The 5 Myths of Workplace Violence

Shootings on the nightly news are just the tip of the iceberg

Workplace violence is a reality that cannot be ignored. Every organization has to understand the dynamics, risks and costs to their business. Educating employees about the signs and symptoms of potential workplace violence threats and creating awareness through training is vital to your prevention program.

Reducing the threat necessitates that a broad range of stakeholders — from CEOs and division leaders to building management, human resources, contract security and law enforcement — work together to lower an organization’s workplace violence risk and enhance morale and performance.

There are many common myths about workplace violence, such as “it can’t happen here” or “there is no way to predict workplace violence.” Workplace violence and its precursors can take many different forms. While news coverage of workplace shootings define the typical public understanding, the true nature is far broader. Shootings represent the extreme apex of vicious acts, but workplace violence is also defined as threats and other intimidation or harassing behavior directed toward any person at work. This is critical to keep in mind: Many less-dramatic levels of inappropriate or abusive behavior are in their own measure forms of workplace violence, and can lead to more violent behavior.

According to ASIS Intl., “workplace violence refers to a broad range of behaviors falling along a spectrum that, due to their nature and/or severity, significantly affect the workplace, generates a concern for personal safety, or results in physical injury or death.”

Milder behaviors include any disruptive, aggressive, hostile or emotionally abusive behaviors. Mid-range behaviors demonstrate direct, conditional or veiled threats, stalking and aggressive harassment. Violent behaviors include overt violence causing physical injury.

With increases in unemployment in recent years and a downturn in the economy, there is reason to believe that these incidents of workplace violence may actually be increasing. AlliedBarton conducted a national survey, as we are concerned that the incidence of workplace violence is significantly understated and that many employers are unaware of the dangers.

The objective was to determine if American workers have experienced violence in the workplace, have witnessed violence while working, have been threatened with violence, have concerns about workplace violence, or have taken actions to ensure their own safety. We also measured workers’ attitudes toward their current employers.

The study indicated that more than half of Americans employed outside their homes (52 percent) have witnessed, heard about, are aware of or have experienced a violent event or an event that could lead to violence at their workplace. These events include open hostility, abusive language or threats, and can escalate up to the infliction of physical harm.


The Warning Signs

Although workplace violence sometimes can take place with no prior indications whatsoever, there are often warning signs for an employee who requires intervention, and as leaders we need to make sure all employees understand and recognize the more subtle forms of workplace violence — the warning signs of potentially destructive acts to come — so that everyone can act as eyes and ears to recognize and report unusual behavior.

Just because someone exhibits one of these behaviors does not mean they are prone to violence. It is when someone has a noticeable change in behavior, when the behavior is displayed constantly, or when behaviors are observed in combination, that you should consider telling someone about the situation.

Warning signs include excessive tardiness or absences; an employee who exhibits an increased need for supervision; lack of performance from someone who normally is efficient and productive; an inability to concentrate; demonstrating clear signs of stress, such as by an employee who traditionally adheres to safety procedures who is suddenly involved in safety violations; a sustained change in attitude and behavior; weapons fascination, which is a classical warning sign; drug/alcohol abuse; and not taking responsibility for actions.

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