Workplace violence not just a concern for the private sector

Survey finds 13 percent of federal employees have observed violence in the workplace


When most people think about workplace violence, scenes from mass shootings at businesses from across the nation usually come to mind. Of course, we know in the security industry that workplace violence consists of more than just these violent, deadly outbursts and more frequently involve the intimidation or bullying of a coworker than actual shootings. It’s also not a problem that’s unique to organizations in the private sector.  

A report recently published by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board revealed some eye-opening statistics as it relates to incidents of violence in the federal workplace.  According to a 2010 survey conducted by the agency, which recorded the responses of more than 42,000 full-time, permanent, non-Postal federal employees, 13 percent of federal employees said they had observed an incident of workplace violence in the past two years. The MSPB said when you apply that number to the federal workforce as a whole, it means more than 240,000 employees witnessed an incident of workplace violence between 2008 and 2010.

The overwhelming majority of these incidents were committed by current or former employees. According to the "Employee Perceptions of Federal Workplace Violence" report, only 11 percent of incidents involved people who either had a personal relationship with an employee or didn’t have a connection to the workplace at all. However, injuries and property damage among the incidents that did occur were rare. The survey found that only 15 percent of incidents resulted in actual physical injuries, while 10 percent resulted in property loss or damage.

"Prevention and mitigation of workplace violence is challenging. Limiting physical access to federal workplaces is not enough because the vast majority of perpetrators of federal workplace violence are individuals who, for the most part, have a legitimate reason to be in the workplace," MSPB Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann said in a statement.

However, unlike many employees in the private sector, the majority of government workers believe their respective agencies are taking the steps necessary to ensure their safety. In fact, 73 percent of survey respondents said they believed their agencies were taking sufficient steps to prevent violence in the workplace. Those numbers are a stark contrast from the results of a survey published last year by guard services firm AlliedBarton. According to the AlliedBarton survey, more than half of those employees surveyed believed that their company's senior leadership was not concerned about workplace violence.

Among the MSPB’s recommendations for dealing with this issue include; having workplace violence prevention programs in place that outline an agency’s responsibility and how they should respond to an incident; bringing agency managers, supervisors and human resource professionals together to ensure these programs adequately address internal threats;  gathering data on the prevalence and characteristics of workplace violence incidents within individual agencies; and, have employees become knowledgeable about their agency’s workplace violence policies and know how to report an incident.

Even though it’s preached constantly by security experts, these statistics from the MSPB should serve as a reminder that no organization is immune to the threat of workplace violence, even those with strong security measures already in place like the federal government. And while all of these strategies recommended by the MSPB can also be applied to the private sector, the success of a workplace violence prevention program really depends on an organization’s leadership team taking the proverbial "bull by the horns."  

"If your employees don't feel safe and secure, they are not going to do the best job for you.  Good leadership is critical to creating a safe, high-achieving workplace," said Bill Whitmore, president and CEO of AlliedBarton and author of the book Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success, speaking during a webinar on the subject earlier this year.

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