Strategies for Preventing Workplace Violence
Doug Heywood, the director of safety at G&A Partners, recently shared his insight on how employers can help minimize and prevent workplace violence during times of economic downturn.
In times of economic uncertainty, it’s easy for business owners and executives to focus solely on business performance. But employers shouldn’t forget that a slow economy has just as much of an impact on their workforce as it does on their business. Even a slight dip can cause strain and emotional distress that can lead otherwise stable people to react unpredictably or irrationally to bad news and even become violent.
It is for this reason that employers need to be extra-sensitive in handling certain employment decisions (like announcing layoffs, wage reductions or making changes to health care coverage) during an economic downturn. Although no business owner or manager wants to believe their employees might be capable of violence, it’s an unfortunate reality in many workplaces. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 2 million workers report having been the victims of workplace violence every year.
So what can employers do to minimize the likelihood of workplace violence at their places of business?
Offer an employee assistance program.
Many incidents of workplace violence occur when employees feel that they are trapped with no way out of their circumstances. Common stressors, such as family problems, financial difficulties and illness, usually tend to stack themselves one on top of another until the employee collapses under the strain of keeping things together. It’s at this point, when the feeling of frustration or helplessness is so overwhelming, that workers may lash out at coworkers or even customers.
Often, the key to preventing incidents is to intervene before tensions escalate. One such program that is highly valuable in this context is an Employee Assistance Program. EAPs are employer-sponsored programs that provide support, usually online or over the phone, to employees coping with personal or family issues. This support usually includes counseling services, legal advice, crisis intervention and help finding other community resources. These services are completely private, which allows employees to get help, even if they are not willing to discuss their circumstances with their employer.
Proactively address behavior problems and complaints.
It’s not uncommon during workplace investigations for other coworkers or managers to say they sensed something was off about the perpetrator. Many times these thoughts are rationalized away, or employees may feel it’s not their place to say something. Alternatively, employees might not know whom to go to with their concerns, or think that management won’t take them seriously.
Employers should include a policy that addresses workplace violence, including prohibited behaviors, guidelines for reporting incidents and an explanation of how the policy is enforced, within their employee handbooks. Any and all complaints of harassment, threats or other violent or inappropriate behavior should always be taken very seriously and handled with care by the appropriate member of the business’ HR or management team.
Communicate honestly with employees.
Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, but employers should avoid outright lying to employees at all costs, especially when it comes to things like layoffs, cuts in compensation or the like. While there are certainly good reasons not to share every detail with the entire company, employers should endeavor to share what they can, when they can, without sugarcoating things. This not only makes employees feel respected and valued, but can also help bring employees together. In fact, employees who feel like they are “in the loop” often step up in the spirit of partnership with management to do what’s necessary to weather a rough patch.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of being an employer is having to terminate an employee. When conducting a termination meeting, there are a few best practices employers can implement to help ensure everyone is safe. Having the meeting in a private area with two exits and with two managers present, for instance, helps defuse potentially violent behavior and gives those involved a way out if necessary. Employers should also instruct management to be kind and respectful to the employee throughout the termination process.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, edition of the Houston Business Journal.