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Dec 06

Curbing Workplace Violence

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Workplace violence has erupted across the United States in recent years, often with fatal consequences. In addition to the occasional headline-grabbing tragedies, many incidents of verbal abuse, fits of anger, and physical assault occur each year in businesses large and small. How can you safeguard your business from employee violence?

The best predictor of future behavior is past actions. That's why Scripture warns us: "Do not associate with a man given to anger..." (Proverbs 22:24 NASB). Those who commit violence rarely lash out with no prior warning. Outbursts usually follow a build-up of increasingly intense anger and frustration.

Avoiding workplace problems begins with the hiring process. During interviews, ask each applicant about any conflict with past bosses, and how that conflict was resolved. Some level of conflict is inevitable--as in any relationship, but the key is how the conflict was resolved. If it was always "the boss's fault," or the applicant responds defensively to the question, think twice before you offer that person a job. Any evidence of a temper that surfaces in the interview is a red flag warning. Check past employment references carefully. Ask how the applicant resolved conflict, and if he or she ever displayed a temper. Your diligence in checking references will help you avoid hiring contentious people.

Next, develop a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive behavior of any kind. Verbal abuse may escalate into door slamming- door slamming may lead to physical assault- and assault may turn deadly. Establish a clear policy--and communicate it clearly to every employee

--that "temper tantrums" of any type will not be tolerated. As King Solomon observed, "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds his back" (Proverbs 29:11 NASB).

If an employee displays excessive anger in any way, step in immediately. Calmly state that the behavior is unacceptable, and ask the person to step away from the situation long enough to cool down. Approach the employee later, review the incident, and insist on change. If it happens again, repeat your admonition and establish a clear consequence for any future incidents. The prospect of suffering consequences may be the incentive needed to motivate the person to improve. As it says in Proverbs, "A servant cannot be corrected by mere words- though he understands, he will not respond" (Proverbs 29:19 NIV), and "A man of great anger shall bear the penalty" (Proverbs 19:19 NASB).

I once managed a person who displayed repeated fits of temper. When angry, he would slam doors, crash down the phone, and toss papers around. When nothing changed after several warnings, I explained that the next outburst would generate a formal, written warning in his personnel file- any further offense would result in a one-day suspension, followed by a three-day suspension, if it happened again- and then an immediate dismissal. After the written warning, his behavior changed, proving that his temper could be controlled.
A zero-tolerance policy requires immediate dismissal for any physical assault of a co-worker or destruction of property. Those involved in workplace shootings often had a long history of on-the job abuses that escalated into the ultimate violence.
Regard every threat seriously--never try to guess the level of danger--and take immediate action. I received a call one Saturday evening that an employee had left work angry, threatening to come back and "shoot up the place." I immediately called the police, because the threat of violence is itself a crime. The employee was suspended pending certification from a psychiatrist that he could safely return to work. He subsequently resigned, and was constrained by the police from further escalation.
Hire prudently, check references carefully, establish a zero-tolerance policy, diligently enforce your rules, and take quick action to respond to any threats, and you'll keep your workplace risk to a minimum.

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