Workplace Violence and the Role of Culture

Welcome to this article on culture and workplace violence. We will look in this article at various topics related to our general topic to see what can be done within a culture to create conditions to minimize workplace violence. We will focus on an example of how healthcare facilities in particular can address their issues.  Let's get started.

Can a culture influence workplace violence?

Studies have shown the answer to the question we ask is yes. The culture of an organization can influence workplace violence. While no culture can guarantee that there is no violence in a workplace, an organization can try to minimize the chances of a workplace violence incident.

Here are some factors to consider.

  • A workplace can reflect attitudes and trends in the world outside of work
  • People in a workplace can conflict with each other as they bring various ideas and background to an organization
  • A workplace with stress can push people to violence

What kind of workplace can push people to violence?

One example we have is with the expression - going postal - which refers to becoming uncontrollably angry to the point of violence and in an workplace situation. The expression comes from incidents where members of the United States Postal Service shot dead fellow workers, managers, the general public, and police in an incident of mass murder. There have been at least two dozen such incidents of rage at the workplace since 1983.

People in Australia also use the phrase in relation to an incident in 1987 - called the Queen Street massacre - where a gunman murdered eight people in Melbourne at an Australian Post Office building.

We hear that going postal relates to excessive stress and can lead to violent outbursts. Some postal workers have expressed the opinion that the term is appropriate to their work environment. Going postal is a term for "shooting up an office" and gets its origins from these types of post office related incidents.

  1. In 1986, postman Patrick Sherrill shot and killed 14 employees at a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma, before killing himself with a shot to the forehead
  2. In 1991, former US postal worker Joseph Harris killed his former supervisor at her home and two mail handlers at the Ridgewood Post Office in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
  3. In 1991, Thomas McIlvane - who had been fired from the Postal Service for insubordination and suspended for incidents on his route with postal customers - used a rifle to kill five people and himself at the post office at Royal Oaks, Michigan.
  4. In 2006, former postal employee Jennifer San Marco used handgun to kill six postal employees before committing suicide in Goleta, California. Reports show that she chose her victims based on race and had a history of racial prejudice.
  5. In 2006, letter carrier Grant Gallaher shot his supervisor at the post office in Baker City, Oklahoma.

The stress of work at post offices contributed to these events and led to the expression - going postal - showing that workplace violence can follow. Statistics show that homicide rates at postal offices are lower than they are at other work locations.

Not all homicides at a workplace are due to a person going postal - over stress in the workplace. Workplace homicides can also result, for example, when a passenger murders a taxi driver or a murder takes place in connection with a store robbery. The idea of going postal is just one factor related to workplace violence.

The bigger picture

Various types of workplace violence - from postal workers to taxi drivers to convenience stores - can reflect attitudes and trends we see in the general society. In the United States we can have over half a million non fatal violent crimes at year in the workplace and hundreds of workplace murders. Violence causes over 10 percent of all work related death in the United States. The workplace as in our society can be a place of violence and death.

While taking steps such as having a surveillance camera or guard at a workplace can help, a look at the culture of an organization can also help. Here are some factors to consider.

  • Do employees feel their organization will help if they report something disturbing
  • Do employees feel it is wrong to criticize a co worker
  • Do supervisors accept that disturbing behavior is the norm you must accept

In some workplace cultures the chance for workplace violence is not minimized. This happens when people are not comfortable reporting what they see or supervisors accept behavior that is wrong. Those who do wrong are enabled in such a culture. An employee who is bullied will leave such an organization. Those who stay behind may not be the better employees. Plus the chance increases for workplace violence.

When this is happening, a transformation in the corporate culture is needed. Your goal should be to have employees feel safe enough to report bad events to their superiors when they see them.

How culture can have an impact

If a culture does not currently minimize the chance of workplace violence, we can do something to help. We can evaluate the culture. Then when we see areas for improvement, we can strive for a transformation. We can set up effective policies and procedures to create and maintain a workplace that is safe and respectful. If you create the right atmosphere, environment, and culture, you create an area where individuals follow the right policies and procedures. You thus can minimize the chance for workplace violence. Here are factors to consider.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Violence course?
  • Management should adjust policies and procedures until they find techniques that minimize workplace violence
  • Management should be open to transformation and improvement that is continuous

As an organization moves to improve their culture a more loyal and productive workforce can result. The organization can thus be more profitable too.

If your culture is lacking

When there is violence in the workplace and the culture does not help the organization can suffer in many wants.

  • Survivors, victims, co workers, and communities at large can feel the impact

  • Absenteeism can increase

  • Job performance can be hurt

  • Experienced employees can leave

  • Survivors can become less productive

Productivity can suffer due to workplace violence. It is just good business to create a climate where you minimize workplace violence.

