Back then, workplace and violence are two terms that were never associated with each other. Previous generations showed that the employees’ perspective of workplace is a protected area where ones safety is guarded. However, this perspective does no longer exist. When the two words are joined together, it strikes terror among individuals that are specifically affected by such event (Paludi M., Nydegger, and Paludi, C.).
Workplace violence is identified as an act that could take the form of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, threat, and the occurrence of disruptive behavior which take place both inside and outside the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, contractors, visitors, customers and other non-federal related individuals (US Department of Agriculture [USDA] 4). Such form of violence is regarded as a daily hazard for majority of the workers in different societies. In the United States alone, it was estimated that over one million incidents of work-related violence occur annually (Morris).
Homicide is considered as the leading cause of fatal injury inflicted among women in the workplace, and it is identified as the second cause of injury among men. In a national study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health related to workplace violence, it was found that during the period of 1980 to 1989, around 7,000 employees were victims of homicide. The statistics are significantly increasing according to the recent study by the Society for Human Resource and Management. In addition, 58% of the companies that participated in the recent survey claimed that irritated employees had threatened managers, while 24% indicated that senior managers received “in-person” and e-mail threats. 17% reported that employees intentionally and maliciously downloaded viruses to computers, while 10% indicated that they were victims of tampered products (Paludi M., Nydegger, and Paludi, C. x).
The issue of workplace violence has been consistently presented in the media, yet the attention has focused only on a few portions of such violent activities. Compared to the general occurrences of violence, workplace violence represents a small portion of a growing issue. More often than not, workplace violence is disregarded because it is accounted as a part of one’s job. Thus, limited actions are done in order to eliminate it (Morris).
Workplace violence became a major concern among the public and private organization during the 1990’s, and the awareness level has been continuously increasing. Although workplace violence posed a major risk among employees, no particular statistical records existed in order for the companies to create prevention programs and regulations. During that period, government agencies were maintaining statistical records and kept track of the number of employees that were injured and killed in work areas. However, the said agencies provided no public records of the number of incidents inflicted by current and former employees (Morris).
Workplace violence can occur anywhere, and no one is insusceptible. Although each person in the workplace may become a target, there are workers who are considered to be at a high risk. Among the said workers are those who are involved in exchanging and handling large amounts money to the public; people who deliver goods, services, and passengers; individuals who are working with a small group or working alone in areas with a high-crime rate record or in homes or community settings where the contact with public is extensive. Specifically, the mentioned group pertains to people such as health-care providers like nurses, probation officers, and psychiatric evaluators; community representatives such as employees for gas and water facilities, telephone and cable installers, police officers, mail carriers, retail employees, and cab drivers (Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] 1).
Causes of Workplace Violence
There are myriad reasons why workplace violence occurs. The reasons may be related to issues that are economic, physiological, societal, and organizational. The economic causes may be attributed to the re-organization and downsizing of a department, stressful population, lay-offs, unemployment and recessions, technological growth, merging, and post-modernism. As for the societal concerns, it is believed that changes in the society and media’s portrayal of violence as an accepted means of solving problems play significant roles in the perpetration of workplace violence. On the other hand, the physiological causes may be derived from the emotional and physical issues encountered by the employee during the past. Majority of the perpetrators are said to be carrying a “baggage” while in the workplace. Finally, organizational causes are rooted from the organizational structures, management style being employed such as authoritarian, conflicting viewpoints between managers and subordinates, inability to address grievances, rejection of new ideas, impendence of violence, and the lack of capability among employees to empower themselves in terms of decision making (Morris).
Other principal causes of workplace violence may be accounted to the following: (1) understaffing, where workers would have to endure working alone which poses an inadequacy of support from co-workers and employers; (2) failure of the management to train workers in recognizing potential threats and violent situations; (3) neglect in thoroughly assessing individuals who exhibit aggressive or violent behaviors; (4) lack of emphasis in the importance of safety measures and failure to create emergency procedures, control measures, and training programs that would address violent situations; and (5) the attitude of overlooking workplace violence which is the most prevalent among the causes as individuals have this notion that “it will never happen in their workplace” (Morris).
