Some people may need
help in understanding that workplace violence is a legitimate
issue. Some will need learning opportunities to move beyond only
cognitive to psycho-social and emotional learning. In reaction to a
recent event, employees may need a safe harbor for constructively
venting their frustration, anxiety, anger, and fears regarding the
incidence of violence. And most employees will need reassurance and
help in making sense of a violent event and regaining their sense
of personal control.
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2006 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.