Violence in the Workplace: Should you be concerned? 

By Hector R. Alvarez, President, Alvarez Associates LLC

I would like to share a personal perspective before we get into the article. On any typical day I’m either writing, responding to, studying or training on violence prevention.  I am usually able to separate the nature of the work from my personal life… but this is not a typical day.  The vile acts that were committed at Sandy Hook Elementary have shaken this nation, including myself.   This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult articles I have written.   I have taken the last few days to reflect on the joys in my life and I hope that you are able to do the same.

The events that occurred on December 14th can make it seem like acts of extreme violence are happening more frequently. However, the reality is that they are relatively rare.  The likelihood of being in a similar incident is comparable to the chances of being struck by lightning.  What are much more common in our workplaces are lower levels of violence, such as fighting, assaults, threats, intimidation and bullying.  It has been estimated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that there are almost 2,000,000 incidents per year.  One of the most misunderstood forms of violence is bullying.

I would describe bullying as a “gateway drug” to more significant acts of inappropriate workplace behavior.  There are a lot of reasons why bullying is not identified or addressed by organizations, one of which is that bullies can often be perceived as strong performers. However, not addressing the overbearing behavior can lead to employees developing a mistrust of management and increase the likelihood that other forms of inappropriate behavior go unreported; until it’s too late.  

Establishing a workplace violence prevention program can help address issues from bullying to the rare extreme acts of violence.  By incorporating your prevention program into existing human resources or safety programs you can leverage established management team efforts to ensure that your program is effective and sustainable.  There are keys to establishing an effective program. I consider these the “top ten.” 

  1. Senior leadership commitment AND involvement
  2. Comprehensive background and reference checks
  3. Conduct annual threat/vulnerability assessments of the workplace
  4. Implement and maintain a Violence Prevention Policy
  5. Implement and maintain a Substance Abuse Policy
  6. Investigate all complaints/threats of violence
  7. Maintain a strong relationship with local law enforcement
  8. Establish a resource for understanding related state laws
  9. Establish a multi-disciplinary team for responding to threats of violence and reviewing and monitoring effectiveness of related policies
  10. Train staff on workplace violence prevention, management and response

In summary, yes you should be concerned, but not worried.  Workplace violence is a serious issue, but there are a lot of serious workplace issues that you must deal with on a daily basis and yet you manage to provide happy, safe and productive workplaces for employees.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t start or review your existing prevention efforts.  However, it is important to understand that violence can be managed and even prevented.

 Mr. Alvarez is the founder of Alvarez Associates, a firm specializing in violence prevention, assessment and management.    Having been both a security director for a major national critical infrastructure and a city police officer, he has built over 25 years of experience in the field of violence prevention. He understands the challenges organizations and communities face addressing the threat of violence.  Hector has the privilege of working with organizations, both corporate and community based to build safer communities through keynote speeches, workshops, security assessments, trainings and behavioral threat assessments. www.workviolenceprevention.com

violence in the workplace