Workplace violence – how can businesses prevent it?

STEP’s HR Adviser Vicky Murphy offers advice to businesses about how to prevent violence in the workplace…

I was reading an article recently about violence at work and initially I was shocked, due to the description of one specific case.  A 17-year-old employee was being bullied, mentally and physically, by a group of his peers – some of them were over 10 years older than him. They had drawn on him with a permanent marker, tied him to a chair, burnt him, made him part of a mock crucifixion, and locked him up in a room!

I was gobsmacked when I read this. How could people even contemplate doing anything like this? Then it got me thinking…I remember hearing somebody tell me years ago of a business owner who often had staff in tears, either by standing next to them and shouting at them, throwing things at them, or in one case making the employee stand in the car park in nothing but his underwear, while the rest of the employees watched. It made me realise that such behaviour is more common than I would like to imagine.

Research shows that 1 in 8 employees have reported violence at work in one form or another – and that is the employees that have reported it! Some people would just remove themselves from the situation and leave, but for others being subjected to this treatment could lead to so many other negative outputs.

In a time when employers should be focusing on work-life balance, engaging staff and positive organisational cultures, especially now with the EU Referendum result, (as employees could be feeling unsettled and insecure), how can organisations still allow this to happen?

Just how can businesses prevent violence in the workplace? HR staff and employees need to be equipped and have the tools to deal with threats of violence, or acts of violence. This should be done by having a clear organisational culture and making sure the employees know what is expected and what is absolutely not tolerated.  Make sure you have comprehensive bullying and harassment policies, ensure that any hints of behaviour that border on harassment or bullying are dealt with early to stop any escalation. Empower your employees so that they feel confident and are able to challenge inappropriate behavior, and ensuring that any acts of violence or threatening behaviour are deemed as gross misconduct and dealt with accordingly. We no longer have violence in schools, so why is it still happening in the workplace?

If any of the above resonates, and you need HR advice, please get in touch with STEP HR via email: VMurphy@stepscotland.co.uk – or call: 01786 463416 and ask to speak to Vicky or Caroline. You can also find out more here.

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