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Ten common mistakes that increase workplace violence vulnerability
No employer is immune from the risk of workplace violence. A powerful combination of factors, including heightened tensions over diverse perspectives, hate crimes, political divides, lingering emotional and physical stress of the pandemic, inflation, and issues of equity and fairness has led to polarized workforces and an increase in the threat landscape. Here are ten common mistakes that may make your company more vulnerable to workplace violence.
1. Fail to review and update worksite analysis and workplace violence policy
Companies need to have more than a few sentences in a manual or online training documents that say workplace violence will not be tolerated; a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program should be in place. The first step in establishing the policy is a hazard/security analysis of the workplace that identifies risks and how they can be minimized. This is a critical foundation of the plan that should be monitored continually to ensure compliance and effectiveness.
This includes not only evaluating security systems and procedures regularly but also staying current with regulatory standards. Things as simple as a first aid kit need attention. There is a new standard for workplace first aid kits and supplies that becomes effective October 15. It’s a good idea to begin to make the recommended changes.
Policies are often too vague or too complex. While no policy can cover all possible scenarios, it needs to be easy to understand, specific, and written at a level and in languages to accommodate all workers. Ongoing data collection should track incidents, identify patterns and gaps, and assess program effectiveness. When incidents do occur, a thorough investigation should lead to the actions necessary to mitigate the risk, enhanced training, and program updates.
2. Don’t take every threat seriously
While many companies have zero-tolerance policies for threats or violence, enforcement is challenging and there are barriers to reporting. The key is an open culture that is positive and reinforcing, effective communication with employees, and leadership support of incident reporting. Supervisors who motivate by fear or intimidation and are intolerant of individual differences foster an environment ripe for violence. Employers need to take a hard look at their culture, identify authoritarian management styles that may contribute to violence, and how change, schedules, and promotions are managed.
An interdisciplinary threat assessment team of designated, specially trained supervisors and employees can be an effective way to demonstrate that every threat is taken seriously. This gives employees a clear path for reporting, ensures action when an incident is reported, and eliminates the issue of one person making the decision. It also provides a resource for supervisors who feel challenged in managing troublesome employees. The team should have the ability and training to manage and deescalate the situation and call authorities or other external resources.
3. Don’t heed warning signs
While it is not possible to foresee all acts of workplace violence, there are often precursors. Escalation to violence is often a process; when objectionable behavior is identified early it stands the greatest chance of being contained. In a recent webinar, Axiom Medical Consulting Inc. identified five red flags of behavior:
- Performance deterioration and over sensitivity to feedback/criticism
- Obsession with a coworker or employee grievance
- Tragic event fascination and recent acquisition of weapons
- Dramatic mood swings including belligerent/angry outbursts
- Ominous threats of harming self or others
Also, an employee who makes veiled threats can be dropping clues and should be considered a potential risk.
4. Lax hiring practices
Failure to properly vet applicants on personal traits, behaviors, and cultural fit can lead to hiring potentially violent individuals. In today’s competitive labor market, some employers have eliminated or relaxed background check requirements to address recruiting and hiring challenges. And compliance with the ever-growing federal, state, and local laws and regulations governing how and when background checks may be conducted can be daunting. Yet, robust pre-employment background screenings that comply with applicable laws including criminal history, motor vehicle records, and former employer reference checks are the best way to secure information about potential hires and avoid harm or legal liability. Some employers conduct checks throughout the employment life cycle.
Look for red flags during the interview process and include behavioral questions that ask about situations where they did not agree with a co-worker or boss. Along with background checks, a review of social media postings can reveal more about an applicant’s attributes and organizations they follow. To avoid discrimination claims, it’s a good practice to have a social media screening policy.
5. Hesitant to get involved in domestic violence situations
Domestic violence is a sensitive and private matter, yet it can increase the risk of violence in the workplace. Perpetrators know where they can locate their victim. Common signs that may indicate a problem include unexplained bruises, frequent absences, anxiety, changes in job performance, harassing phone calls, and so on.
Having a domestic violence policy and providing training that acknowledges domestic violence may impact the workplace, encourages employees to come forward, and identifies resources to provide help can address the issue without violating confidentiality. Employees need to feel that their privacy will be protected for them to be comfortable reporting issues to their employer and information should be maintained on a limited “need-to-know” basis going forward. For example, employees who self-report that they have a restraining or protective order against an individual should be asked to provide the person’s information and photo for security personnel.
6. Fail to identify barriers to reporting
All too often after an incident of workplace violence, co-workers describe the perpetrator as belligerent, angry, a bully, misfit, loner, and so on, but did not report their concerns. They may fear getting involved could lead to bullying and harassment, are unsure if the situation fits the definition of workplace violence, worry about their job, don’t believe it will escalate, feel the reporting process is cumbersome, or believe that reporting will not change the situation. Taking the time to understand why workers are not reporting incidents, educating workers on how to spot potential trouble, and a clear, uncomplicated reporting structure that enables them to report in a non-judgmental way and provides timely feedback and action are essential.
7. Performance review and termination practices that fuel the threat
Many companies have ditched the annual performance review and use a less-formal approach that emphasizes frequent check-ins, more goal setting, and ongoing dialogue. Such an approach can help identify warning signs and ward off a potentially violent situation.
Firing or laying someone off is one of the most stressful situations for a company and is a contributing factor to workplace violence. While it’s impossible to predict the emotions that may overcome the worker, it’s a good idea to do a security check assessment, both in terms of the individual and the employee’s critical access points (building, computer, third party, etc), which should be disabled while the meeting is taking place.
Whether it’s a layoff, non-performance, or just a poor fit, treat the person with dignity and respect and stick to the facts. Be consistent. Keep it short and private. Provide the resources that help them see a light at the end of the tunnel, rather than a train wreck. Do it at a time when business impact is minimized. Consider severance packages, who will do the firing, whether additional security is needed, and where and when the termination will take place.
8. Inadequate training
Workplace violence training should be given to new hires, occur whenever changes are made in the program, and there should be at least an annual refresher for all employees.The training needs to be specific, clearly defining what constitutes workplace violence, how to recognize a threat, and what actions to take. Define what run, hide, fight means in your workplace and hold regular workplace violence drills based on different scenarios. Tiered training in workplaces with varying exposures, such as healthcare, should be carefully planned.
9. Don’t update community relationships
While the company may have fostered relationships with local law enforcement, security firms, social service agencies, psychologists, and legal experts in the past, agencies and contacts change. Employees should have current names, phone numbers, and website information.
10. Don’t understand your insurance coverage
Coverage for workplace violence incidents is probably not top of mind when reviewing insurance, but it’s important to have adequate coverage in the event of a workplace violence incident. The insurer should also be able to provide helpful resources in developing a plan and the support you need in a crisis event. Click here to meet with a Duncan Financial Group personal advisor that’s right for you.