What the NFL can learn about a ZERO TOLERANCE Workplace Violence Policy

On my very first day of policing in Notting Hill in London, England, I was punched in the face by the suspect I had just arrested for robbery.
Back at the police station, the sergeant in the booking room took one look at my blood caked face and my now slightly irregular shaped nose and said “Welcome to policing Phil!”
Not one word was uttered by him about the potential of charging my robbery suspect with assaulting a police officer…..it was put down to being ‘part of the job’ at that time. At just what particular point would someone take an act of violence towards me seriously I wondered?
Fast forward to the recent headlines that made front page news about an incident which took place in the training locker room of the New York Jets when a teammate (not a complete stranger off the streets) punched the face of his team’s starting quarterback.

 Linebacker Ik Enemkpalli and Geno Smith

When a linebacker (Ik Enemkpali in this case) punches someone’s face (Geno Smith in this case), it doesn’t result in a bit of blood and a cracked nose. This punch broke the quarterback’s jaw and has put him out of the upcoming season for at least 10 weeks.

The team cut Enemkpali straight away from the team but the very next day, he was hired by the Buffalo Bills NFL team.   

The coach of that team, Rex Ryan, has a quote attributed to him regarding the New York locker room incident and his new hiring: Hey, it’s not perfect. Something happened. I think it’s an isolated incident. It’s not a major concern for me. I feel pretty good about our locker room.” 
When I first read that statement, all I saw was my booking room sergeant saying to me “Welcome to the NFL Phil.”
In the world of workplace violence prevention, organizations are encouraged to create a safer workplace for their staff, clients and customers by stressing the importance of the ‘zero tolerance policy.’
This essentially means that each act of aggression (be it a threatening statement, an act of intimidation or assaultive behaviour) is taken seriously.

Why a Zero Tolerance Policy?

  1. Firstly, it sends a huge message from the organization that they take very seriously their legal responsibility to create a safe workplace for their staff. Everyone knows that the organization has their back and is doing their level best to reduce or eliminate their risk to violence and this is one way to do it.
  2. Secondly, by having a ‘zero tolerance’ statement, no one has to try to figure out at what point they should report something or at what point they can expect the organization to react and respond. It’s dead simple. It’s ‘zero tolerance.’
  3.  We know from all of the research that has been conducted that situations are best dealt with at an early stage (before they grow into something more serious and dangerous).
  4. The threat is likely not to grow into the intimidation and the intimidation is likely not to grow into the violent act.
  5. A culture of safety is created and staff see that the organization takes the lesser situations just as seriously as more serious incidents.

That safety culture will also result in everyone in the organization taking on the role of an active participant in the program. It is not just the role of the boss or the safety committee members to make the workplace a safe place. We all have to be part of the solution.
However, this is something that just doesn’t happen on its own. It has to be fostered and supported from the top of the organization right through the ranks.
The point is, no one can be a passive observer to their own safety.
It starts with educating, engaging and then empowering employees to pay attention to what’s going on around them.
Zero Tolerance: that’s the goal here.  Having such a policy and even the culture of safety doesn’t mean that things still won’t occur.  But at least you won’t have someone in a senior position within the organization being quoted as saying: “Hey, it’s not perfect. Something happened. I think it’s an isolated incident. It’s not a major concern for me.
Welcome to the NEW NFL!