By Debra Auerbach
The idea of workplace violence is frightening, but it's one of those situations where someone might think, "It won't ever happen to me." Yet a new survey reveals some startling statistics about the prevalence of violence, or intent of violence, in the workplace.
The "Violence in the American Workplace" survey conducted by AlliedBarton Security Services found that 52 percent of Americans employed outside their homes have witnessed, heard about or have experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace. What's more, 28 percent of workers reported that a violent event or one that can lead to violence happened to them at their current place of employment, or they have been personally affected by this type of event. The survey press release points to the increase in unemployment over the past several years as a reason why these incidents are happening at a high rate and why they may continue to increase.
Workplace violence can manifest itself in different ways, including mental, emotional or physical abuse. According to the study, violence can include open hostility, abusive language or threats and can escalate to significant physical harm to someone by another person. Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness," works with clients who have encountered workplace violence. "Many of my clients have shared with me their experiences related to workplace verbal harassment and bullying, as well as fears that physical violence will ensue," Lombardo says.
If a worker suspects or witnesses office violence, it's often difficult for him to speak up out of concern for his own safety. "Many are hesitant to notify anyone of these experiences and fears out of concern that the 'offender' [will] find out who reported them and retaliate," Lombardo says. According to the survey, 29 percent of workers who witnessed, heard about or experienced workplace violence did not report the incident or take other action.
Yet in order to prevent the incident from happening again or escalating into something worse, employees must report it. "Tell someone - HR, your boss, someone in a position of greater authority than you," Lombardo stresses. "Given that there are about 500 workplace homicides during a year, it is vital that you be proactive."
What employers can do
The survey found that after a violent incident occurred, almost all (94 percent) employers took some action. The most likely type of action taken was meeting with employees: 73 percent of workers who witnessed, heard about or experienced workplace violence said their employer held an employee meeting, and 69 percent said the employer met with the employee who experienced the violence.
Yet the best way to curb violence is prevention. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration encourages employers to put a workplace violence prevention program in place or incorporate information into an existing employee handbook, accident prevention program or standard operating procedures manual. In addition, they need to ensure that all employees know the policy and feel confident any reports submitted will be taken seriously and investigated promptly.
Lombardo also has advice on preventative actions employers can take to stop violence before it starts. Her suggestions include:
- Stress and anger management training
- Assistance for alcohol and drug abuse
- Increased employee control, as a perceived lack of control can increase a sense of helplessness and violence
- Demonstration of true caring for employees - employees are valued for who they are and what they do
For more on preventing or reporting workplace violence, go to the workplace violence section on the OSHA website.
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