Workplace violence is all too common in corporate America.
Craig Intorcia recalls his last sales job where he and 25 other reps were subjected to a boiler room method of cold calling. “The VP of Sales tied our hands to the phones to cold call,” Intorcia told me. “We were also subject to occasional slaps on the wrists if this boss was agitated.” Intorcia sold stocks for this New York City firm, which went bankrupt last year.
So are incidents like this, and more serious violence on the rise in the workplace? “Yes, as are harassment, intimidation, angry outbursts, rudeness, and other inappropriate behaviors,” reports Dr. Lynne McClure, a leading expert in managing anger and high-risk employee behaviors and President of McClure Associates, Inc.
Timothy Dimoff, President of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., has witnessed a ten-fold increase in these types of altercations over the last dozen years. “There is a lot more cattiness, competition, back-stabbing, and a lot of low-level altercations which escalate into more prominent types of violence,” he says. Much like the song lyric, “why can’t we be friends?”
Stress can push a high-risk individual to the point of hostility.
Bad Behavior Too Common
McClure sees several factors contributing to this increase–role models and social norms, self-centeredness, a lack of consequences and high stress. “Violence, as well as other inappropriate behaviors, is exhibited regularly on TV shows, in movies, in sports games, etc., so it has started to look like ‘the’ way–or, at least, a common way–to resolve problems,” McClure told me. “This is particularly true for the youngest generation of workers, who were surrounded by these examples all their lives.
“Along with the role models and norms, our society has nurtured extreme individualism and self-centeredness–to the point where it’s ‘okay’ for adults to act like two-year-olds in terms of thinking only of themselves.”
McClure attests there are few repercussions for bad behavior. Sports figures still play, even if they’ve beaten their wives. At work, management often fails (for many reasons) to discipline managers or employees for any of these behaviors. “Management focus has not been on that level; it’s been on the higher-end level and we’re just now realizing that it’s getting out of hand,” Dimoff attests.
Stress on the Rise
Stress itself does not automatically lead to violence, but it can push a high-risk individual to the point of hostility. “With layoffs, mergers, stock market issues, as well as long work hours and family problems, people who are prone to violence are more likely than ever to carry it out at work,” McClure says.
Dimoff points toward a “pressure-cooker environment” at both work and home as the instigator. “There’s more pressure to succeed, to possess more and to provide a better environment for ourselves and our kids,” he admits. “We’ve gotwho are living longer; we have to take care of the and try to raise kids and pay bills. We want bigger homes, more cars.” At work, more people are wearing more hats. Customers expect jobs done faster. We’re more technologically sophisticated but somehow more exhausted than ever.
Workplace violence, as defined by McClure, is any physical contact that hurts or injures another person: homicide, assault, aggravated assault (weapon involved), and rape.
Attacks and violent threats against American workers number nearly two million a year, according to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. Altercations can affect anyone nowadays in several ways, according to McClure:
- An employee might be the target of a disgruntled worker, happen to be in the area when violence occurs, or become a ‘symbol’ to someone seeking revenge.
- Individuals considered high-risk (more prone to violence than most people) can become violent when their stress levels are high enough.
- A person might be neither a physical victim nor a perpetrator, but he or she can be traumatized after witnessing assaults at work.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates about 500,000 employees will lose close to 1.2 million workdays due to violence, and lost wages cost employers more than $55 million each year.
If we don’t get control of it from the beginning, we see a certain percentage of people escalating or increasing their [violent] activity, Dimoff believes, and it almost becomes an unofficial norm in the workplace.
Companies should be implementing workplace prevention policies to protect themselves against liability. If managers are trained on how to handle low-level altercations, they can deter possible crises from happening.