Preventing Workplace Violence: 5 Strategies Every Executive Should Know
As a business leader, you have a duty of care to your employees: You’re legally obliged to provide a safe workplace environment by anticipating potential threats and taking action to prevent violence and harassment. By ensuring workplace stability, you can build a stronger company culture and protect your most important corporate assets — including your employees.
In the 1990s, the Department of Justice found that 12.5 persons out of every 1,000 were victims of violence in the workplace each year. Workplace violence is sadly all too common — which is why its prevention should be a key component to any comprehensive corporate security policy. But whether you’re leading a startup or enterprise organization, instituting meaningful change can prove complicated.
Workplace violence defined
Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
The OSHA defines violence in the workplace as:
”Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”
Types of workplace violence
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified four types of workplace violence:
- Type 1: Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace but enter to commit robbery or another crime.
- Type 2: Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services.
- Type 3: Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee.
- Type 4: Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there but has a personal relationship with an employee — an abusive spouse or domestic partner.
Workplace stability: Why preventing workplace violence matters
A single incident of workplace violence can lead to significant harm — but these consequences may go unnoticed by you or your corporate officers for lengthy periods of time.
But it’s important to address workplace violence immediately because a lack of trust can erode even the healthiest of working environments, leading to workplace instability and a lack of team cohesion. In the long run, disgruntled employees may even begin to look elsewhere to advance their careers.
In addition, your brand identity, which you’ve carefully crafted quarter after quarter, year after year, can be destroyed in an instant.
Your business could also sustain significant financial losses. An incident of workplace violence could lead to lowered productivity, property damage, and loss of sales in the wake of your business’s damaged reputation. And because you can be held liable for violating your duty of care to your employees, you might even face litigation — leading to high legal expenses. It’s estimated that workplace violence costs businesses over $120 billion per year.
Strategies to prevent workplace violence
Harassment policy: Most larger companies will have harassment policies already in place, but smaller organizations located in states with newly-enacted legislation against workplace violence may need to create policies from scratch. Avoid relying on boilerplate language and always consult your company’s legal counsel when drafting policies. Your policy declarations will form the backbone of your intent to maintain workplace stability.
Incident reports: You’ll gain the strongest insights into the working environment from front line managers who work directly with employees on a day to day basis. Create a channel for your managers to document employee complaints and incidents. The procedure should be clear and repeatable, and if you need to craft new policies, respect your employees’ time. Treat reports seriously, discreetly, and within the vein of accepted HR procedures.
Top down approach: The best way to effect change is to push change from the top levels of the corporate hierarchy down to the lower levels. Business leaders should play an active role in designing and implementing violence prevention programs. If the officers at the top of the organization cannot lead by example, then the actions of others throughout the company cannot be properly held accountable.
Open communication: You’re more likely to find out about — and, accordingly, be able to act on — unwanted incidents if your company culture encourages honest communication, and your management team is open to constructive criticism. Fortunately for today’s leaders, many businesses have already implemented communication and iterative refinement as part of their product development process. This is where “cross-pollination” can come into play: Take inspiration from existing methods for communicating internally, and more importantly, take stock of how your teams can push improvement.
Build on what works: HR is your best asset when developing workplace prevention policies — but are you empowering them to sit at the table in a meaningful way? That said, don’t saddle the responsibility for developing and implementing entire policies for your workforce on HR alone. Getting management intimately involved as well can help produce more meaningful change to the company culture.
Implement effective strategies to prevent and address workplace violence
The ethical, moral, and legal demands upon business leaders has never been clearer: You and your officers have a duty of care to foster workplace stability and maintain a safe, healthy working environment for your employees.
Experienced (or suspect) workplace violence? First call 911 — then call The North Group. We provide immediate responses to corporate security incidents, and we'll also help you incorporate the appropriate preventive measures to minimize future risk.
Contact us today to learn more!