Data shows that a woman who had an incident with violence has increased loss of productivity in the workplace

  • Stalking victims can lose time from work as they must appear in court
  • Billions of dollars in lost productivity a year in the United States can result
  • Medical and mental health care costs can increase

Instead of paying for these costs after an event it makes more business sense to have in place a culture that minimizes workplace violence and addresses the impact of violence.

Connections between a workplace, culture, and violence

We see in media reports coverage of violence in a workplace where - as with those who go postal - employees or former employees come to a place of employment with a gun. They then shoot and kill those at the workplace. This is just one aspect of workplace violence. Here are other definitions of workplace violence.

  • Physical assault
  • Threats of assault
  • Offensive language
  • Threatening language
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual assault
  • Dating violence
  • Stalking

Here are groupings for workplace violence.

  • Criminal intent
  • Personal relationship
  • Customer and client
  • Worker on worker

What is the same about all types of workplace violence is that the actions result in a crime under federal or state laws. A business must of course adhere to these laws. But a culture at a workplace can go beyond just the law. The culture can minimize acceptance of any kind of harassing or threatening acts and minimize the chance of workplace violence.

Culture change at healthcare facilities can minimize workplace violence

Healthcare facilities face challenges with workplace violence. The environments can be dangerous for employees, patients, and visitors. Improvement in related workplace violence can come from addressing culture change in the healthcare facility. Here are some ways a culture can help.

  • Use proactive strategies
  • Enforce current policies, procedures, and plans
  • Put training programs into place
  • Include the entire staff not just security personnel
  • Recognize that data shows that workplace violence is among the top four causes of fatalities in workplaces throughout the United States
  • Establish procedures for late night health care environments - a high risk time for workplace violence

Without a proactive approach, you increase the chance of workplace violence. If an event does happen, the impact can be huge. Reputations can be hurt. Employee productivity can go down.

  • Data shows risk of violence at a workplace increases due to these factors.
  • Working with the public
  • Working with unstable people in a place such as a psychiatric hospital
  • Working late at night
  • Working in a high crime area

You can avoid or decrease incidents of workplace violence if you take precautions and put into place programs that can help. Here are some of the programs and techniques to consider to create a culture that minimizes the chance of workplace violence.

  • Conduct a hazard analysis
  • Encourage people to report threats and assaults
  • Train employees on workplace violence
  • Provide safe rooms for emergencies

Data shows that over half of the workplaces in the United States do not have a program address violence in the workplace. Studies show that in healthcare settings workers may be at an especially high risk. Some healthcare workers might not report an incident for fear of losing their job. You can address this with a culture that encourages workers to make such reports without the fear of job loss.

Other factors to consider to make the culture reduce the change of workplace violence.

  • Reduce the paperwork involved in reporting an incident
  • Follow up on incident reports
  • Make management support clear
  • Do not blame a victim

More concrete measures to improve the culture can include:

  • A security system that includes guards
  • Visitor management systems
  • Access control
  • A data collection system that includes incident reporting and training

Is it worthwhile financially for a healthcare facility to invest in these types of measures? Studies have shown that they do as they prevent a more costly incident.

A security director at health care facility can using data collected to better plan strategies, policies, and practices that help minimize workplace violence. They can plan exactly the right approach to prevent problems from happening and know what to do in the case of an incident.

What else you can do in a healthcare facility

Here are more practices and guidelines that can help a healthcare facility minimize the chance of workplace violence

  • Provide detailed employee training
  • Constantly look to improve emergency response strategies
  • Constantly look to improve violence prevention - make it a top priority
  • Know what the law required
  • Look to improve reporting procedures
  • Understand that some workplace violence you can prevent
  • Look at root causes for workplace violence
  • Make both the security and HR department look together at how to minimize workplace violence and how best to address it if it happens

Get a commitment from management to support workplace violence prevention programs and programs that help victims of workplace violence appears critical. Here are some related factors to consider.

  • Managers can include workplace violence awareness on performance reviews
  • Managers can place importance on workplace violence awareness in the culture
  • Managers must have training in how to manage conflict, resolve issues, and provide techniques on how to minimize future problems
  • Managers should resolve and give top priority to report and complaints files by employees.
  • Managers much report to senior staff about improvements current procedures on handling patient-worker violence

The culture can help minimize workplace violence if management gives a priority to programs and methods of minimizing workplace violence. Here are some techniques that can help.

  • Use safe rooms
  • Provide training
  • Assess employee and patient risk frequently to minimize the risk of violence
  • Make police part of training plans
  • Make awareness part of the work of every employee
  • Provide surveys of employees to get input

A quick review

We have now looked at how a culture can have an impact on workplace violence. We looked at best practices to minimize that violence and included ideas about how healthcare facilities in particular can address their issues.