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Workplace Violence--Are You in Danger?

by: Amy Nelson Gottschalk,B.A.,

Training Specialist, Diversity Training Group

Did you know that in 1993, there were 110,000 reported incidents of violence in U.S. workplaces, causing 750 deaths and costing employers $4.2 billion? (Minor, 1995.) Since then, the number of workers assaulted in the workplace has risen to an alarming 1 million per year, according to the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH). Even more disturbing, 1,000 employees are murdered each year, an average of 20 workers per week. Clearly violence is becoming an epidemic. How will your organization respond to a crisis involving violence? Are you prepared to deal with the repercussions? Wouldn't it be more logical to take preventive action now rather than wait for a tragedy to occur?

There are various levels of workplace violence; beginning with simple insubordination and threats and gradually escalating to murder, suicide or even arson. Experts have termed early warning signs, critical incidents, which describe events that could potentially lead to violence. These incidents may include refusal to follow company policy, antagonism towards customers, verbalize desires to injure coworkers and or superiors and actual threats of a sexual or violent nature. Unfortunately, these incidents are too often ignored or minimized by coworkers and management. It is imperative that these signs are recognized and dealt with immediately with effective management strategies. If not, your business will suffer:

bulletLower productivity
bulletReduced profitability
bulletPoor morale
bulletIncreased absenteeism
bulletHigher sick leave costs
bulletFaster personnel turnover
bulletStrained management-employee relationships

There are several warning signs of a potentially dangerous employee:

bulletFrequent absenteeism
bulletAngry outbursts/or sullen withdrawal
bulletExtreme disorganization
bulletOminous threats
bulletHistory of violent behavior
bulletDefensive when criticized(blames others for mistakes)
bulletDiscussion of or carrying of concealed weapon
bulletLow self-esteem
bulletDoesn't accept responsibility
bulletObsessive preoccupation with job; very few outside interests

How Prepared Is Your Organization For A Crisis Incident?

TAKE THIS TEST AND FIND OUT. Answer "yes" or "no" for each of the following items in this list:


  1. Screen your employees during the hiring process for a history of violence?
  2. Have sufficient security programs that provide protection for all employees?
  3. Offer voluntary employee assistance programs and encourage the use of these programs during times of stress and burnout?
  4. Have a comprehensive crisis management and intervention plan which includes appropriate policies and procedures for handling violence?
  5. Provide support workshops on the change process during times of organizational change&emdash;downsizing, reengineering, mergers etc. ?
  6. Educate managers on how to assess an employee's emotional behavior and to follow through with appropriate measures?
  7. Collaborate with outplacement services including psychological assistance to those who are laid off?
  8. Provide "survivor training" to those employees who are not laid off?
  9. Train managers how to utilize compassion and sensitivity as a tool for reducing force and hostilities?
  10. Provide venting programs such as open-door policies, company advocates, and grievance committees?

(SOURCE: Violence in the Workplace, Crisp Publications 1995.)

If you answered, "No" to more than three of the above items, your company is not utilizing sufficient preventive strategies in your workplace and this could pose a serious risk for violent incidents.