by Jeffrey M. Miller SPS, DTI
One of the greatest threats facing both employees and the companies they work for, especially in today’s turbulent world…is workplace violence. According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration in the U.S., acts of violence in the workplace have become the leading cause of death for women and the second leading for men, following closely behind motor vehicle accidents. In fact, the best estimates now being reported show that 1-in-4 employees will be the victim of workplace violence this year alone.
This article focuses on a critical missing piece in the 8 areas of workplace violence prevention and response – helping business owners, CEOs and their operations, HR, and safety leaders more easily identify and respond to early warning signs of potential trouble with aggressive employee behavior before they are faced with a life threatening and potentially crippling workplace violence incident. If you want the complete 32 Step framework I use to help my clients protect themselves, their people, and their companies from the fear, damage, and loss from an act of workplace violence, you can download a complimentary digital copy here.
While the media is quick to highlight the most deadly attacks that occur from active shooter scenarios, the fact is that most employees will be lucky enough to only suffer from simple assaults. However, this is not to downplay the almost 400,000 aggravated assaults, 51,000 rapes and sexual assaults, 84,000 robberies, and nearly 1,000 homicides reported each year. And, even though OSHA estimates that at least 25% of attacks go unreported, the reality is that approximately 2 million employees will be attacked on the job in the U.S. this year alone. I simply want to acknowledge that the average employee will not have to worry about being killed so much as being intimidated, struck, or threatened to comply with the assailant either through force or the threat of violence.
And that’s just from one of the six workplace violence attacker types!
Spotting Early Warning Signs of Potential Workplace Violence
As with all self-defense situations, correct action requires proper understanding so that we can know where to direct our awareness. But rather than just “paying attention, knowing what to look for will allow us to notice when something may be brewing and thereby allow us to take preemptive measures to prevent the danger from ever manifesting at all. After all, the ultimate goal of any reality-based protection program should be to set things up so that danger never touches you at all.
Workplace violence situations can be seen to have four aspects or characteristics that work together to produce the damage that inevitably results. Assaults always stem from a causal-based conditioning and never “come out of nowhere.” These four parts or aspects are:
1. The assailant or perpetrator of the assault, and their perception of a slight or offense against them…
2. The preexisting or conditioning factors that cause the assailant to see violence as a justifiable means for attaining their goals, and…
3. An environment that allows for or permits the violent act to be committed without intervention, deterrence, or resistance.
4. Triggering factor. When all three of these factors are present, all that’s needed is a triggering event, known only to the attacker, that will set off the event beyond the ability of prevention measures to be effective. At this point, your plan either has response and mitigation procedures, or anyone within your attacker’s sphere of influence… will lose!
Assaults, whether from an attack in the workplace, a mugging by a street thug, or from an act of domestic violence never happen in a vacuum. They, like everything else, are the products of cause and effect. And, once set into motion – once these three factors are present – the force or conditions will play themselves out sooner or later. Once we recognize the reality that danger exists in the world and, more importantly for a proactive stance, that it can touch us, we will be more likely to create a safety and response plan that works. Remember:
“The best way to prevent violence is to make yourself as ‘attack-proof’ as possible!”
In her book, “Risky Business: Managing Employee Violence in the Workplace”, Dr. Lynne McClure describes eight categories of high-risk, aggressive employee behaviors that may indicate the need for management intervention. She says these high-risk behaviors are everyday actions that occur in certain patterns. While the following clues are just that, possible warning signs, they will give management and employees enough of a basic understanding to cue in on the possibility of danger brewing on the horizon. The warning signs that may signal an impending workplace violence issue include:
- Actor behaviors: The employee acts out his or her anger with such actions as yelling, shouting, slamming doors, and so on.
- Fragmentor behaviors: The employee takes no responsibility for his actions and sees no connection between what he does and the consequences or results of his actions. As an example, he blames others for his mistakes.
- Me-First behaviors: The employee does what she wants, regardless of the negative effects on others. As an example, the employee takes a break during a last minute rush to get product to a customer, while all other employees are working hard.
- Mixed-Messenger behaviors: The employee talks positively but behaves negatively. As an example, the employee acts in a passive-aggressive manner saying he is a team player, but refuses to share information.
- Wooden-Stick behaviors: The employee is rigid, inflexible, and controlling. She won’t try new technology, wants to be in charge, or purposefully withholds information.
- Escape-Artist behaviors: The employee deals with stress by lying and/or taking part in addictive behaviors such as drugs or gambling.
- Shocker behaviors: The employee suddenly acts in ways that are out of character and/or inherently extreme. For instance, a usually reliable individual fails to show up or call in sick for work. A person exhibits a new attendance pattern.
- Stranger behaviors: The employee is remote, has poor social skills, becomes fixated on an idea and/or an individual.
Unfortunately, these cues are often overlooked, ignored, or otherwise dismissed; often being written off or explained away as being natural for the perpetrator. Routine statements to those who mention these problems and actions are things like, “that’s just Bob blowing off steam” or, “you know how Sue is. Just let it go.” It’s this “backwards thinking,” the focus of a special report you may be interested in, that keeps companies and their employees at risk for the unthinkable, even in the face of all the “zero tolerance” policies being used.
Employee initiated assaults are just one of several workplace violence attacker types. If it’s one of your concerns and you want a few unconventional but highly effective ways to keep your employees from ‘going postal,’ you can download this free resource that will give you 10 of them.
The truth, given the statistics from OSHA, the National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH), and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which now oversees the problem with workplace violence, labeling it as domestic terrorism, is that it can no longer be seen as a luxury or add-on to include procedures and training for dealing with workplace violence in your company’s health and safety systems. The costs; financially as-well-as to productivity, employee stress, and more, are far too great.
Understanding and awareness are always the first steps in developing an effective plan. But, a solid, intelligently thought out and administered plan includes procedures, strategies, and techniques for not only prevention and intervention, but deterrence, defensive action, and recovery as well. The safer employees feel at all levels of an organization, the more relaxed the atmosphere and the greater the productivity. After all, nothing says you care more than taking care of someone’s safety and well-being. People can always see the difference between real compassion, and merely playing “lip-service” to the topic.
Remember: In today’s often dangerous world, safety and protection is not a choice. It’s a responsibility!
Jeffrey M. Miller SPS, DTI is an internationally recognized and award-winning author, speaker, and self-protection expert. His company, Jeffrey M. Miller Consultancy, focuses on helping concerned, compassionate leaders overcome the “zero tolerance” myth and so-called “best practices” when it comes to protecting their people and businesses from the devastating and long-lasting trauma and aftermath of a workplace violence incident. When you partner with Jeff, you will create a customized, and integrated threat management system that’s tailored to your unique workplace, operations, people, and most probable threats. Get your complimentary digital copy of his “32 Steps to Make Your Company Virtually ‘Attack-Proof'” report, which contains the client checklists that are part of his Px8 Integrated Threat Management Systems framework. Additional information about workplace violence can be found here.