Forewarned is Forearmed: Dealing with the Cycle of Violence in the Workplace

I was recently delivering a Workplace Violence Prevention workshop for a municipal client of ours.
It was an especially important session because I was reminded of the critical need for employees to share information regarding safety concerns with each other, and the risk that is created when they do not.
And so, I’m going to share this session with you…
All of the participants in this workshop were aquatic staff from a local recreation centre.
During our training, we discussed why their employer had created a Zero Tolerance Policy with respect to workplace violence. Most organizations have (or should have) a similar philosophy that is aimed at protecting their staff.
Have you heard of ‘The Escalating Circle of Violence?’ I ask because it is a main concept behind the importance of a zero tolerance policy.
If you have heard of this term, you’ve probably heard it associated with partner relationships in which the victim and the aggressor remain in a vicious pattern of behaviour. This abusive or aggressive behaviour follows a cyclical journey within the relationship where the level of behaviour often increases, as the aggressor is not held accountable for his/her actions.

You may not have associated this with workplace relationships, but think about any work environment where employees deal with the public (as in our aquatic example).
In those situations, the victim is the employee and the aggressor is the member of the public. However, unlike the domestic situation, the aggressor remains the same person, while the victim does not.
Oftentimes, the employee has never met or seen the aggressor before to establish a pattern of behaviour, and the scenario runs the risk of being treated as a ‘one-off.’
The philosophy behind a Zero Tolerance policy (as the name implies) is one in which an appropriate response is applied to hold the person accountable for their behaviour in this first instance. Thus, removing any ambiguity for employees as to whether (or how) they should respond—the employer is making a statement of their intent to provide a safe workplace for their employees.
However, the policy’s effectiveness relies on the adequate training of the employees, in order for them to understand their rights and responsibilities.
But even this is no guarantee, as we are all human and therefore have different perspectives on how standard responses should be implemented— thus resulting in inconsistent responses.
And with inconsistent responses regarding aggressive behaviour from the public, comes possible risk.
Let’s go back to the pool…
During the workshop, a discussion began regarding a particular patron who had been involved in a situation with an employee. As the employee described the person and their behaviour, another employee called out that he too had dealt with that person…then another employee chimed in…then another.
Within a few moments, it was established that within the room of 25 participants, seven different employees had dealt with the same patron.
Even more troubling, as each employee described the situation they found them self in, the patron’s behaviour appeared to get more confrontational and aggressive.
I asked each employee what he or she had done about the situation—did anyone document it? Report it?
Each one of them had dealt with the person’s behaviour as a ‘one-off’ since they had never met him before and had no information regarding any previous incidents involving him. They had essentially condoned his actions by having no response.
Each of them had then compounded the problem by not documenting the incident, which would have informed other employees about the patron and his potential behaviour. Having this knowledge ahead of time would have better prepared those future employees— forewarned is definitely forearmed.
Furthermore, at what point do we say, “enough is enough” and deny service to this person? He must learn there are consequences, right?
I reminded my trainees that, “it is not a RIGHT to use the recreational centre, it is a PRIVILEGE.”
And that privilege can be taken away if the patron does not behave appropriately and within the expected Code of Conduct.
However, none of this can happen if information is not shared.
The more we don’t respond with consequences and hold that person accountable for their behaviour, the worse it gets, possibly even resulting in the serious injury of an employee!
I’ll say it again: When we don’t document, when we don’t report things, it shows up as a RISK in the workplace.
And that could create culpability for the employee who remains silent or is just too busy (or lazy) to do the right thing.
Here is an example to illustrate this.
Furthermore, it also destroys all the positive intentions behind having a Zero Tolerance Policy in the first place.
It goes without saying (so I will say it) that organizations must have an effective system in place for any documented incidents shared amongst the other workers to provide them with the information of those past events, and what has happened as a result.
And writing incidents into a log which is then kept in a locked office is less than useless.
So, here are my two quick take-ways:

  1. Reinforce the importance of holding people accountable for their behaviour
  2. Reinforce the importance of reporting and documentation of incidents.

Stay safe out there!

SONAR leadership October


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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