Playing Nice in the Workplace

Workplace violence and conflict is probably much more common than you think. It goes beyond what we would consider to be a physical assault, and can include other acts such as bullying and intimidation. Statistics show that over 2 million workers a year are affected by workplace violence in North America alone, with many more cases not being reported for one reason or another.

In its broadest definition, workplace violence can be categorized as any behaviour that physically harms workers or makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Although there are many incidences of shoving, hitting, fist fights and even deaths, the vast majority of cases involve non-physical activities such as:

  • Bullying
  • Uttering threats
  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Verbal abuse
  • Harassment

Although many cases are reported, there are many more that never get exposed due to worker embarrassment or fear for their safety or the security of their job. These types of behaviours can also take place outside of work, at company events, over the phone and online.

What Prompts Workplace Violence?

What causes a person to ‘snap’ or to intimidate others? The type of personal conflict that results in violence or harassment on the job can be caused by any number of factors. For instance, someone who has a bad attitude or a controlling personality may simply be looking for the slightest excuse to start a fight, physical or otherwise, at any time. This can also be compounded by the nature of the industry worked within and the inherent stresses involved. There are no real rules when it comes to human behaviour, so it can be difficult to get a handle on it.

Sometimes though, the issues have nothing to do with work at all. Aside from individual personalities and potential job pressure, there are a variety of other contributing factors that can come into play. These range from alcohol and drug abuse and financial pressure, to strained personal relationships, contentious family circumstances, mental illness and fatigue. All can have a potentially negative affect on working relationships, and result in cases where conflict arises.

Prevention Is The Best Medicine

With all of the various factors that can cause incidences of workplace violence, and the different forms that it can come in, employers must approach the issue from a number of different angles. Unlike the preventative maintenance that you might apply to your equipment, the ‘human factor’ that applies to workers can be too unpredictable to effectively manage.

  • First and foremost, company management must fully commit to recognizing that workplace violence and harassment is a real issue and one that needs to be actively addressed. Employers have legal and moral obligations in this area and cannot simply turn a blind eye when incidences occur.
  • A formal, written policy that addresses workplace violence is normally necessary to help communicate company standards and to manage the overall process. How comprehensive this document needs to be will depend on the scope and scale of an employer’s operation. Items to consider including would be:
    • Defining all forms of workplace violence and harassment, including clear examples
    • Outlining what workers rights are, including regulatory standards
    • Clearly defining the company’s policies, levels of responsibility and protocols in the event of an incident
    • Employee training & communication
    • Incident reporting and follow-up
    • Specific company contacts responsible for policy development and management
    • Victim assistance and support considerations
  • Have a complete understanding of local, regional and national legislation as it relates to workplace violence. This will help to maintain compliance with regulatory standards and in the development of your own company policies.
  • Implement a pro-active conflict resolution program for specific worker incidences. It often is not good enough to simply ‘let them work it out’.
  • Always utilize best practices for HR management that includes employee screening and background checks, regular performance and teamwork reviews and decisive action if employees are suspected of, or have been proven to be, abusive in any way.
  • Depending on the nature of the business, utilize a buddy system so that workers are not isolated. Also ensure that the work environment is as ‘open’ as it can be visually, and that workers routinely check-in with supervisors throughout their shift.
  • Be sure to have enough in the way of security measures in-place to be able to manage active situations and to monitor the work environment on an ongoing basis. This would include providing adequate supervisory personnel, security staff where required and cameras for monitoring.

Taking workplace violence and harassment out of the shadows and confronting it head-on is the best way to reconcile differences and to prevent issues from arising in the first place.

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