One of the problems with workplace violence and abuse is that it often goes unreported. But don't let fear and misinformation keep you and your coworkers from reporting workplace violence and abuse every time it happens. The effects of workplace violence and abuse can range from physical and emotional injuries to residual stress on families and the community. Employers, too, suffer in terms of lost productivity and poor retention. The company also sets itself up for developing a reputation as an unsafe work environment and a place where consumers don’t want to bring their business.
One of the reasons that workplace violence and abuse often go unrecognized and unaddressed is that the victims, witnesses and sometimes even perpetrators are unaware that abuse is going on. Part of the problem is that acts that are referred to as "bullying" or "harassment" may not be taken as seriously. However, all of these terms essentially boil down to one definition: any action that causes harm to a worker on any level is abusive. A boss ignoring questions, mockery, unfair assignment of tasks, derogatory remarks, threats of assault and actual physical attacks all are considered workplace violence or abuse. Many people think that only physical violence itself is a crime, but that isn't so.
Workplace violence and abuse can be caused by a complex interplay of factors. Workers might be subject to violence from intruders including would-be robbers, angry customers, personal contacts or supervisors. Bosses are subject to violence from the same sources. Some of the clearer causes, however, stem from conditions at work. For example, stress, reduced hours, financial difficulties and regular criticism can be clear signs your workplace may be at risk of violence. Disputes or ongoing hostilities between employees or allusions to violence should always be taken seriously.
Workplace violence and abuse can take a serious toll on many fronts. For sure, the victims of violence or abuse can experience anything from irritation and alienation to severe emotional trauma, physical injury or even death. Witnesses, perpetrators and families can be similarly affected emotionally by stress, grief or even violence if they get involved. Volatile situations can translate into tension for everyone at the workplace. The business can also be affected financially by increased insurance costs, lawsuits, decreased productivity and by damage to its image and reputation. Workplace violence and abuse can put companies out of business.
Companies need mechanisms in place to deal with violence and abuse. This includes a clearly written policy and tools to combat violence and abuse. For example, workplace counselors and dispute management teams give employees a place to bring concerns. Workers should be trained on what workplace violence and abuse are and how it should be dealt with. There should be a universally understood policy for responding to and reporting violence and abuse. Although it probably can’t be prevented altogether, some of the steps you take to prevent it can help to stop incidents before they get started.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."