When Workplace Anger Leads to Violence
Some days, the world is just plain scary, and news reports seem to validate our fears. The local headlines spout anger-based crimes on a daily basis. CNN reports that violence and crime associated with anger episodes are on the rise in urban, USA. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports higher rates of anger-induced violence involving government employees. Anger-motivated crimes know no boundaries. Every area has become a potential area of violence. We try to use common sense and take standard safety precautions in our daily choices, but what about our workplaces? How can a company protect their employees? How can we prevent violence? The truth is, whenever and wherever people interact in daily proximity and tasks, conflict is bound to happen. The key is recognizing it in time to diffuse it. In other words, check for bubbles. Before a pot of water reaches a rolling boil; before it even begins to boil; tiny bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of the pan. If we remove the pot from the heat source, the bubbles cease.
- Watch for evidence of continued and increasing stress by observing employees at work and on breaks. High-stress levels may show as clenched jaws, rapid breathing, tense muscles, shaking or sweating. If you see these happening, check in with the employee privately to touch base.
- Encourage communication by keeping an open door policy. Then, when troubleshooting observations come via employees, assure confidentiality and no retribution.
- Realize that workers may not just be passively angry. They may express anger through poor performance, threats, harassment or small sabotages. These are the first stages which can escalate to more frequent and daring incidents or physical harm to others.
- When such characteristics are recognized, diffuse them immediately. If left undealt with, they may progress to more aggression. Be sure to document incidents, informing both human resources and your legal department every time.
- Build team spirit, a sense of “I’ve got your back” among employees – it helps reduce conflict.
- Establish a company policy about conflict at work and ensure that it’s common knowledge.
- Post an overview of the policy in visible areas.
- Conduct regular training sessions on how to spot conflict, when to report it, how to diffuse it, etc.