In reaction to whatever the latest episode of workplace violence might be, many companies try to minimize the risk of violence by drafting a Zero Tolerance Policy for acting out behaviors and by presenting a laundry list of behaviors that may indicate potential for violent behavior. Most ZTPs are placed on the company internal webpage with little or no explanation and distributed for a signature confirmation never requiring any level of confirmation of understanding language or content.

The laundry list presented describes a typical workplace malcontent as a cloistered, middle-aged white male who feels that his job and financial well-being are in danger. Facing another disappointment or failure at work, he senses that his career is slipping away as is his self-esteem. He also believes that he is not to blame. Rather, it's the supervisor who gives him poor assignments or doesn't appreciate his hard work; it's his co-workers who get all the credit and make demeaning comments about him; it's the human resources director who is out to get him. Employees are advised to look out for the early signs of potential trouble, such as a co-worker who is short-tempered, argumentative and uncooperative. At the disturbing extreme, behaviors such as fighting, making threats, and menacing displaying a weapon should be considered red flags of imminent danger.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) response to the problem of workplace violence in certain industries has been the production of OSHA's guidelines and recommendations to those industries for implementing workplace violence prevention programs. All employees should know how to recognize and report incidents f violent, intimidating, threatening, and disruptive behavior. All employees should have phone numbers for quick reference during a crisis or an emergency.

In addition, workplace violence prevention training for all employees should include the following topics:

  • Agency's workplace violence policy.
  • Encouragement to report incidents and the procedures to do so.
  • Ways of preventing or defusing volatile situations or aggressive behavior.
  • Ways to deal with hostile persons.
  • Managing anger.
  • Techniques and skills to resolve conflicts.
  • Stress management, relaxation techniques, wellness training.
  • Security procedures, e.g., the location and operation of safety devices such as alarm systems.
  • Personal security measures.
  • Programs operating within the agency that can assist employees in resolving conflicts, e.g., the Employee Assistance Program, mbudspersons, alternative dispute resolution, and mediation.

In addition to the training suggested above for employees, special attention should be paid to general supervisory training. The same approaches that create a healthy, productive workplace can also help prevent potentially violent situations. It is important that supervisory training include basic leadership skills such as setting clear standards, addressing employee problems promptly, and using the probationary period, performance counseling, discipline, and other management tools conscientiously. These interventions can keep difficult situations from turning into major problems. Supervisors do not need to be experts in dealing with violent behavior but need to know which experts to call, and be committed and willing to seek advice and assistance from those experts.

Some Recommendations

The following are areas that should be included in supervisory training:

  • Ways to encourage employees to report incidents in which they feel threatened for any reason by anyone inside or outside the organization.
  • Skills in behaving compassionately and supportively towards employees who report incidents.
  • Skills in taking disciplinary actions.
  • Basic skills in handling crisis situations.
  • Basic emergency procedures, including who to call and what support resources and services are available.
  • Appropriate screening of pre-employment references.
  • Basic skills in conflict resolution.

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