By Kit Goldman
Preventing Workplace Violence through Training
Imagine one of your managers is dealing with a difficult employee, Jeff. Jeff was a great employee for a while—even employee of the month—but lately, there have been performance issues.
A meeting is scheduled with Jeff, who shows up 20 minutes late with his usual “I was stuck in traffic” kind of excuses. Jeff has already been given verbal warnings about lateness, missed deadlines, errors, and hostile behaviour toward co-workers. However, he’s also going through a divorce, custody issues, and financial problems. Your manager doesn’t want to pile on more problems, but she’s responsible for the department’s bottom line. Unfortunately, she’s going to have to write Jeff up.
When Jeff is told that he’s getting a written warning, he gets hostile, agitated. Suddenly, Jeff and his manager are in each other’s face. He accuses his manager of ignoring harassment and bullying by other employees who have it in for him. It’s true; the manager has witnessed some demeaning comments about Jeff’s ethnicity, rumours about his sexual orientation, and references to some snarky social media postings about him. But these comments and jokes didn’t seem all that serious to her, plus they involved some of the company’s top producers. She couldn’t rock their boat.
As the manager listens to Jeff, she tries to be sympathetic, but reminds Jeff that everyone has personal problems and these problems should be left at the door when you come to work. She suggests that everyone can use some “toughening up.”
Jeff gets very calm and says, “Yeah, don’t worry about it then. I’ll do what I need to do.” The manager takes that as assurance.
In the Workplace Training Network’s online Workplace Violence Prevention course, available on The SafetyNET, this exact scene plays out. What do you think? If you were to witness an interaction like this, would you think the manager handled things well? Would you say the manager has received effective training in how to handle the issues that arose? Are your employees equipped to handle situations like this?
An analysis of three important competencies in your employees can allow you to measure the effectiveness of your company’s training on workplace violence:
- Their awareness of how harassment and bullying can pose risks
- Their commitment to respectful conduct
- Their knowledge of the warning signs of violence and what to do if they occur
Without these competencies, when workplace violence incidents occur, people often say they didn’t see it coming. Upon further investigation, warning signs almost always emerge that those people missed, or chose to ignore. The problem is that, when employees lack training, people commonly think of workplace violence only as physical assault. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), workplace violence is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted at work. Therefore, employees should be trained to be aware of:
- Threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, destroying property, or throwing objects
- Verbal or written threats, which include any expression of an intent to inflict harm
- Harassment, which is any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms, or verbally abuses and that is known to be or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities of a similar nature
- Verbal abuse such as insults, swearing, or condescending language
- Physical attacks such as hitting, shoving, pushing, or kicking
When these warning signs are witnessed, most people don’t need training to have their internal alarm systems go off. But, without training, obstacles to action may arise when those alarms sound, such as:
- Aversion to conflict
- Discomfort with emotion
- Lack of knowledge or confidence regarding policies and procedures
- Perceived lack of time for “non-bottom line” issues
- Desire to stay out of others’ personal business
- Fear of snitching
- Fear of retaliation
How many of these obstacles did you notice in the manager’s interaction with Jeff? If the manager had received proper training, the scene would have looked a lot different. Now it’s up to you to decide: if the same situation arose in your workplace, how would you want your managers to react?