The 5 Myths of Workplace Violence

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

A person who uses excuses and blames others is exhibiting a classic behavioral warning sign that is easy to identify but just as often ignored by managers. A worker who engages in this behavior is typically signaling for assistance and may require counseling.


5 Common Myths

These five myths could land an organization in trouble regarding workplace violence prevention:

Myth 1: “It’s someone else’s job to prevent workplace violence.” It can be hard to find a person who will own any part of the mission to prevent workplace violence. The “not my job” syndrome is perhaps the biggest misconception. In fact, workplace violence prevention is everybody’s job. Everyone in the organization has to be an active observer and get engaged when situations or another employee’s behavior crosses a line. This falsehood ends up creating organizational apathy toward workplace violence. A strong, aware organizational culture is one of the best defenses.

Myth 2: “It can’t happen here.” People often confuse the fact that something has not happened yet with the idea that it will not happen in the future. The main result of false security is that people sometimes ignore some of the issues or individual behaviors that can lead to a violent incident. Often people are completely disconnected and unobservant of people who live and work very close to them because they are not paying any attention. How many times have you heard people say, “I had no idea…” following a violent incent by a neighbor or co-worker.

Myth 3: “Workplace violence is usually blue-collar related.” Some people have a bias that workplace violence is a blue-collar phenomenon, when actually it can happen in any job situation, anywhere. Organizations cannot afford to single out any group to be the fall guy for workplace violence. This myth is particularly bad for a number of reasons, the main one being that it creates a totally wrong impression. The reasons people engage in workplace violence are complex and personal and can’t be boiled down to simplistic things like “blue collar” identity. This is what happens when people try to over-generalize.

Myth 4: “Workplace violence is caused by outsiders.” People want to believe that any disruptive violence that comes into their space from outside, but the truth is that workplace violence is a web in which some elements are caused from within and some from external forces. The myth doesn’t face up to the fear of internal sources of workplace violence within the organization. It also doesn’t address the shared responsibility of everybody in the company to help deal with it. Often, the potential sources of internal workplace violence are giving off subtle warning signs before they manifest with violent behavior.

Myth 5: “It’s just a matter of luck.” Hiding behind the luck theory is just another way, like all these other myths, of insulating yourself from the deeper truth. Workplace violence is a real possibility in life and pretending it doesn’t exist is false and dangerous. Maybe it will never touch you in your entire life, but maybe it will. And if it does, and if you have not taken steps to prevent it and to mitigate it, and if someone you know and care for is hurt or injured, that is something that you will carry with you.


How to Take Action

The idea that management should somehow be shielded from any kind of involvement after a workplace violence incident is a fallacy and a mistake. As a leader, how you act in the wake of workplace violence speaks volumes to your company — your employees, customers and stakeholders.

Our survey found that 94% of employers take some action as a result of workplace violence, but that the action taken usually was limited to meeting with employees. Some 73% of employees who witnessed, heard about or experienced workplace violence reported that their employer held a meeting, and 69% say the employer met with the employee who experienced workplace violence. However, employers appear much less likely to take other actions when these event occur — only about half (53%) took disciplinary actions. Even fewer implemented training programs (45%) for employees or supervisors (35%). Fewer than half (44%) of senior managers are perceived as being concerned with workplace violence with only 17% being very concerned about the issue.