People Prone to Workplace Violence and Warning Signs

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We are living in a period of great change. In fact, the rate of change and the nature of change worldwide is perceived by many as more dramatic than at anytime in our history. The pace and intensity of change, combined with an uncertain economy, the downsizing of our work force and the threat of possible job loss, and the impact of these events on the individual, and family indirectly translates into an undercurrent of anxiety, doubt, and even despair. That is how gradually violence intruded into the workplace.

Workplace and violence are two words that until recently were never associated with one another. Yet when these words come together they strike terror in the lives of the people that are affected by them. When we think of the word 'workplace', we think of a safe environment where we provide our services in exchange to the necessary means for a better life. The workplace is supposed to provide security for our families and facilitate the accomplishment of financial freedom. Additionally, the workplace fullfils partially our social needs and provide a variety of benefits (health care, pension etc) which reduces instability and gradually generates confidence in our daily lives.

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Yet, peoples' dreams and security, are threatened by a rising tide of violence in the workplace, since it is the workplace which serves as the foundation upon which these dreams are brought to a daily reality. Violence in the workplace also sabotages morale, cohesion and productivity, while even more significantly it often results in a tragic loss of personnel. Furthermore, violence in workplace reflects the moral decadence of society and reveals the alienation in human relationships.

2. BACKGROUND

a. Definition of workplace violence

The definition of work related violence that has received acceptance is as follows: "incidents where people are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health". It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees worldwide.

b. Types of Violence in Workplace

There are different types of workplace violence. A worker can be verbally abused or harassed. Or, a worker can be physically assaulted or killed.

Overall there are three main categories of workplace violence:

I. Violence inflicted by unknown third persons or strangers who enter the workplace to commit a crime, such as sexual assault, robbery or murder.

II. Violence that is committed by individuals who have a business relationship with the employer, such as current or former customers, suppliers, patients or clients.

III. Violence committed by someone the employee knows personally, such as a coworker, disgruntled former or current employee or a domestic abuser.

Violence can be expressed , but is not limited to, as:

1. Assault by Injuring someone with fists, feet, or a weapon.

2. Criminal Mischief by intentionally damaging someone's property without permission. For example, damaging someone's car.

3.Disorderly Conduct which entails fighting , acting in a threatening manner, shouting abusively, disturbing others while they work , creating a dangerous condition in a way that is not legal.

4.Harassment which entails deliberately hitting, pushing, or kicking someone, threatening to do so,using abusive or obscene language,following someone in a public area acting in a way that suggests potential harm or danger.

5.Larceny which entails stealing someone's possessions without using force.

(Victim present or not presen)

6. Menacing by making someone feel that he or she is in danger of being hurt.

7. Reckless Endangerment by acting in a way that puts others in danger.

e.g. , driving too fast in rush-hour traffic.

8. Robbery by using physical force to steal someone's possessions.

Victim present during the theft.

9. Sex Offenses like public lewdness, sexual abuse, sodomy, rape

c. Jobs exposed to high risk violence

Statistically certain occupations and positions are exposed to an increased risk of violence

1. Jobs involving the exchange of money (banks, retail etc.)

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2. Guarding or maintaining property or possessions

3. Working alone or in small numbers

4. Working in public settings (law enforcement, teachers, taxicab drivers, hotel clerks, bartenders etc.)

5. Working very late or early hours

6. Working in high crime areas

The following image1 reveals the results of workplace shootings, as an example of workplace violence, in a variety of occupations

d. Statistics of violence in working place2

Workplace violence is turning into a number one priority for today's businesses. On an average working day, three people will be murdered on the job in the U.S. One million workers are assaulted and more than 1,000 are murdered every year, according to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Homicide is the second highest cause of death on the job, after motor vehicle accidents. That translates into three cases for every 10,000 workers, confirms the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1992, 111,000 incidents of work-place violence cost employers and others an estimated 6.2 million. The statistics are shocking for the amount of workplace violence that is out there everyday in our workforce. Even more shocking then these statistics is the fact that more than half of these cases go unreported. That means an estimated two million workers are assaulted every year and more than 2,000 people are murdered.

