spectrum of workplace violence

Workplace Violence – What You Permit, You Promote

Christine L. Peterson, CPP, ISP Workplace Violence, WPV Support, WPV Threat Assessment, WPV Training


Why are we so surprised by workplace violence when we are willing to accept these unacceptable behaviors from our leaders?

Is it possible that the key underlying issue is much bigger than the sum of all of these things?

Let’s consider the effects of the internet, social media, 24-hour news, and other factors. For instance, there are wide-spread examples of powerful people and their organizations using their resources to cause harm, distract, harass, intimidate, bully, and threaten. These are all forms of workplace violence. They are being perpetrated in businesses and are certainly on full display in an interconnected and very loud world. The examples include but are not limited to politics, sports, business, education, recreation, and families. This is not civil discourse. This is one-upmanship and brutal force meant to control.

What must our children think? As adults, we try to hold them to a higher standard than we do ourselves and our leaders. I believe If we want to stem the tide of active shooters, school violence, and all other forms of workplace violence, we have got to stand up and be accountable ourselves above all. Similarly, we need to recognize all forms of workplace violence.

This idea occurred to me as we were ending another workweek with two places of employment trying to cope with active shooter events in the last week. The first was on November 14 at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA. The second was at the Smithfield Foods packing plant in Tarheel, NC. The shootings injured and impacted the employees, customers (students), contractors, and related stakeholders. This is workplace violence at the extreme. As horrible as they were, it is just a fraction of the workplace violence events happening at businesses across the US every day.

How did we get here?

At Protus3, we have the privilege of working with companies across the US. We support their security programs across the globe. This includes the development and presentation of workplace violence and de-escalation training tailored for executives, managers, and employees.

life is happening for each of us every dayA key component of that training is reminding our audience that life is happening for each of us every day. For example, Marital problems, financial problems, family issues, health problems, terminations and layoffs, and sexual and other harassment are real. Ultimately, our ability to cope is impacted by our environment, mental health, use of drugs/alcohol, and support system.

After each of these horrific events, we all hear the rhetoric around universal background checks, control of military-style weapons, the implementation of security technology, security officers/resource officers, and better mental health/addiction support services. (As for comprehensive background checks, no system currently exists nor will likely exist in the near future whether legislators enact legislation or not. In addition, security technology is often added in a way that throws money at the problem as a “feel good” solution and not as an integrated solution.)

Each of these potential steps has merit if they are a part of an integrated security program. An integrated security program begins with a security assessment that identifies the assets, threats, current security posture, and security program gaps. Each of these steps would be a positive step in the right direction, but are we missing a key component of solving the problem?

So, where do we start?

Every good coach or teacher knows you begin with the fundamentals. What is a workplace violence event? It is a security event. Security events are deliberate actions by people to cause harm or loss. People cause security events, and that includes workplace violence.

spectrum of workplace violenceThe definition of workplace violence applies to anywhere an employee performs a work-related duty. Different federal agencies define it slightly differently, but OSHA defines workplace violence as: Any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior.

Workplace violence has many forms including:

  • Social media posts
  • Telephone
  • Texting
  • Internet of things (new and very powerful tool)
  • Verbal exchanges
  • Physical confrontations
  • Use of weapons

This can be a single event or a history of events across a broad spectrum from intimidation and bullying to homicide.

The Tone at the Top

When we train employees, especially executives and managers, we always remind them that security programs are driven by the actions, activities, and support of the top of the organization.

In our current business and political climate, let that sink in for a moment. (images of some tweets here?)

Remember, people cause security events. Statistics show that 10% of our population has no ethical or moral compass. For 80% of us, morals and ethics are a matter of what we can justify in our minds at that moment. So, where does that leave us?

Can we change the trajectory that we are on and save lives?

We can, and it begins at home and the workplace. First, we have to recognize workplace violence for what it is: any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior. Only then can we:

  • Hold our leaders to the same or higher standard than we do anyone else
  • Create a culture of security that transcends departments, ensuring that everyone has a role in the protection of themselves and the organization
  • Provide training and awareness, including “See Something, Say Something”
  • Conduct appropriate background screening so that we know who we are hiring
  • Prohibit behaviors by telling people what we expect and holding them accountable
    • Create policies and procedures
    • Have a true zero tolerance for workplace violence
  • Train managers to know the signs of distress, substance abuse, and other indicators, and then respond rather than react
  • Create and encourage anonymous ethics and fraud reporting (what about reporting odd behaviors of a coworker?)
  • Provide awareness and support for EAP programs
  • Embrace the appropriate access control, ID process, and physical security safeguards

We all have the opportunity to make a difference when we treat each other with empathy and acceptance. Our differences are what makes us great. In the words of Simon Sinek, we are better together.

Knowledge is one of our most powerful tools. As the details of another tragic workplace violence event unfold, I am reminded that as a greater community, we can change the future. In conclusion, it begins with remembering:

“What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.”