How ready are you for workplace violence?

Of course I hope you never have to experience any, but there is no better way to prepare yourself than with education and training.

My business is dedicated to creating incredibly safer workplaces, and we provide services that focus on specific tried and true strategies.

We get hired to deliver organizational training by two types of clients: those who are providing training proactively before something happens, and those who are providing training as a result of something that has happened.

The training has likely been identified as something that, although legally required, had not actually taken place yet. I don’t know about you, but proactive training sounds like a better situation to be in…

In our training workshops, which we call ZERO Violence, we provide participants with incredibly useful information regarding the various types of behaviour that could, and should, give rise to an appropriate organizational response when they are identified.

Within the curriculum, we talk about the whole range of negative behaviour from persistent and annoying acts, all the way up the scale to criminal conduct.

Many times, we find that a good percentage of participants are ignorant to the types of behaviour that constitute criminal acts.

So let me go into a bit more detail in case you fall into this percentage…

The perpetrators of workplace violence are generally categorized into four different types based on their relationship to the workplace:

  1. Someone who has absolutely no connection with the organization,
  2. Someone who is internal to an organization, such as employees or former employees
  3. Someone who is external to an organization, such as individuals whose link is as a customer, client, patient, or other person to whom the organization provides a service
  4. Someone whose connection to the organization stems from a personal relationship with one of its members, such as an employee’s abusive intimate partner

Although no organization can prevent all incidents of physical assault, threats, harassment, intimidation, or bullying from occurring within the workplace, there are steps that organizations can take that may help to minimize the number of incidents that do occur.

These steps generally fall into two categories—strategies directed at mitigating threats from external sources (such as strangers, customers, clients, and individuals who have a personal relationship with an employee), and strategies directed at mitigating threats from internal sources (such as current and former employees).

Now let’s talk about what these strategies are.

To prevent workplace violence perpetrated by individuals’ external to the organization, strategies should include efforts to physically secure the workplace and to screen individuals who are allowed to enter the workplace.

Strategies to prevent workplace violence perpetrated by individuals internal to the organization are a bit more complex and should include:

  1. Fostering healthy organizational cultures that do not tolerate aggressive or violent behaviour
  2. Always completing appropriate preemployment background checks
  3. Training employees on workplace violence prevention, bullying, harassment prevention, and respectful workplace issues
  4. Resolving serious conflicts in the workplace before they escalate
  5. Administering human resource programs appropriately so as not to introduce undue stress into the workplace

We must also recognize that threatening behaviour may not always include incidents that involve physical force or a verbal threat, but it’s still behaviour that causes the affected individual to believe that they may be at risk for physical injury. Remember, these offenses can be subtle in their effect on everyone except the intended victim.

One such behaviour is stalking. In fact, the Criminal Code of Canada includes Section 264.1 that deals with this issue, also known as Criminal Harassment.

Employees need to be aware that this section of the Criminal Code can apply to situations where an employee is being stalked at work, or to situations where employment-related stalking follows the employee home all the way from the workplace.

The essential elements of criminal harassment within its definition focus on behaviour such as:

  • Repeatedly following a person
  • Repeatedly communicating with a person
  • Watching or besetting a person
  • Engaging in threatening conduct towards a person

Remember: Workplace violence doesn’t just restrict itself to the physical location where employees spend their time.

One of our activities within the Zero-Violence Workshop is to divide the participants into small groups and then provide them with a fictitious event. We ask the group to collectively agree on how they would respond to the event with the final question of: What Would You Do?

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During the debriefing of these ‘What Would You Do?’ scenarios, it’s very interesting (and sometimes extremely concerning) to hear the responses (or complete lack of a response) to a situation that doesn’t actually occur within the walls of their workplace.

But that’s the point of the exercise and it’s the facilitator’s role to guide and coach the participants on the various options that could and should be considered in response to their group’s particular scenario.

All of the scenarios that we discuss are hypothetical, however they are all based on reality—I should know, I wrote them! Some of them are based on situations we learn about from our client’s Human Resources staff, and sometimes they are pulled from the bank of situations that I have dealt with in my 35-year policing career—a sobering thought.

Making learning relevant, meaningful, interesting, and practical is our goal and when you deliver ANY training within your organization, it should be your goal as well.

After all, wouldn’t you rather be in the first group of our client-type: those who are providing education and training proactively before something happens?

I know I would.