Workplace Violence is a rarely mentioned, yet very widespread job hazard. Almost everyone has been in a conflict situation while at work, at least once or twice. Most jobs suggest a working group comprised of individuals with different backgrounds, habits, behaviors, and personalities. Conflicts are natural occurrences. However, if they are not taken care of, there is a potential to scale into outright violence. Snell, Morris, and Bohlander (2017) report that in 2011 in the USA alone there were over 3 million reported workplace violence incidents. These incidents include beatings, stabbings, assaults, robberies, theft, threats, bullying, rape, and other forms of violence. The case study presented in this paper projects a situation, where long-term managerial neglect leads to violence between two workers, namely Thomas Waycross and Mark Lomas, which ended in the death of the latter.
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What are Some Violence Indicators an Employee might Display?
Employee violence is rarely a sudden occurrence. Most of the time it is generated from negative feelings bottling up and brewing overtime only to be released through violence. In the case study, the potential for conflict was obvious – the perpetrator and the victim were often at odds and bickered with one another over various matters. Common indicators of employee violence include (Snell et al., 2017):
- Direct or veiled threats – have the potential of becoming realities.
- Insubordination – conflicts generated over matters of discipline and chain of command.
- Severe reactions to criticism – may provoke conflict.
- Frequent mood and behavior changes – an indication of underlying mental instabilities.
- Interest in weapons – indicates an interest in violence.
- Sabotage – in protest, or as a form of disobedience
- Perception of injustice – many perpetrators, see their actions as a response to the injustice of some kind.
- Antisocial or aggressive behavior – may be a prelude to employee violence.
- Stress and financial instability – may affect sound judgment and the ability to adequately respond to conflicts.
- Substance abuse – inhibits rational thought.
Of course, there are many other indicators, but these are the most common ones. Had the company management paid proper attention to the warning signs displayed by Thomas Waycross and Mark Lomas in their continuously straining working relationship, the situation could have been defused and avoided in a calm and peaceful manner.
What are Some Actions Management can take to Help Prevent Workplace Violence?
Practice shows that a competent HR strategy and an active interception from the junior managerial staff are the most effective methods for preventing workplace violence. Low-level managers tend to know their employees better and are able to foresee potential conflicts coming, and work towards their resolution. When managers remain inactive and do not care about the potential consequences of workplace conflicts, violence is bound to happen. There are several ways for managers to prevent workplace violence (Snell et al., 2017):
- Fostering a non-violent corporate culture. Often, conflicts are generated and amplified by the atmosphere of tension and repressed aggression coming from the employees, the supervisors, and the customers. This is particularly true for high-stress environments like hospitals. Promoting a culture that facilitates communication in a calm and peaceful manner while avoiding violence, shouting, and rebuking would reduce the chances of workplace violence ever occurring.
- Paying attention and defusing conflicts during the early stages. Managers must always be on the lookout for potential conflicts between employees. If there are disagreements between workers, they must be solved in a calm and efficient manner, as quickly as possible. That way, simple dislike, and momentary irritation would not be allowed to grow into outright hatred, which is the precursor of violence.
- Preventing conflict by removing the point of contention. Sometimes employees do not get along, no matter how much effort the manager puts in. In our case study, the company took a wrong approach by forcing the employees to “get along or get fired.” Such measures would not fix the problem, but would only make things worse. Instead, they should have split the pair to work opposite shifts, or on different projects, in order to minimize the time spent together, thus removing the basis for potential conflict.
How can Employees Protect Themselves against Workplace Violence?
According to OSHA, the employee has the right to protection against all sorts of workplace hazards, which includes protection from workplace violence (Snell et al., 2017). While settling small matters personally is a viable option, if an employee feels that other employees jeopardize their life, health, or dignity, then he or she has full right to demand action.
First, the employee must bring the issue up with their respective managers and employers. By law, they are obligated to deal with these situations in order to protect their employees from harm. The manager will have to look into the situation, analyze its potential for conflict, and do everything in their power to defuse it. It is the manager’s job, after all, let them do it.
If the manager or the employer is unable or unwilling to deal with the situation, the employee has the right to report the incident to OSHA. After the investigation is concluded, OSHA may force the company to take measures to remove the threatening element out of the picture, be it through either reassignment or removal from the company (Snell et al., 2017).
The best defense against workplace violence is not provoking it, however. Remaining calm and acting with kindness, patience, and respect towards fellow employees will help one avoid becoming a target. Instead of making enemies and sparking conflicts and violence, such an approach will earn many friends. Being friendly with fellow employees is always better than being at odds.
Snell, S., Morris, S., & Bohlander, G. (2017). Managing human resources. (17th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage.