Unfortunate but true, HR professionals and managers nationwide must deal with the horrific possibility of violence erupting in their own facilities.
To help employers prevent tragedies like those that paralyzed communities across the country in the past several years, Business Management Daily has prepared a free toolkit offering business advice, guidelines and policies aimed at keeping workplaces safe from employee violence.
Business Management Daily’s free Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit contains prevention strategies, tips on identifying potentially violent workers, advice for managers on maintaining a safe workplace, two sample anti-violence policies adaptable for use in any company and checklists to use in case violence does erupt.
Preventing workplace violence in 5 steps
An effective workplace violence prevention program starts with employee screening and ends with publicizing a tough anti-violence policy, according to Dennis A. Davis, a former SWAT team liaison who now directs client training for the employment law firm Ogletree Deakins.
Davis says tough economic times could be a catalyst for violence—violence that could erupt at work. There’s never been a better time to implement a workplace violence prevention plan with these five elements:
1. Screen applicants
“Your best chance to avoid workplace violence is to avoid letting in a violent person in the first place,” Davis says.
Ask all applicants for personal as well as professional references. Insist on a face-to-face interview so managers can gauge an applicant’s temperament. Ask everyone who comes in contact with the applicant about their impressions.
Then trust your gut. Does this person seem stable?
2. Craft a tough anti-violence policy
You need a policy that stands on its own—not part of some other general policy on professional behavior or misuse of office equipment. That sends the signal that you’re serious about preventing workplace violence.
3. Establish a crisis management team
A crisis management team consists of six to eight people who function as coaches before violence erupts and incident managers if it does. Include staffers from the HR, legal and security functions. There should be a representative from senior management and your employee assistance program if you have one.
4. Train front-line supervisors and greeters
“These people are your eyes and ears, your early warning system,” says Davis. They’ll probably know if someone is about to become violent long before anyone else does.
5. Publicize your anti-violence program
Use meetings, newsletters, e-mail and the intranet to get the word out that your organization has a zero-tolerance policy on workplace violence. Be sure everyone knows how to contact the crisis management team and when to call 911.
8 warning signs of violent employee behavior
When violence occurs at work, employees may say their violent co-worker “just snapped.” But, the truth is, people usually don’t snap. They display warning signs long before they actually act out. The key is to talk to employees early in this “pre-violence” stage to offer assistance and/ or let them know their behaviors are unacceptable.
Be on the lookout for workers who display any of these eight warning signs of violent behavior, according to Davis:
1. Fascination with weapons.That’s different than ownership of weapons. (Think Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.)
2. Substance abuse.Research shows a big correlation between substance abuse and violence.
3. Severe stress.Stress is a function of modern society but people with a propensity toward violence allow that stress to become an excuse for violence.
4. Violent history.“Once people cross that moral, ethical or professional barrier into violence,” Davis says, “it’s a lot easier for them to do it the next time.”
5. Decreased or inconsistent productivity.Employees with a tendency toward violence have a harder time keeping a consistent level of productivity.
6. Social isolation and poor peer relationships.Loners are more likely to act violently because they don’t have asocial network to work out problems.
7. Poor personal hygiene.These people have moved into the dangerous “I don’t care” phase.
8. Drastic changes in personality.It’s a myth that you need to watch out for ultra-shy or ultra-outgoing employees. Davis says, “You need to pay attention to the person who flip-flops between the two.”
3 keys to managing the aftermath of workplace violence
Critical incidents can vary in intensity and severity. They can involve one person or many. Most critical incidents occurring in the workplace, however, have several resulting elements in common:
- An increase in absenteeism
- An increase in employee turnover
- Loss of productivity
- Business interruptions
- Increased workers’ compensation claims
- Increased insurance premium rates.
However, those results can be influenced. With proper crisis management methods and post-incident intervention, an organization can recover from and decrease the negative fallout from an incident.
The following is a basic step-by-step crisis management guide to help you and your organization get back on track after a critical incident.
