Knowledge is power. False knowledge exposes everyone to risk. This is especially true when evaluating your workplace for the risk of workplace violence. Misconceptions about workplace violence all-too-often lead to poor policies and decisions that can leave workplaces more exposed to dangers. Here are six common myths to consider regarding your workplace.
“It can’t happen here.”
This myth is hazardous because it can create a false sense of security and cause management to ignore important warning signs. In truth, violence can happen in any workplace. Management must have a realistic awareness of risks and the tools to assess and manage them. Rational awareness, not paranoia, is the key to cultivating safer workplaces.
“Workplace violence is about murder.”
It’s easy to take the impression from sensational media coverage of mass shootings in workplaces that workplace violence always means people are being shot and dying. In fact, not so. The FBI issued a study in 2002 called “Workplace Violence: Issues in Response.” In it they report: “Homicide and other physical assaults are on a continuum that also includes domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, bullying, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create anxiety, fear, and a climate of distrust in the workplace. All are part of the workplace violence problem.”3
“Potentially violent people can be ‘profiled’ and screened out.”
Wrong. Those who commit violence in the workplace can be of any demographic background. When we turn to generalizations, profiling and stereotyping to screen out potential perpetrators instead of watching for behaviors, we put the workplace in much more danger of experiencing violence.
“Violent perpetrators just ‘snap’ with no warning or clues.”
This simply isn’t true. It’s very rare for violent incidents to happen without any kind of recognizable warning behaviors. They could be odd behaviors, obsessions, ominous statements, threats, escalation of conflict with other workers and other warning signs.
“Only ‘crazy’ people commit workplace violence.”
Not so. Only about 5% of profoundly mentally disturbed people are actually violent. And of that population, the majority are incarcerated or hospitalized. Most workplace violence is not committed by those who would be considered “insane.”
“Security guards and metal detectors will keep us safe.”
A dangerous myth. Almost anything can be used as a weapon by someone intent on causing another person injury. The ability to commit workplace violence is not contingent upon smuggling a firearm past security. It has also been demonstrated that the presence of such measures only force the perpetrator to be more creative in order to defeat them.
Here’s what you can do:
• Start by educating yourself. Do some reading. Talk to an expert. Have you subscribed to any of the myths mentioned in this article? Becoming aware of that is a great start.
• Pay attention to your people. Watch for changes in behavior, and learn which behaviors should command your attention.
• Revisit your policies. Are there any tweaks that could make your workplace safer? Get some good advice, if necessary.
The risk of workplace violence can be dramatically reduced with good information, good policies and increased awareness.
Gary Sheely is a Tactical Confrontation Specialist focusing on workplace violence issues. He has published three books, including his latest one, “Safe at Work: How Smart Supervisors Reduce the Risk of Workplace Violence.” He conducts training workshops and has been a keynote speaker across the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.