Workplace Violence Is Your Problem

How WPV hurts every business, why most companies do not protect against it, and what Security can do

Whose Responsibility Is It?
The blueprint of an effective WPV prevention program or reporting structure will depend on the individual organization. However, having a cross-functional team of collaborative decision makers is a must. In a large corporation, this team may include Security, HR, Employment Law, Public Affairs, Employee Assistance, as well as other departments. In a smaller company, it may include the company president or CEO, building manager, office manager, counsel and hiring manager. The point is, because workplace violence risk management stretches across many organizational functions, an effective program or policy must rely on the educated collaboration of representatives of all those functions.

“The ideal executive champion of a WPV prevention program is the senior vice president of HR,” Dietz says. “Where that person takes the lead, a company can have a superb program that endures. Where security is left to handle it, it is much tougher. In the end, security has to do all the dangerous and tough work, but without HR bringing information to the process, security too often becomes involved too late in the escalation process.”

Unfortunately, HR and Security tend to clash over WPV responsibilities. According to Dietz, HR often perceives Security’s participation in WPV prevention as a territorial threat. This is because there is overlap in their roles, Jackson says. “The HR piece of it is the behaviors. If someone is behaving inappropriately, that is an HR issue; however, if they cross a line to where they make people feel unsafe, it becomes a security issue,” she says. “In my opinion, this makes it very important that the two groups work very closely together. But it is not always easy to make that happen.” This is why the cross-functional team is so important, and why Security should make a point early on of creating a positive relationship with HR ­­— before the turf wars can crop up.

Jackson recommends a program where the workplace violence manager and staff train the top HR personnel, who then take the training to their managers and supervisors, who then train the employees at their sites. This structure, which is based on a program originally created by 3M and Threat Assessment Group, delegates accountability across the organization, ensuring a flow of training down the reporting chain.

According to Dietz, members of the cross-functional decision-making team, including the workplace violence manager, should be thoroughly trained as a team for one to three days and need to teach one another about their function’s roles in workplace violence prevention so that all members can understand the overall picture of workplace violence risk management in order to make the most educated decisions. At smaller organizations, it may be best to outsource the expertise in these areas.

Then, managers and supervisors must be trained how to spot a psychiatric emergency, how to spot a troubled person and how to spot a troubling situation; along with what to do in each of these situations and whom to tell. These people need to understand that their job is not to attempt to resolve the issue or provide counseling but to report it to the trained personnel or outsourced experts on WPV.

At the next level, non-supervisory employees need to be trained on what to report to whom and why, and what to do if they themselves are in danger. Last, employees who will regularly come into contact with the public also must be trained on how to recognize situations or behaviors that should be reported, and how to avoid exacerbating the situation or getting in the way of appropriate mitigation.

Security cannot work alone to prevent workplace violence. We need support from above and across the aisles to create and maintain an effective policy or program that will keep our employees safe and our company out of harm’s way. If your organization is one of the 70 percent without a program or policy, figure out why and start working with your colleagues to change it. Let them help you plug a major drain on your business’ resources while protecting the safety of those entrusted to you.

Park Dietz and John Thompson are content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council (SEC). Rosalind Jackson is the SEC’s production manager, and author Marleah Blades (pictured) is senior editor for the SEC. The SEC is a member organization for senior security and risk executives. In partnership with its research arm, the Security Leadership Research Institute, the Council is dedicated to developing effective tools members can apply in their programs, program documentation and establishing security as a recognized value center. For more information, visit