Many times violence in the workplace stems from a stressful or traumatic event that a person has experienced beforehand either in the workplace or outside of work. When something happens at a place of employment that triggers the violent outburst it shows that there are certain things that can be done in order to prevent this violence from occurring in the first place.
Stressful Situations in the Workplace
Layoffs at work can cause a lot of stress for both the people that are getting laid off and for those that remain behind. Employees that are losing their jobs face financial struggles while workers that are kept on will be dealing with increased work responsibilities. Harassment can also be a huge stress factor and there is a growing problem in many workplace environments with bullying. When a person is bullied by coworkers or managers he often feels powerless and doesn’t know how to deal with the situation.
Workplace Violence Categories
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that violence in the workplace falls into 4 different categories which include:
- Criminal intent
- Personal relationship
In the category of personal relationship, women are usually targeted. The deadliest violence in any of the categories involves an active shooter.
Workplace Violence on the Rise in US Hospitals
American Hospital officials have reported that nurses and doctors are experiencing more assaults and receiving more threats than they ever have before due to the pandemic. In southwest Missouri, the Cox Medical Center Branson has issued approximately 300 – 400 panic buttons to staff members following a substantial increase in workplace violence from 2019 – 2020. Assaults rose from 40 up to 123 while the number of injuries reported increased from 17 up to 78.
Overall Increase in Shootings
An independent research group by the name of Gun Violence Archive has reported that in 2021 there were 15 mass murders that took place. Some of these were committed by former or existing employees in the workplace while another one involved a male that had a personal and business relationship with some of the people he killed.
In contrast, the number of mass workplace shootings that were carried out by former or current employees from 2006 to February 2020 only totalled 13. This works out to an average of about one per year.
How to Handle Violent Workplace Situations
If you should ever find yourself in a situation that is violent at your place of employment, the Department of Homeland Security advises that you remain calm and choose one of the 3 following options:
If at all possible, look for an escape route that is accessible and get out of the building as quickly as possible while leaving your belongings behind. If it is impossible to leave the area you should look for a hiding spot. This place shouldn’t be in an area where you could possibly be trapped if the shooter found you. If you are in an office, blockade and lock the door behind you and make sure that your phone has been silenced.
Fighting should be kept as a last resort and only used when you feel that your life is in danger. You can try to incapacitate the offender by yelling, improvising weapons and throwing items.
Preventing Violence at Work
There are programs that should be implemented to help employees that are dealing with high stress levels. While not all signs of stress indicate that violence will ensue, there are some telltale signs that let others know that a person may be hitting a high level of stress. Some of these indications include physical exhaustion, lower quality of work, increased hostility and noticeable behavior changes.
The employee may start lashing out at coworkers and may be taking a lot of days off. Anyone that shows symptoms that seem to be escalating should be monitored and offered help to deal with the situation. Education programs should be available for management to teach them how to prevent violence in the workplace. Human resources and managers should have programs in place to help at-risk employees create plans to alleviate stress that has been caused by demotions, layoffs, bullying etc.
Promoting a Psychologically Healthy Work Culture
Employee screening must be kept at an all-time high to ensure that the workplace culture remains psychologically healthy. Background checks should be in place and policies for employee screening should be updated as necessary. The screening can help employers track down and identify any red flags with job applicants.
This screening must be done, however, without crossing any legal lines in terms of privacy and discrimination. It’s important for management to find out what the legal limits are and to work within this framework to avoid hiring personnel with violent histories.
There should be open communication within the workplace about stress and employees should be encouraged to report any behavior that concerns them. There should be a direct channel to report someone that is using threatening behavior or making threatening comments. There must also be a clear definition put in place as to what constitutes threatening behavior and instructions must be provided as to how to make a report and a clear understanding of what type of response to expect.
Violence in the workplace can no longer be swept under the rug. If you have experienced any situation that you feel falls into this category it’s time to contact a violent crimes attorney to learn more about your rights.