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:
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 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.
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.
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.