• Nineteen of every 20 workplace violent incidents were aggravated or simple assault.
• Males were victimized at a rate 56 percent higher than females.
• Interestingly, violent crime in the workplace actually declined 44 percent during the study period; however, there was a slight increase in workplace homicides from 2004 to 2005.
Statistically speaking, the DOJ's seven-year research project (concluded in 1999) produced the following profile of the most commonly occurring workplace violence/crime. Does the rundown which follows agree with your preconceived notion of the players and settings of workplace violence?
By compiling all of their data and slicing and dicing it every which way, the Department of Justice concluded the most victimized worker was a divorced or single white male from a Southern state, aged 20 to 34. The offense (commonly an assault), most likely perpetrated by an unarmed white male offender, occurred most often between the hours of noon and 6:00 p.m. (the height of the workday). Some 77 percent of the victims offered no physical resistance to the crime resulting in 88 percent of those same victims not requiring any significant medical treatment. In 40 percent of the cases, workplace violence victims were acted upon by a casual acquaintance.
This important study has taught us that, for private companies, the most frequently occurring violent events do not generally support the R-Rated Hollywood version where we are helpless against the inevitable attacks of revenge-seeking workplace psychopaths. As you'll learn, businesses don't need special equipment like body-length police shields and automatic weapons to protect their work family or customers. Awareness, the power of keen observation and gut-level instinct, great policies that your staffs can support, training, a reliable response plan, strong supervisors and hiring practices that do all they can to diminish the threat of incoming violence, are the resources that companies need most.
The 'Violence Vibe' — Warning Signs
This is an appropriate spot to remind you of what today's psychologists and counselors tell us to look for when we start picking up on a "Violence Vibe." Violence rarely happens in a vacuum; there are almost always warning signs of some type. Most workers use humor to disguise any fear or discomfort they feel about a co-worker who appears to be struggling with some invisible torment. There are always plenty of jokes when people get nervous. Normally, that's a fairly healthy response when you are unsure of a threat. Just don't wait until the joke's on you. If you see something strange going on or if someone's behavior is really out of character, act quickly. Take everything seriously including the reports of others. React, especially with new hires. Create the ejection before any roots take hold.
When necessary, be the hardworking detective with good eyes, ears and the ever-present notepad and watch for the following signs:
• Are you hearing or seeing comments or new interest in weapons, death or other violent situations?
• Does this person of concern have a history of violence or conflicts with authority?
• Do you and possibly others suspect an alcohol or drug problem — or both?
• Does this person ever exhibit paranoia, depression or bizarre behavior?
• Has there been a significant change in their work behavior or work status?
• Any recently declined claims, loss of promotion, failed lawsuits?
• Recent occurrence of major stress or family problems (divorce, break-up, health, personal loss, etc?)
• Obsession (romantic or hate-filled) with another person or employee?
• The holding of an eternal grudge?
An Ethical Imperative?
Workplace violence is generally viewed as a social problem — one that requires complex, long-term interventions. As owners and managers, you have obligations to meet. Fortunately, there are some practical management options that can be used to contain this social ill. As noted before, the ultimate responsibility is that of owners and top-line supervisors. To those wearing that heavy crown, the following few sentences fall under the often-despised "easier said than done" convention. These words never fail to nag and frustrate owners but, as burdensome as they are, they remain unavoidable and essentially true. First, acts of workplace violence, like accidents, are mostly preventable. It is not a cost of doing business. Secondly, as an owner of a staffed business, it is your duty — some might say your ethical imperative — to ensure your employees (and customers) are not placed in assignments or environments that compromise their safety or security.