Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Preventing Workplace Violence: The Violence Volcano Metaphor

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Preventing Workplace Violence: The Violence Volcano Metaphor

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Understanding how negative emotions build before erupting into a violent explosion can help minimize the risks of workplace violence by enabling organizational members to intervene before an event occurs. But most managers and employees do not know how to recognize early warning signs of possible violence (Anonymous, 2004). This paper uses the metaphor of a volcano building toward eruption to illustrate the manner in which an individual moves from an accepting posture to displays of violence. Suggestions are then made for intervening to reduce the "eruption point" or "boiling point" in organizational members who are likely to engage in aggressive behavior or even to "go postal." The volcano metaphor offers a unique, easy-to-understand approach to practicing managers and to academics who seek to prepare individuals for workplace realities.


Offshoring, outsourcing, reorganizing, reengineering, budget-cutting, downsizing, and just-in-time delivery are up, while job security, loyalty, dedication, staffing, and esprit de corps are down. Employees are under-titled, underutilized, underpaid, underappreciated, underemployed, and likely in danger of being unemployed. All these factors plus lean-and-mean manufacturing, illegal immigration, and the threats of mass disaster and terrorism (often on top of increasing mortgage payments and credit-card debt) cause employees to feel overworked, overstressed, overloaded, and maybe overwatched personally and electronically.

In these types of atmospheres, when work life imposes more stress than support, employees and managers can expect to face increasing incidents of interpersonal conflicts and workplace violence (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2002). Workplace violence - sometimes dubbed "going postal" in its most severe form - has become an unpleasant reality of the workaday world. Whether it occurs in conjunction with a separate crime, as a carryover from domestic or substance abuse problems, as a product of work-related changes such as those mentioned above, or as a result of a sick or toxic organization, the costs and consequences are truly significant and long lasting (Paul & Townsend, 1998). It is time, therefore, to train current and future organizational members to recognize how stress and anger build to a "boiling point" and erupt in the form of workplace violence unless intervention occurs.

The frequency of incidents and their subsequent cost is high enough to warrant serious attention by more than OSHA - company owners and top executives as well as business academicians need to get involved. The US Department of Labor's figure of over a thousand workplace deaths a year translates to an average of more than three persons dying at the workplace each and every workday of the year, not counting the innocent bystanders that are also affected (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005). Ten percent of all workplace fatalities in 2004 were homicides, not accidents (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005). Another federal agency, the US Department of Justice, reports that from 1993 to 1999 U. S. residents experienced 1.7 million violent victimizations annually while at work or while traveling to or from work, including 1.3 million simple assaults, 325,000 aggravated assaults, 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults, 70,000 robberies, and 900 homicides. Indeed, workplace violence accounted for 18% of all violent crime between 1993 to 1999 and is estimated to continue affecting over one million individuals annually (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006). An earlier survey, conducted by Northwestern National Life Insurance, revealed that 25 percent of all workers claim that they had been harassed, threatened, attacked, or otherwise endangered on their job that year. A full 15 percent claimed to have been attacked physically through such actions as pushing or shoving, slapping or hitting, at some point during their working lives. …

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