Many working professionals have experienced violence in the workplace - either directly or indirectly. But do you realize how pervasive, and detrimental it can be to a working environment? Below are some shocking statistics provided by OSHA that explain just how significant this problem really is.
- 18,000 workers are victims of nonfatal workplace assaults every week
- Homicide is the second leading cause of death on the job, second only to motor vehicle crashes.
- Homicide is also the leading cause of death for workers under 18 years of age.
- 71% of workplace homicides are robbery-related crimes, with only 9% committed by coworkers or former coworkers.
- 76% of all workplace homicides are committed with a firearm
- An average of 20 workers are murdered each week in the United States
Okay so clearly we have a pretty big problem in the United States with managing violence at work. But the real question is, what can you actually do about it? Below is a basic outline for recognizing and effectively diffusing hostility at work – before it's too late.
KNOW THE SIGNS
There are four basic warning signs of escalating behavior before people become violent, applicable at work and at home. The earlier you can recognize this pattern, the more likely you will be able to diffuse the situation successfully. Have you noticed this pattern of emotions in a coworker, customer, or even a friend?
- Hostility / Aggression
It is important to address escalating behavior safely and quickly. If done well, it is possible to prevent violent situations before they arise. Below are basic tips for how to identify these increasingly aggressive states, and what to do if you see it happening around you. Please remember that it is always most important to protect your personal safety first, and the safety of those around you second.
Sign #1 – Confusion
Confusion can arise for any number of reasons, and isn't really a violent emotion on it's own. Here are a few examples of people who may be feeling confused:
- A worker's boss didn't give clear orders, and now they don't know what they are supposed to be doing
- A customer doesn't understand what an employee is telling them to do
- A coworker isn't following proper procedures, but doesn't realize what they are doing wrong and is being scolded
Most people would feel confused in these situations. But how can you tell if their confusion is leading to an aggressive mentality? If someone who is confused is asking questions and trying to fix their mistakes or find a solution, this person is not being threatening. However, if they begin to get frustrated, things may continue to escalate.
If you notice someone who is confused and verging on frustration, you can try to help them. If you know what your coworker is doing to get scolded, you can explain what the manager is upset about. This will stop their confusion in its tracks and allow the person to correct their mistakes before they get frustrated. Offering the information they need is the best way to help diffuse confusion.
Sign #2 – Frustration
It is impossible to help every single coworker you have when they are confused, so there will be times when people spiral into being frustrated when their confusion goes unnoticed and unresolved. Frustration is a natural emotion, and it is very okay for people to feel this way when they don't understand what to do in a given situation. Consider our examples as they escalate
- The worker doesn't know what to do, and gets frustrated because they don't know how to be productive and feel like they are wasting time
- The customer doesn't know what is going on, and doesn't know what behavior to change to make the employee calm down
- Your coworker is being scolded, but can't figure out what they are doing wrong
If you are trying to help reduce a customer or coworkers frustration, remember the cause of this emotion is often when a they do not understand the problem, or they do not see a clear solution. The best way to handle someone who is frustrated depends on their personality, but it usually works to optimistically help people arrive at a solution. Once the solution is clear, their frustration should die down. But if your coworker or customer is targeting you instead of owning their confusion and frustration, you may be in for even further escalation.
Sign #3 – Blame
If you have attempted to help someone find a solution, but they begin to blame everyone but themselves about the issue, you have some work to do to diffuse the situation. Or maybe you didn't notice the situation before, but by this point it is probably pretty clear that something is going on around you. Consider our examples:
- The frustrated worker starts openly complaining his boss. He says (rather loudly) that his boss is bad at his job, and blames him for the project not going smoothly
- The customer can't figure out what is happening, and decides the problem is the employee. The customer raises their voice a bit, telling the employee they are incompetent and that they want to talk to a different person.
- Your coworker verbally complains about the person who trained him, and blames him for not doing a good enough job. He reasons that it is their fault that he doesn't know what to do.
Do any of these sound familiar? This is a classic step in the progression to anger and violence. But what now? Stepping in and pointing their fingers back around probably won't go over very well, and we definitely don't recommend doing that.
A strong approach is to allow the person to make their (possibly inaccurate) claims, and then give them the opportunity to take a break. This could mean inviting your coworker to get a snack, asking them help you with something in another room, distracting them with anything other than the situation at hand to break the cycle of escalation. Usually if you are able to divert someone's attention, the situation dismisses itself. However, if you are unable to change their train of thought, this next sign is where you must consider your personal safety above all else.
Sign #4 – Anger
"Well that escalated quickly!" We've all seen it happen at least once. Everything seems fine, and then all at once a person goes from a little frustrated to burning with anger. Maybe they start yelling. Pushing the person closest to them. Perhaps they have a weapon and threaten to use it. This is where situations go from manageable to out of control in only a few moments.
Your top priority should always be your personal safety if a coworker is angry to the point of physical aggression. You have many options for what to do in these situations, but it is always a safe bet to remove yourself from the situation and seek help from an authority figure if you feel uncomfortable. This is usually the best option, because the angry person is probably not going to listen to you when you try to calm them down. Instead, find someone they will listen to, such as a boss, site manager, or any other respected authority figure. And don't forget, in the modern workplace you can do this by just sending them a text!
Sign #5 – Hostility / Aggression
Worst case scenario is where this cycle reaches its peak. Hostility, aggression, and physical violence have taken over. At this point, it is absolutely essential to protect yourself from harm. Know your safety procedures at the office and follow protocols as directed by your safety managers. These situations explain why it is important to know how you are expected to deal with emergencies at work. If you are unsure of what you would do in any of these situations, we highly recommend you go to your manager and ask them to review safety in the workplace for your team.
Violence at work is a massive issue in the US. Be part of the solution by recognizing escalating behavior, and diffusing situations before it is too late. Above all else, make sure you are safe in your working environment and that you know what to do in case of emergency.
From our team to yours,
Julia Farrell @ Wryker Construction Supply Co.