Monday, April 13, 2009

Violence in the Workplace

It seems incredible but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that two million Americans are victims of violence in the workplace each year.  And for the first time in ten years, the rate is increasing, perhaps because of the weak economy.

Some of that workplace violence is what we'd expect: a worker going postal or a 7-11 clerk getting shot in a stick-up. But lots of workplace violence is verbal: bullying, spreading lies about a person, theft, even pranks--for example, toilet-papering an employee's workspace.  

The rage in France and, I predict, coming to a country near you, is bossnapping. In the last month alone, at four companies in France, workers, frustrated at salary, benefits, or job security issues, held top executives against their will until they got their grievances addressed.

Possible signs that someone is likely to become violent at work:
  • escalating anger: yelling, swearing, destruction of property.
  • change in affect: for example, someone who's normally laconic suddenly has become cheery, or someone who is excessively generous with gifts suddenly has stopped and now is often short-tempered.  
  • someone who's under a lot of stress: a serious diagnosis, spouse left, too-big or difficult workload, a demotion or turn-down for an expected promotion.

Ways to prevent violence in the workplace:
  • By far the best prevention is for management to create a human-friendly workplace culture: in which people are treated with respect, earned attaboys/girls are frequent, and where it would be unheard of for a worker to scream at a colleague. Employees who frequently detract from such a culture should probably be terminated or at least placed in roles with minimal interaction with the rest of the staff.
  • Violence prevention/response training and clear rules in the employee handbook while acknowledging that, in an individual situation, human judgment rather than rigid rules should prevail.

If you have potential to be violent in your workplace:
  • Recognizing you are at-risk of becoming violent is a crucial first step. Congratulations if you are brave enough to acknowledge it.
  • As soon as you feel the first sign of getting angry, without question, leave the room. For example, go to the bathroom and take 10 deep breaths.  That gives you time to reflect on whether it is wise to explode. Nearly always, you'll decide it isn't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bullies can be very devious, making sure they do their dirty work when no one is listening in (or when they are -- if it is to embarrass someone). Skills the bully masters can make them appear ideal for promotion and not infrequently they become bosses. They are often selective (find the weak/insecure) on who they bully so it is difficult to weed them out.


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