Leadership and Workplace Violence

Greetings Leaders!

Today I had the privilege of attending a 4 hour session on Workplace Violence. The session was good, but in my opinion, not good enough. The topics covered were pretty much what you would expect. There were the 911 calls, the videos, THE video about how to recognize potential warning signs and of course the obligatory review of the Workplace Violence Prevention Policy. While well intended, I don’t think the organization takes this seriously enough and there are more steps that the leadership could undertake to battle workplace violence.

What else could the organization do to prevent workplace violence? A lot!  To my knowledge, this organization has never done a survey to ask workers how safe they feel. These are critical things for an organization to understand if they want to make the workplace safer. How do your employees feel? Is the annual or bi-annual review of your Workplace Violence Prevention Policy enough to make them feel safe?

In addition to the headline catching shootings and stabbings, there are so many other types of violence that are more subtle that go unreported and unresolved. Why? Poor leadership. As a leader, you can make a HUGE impact on decreasing workplace violence. Consider the following questions:

  1. Are your leaders trained to value people? Based on stories my students tell me, my guess would be no. So many times, workplace violence is a result of someone feeling maligned.
  2. Are your leaders trained in how to identify behaviors that might be indicative of someone who may be more likely to create workplace violence?
  3. Do your leaders counsel people for bullying? If so, has your organization ever let someone go for bullying? If your organization is over 50 people, your answer should be yes. If not, are you really, I mean really, addressing bullying. There is an excellent website out there called No Workplace Bullies hosted by Civility Partners.
  4. Are leaders trained in conflict resolution beyond attending a half day seminar? I once received a request to coach someone who was accused of creating a hostile work environment. After asking a few questions I began to suspect that the problem was deeper than just the accused individual. I thought the manager (who was absent a lot of the time) was a big part of the problem. I asked if I could interview him and wanted to know what the organization would do if I thought the manager needed counseling or leadership development. They politely told me they would get back to me and never called back. Poor leadership is a big cause of workplace violence.
  5. Do you have people in your organization who are argumentative (to a fault) and who intimidate others with their behavior? If so… why? You shouldn’t care how much they know about their subject matter, you need to confront them and either they get counseling/coaching and improve, or they are let go. Just one episode of workplace violence could cause harm to some of your employees and if you are concerned about money, just one serious incident could cost your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t tolerate abusive behavior.
  6. Do you consciously think about how information is communicated during times of change? Change is difficult and yet many times information is disseminated in an impersonal bulletin, or communicated to supervisors, who never pass the information on to their staff.
  7. Do your new supervisors and your new managers receive leadership training?
  8. Does your executive team receive advanced leadership training or coaching?
  9. Is cussing tolerated in your organization? It shouldn’t be. It sets the precedence that aggressive or unruly behavior is sometimes tolerated.

There are so many things an organization can do to make a difference in workplace violence. Take some time to discuss this with your staff and start developing your leaders.

All the best!
All the time!

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3 thoughts on “Leadership and Workplace Violence”

  1. John, this is a good article. I just have one question: is bullying okay in a workplace of 50 or less? In a small company a workplace bully is even more visible and impacting than in a larger environment where they can blend into the larger issues of a bigger business. Curious about your comment #3 and what you would add regarding bullying in small companies.

  2. Hi Amelia! Thanks for the post and question. Bullying shouldn’t be tolerated, even in a company of 2! When I brought up the number 50, it was just a reference for larger companies to say hey… if you’ve never let someone go for bullying, you’re not creating a safe and healthy workplace environment.

    I totally agree with you on the impact of a bully in a smaller workplace. They can be more toxic and have greater impact on the whole organization. In small companies, let’s say under 50, the owner sets the tone for what is appropriate and what isn’t. Unfortunately, if the owner doesn’t have a heart for leadership, there isn’t a higher power to appeal to, and these things fester, often holding back the company from growing, and hurting its employees in the process.

    If this is happening at your company, see if you can influence the owner to get involved in a business group where these things are discussed. For example, I have several friends who are owners/CEOs of both small and large companies. Some have executive coaches, others participate in monthly roundtables with other CEOs, and yet others are active in groups like the 20/30 club, toastmasters, or other service organizations.

    All the best!

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