In most of the reported cases of workplace violence, the perpetrators of the activity are disgruntled employees who were terminated, laid-off, fired or were engaged in a relationship with a co-worker. The employee may return to his or her former workplace and execute murder or other violent acts. It was reported that 25% of the perpetrators are more likely to commit suicide right after carrying out the activity. In most of the workplace violence incidents, the perpetrators have been identified to engage in behaviors known as pre-incident indicators. These include substance abuse, increased rate of absenteeism, decreased attention in ones hygiene, and physical appearance, depression, unexplained outburst without provocation, threats and verbal abuse towards supervisors and co-employees, repetitive comments pertaining to suicidal tendencies, frequent physical complaints, unstable responses and increased mood swings, suspected paranoia, planning to “solve all problems,” over-reaction and resistance against company changes, increased undesirable comments regarding dangerous weapons, empathy directed to people perpetrating violence, frequent violation of company rules, engagement in violent and sexually oriented films and publications, upsurge of domestic issues, and large withdrawals or closing of account from the credit union of the company. The said indicators were often noticed by co-workers of the employee who committed the act. However, most often than not, the observations are disregarded and are considered as insignificant. The employees who were able to initially observe the indicators are not trained to recognize the symptoms. They were not provided with instructions on how to report such behaviors to their managers, supervisors, and employers (Paludi M., Nydegger, and Paludi, C. xi).
Impact of Workplace Violence
The damage brought about by workplace violence does not only affect employees and their families; companies also suffer major drawbacks such as business interruption, increase in legal and medical fees, and the loss of productivity (Baron 13). In a study carried out by the Workplace Violence Research Institute in 1994, results show that workplace violence actually caused a company to incur a loss of $36 billion annually (Morris).
Another notable consequence of workplace violence as seen in the companies where an incident occurred is the increased rate in tardiness and absenteeism, the increase in turnover rates, and the decrease of the morale of employees. The exposure of employees to violence often results in the development of psychological, physiological, and career-related issues which manifest through the employees’ lower work performance, feelings of helplessness, and motivation over their careers, and strong fear reactions. Generally, the exposure of employees to workplace violence inflicts life changes that are often headed towards a disrupted career path (Paludi M., Nydegger and Paludi, C. x).
The best protection that could be provided by companies is the establishment of policies that adhere to zero-tolerance of violence against employees. HR professionals play a significant role in the implementation and the prevention of workplace violence. Since the basic duty of HR personnel is centered towards overseeing the overall function of the workplace, it is necessary that they work with employers in incorporating violence prevention programs that should be included in the employee handbook or manual of standard operating procedures. From time to time, the company policies should be updated. In addition, the HR personnel should also promptly address the issues put forward by employees and provide training that would serve as a channel of communication between the employees and the employer. Moreover, it is the responsibility of HR professionals to notify all applicants for a complete background check in order to ensure that the future employees are not a threat to the company and its present employees. Likewise, employees should also be instructed not to enter areas that they feel are unsafe. If it is possible, establish a “buddy system” in order to avoid dangerous situations (OSHA 1).
Workplace violence, like any form of violence, is something that should not be disregarded. Apparently, no company is insusceptible to the occurrence of workplace violence. However, pursuing strict violent preventive measures is an imperative tool to avoid, if not reduce, incidents of violence in the workplace. It is highly important that employees as well as employers are trained to respond and recognize dangerous situations in order to address properly the issue. Likewise, cooperation and communication should be practiced in order for the employees to voice out their concerns and for the employers to understand the current situation of the company.
Baron, Anthony. Violence in the Workplace: A Prevention and Management Guide for
Businesses. Oxnard, CA: Pathfinder Publishing Inc., 2000.
Morris, Jason B. “Violence in the workplace-A growing problem in America.” Employee
Screen. 2008. 27 October 2008 <http://www.employeescreen.com/workviol.htm>.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA fact sheet: Workplace Violence. Washington, DC: OSHA Publications, 2002.
Paludi, Michelle Antoinette, Rudy V. Nydegger, and Carmen Paludi. Understanding
Workplace Violence: A Guide for the Managers and Employees. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2006.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA Handbook on Workplace Violence
Prevention and Response. October 2001. 27 October 2008 <http://www.da.usda.gov/workplace.pdf>.