How To Deal With Abuse At Work

Here are some suggestions that they use in pharmacies…but they apply EVERYWHERE.
Any service that involves contact with the public presents some element of risk to employees.
Staff that work in any health-care related operation generally find themselves in a workplace that is high on the list of businesses where employee safety is a significant concern.
When we look at pharmacies as our example today, there are several risk factors that the staff working there need to be cognizant of, not least of which would be late night or 24-hour open hours, located in areas which experience higher than average crime levels, the presence of controlled substances, and the presence of cash.
Frontline staff in pharmacies often have to deal with rudeness and threats, making their work unpleasant and upsetting. For example, a customer who is irritable and has to wait in a lineup could take his or her anger or frustration out on staff. In the worst of cases, physical violence is involved. However, violence is not limited to the behaviour of patients or customers. Workplace violence can also involve the behaviour of other employees.
The potential for violence should be dealt with in two ways:

  1. Steps must be taken to prevent violence and, if violence does occur,
  2. Support must be given to minimize any harm that has been done.

Identifying problems

The first step in addressing the potential for conflict or abuse in the workplace is to find out whether or not there is a problem.
The workplace should have a system in place to record all incidents of violence, abuse and aggression and staff should be encouraged to report all incidents in order for an accurate risk assessment to be completed.
Sometimes, staff are reluctant to report incidents because they feel that it will either reflect badly on them or that nothing will be done anyway. They should however, be aware that abuse and threats from members of the public are totally unacceptable and are not part of their job and staff need to be reassured that if incidents are reported, action will be taken to ensure their safety.
In fact, just as the employer has a legal duty to go to reasonable lengths to protect staff, members of staff also have a duty to take reasonable care and act responsibly towards their own personal safety and health, for example, by reporting incidents.
Records should reflect all incidents, even if the abuse is only verbal. This is because even verbal abuse could result in an employee suffering stress, especially if the abuse is persistent.
The more detailed the report record, the easier it will be to identify patterns. For example, are there particular times when incidents occur such as lunchtime, when there are fewer staff around, or at night? These records could highlight the need to change working habits or point out that extra staff is required.
Taking action to improve safety
Having established the level of risk to staff, decisions should be made about how to ensure their safety. A policy needs to be in place so that the staff and the public are aware that threats, harassment, intimidation and other antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated and that all incidents will be taken seriously.
The policy needs to be more than just a piece of paper: it must be supported by action.
For example, if the pharmacy opens late or is 24-hours, steps must be taken to ensure the safety of staff either while they are at work or when travelling home late.
A number of factors, personal and environmental, can contribute to an interaction escalating and ending in violence. Both management and staff need to be aware of these factors.
Sometimes, simple measures can be taken in order to reduce the risk of an incident. For example, providing a more comfortable waiting area and accurate information about waiting times makes people less likely to lose their temper and become frustrated. Other preventative measures could include having sufficient staff on duty and adapting opening hours may help.
Safety policies should be supported by training whenever possible.
Staff should be made aware of what action to take if an incident occurs. For example, in what circumstances will the police be called? Training should include information about any zero-tolerance policy on threatening behaviour, abuse and/or violence.
Staff should also be trained to spot early signs of aggression and how to recognize unacceptable behaviour.
Examples of unacceptable behaviour that suggest the potential for violence include:

  • raised voice
  • shaking or clenched fists
  • hand chopping motions
  • prodding with fingertips or finger-pointing
  • excessive pacing
  • constant staring or
  • angry muttering

Recognizing the potential for violence allow staff to decide how they want to handle a situation early on. For example, they can choose to get help or to try to defuse a volatile situation themselves.

Tips for Dealing With Difficult Customers:

  1. Keep your responses under control and remain calm and friendly
  2. Avoid using either threatening language or body language
  3. Show understanding and especially empathy, i.e. tell them that you understand how they feel
  4. Take care not to patronize or belittle people
  5. Maintain eye contact
  6. Respect “personal space”
  7. Always focus on solutions rather than blame
  8. Stay in control and confront unacceptable behaviour assertively
  9. Do not hesitate to ask for help
  10. Always have an exit strategy prepared in case things go wrong


Tips for Safety:

  1. Make patients and customers aware of a zero tolerance policy for violence, i.e. Put up notices and signs
  2. Control access to work and employee areas
  3. Use coded security locks on doors to restrict access to staff areas
  4. Ensure the visitors at staff areas have identification and that they sign-in every time
  5. Ensure there is good lighting and visibility inside and outside the pharmacy
  6. Install security cameras such as panic buttons, alarm systems, two-way mirrors and surveillance cameras
  7. Ensure all staff know how to use the security devices effectively
  8. Keep keys on your person but never visible
  9. Provide adequate staffing, especially during late opening hours
  10. Provide escorts to parking lots or public transport to staff working late shifts
  11. Ask the local police department to make periodic visits
  12. Create coded messages the staff can use to request help or alert other staff to danger
  13. Ensure that workers who work alone have the means to get help immediately
  14. Use wide counters and raised floors on the staff side of the counter
  15. Make sure that you have a policy for what to do if an incident occurs i.e. Do your staff know when/how to call 911?

Hopefully this post has been useful for you since these suggestions and tips can be applied to every workplace…. not just pharmacies!