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Worker violence can refer to any physical or verbal attack that occurs in the workplace. Violence can come from coworkers or managers, and can take the form of threats, psychological intimidation, sexual harassment, or physical assault. Regardless of the nature and degree of worker violence, an act usually creates an uncomfortable, volatile, and unproductive workplace. When a worker is subjected to offensive or violent actions, he or she should report the offender to the appropriate authorities immediately to prevent future problems.
There are many steps that a company can take to help prevent acts of worker violence. Specialized training programs and refresher courses can raise employee awareness about the prevalence of violence in the workplace, warning signs that a situation may become volatile, consequences, and steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood or severity of an event. Many companies show videos on the subject and invite employees to participate in mock situations to better prepare them to deal with violence.
Many reported cases of worker violence come from victims of office bullies, coworkers who attempt to make themselves feel better by abusing others. Office bullies are usually jealous of the positions or successes of other employees, and take out their aggression by sabotaging others' work, threatening them, or even subjecting them to physical violence. It is common for an office bully to intimidate a coworker by destroying documents or equipment, stealing supplies, and making threats if the worker tries to report an incident.
Employees can help to prevent worker violence and stop office bullies by communicating with each other and with management on a regular basis. Experts on the subject usually encourage coworkers to look out for each other by being more aware of interactions and situations going on around them. Coworkers who witness an incident can provide reliable testimony and help the victim work up the courage to report a bully.
An individual who believes he or she has witnessed worker violence should try to document incidents and report them to managers as quickly as possible. If management's involvement is ineffective in correcting a situation, a worker can contact local police. Law enforcement officers may be required to immediately intervene if a violent act is taking place or file a police report about a past incident. Victims and witnesses of sexual harassment or other forms of worker violence choose to present their cases in court to ensure that offenders are dealt with properly and fair compensation is awarded.
When I started my first full-time job at 18, I didn't realize that a workplace could get violent. I thought I was done dealing with bullies or hotheads at school, but the same things happened at work, too. One guy I worked with started dating another employee's girlfriend behind his back, and a waitress told the guy about it. A fight broke out right in the middle of the kitchen. The manager broke it up, but there was a lot of damage to deal with. Neither guy was fired, but they could never be scheduled to work the same shift from that day on.
I saw other kinds of worker violence at other places I worked, too. One guy
was mad because he didn't get the promotion he thought he deserved, so he would come in early every morning and sabotage the guy who did get that job. It was always little things, like hiding an important tool or gluing down the phone handset. It finally came to blows when the bully started making harassing phone calls from an outside line. When he got back into the office, the guy punched him right in the jaw. We all had to take a class on anger management in the workplace after that.
One thing I think can help prevent worker violence is an honest evaluation by management of the overall morale level in the workplace. I once worked at a unionized auto plant, and every so often a rumor would start about potential layoffs or downsizing or whatever it was called when employees lost their jobs. If anyone in management knew the truth about these rumors, he or she wasn't going to tell us. When people become concerned about their job security, morale goes way down and the atmosphere becomes tense. Minor disputes often become violent encounters between workers.
I say that there should be a clear line of communication between management and labor when it comes to rumors and possible downturns. Someone just needs to take the temperature of the room and address those issues honestly, so employees don't start taking out their frustrations and concerns on each other.
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