Security: Out of harm's way
First and foremost, be certain that all employees, customers, clients, and visitors have been removed from harm's way. Make sure that local law enforcement has been informed of the incident. Provide emergency medical care for any injured parties.
If a threat remains, keep all personnel away from the site until it has been cleared by security or police.
After an incident occurs, it is imperative to reinforce security precautions with all personnel. Frequently, an organization has adequate physical/site security, but the measures have been disregarded or disabled by employees—usually as a corner-cutting convenience.
With the heightened awareness following a critical incident, your personnel will be more likely to hear and heed your warnings against these types of security breaches.
Human resources: Critical incident response debriefings
As soon after the removal of the threat as possible, your HR director should schedule Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD). CISDs are extremely important to the recovery of an organization following a critical incident.
They are not therapy sessions, but rather “psycho-educational” meetings. The intent is to educate employees on what to expect as a result of the trauma. There are three main phases of a CISD:
1. Information. This is where the employees are given as much information about the incident as possible. This helps to decrease the number of rumors and myths that follow many traumatic incidents.
2. Venting and validation. During this phase of the CISD, the participants are encouraged to share their fears, concerns and other feelings. Once these emotions are expressed, they are validated. This serves to reduce anxiety in an organization and minimize the need to talk about the incident when employees should be working.
3. Prediction and preparation. During this final of the CISD phase, the facilitator helps the employees understand what to expect next. Example: Who will be questioned during the police investigation? Research has suggested that a CISD following a critical/traumatic incident can drastically reduce the negative impact on employees.
Public relations: Manage the message
One of the most difficult invasions for most people is to have a microphone thrust in their face and asked to be instantly prophetic (coherent, intelligible, informed, etc.) following a critical incident. Don’t allow any of your employees to be put in this situation.
If there is ever an incident in your organization that is of such magnitude that it generates media interest, it is essential that a company spokesperson be designated. If you have not already designated this person, do so immediately, before an incident can occur.
Implementing a workplace violence and weapons policy
To reduce the chance of workplace violence—or your liability if it does happen—establish a program that covers the following:
- Ban weapons, and have a zero-tolerance policy regarding threats in the workplace.
- Screen carefully by checking references and doing criminal background checks.
- Train supervisors to recognize personality changes and warning signs.
- Defuse disputes. Establish a mediation program to resolve employee disputes rather than letting them simmer.
- Evaluate your security system at least once a year. Consider whether you might need silent alarms, ID keys, cameras or even an armed guard.
- Make it a policy that any restraining orders involving employees must be reported to management, and include this in your employee handbook.
- Train front-line employees. Receptionists and front-desk clerks should be on the lookout for unusual or unsettling encounters, and have clear instructions on how to handle and report them to minimize risk to themselves and others. Every employee should be instructed as to when and how to contact the police.
- Establish procedures for employees to report threats or other violent behavior. Offer several avenues for reporting: supervisors, security personnel, human resources, or if there’s imminent danger, everyone nearby.
- Document any threats and your response to them. Your zero-tolerance policy should dictate dismissal of an employee who makes a threat. If it’s a worker’s relative or friend who’s being disruptive and dangerous, you are within your legal rights to terminate the employee, provided you give him adequate warning.
- Assess how your company handles stress-inducing events. For example, what is your procedure when a law enforcement officer or process server comes to see an employee? Confrontations shouldn’t occur in view of other employees. You could instruct your receptionist to direct the officer to a private part of the office near an outside door, then quietly ask the employee involved to report to that area.
- Terminate with care. Have someone along as a witness if you have to terminate a violent employee; consider engaging backup security. Treat the worker with dignity, and allow a way for the person to depart quietly. Afterward, change the locks.
More Resources in the Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit:
The Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit contains lots of great resources for managers and HR professionals.
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Two Workplace Violence Sample Policies: Violence and Weapons
Memo to Managers: How your management style can stop workplace violence
Use this “Memo to Managers” article to educate your supervisors. Paste the content into an e-mail, company newsletter or other communication. Edit as desired.
Workplace Violence Prevention Resources
Use this list of online resources to help train your staff.
More on preventing violence from the theHRSpecialist.com
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