Workplace Violence: Awareness, Prevention, and Response
Bruce, Mary D., Nowlin, William A., Public Personnel Management
Twelve places of employment; Electric Picture Company in Nashville, TN, City Core Supply in Chicago, IL, Andover Industries in Andover, OH, MBNA America in Wilmington, DE, Golf Leaf Nursery in Boynton Beach, FL, Marriott Hotel in Huntsville, AL, City Hall in New York City, Century 21 Real Estate Office in San Antonio, TX, Verizon Wireless in San Angelo, TX, Lockheed Martin Plant in Meridian, MI, Modine Manufacturing in Jefferson City, MO, and Albertsons Grocery Store in Irvine, CA; shared a common phenomenon during a two month period in 2003. At each workplace, an employee or customer/client was either killed or wounded by a co-worker, former co-worker, customer or client of the organization. These incidents of workplace violence occurred in small businesses and large organizations, a variety of industries, in small towns and large cities, in the public sector and the private sector. Examples of the incidents are as follows:
* an employee opened fire at Labor Ready Inc, a temporary employment service in Huntsville, Alabama, killing four fellow job-seekers and wounding a fifth,
* an employee of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Meridian, Mississippi, left a company ethics seminar, retrieved a rifle and shotgun and returned to work, killing six coworkers and wounding eight others before committing suicide,
* an employee of Windy City Core Supply warehouse in Chicago, IL where he was fired six months before, killed six former co-workers, and
* an employee of a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City, Missouri, shot eight people, three fatally, before killing himself in front of the city's police headquarters. (1)
Each of these incidents reflects the interpersonal aspect of the violent act. In most cases, the violence results from a dispute between people that can build to a level that expands beyond the original problem. Additional incidents illustrate the nature, as well as the continuation of the phenomena. (2) For example, 21-year old Elijah Brown walked onto the job at ConAgra Food, Inc., a meat-processing plant, killed five coworkers, wounded two others, and then killed himself. Colleagues say Brown had been teased and harassed on a continuous basis. During his employment, he fought with his co-workers over a pallet jack and was subsequently disciplined for his behavior. This disciplinary action may have contributed to his anger that resulted in his violent actions. (3)
The U.S. Postal Commission reported that 5% of American workers were physically assaulted in 1999. (4) The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that homicide was a serious form of workplace violence and the second leading cause of death in American workplaces. (5) Less severe forms of workplace violence, such as pushing and shoving, occurred at a greater frequency, with approximately 18,000 individuals assaulted at work each week in this country. (6) These statistics provided support that workplace violence should be a real concern of all organizations, especially those with a large number of employees or deal with the public on a regular basis. While both employees and customers/clients have a need and a right to feel safe in these environments, the existence of an organizational policy on workplace violence has not found to reduce or eliminate these negative situations.
A study on workplace violence is important to determine if having policies on workplace violence that relate to: (a) concerns of organizations, (b) use of pre-employment selection tools, (c) "zero tolerance" nature of workplace violence policies, (d) pre-incident practices, (e) provision of training, and (f) post incident behaviors of respondent organizations are proactive strategies that can reduce incidents of workplace violence. Understanding the importance of policies on workplace violence can help employers become proactive in minimizing these actions, instead of reactive after the incident has occurred.
Review of Literature
Workplace violence includes threatening behaviors, verbal abuse and physical assault. In any given week about 20 workers are murdered in the United States. (5) Such magnitudes of workplace violence call for an immediate understanding and addressing of this complicated issue, its causes, and possible solutions so as to make places of work safer and smarter.
The National Safe Workplace Institute (NSWI, Chicago, IL), the National Safety Management Society (NSMS, Weaverville, NC) and the Workplace Violence Research Institute (WVRI, Newport Beach, CA) define workplace violence as verbal or physical threatening or harming of an employee or client/customer of an organization by another employee, client/customer or member of the general public. In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a similar definition that asserts that workplace violence is physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse that occurs in the workplace. Workplace is defined as any permanent or temporary location where employees perform work-related duties. 5 Physical assault, the culmination of threat and abuse, is the most serious form of violence and occurs more often in banks, security services, corner stores and fast food outlets. However, places and occupations, such as urban transit, health care, social work, and teaching, which were once considered safe, have experienced increases in workplace violence.
Many internal and external factors, including socioeconomic conditions, problems related to drug and alcohol abuse, layoffs, dictatorial workplaces, stress over job security, and domestic problems, are leading causes of workplace violence. People responsible for workplace violence policies need to be aware of the types of workplace violence and include them in their policies. For example, workplace violence has been categorized as: (a) criminal intent, (b) customer/client, (c) worker-on-worker, and (d) personal relationship. (7) Criminal intent (Type I) exists when a perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and generally occurs in conjunction with a crime. This type of workplace violence is considered random and occurs most often in stores and banks and is seldom seen in manufacturing or professional organizations. Customer/Client (Type II) exists when an offender has a legitimate relationship to the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. This type of workplace violence can occur in legal offices when a client is unhappy with the outcomes of a lawsuit or in a brokerage firm when a client has been given bad advice and lost money as a result. Worker-on-Worker (Type III) exists when an employee or prior employee attacks or threatens another employee or prior employee in the workplace. This type of workplace violence often occurs when disputes arise in the workplace between employees or between supervisors and subordinates. Employees who have lost their jobs because of some type of altercation with another person within the organization may come back and become violent. This type of workplace violence appears to be the most prevalent. The last, Personal Relationship (Type IV) exists when an individual does not have a relationship with the organization, but has a relationship with an employee who is the target of the violence. For example, if an employee is having domestic problems or conflicts with others who are not associated with the organization, his/her significant other may enter the workplace and become violent with that employee. Often the problems involved with the violent outburst have nothing to do with the organization. The development of policies should include contingent plans to manage these four types of workplace violence.
According to Kinney, executive director of the National Safe Workplace Institute (NSI), current and future generations of workers are expected to have decreased emotional maturity, …
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Publication information: Article title: Workplace Violence: Awareness, Prevention, and Response. Contributors: Bruce, Mary D. - Author, Nowlin, William A. - Author. Journal title: Public Personnel Management. Volume: 40. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2011. Page number: 293+. © 2009 International Personnel Management Association. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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