The study “Top Security Threats 2008” by Securitas Systems America finds that workplace violence continues to hold the top spot in the list of the Fortune 1000’s biggest concerns, a dubious honor it has retained in this survey since 1999.
The result should not be surprising. High-profile mass shootings in the workplace have regularly garnered national attention over the years — from the series of post office shootings beginning in 1986 to the June mass murder-suicide at a plastics factory in Henderson, Ky. It is clear how such events and their aftermath, splashed across the headlines, can severely damage or even ruin a business.
However, mass shootings are the least likely form workplace violence will take, and the damages from its subtler forms can be significant. Park Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., founder of Threat Assessment Group, a workplace misconduct prevention training and consulting firm, puts it this way: “I would go so far as to say that if your only worry were a mass murder that would show up on CNN, (preventing workplace violence) is not worth the effort, because that’s too rare. The reason it is worth doing is that the lesser forms of misconduct that may escalate to violence affect every employer’s bottom line every year, hidden from view by the reluctance of employees and supervisors to report problem behaviors.”
What Workplace Violence Really Means
Workplace violence (WPV) does sometimes surface in the form of homicide or mass murder. It also encompasses assault, rape, and robbery, as well as stalking, making threats, and other behaviors that amount to harassment and intimidation. It can be perpetrated by a variety of individuals — employees, customers, contractors, managers, family members — on a variety of victims; it is not just about employee-on-employee violence. It happens in all sizes of business in every industry, not just in companies where employees are in constant contact with customers and the public, although these employees are at the high-end of the risk spectrum. And it can be motivated by any number of conditions or circumstances, including psychological instability, revenge for a lost job or a personal slight, stress and problems at home.
Domestic violence merits special attention because it frequently migrates into the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that domestic violence incidents that spill into the workplace account for 16 percent of female victims of job-related homicides, and numerous studies have found that a majority of female victims of domestic violence are harassed by their abusers at work.
Even if your workplace culture is open and friendly, and even if your business does not require much interaction with the general public, you are likely to be visited by some form of workplace violence. It is a remarkably multi-faceted threat that extends far beyond the infrequent, newsmaking mass murder. The damages it can inflict on a company are equally varied, but they all lead to one place: the business’ bottom line.