3. BEHAVIORAL CHARACTERISTICS OF VIOLENT PEOPLE

a. Factors Fostering Workplace Violence

Workplace violence are mirroring the increase of violent acts which occur in today's general society. Though it is very difficult to assess the culminating factor, some of the main reasons include the following:

• Death of family member

• Discharge for discipline or poor performance

• Discrimination

• Excessive temporary duty/denial of leave

• Fatal attraction

• Financial difficulties

• Inappropriate distribution of work tasks

• Long working hours

• Loss of employment benefits or entitlements

• Passed over for promotion

• Perception of supervisor as unjust

• Reduction in Force

• Rejection, end of a relationship, divorce

• Retirement concerns

• Selective Early Retirement Board determination

• Unemployment, and fear of job loss

The above incidents are common occurrences in many peoples lives, and worse, they often occur back-to-back and are not isolated. With so many stressful issues occurring, often but not always, out of the individuals control, the drain on emotional batteries can be severe. This leaves individuals "close to the edge" and men in particular prefer action to helplessness, including threats and acts of violence to attempt to reassert some sense of control or personal power in their life.

b. Observable Warning Signs

It is quite difficult to predict violent human behavior and therefore a "specific profile" of a potentially dangerous individual does not actually exist. However, indicators of increased risk of violent behavior are available. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime , Profiling and Behavioral Assessment Unit4 has identified the most important indicators in its analysis of past incidents of workplace violence. These are some of the indicators:

Direct or veiled threats of harm

Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying, or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior

Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees ,discomfort when communicating with others, a tendency to remain isolated from coworkers or reluctance to participate in social events

Bringing a weapon to the workplace, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making inappropriate references to guns, or fascination with weapons

Statements showing fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem, or statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides

Statements indicating desperation (over family, financial, and other personal problems) to the point of contemplating suicide such as frequent financial problems indicating lack of access to money

Extreme changes in behaviors, tardiness or unexplained absences

c. Profile of the Potentially Violent Person

The previous observable warning signs always interact with certain person-related risk factors. This interaction illustrates a profile you can use to identify those at particular risk to commit acts of violence in the workplace. The profile of an aggressive personality is a combination of incident reviews and statistical data. It is a composite of information and will not fit every person responsible for committing such acts of violence, but will significantly aid in identifying those at risk. The profile of a potentially violent person can be identified by the following:

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Previous history of violence

This history of violence usually is towards those most vulnerable. Previous violent acts are strong indicators that the person has a tendency towards violence.

Psychological and Personal Characteristics

Typically, a violent person is withdrawn from human interaction and socially isolated.

The violent employee is more likely to be anxious, mentally ill (people who suffer from paranoia, agitated depression and bipolar disorder), stressed, delusional, unable to accept criticism or authority, resentful, holding irrational ideas or beliefs, a loner, unconcerned about others, fascinated with weapons and/or the military, lacking effective verbal response skills (to respond to bullying), feeling powerless both at work and at home.

Behavioral Characteristics

The violent employee is more likely to develop behaviors such as being quick tempered,

volatile, prone to explosions of temper and episodes of intense anger, making unsubstantiated complaints of unfairness, prone to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, isolating him/herself, exhibiting drastic changes in behavior,

refusing to take responsibility for actions, exhibiting rigid, addictive, or controlling behavior, making veiled threats, making detailed threats (such as a means, a plan, a time, a place, and a motive), making reference to other violent events or the people who perpetrated those acts, showing excessive interest in police or military or survivalist activities, making bizarre or ludicrous statements, obsessed by work, and documenting the actions of others who they perceive to be the cause of their problems. Also someone who is distrustful, unable to accept alternative viewpoints, and does not take responsibility for his/her shortcomings

According to Nasa stress Management5 the following behaviors and attitudes are also part of the profile:

A history of interpersonal conflict with co-workers or supervisors

A history of unwelcome sexual comments or threats of physical assault

A recent termination or lay off, or the perception that he/she so will be let go

A sense of persecution/injustice

Frequently exhibits paranoid behavior

Sense of entitlement

Holds grudges

Intrigued by previous incidents of workplace violence

Another factor is often that the person's life is his or her job. Take away that job and you destroy the person's self-worth. Some of these violent personalities have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, may own a weapon, and have a history of violence toward women, children, or animals.

Generally a person prone to violence often6:

Externalizes blame for life disappointments

Is disgruntled and has disdain for authority

Threatens, intimidates or harasses others

Has interpersonal problems and conflicts

d. Personality characteristics of victims

We may distinguish the victims into three categories. The first type of victim are victims that have no business relationship with the perpetrators (e.g., cab drivers, chauffeurs, salesclerks, cashiers, real estate agents, gas station attendants, airline workers, police and t hose who deal with customers under stress). The main motive is robbery.

The second type of victim are those that are victimized by a current or former client, customer or patient. This is mostly apparent in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, mental health clinics, drug abuse centers, long-term care facilities. The highest number of insurance claims come from health care workers, social services and community services .

