The scene unfolding on the news last week was unsettling as reporters again covered mass shootings in America. At least one of these tragedies has been identified as a workplace violence incident where the alleged perpetrator targeted people at his workplace. Unfortunately, no setting is immune from the threat of employee workplace violence, and employers must proactively consider what measures are needed to reduce violence risk.
What Is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence is “violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.” –OSHA
National data released in 2022 found workplace homicides increased by 11% between 2014- 2019, while 1.3 million nonfatal workplace violent events took place every single year during the same period. The factors surrounding these events are complex; some are a result of encounters with customers or the public, while others involve employees using violence to target their workplaces. It’s the latter scenario, where employees are perpetrators, which often generates uncertainty as employers seek best practices for workplace violence prevention and response.
Research suggests psychological warning signs often precede physical violence, but many employers do not have adequate policies to handle these situations, even when concerning behaviors are reported.
- 28% of United States workers report personally witnessing an aggressive interaction between coworkers
- 55% of HR professionals do not know whether their organization has a workplace violence prevention program.
Too often, organizations respond to adverse events or reports on an ad hoc basis rather than implementing a well-designed plan to address employee concerns.
What Can We Do?
Workplace violence rarely happens “out of the blue.” Given that individual and situational factors and behaviors often precede an escalation to aggression in the workplace, employers need to know how to respond when an employee seems in distress. The National Safety Council identifies possible warning signs for an employee who might be at risk for violence, including behavior changes, a decline in job performance, depression, withdrawal, suicidal comments, mood swings, paranoia, or highly emotional responses to criticism. No one warning sign alone suggests potential violence, but such actions can indicate an employee may be experiencing a psychological crisis and thus may respond to behavioral and workplace interventions implemented before the behavior can escalate. Proactive leadership in such efforts is critical, and organizations that prioritize workplace psychological support and safety are better equipped to reduce workplace violence risk and impacts while increasing positive employee behaviors and trust.
A thorough violence prevention plan is essential to reduce the risk of violence and protect employee safety. A well-developed plan will include components that speak to behavioral interventions, organizational culture, and physical security parameters. Axiom Medical is well-positioned to help your organization in these efforts. Please view our recent webinar, Rise of Workplace Shootings: What Are We Missing?, and check out our workplace behavioral health solution Tempo Live designed to maintain resilient and healthy employees and detect and respond to psychological distress before people reach a breaking point. We are ready to help you support the psychological health of your employees as you work to reduce the risk of employee violence within your organization.
Dr. Cherry is the Chief Medical Officer for Axiom Medical. He is an energetic physician executive with a passionate focus on health, human performance, and prevention. He is dual board certified in Occupational/Environmental Medicine and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is a distinguished fellow within the American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.