Protective Measures

Workplace violence expert offers tips on taming rage during tough times.

rage_navigation.gif
Learn practical strategies for combatting rage in the workplace:

arrow.gif
Rage in the

1pixclear.gif
Workplace
1pixclear.gif

arrow.gif
Threat Assessment
1pixclear.gif

arrow.gif
Prevention Checklist

WEB EXCLUSIVES:
arrow.gif
Protective Measures
1pixclear.gif

arrow.gif
Firing Procedures
1pixclear.gif
Checklist
1pixclear.gif

arrow.gif
Additional
1pixclear.gif
Resources

Times are tough all over. But with managers so caught up with having to juggle increasing business demands on shrinking budgets, it could be easy for them to overlook a less-obvious effect of the economic downturn: the potential for violence that could be silently brewing among their stressed-out employees.
Joseph Dadourian, a workplace psychologist and employee assistance program provider in Los Angeles, recently spoke with Computerworld's Melissa Solomon about strategies managers can take to protect themselves from violence in the workplace.

Q: As the economy continues to churn, businesses everywhere are slashing major initiatives; crimping salaries, bonuses and perks; feeling pressure from disappointed stockholders -- even turning to mass layoffs. Are such factors likely to spark violence in the workplace?
Dadourian:
There's a difference between cause and a trigger. If someone is already stressed out or has severe difficulties, these are the kinds of things that could trigger violence. They don't cause it. The people who act out violence have gotten to a point where they don't care about anything.
These things could be another sign that everything is wrong. But to say, "If we never have layoffs, we'll never have workplace violence" is an [oversimplification]. They can be triggers.
I would be concerned as a manager that whenever we have changes in the workplace, that we're sensitive to employees' behavior.

Q: Can you offer any advice to managers about how they can handle layoffs without creating a climate of violence and hostility?
Dadourian:
There have been a number of companies that handled layoffs where the employees didn't feel as though they were personally assaulted by the company. When it came time for layoffs, there were no surprises. Everyone knew about it [because managers had kept them apprised of the company's financial situation all along and had prepared them for the fact that there might be layoffs]. So it's important to be honest with your staff.

Q: But can't warnings of pending layoffs prolong the fear and anxiety felt by staff, sometimes unnecessarily, if it turns out in the end that they're not needed?
Dadourian:
That is a danger. You're thinking, "Is it going to be me?" And until they call the all-clear drill, everybody is on pins and needles.
But what [companies] can do is increase the sensitivity of management on how to deal with employees during these times through training and referrals to employee assistance programs.
But it's also important to remember that people might not be shattered by layoffs. People don't go work for a company their entire lives. At one time, companies wanted dependent employees. Then they wanted independent employees. Now we need to reach a need for an interdependent employee: "I will do the best I can, keep my skills up, you will employ me as long as it's a win-win situation."

Q: Stress, frustration and conflict can be found in almost any workplace, particularly in difficult times such as these. How serious should workplace conflicts be taken?
Dadourian:
In any relationship, there's going to be conflict. I think the issue is how it's expressed. And maintaining professionalism. You don't like someone's idea, you don't attack them. How do people learn to interact with each other? They don't always have the best role models. So I think companies need to invest in team-building trainings where they're not just focused on the hard skill sets, but the soft skills -- how do you interact with each other?

Q: If, despite his precautions, a manager senses that a worker may potentially become violent, what can he do to protect himself and his employees?
Dadourian:
People who become violent, you'll see previolent indicators: changes in their performance, changes in the way they interact with others and changes in their basic traits. Track them, and let them know about the employee assistance program.
The company should have a violence-in-the-workplace policy. It should have a "Who Do I Call?" [emergency resource list]. You can contact your local sheriff's department or hospital to see if they have a crisis program to assess potentially violent people or situations. It's like a fire. Hopefully, we'll never have a fire, but you want to know there's a fire drill.
You want to have the same policy with violence. Violence is a trend. It can happen anywhere. So you want to be prepared, to know what to do. Just like you do out here in California with earthquakes.

Q: What should managers look out for in assessing whether an employee might have the potential for violence?
Dadourian:
Violence is never just a person freaks out and shoots somebody. It could start with words, it could start with glares. It could show itself in someone exhibiting lots of frustration and changes. Then it gradually builds from there, and when you see the buildup, you identify it with the employee and you intervene.
Typically, when we see violence or previolent indicators, we shy away. We don't want to reinforce the behavior. But that's the wrong approach. You want to acknowledge it. You want to hold them accountable for it.
Changes in employees can range from illnesses, stomachaches, headaches to overreactive behavior, gloom and doom, depression. Their thinking is negative: "They're after me." They feel persecuted.

Q: So paranoia is generally a sign of a potentially violent person?
Dadourian:
I don't like to use that word. The reason is "paranoid" is a judgment -- no one likes to hear they're paranoid.
More concrete signs are strained work relationships. There's a lot of isolation that goes on. There's veiled threats: "People better watch out, I'm going to get them." From there, the manager needs to intervene.
These people don't make it fun to work. People are afraid of them. And the manager needs to act. The manager needs to help this individual. This is a stressed individual.
I abhor violence. But I want people to understand that when people get to an act of violence, they are desperate. If I came into your office and I was bleeding, what would you do? You would help me. But if I came into your office yelling at you, what would you do? Chances are, you would walk away. Don't ignore the stuff. There's a way of dealing with it.

Q: What should a violence-prevention plan contain?
Dadourian:
First, it has to have a code of conduct that there's a zero tolerance for violent behavior. Then it must define violent behavior. Then it should list what measures to take if violence shows itself.
It would have in there some kind of chain of command: who to call and to notify.

Q: Is a formal workplace violence-prevention program really necessary? I mean, isn't much of this common sense for people with strong people and leadership skills?
Dadourian:
In heightened emotion, common sense goes out the window. Unless you're trained in this stuff, unless you're used to making these critical decisions under heightened emotions, common sense won't work. Fear, stress, someone's being yelled at -- you just can't depend on that person. You put somebody in a pressure cooker, and you can't predict how they're going to act.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon