Tackling Workplace Violence

The horrific school shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary has reopened the discussion among HR Professionals regarding workplace violence prevention. While many believe incidents of workplace violence are rare—the numbers speak for themselves.  

OSHA reports that 2 million American workers a year are victims of workplace violence. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 458 workplace homicides in 2011 alone.
While there is no way to guarantee prevention of all workplace violence, we as HR Professionals can take the lead in proposing and executing changes to decrease likeliness of violent acts.

The best way to address workplace violence is by developing a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has a useful guide for agency planners that includes advice on preventing workplace violence. Your program should include a written policy, training and an effective means for addressing incidents of workplace violence. As with any initiative, buy-in from management will be critical to the success of your program.  

Nonetheless, for some employers a full-blown Workplace Violence Prevention Program is not feasible. If this is the case for your organization, the following are a few tips for preventing workplace violence.

1. Set clear expectations for employees and place an emphasis on work-life balance. Make job descriptions clear. When it is time for employees to go home, send them home. When an employee is working 80-hour weeks it is time to question efficiency or consider hiring more employees. An imbalance towards work can lead to stress and mental health issues. If you need help in fostering a healthier work-life balance in your organization I’d suggest a quick Google search—there’s a wealth of information on this topic.

2. Train supervisors on how to spot behavior that could be indicative of someone with a mental health condition. Your supervisors are your eyes and ears in the workplace—they can usually tell when something is up. Knowing what to do and when can be critical in preventing violent incidents in your workplace.

3. Provide leave of absence when necessary. Sometimes employees require time out of the workplace to address mental health issues such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, etc. Remember, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may apply in cases of mental illness. Consult with a labor and employment attorney if you need help interpreting FMLA.

4. Make an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to employees and communicate its benefits on a regular basis. I would argue that an EAP is one of the most underutilized benefits and that’s largely because suggesting it to employees can be uncomfortable. However, it can be a helpful way for employees to deal with workplace stress and personal issues. 

5. Leadership training. Sure, it sounds simple but we all have that one manager everyone is complaining about. Having a crappy manager is the #1 reason people leave their jobs and in some cases can be a contributor to workplace violence, especially post-termination.

We’ve briefly addressed workplace violence in general but if you’d like more information on workplace homicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an interesting study on preventing workplace homicide. It’s a quick read and very interesting. 

Here’s to a prosperous and safe 2013. 
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