The FBI defines workplace violence as any action that may threaten the safety of an employee, impact his physical or psychological well-being or cause damage to company property. That can include threats, bullying, harassment of any kind, intimidation, domestic violence and stalking.
When respondents to a recent survey by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) and the FBI were given a list of examples and asked to flag what they perceived as actions of workplace violence, the majority of respondents were in agreement of what was and was not considered violence.
However, the survey also found that employee perception of what constitutes workplace violence breaks down very clearly by gender lines, especially when it came to such actions as stalking, threats and intimidation, and sexual harassment:
– Stalking: 73 per cent of men in comparison to 94 per cent of women agreed that stalking was a form of workplace violence. A margin of more than 20 per cent.
– Threats and intimidation: 76 per cent of men in comparison to 90 per cent of women agreed that threats and intimidation were examples of workplace violence. A margin of nearly 15 per cent.
– Sexual harassment: 83 per cent of men in comparison to 97 per cent of women agreed that sexual harassment is a form of workplace violence. A margin of nearly 15 percent.
The above statistics are from telephone interviews of 500 full-time employees conducted in October 2003.
While the survey recommends that all employees undergo a workplace violence training program, IT workers should be aware that men and women perceive workplace violence differently. “Men may have to be a little more sensitized to the fact that stalking and domestic violence does occur in the workplace,” says Eugene Rugala, supervisory special agent with the behavioral analysis unit of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
The AAOHN recommended taking the following steps to effectively develop and implement a workplace violence education program:
* Management should conduct a thorough organizational risk assessment and develop workplace violence prevention policies and programs that address potential risks in environmental design (security cameras, key card access), administrative controls and behavioural strategies.
* Programs should clearly define the spectrum of workplace violence (ranging from harassment to homicide), delineate employee responsibilities for recognizing and reporting signs, and be shared with every employee. All programs should promote zero tolerance.
* Ask for and integrate employee ideas when developing and implementing a violence prevention program.
* Create a confidential and seamless reporting system. Encourage workers to report any and all concerns to a single representative, such as an occupational health and safety professional or human resource manager.
* Incorporate a variety of communications tools such as posters, newsletters, staff meetings and new employee materials.
* When training employees, review common warning signs, behavioural traits and how to recognize potential problems. Employees should also understand that each case is different, and to not limit at risk behavior to a standard profile.
* Involve all employees in workplace violence prevention programs. Training should be ongoing and mandatory for every employee.
* As an employee, actively participate in all education and awareness programs. If you do not have a violence prevention program at work, request information from your occupational health department, human resource department or manager.
* As an employee, if you recognize that a colleague exhibits at risk behaviour, report any concerns to your human resources representative or occupational health professional.