According to SHRM, more than 2 million Americans experience workplace violence each year. But nearly one in four incidents go unreported. This signals a critical workplace issue with possibly dire consequences for both employees and their organizations. And the fact that it might go unnoticed or unaddressed poses even more risks with often long-term social and economic repercussions.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.” In other words, it could be a lewd personal remark or even a fatal physical attack.
And statistics paint an alarming picture of how employees are harassed and threatened as they perform their duties. For instance, studies show that 60.4 million US workers encounter bullying at work due to factors like gender and sexual orientation. In addition, around 30,000 working women report sexual assaults each year. And workplace shootings are equally prevalent: they have taken the lives of 26 workers within just the first four months of 2021.
Now, violence at work can usually happen in one of four ways: It could be initiated by a co-worker, customer, personal contact, or even a random individual with malicious intent.
Of course, threats from the latter two parties should typically arise in the workplace to be classified as workplace violence. But physical or verbal attacks by co-workers and customers may even occur outside the work premises and still fall under the same classification. So, for example, a colleague who has been bullying you at work could easily take it online and harass you on social media, too.
Whatever the circumstance, the results of violence could seriously threaten an employee’s emotional and physical wellbeing. The outcome might even be loss of life. So, violence at work demands more attention to help tackle it more effectively and prevent it where possible.
So, what can you do to minimize risks? Here are 5 essential steps to adopt for organizations and employees.
UNDERSTAND AND AVOID RISK FACTORS
There are many workplace violence risk factors that could increase the chance of an incident. For example, working at night and in close contact with strangers can significantly raise risks. This is likely why healthcare workers make up around half the victims of reported cases. They deal with patients around the clock, often under intense situations.
Those working in isolation or with individuals who display signs of severe stress, mental health conditions, and alcohol and drug abuse can also experience violence or violent behaviors. The fact is, anyone can encounter such circumstances at work. But some, like nurses, teachers, social workers, and cashiers, are at higher risk than others. It is also prevalent in organizations both large and small. For example, according to one study, one-third of small businesses now report incidents of violence.
Understanding all these factors is critical to assess the potential risks you and your employees may encounter at work. It’s the first step to taking preventative measures that could help minimize or avoid your exposure to violence.
DETECT POSSIBLE CASES OF VIOLENCE EARLY ON
According to experts, workplace violence takes a progressive trajectory. The longer you wait, the more aggressive it could become. In other words, what starts as verbal abuse could escalate into physical violence over time if you leave it unaddressed or do not tackle it correctly.
So, identify early warning signs and take immediate steps to mitigate the situation and minimize damage. For example, look out for sudden bouts of anger, mental distress, highly volatile emotional responses, or signs of resentment. Sometimes, it could be a simple inappropriate remark.
If you or anyone working with you experience violence or harassment, it’s important to report it immediately. Notifying authorities without delay is essential to help them investigate, gather evidence, and address the situation effectively. It could also deter the offender from making any further advances.
Reporting such events will even serve as a warning to others who display similar inappropriate behaviors and encourage more professionals to speak up about their personal experiences.
SET UP STRONG POLICIES AND SYSTEMS TO TACKLE WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
Studies show that one in seven employees does not feel safe at work. This should be a cause of worry for any organization looking to cut down on attrition and boost employee productivity.
To create a safe work environment, establishing robust policies, frameworks, and systems to address and prevent workplace violence should be a top priority. For example, set up incident reporting mechanisms and strict processes to maintain confidentiality and impartiality during investigations. In addition, promote diversity at work and adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards any type of discrimination and harassment.
Also, establish strong data protection policies to safeguard employee information. And depending on the risk exposure, carry out background checks on staff and customers to detect histories of violence early on. Setting up monitoring mechanisms with sound security protocols is equally essential for creating a safe and secure workplace.
Building awareness among employees, customers, and all other stakeholders is another critical factor to prevent incidents of violence. Conduct regular training programs to help your staff understand what workplace harassment could entail and how to identify and mitigate risk factors. Convey your zero-tolerance policies using on-site display material, emails, websites, and other communication methods.
In addition, educate employees about the importance of keeping personal data safe, both in their professional and personal lives. Compromised privacy could make them even more vulnerable to harassment.
Experts predict that workplace violence could significantly increase as employees return to work after the pandemic fears ease. The COVID-led psychological effects like the loss of loved ones, prolonged social isolation, and financial hardships will all likely have an impact on this. So, taking proactive measures to identify, mitigate, and possibly prevent workplace violence is critical now more than ever before for both organizations and their employees.
Passionate Writer, Blogger and Amazon Affiliate Expert since 2014.