Workplace Violence: a Pinnacle of Warning Signs

Workplace violence is not a problem unto itself. It is, in reality, a series of smaller problems that were left unaddressed. It is the culmination of many factors and influences, all of which may or may not have been early warning signs of a situation spiraling out of control.

It is no secret that life is becoming harder. That work is becoming more demanding. That the money we earn does not extend as far as we would like. That families are becoming increasingly fragmented. That time does not extend as long as we need to meet life’s expectations.

Like anything under pressure, there’s only so much that can be borne until it cracks.

Acts of teasing, harassment, intimidation, bullying, threats and violence are really just a ladder of severity with each step becoming more and more dangerous and damaging. Each of these steps is also an opportunity for intervention to prevent a problem from growing to the next level.

These warning signs may not always be noticeable. For instance, with the advent of the Internet many workplace violence incidents are actually cyber bullying. Schoolyard bullies often become workplace bullies because they haven’t learned alternative coping measures for stress and feelings of inferiority. With intimation comes humility and often, victims do not want to come forward as it demonstrates a weakness. In many cases, workplace violence is in fact domestic violence that spills over into the workplace.

Workplace violence behaviours can fall into these categories:

– Non-physical violence (intimidation, abuse, threats, racial slurs, etc.)
– Physical violence (punching, kicking, pushing, etc.)
– Aggravated physical violence (use of weapons, e.g. guns, knives, syringes, pieces of furniture, bottles, glasses, etc.)

Companies must have a robust, well publicized Workplace Violence policy in place that defines what Workplace Violence is, how to identify it, how to report it and how to protect its staff. An important component of this is to identify risks that are specific to your industry and have protective programs in place to mitigate that risk. More importantly, a well documented, formalized program prevents a culture of tolerance that may enable harassment and violent behaviour.

When climbing the stress ladder, always keep in mind that you or your co-workers can stumble at any time. Having a reporting and resolution program as well as an employee assistance program to be able to respond to risk factors as they develop will have a much better chance at mitigating the situation before it gets out of hand.