The third type of victim are current or former employers, spouses or significant others of the perpetrators (e.g., governments, public institutions). Profiles of the typical victim have been constructed based on past victims. Using past data, the "typical" victim or person at risk can be described by using the following individual, personality and situational characteristics7 :

Physical/Individual Characteristics of Victims

women (female workers are slightly more at risk than male workers),

people who are overweight or have unusual personality or physical characteristics,

come from different races, religions or sexual orientations, and

are younger (young women are more than twice as likely to suffer a physical attack in the workplace than men).

Personality Characteristics of Victims

are creative individuals (they may promote ideas that challenge others) and high

achievers

are politically inept,

are trusting, and exhibit a high degree of loyalty to the organization.

4. PREVENTION AND CORRECTIVE ACTIONS

a. Proactive Steps to Prevent Violence in the Workplace

First, it is critical to understand that workplace violence does not happen at random or "out of the blue." Behaviors of concern can help workers recognize potential problems with fellow employees. If a coworker begins acting differently, determining the frequency, duration, and intensity of the new, and possibly troubling, behavior can prove helpful.

On the other hand, companies have the means they need to help in the fight against workplace violence. A few ways that companies can help to stop workplace violence are:

provide on the job counseling for employees

provide training for all employees on how to identify the warning signs of a violent person and how to deal with any threatening situations,

make the workplace the safest possible for all employees, upgrade security, make sure employees are told about a no tolerance level for any potential threatening situations that may accrue in the workplace

In other words8, employers must have a workplace violence prevention policy and include that policy in their employee handbooks. Most importantly, it should mandate that all employees have an obligation to report any workplace violence they witness or experience. Then it should provide the contact information for the members of management that employees should contact to report instances of workplace violence. In addition, it should provide that an employee who reports experiencing or observing an incident of workplace violence will be protected from any retaliation.

But a policy alone is not enough. Employers are required to provide training on that policy and on methods to prevent violence in the workplace. An important part of this training will be to advise managers and employees of the warning signs of workplace violence.

In addition to having a policy and conducting training, employers can and should conduct a risk assessment to determine what risks they have in their workplace and ways to make their workplaces safer. There can be simple ways to make the workplace safer such as better security, better lighting and installing locked doors with key card access. In addition, there are the less obvious methods to make the workplace safer such as conducting background checks prior to hiring employees to ensure that you are not hiring anyone who has previously been fired for an incident of workplace violence. You can also prevent incidents of workplace violence by engaging in progressive discipline. This helps ensure that your employees who engage in violence are warned and penalized when they engage in such inappropriate behavior. This shows that the employer has taken the necessary steps to admonish the employee for their actions rather than just sweeping it under the rug. This can protect the employer from any claims of negligent retention.

b. Reaction to workplace violence

The first thing you can do is create and publicize a plan to identify and manage

actions related to workplace violence, to include workplace threats. Plan scope should define behaviors to be identified, evaluated, managed, and monitored. Next, the supervisor can familiarize the organization with the company's policies, especially the avenger and angry lover risk types, the warnings signs, and major players to address and resolve workplace violence. Then he or she may decide to form a specific workplace violence response team.

In an article titled, "Forming a violence response team" (HR Focus, Aug 1995), Dr

Charles E. Labig describes how this team can work. Dr. Labig states, "This team's mandate is to gather facts about a potentially violent situation, decide if the company should intervene and, if so, identify the most appropriate method of doing so. The team develops a course of action to resolve any threats of violence, while protecting potential victims."Dr. Labig9 suggests the following steps to address a potentially violent situation:

Conduct a risk assessment designed to gather data and determine if a person represents enough of a risk to engage the team and its resources.

Develop an initial action plan which includes the activation of the team and other appropriate resources to review the information gathered and determine what further information is needed or steps to be taken.

Defusing the individual or stress interaction (two people, or an individual in a

particular situation) is the next step. Referrals may also be appropriate for medical, employee assistance, grievance, security or other support services.

Reevaluate initial information and action steps for further intervention planning.

Assign members to consult with appropriate experts, review security processes, and establish privacy protection and communications procedures.

Set time frames for follow-up actions. Included here would be a critical incident

stress debriefing, or trauma counseling as the situation dictates following a violent incident.

5. CONCLUSION

Workplace violence is an extremely sad and sickening subject. Violence in general has gone completely out of control over the past years. It is fed to us daily by newspapers, Internet, radio, and especially on television. The news is a feeding ground for violence; people are shown violence everyday it is becoming part of our culture and we are prone to it. We constantly see these acts everyday so we imitate them thinking it is ok to unleash our angry on others.