How to Prevent Workplace Violence

5 min. read

Workplace violence and harassment are a serious issue. Tips and ideas to help prevent violence in the workplace and how to deal with it if it happens.

It might shock you to learn that every year, two million people experience some form of workplace violence. The workplace should not be a setting where people are subjected to threats of or actual violence or harassment. This behavior is unacceptable but unfortunately, too many employees are exposed to these risks as part of their work. The prevention of workplace violence is something that cannot be ignored as a business leader.

How is workplace violence defined?

Most people associate violence with physical assault. However, workplace violence and harassment are a much broader issue. Workplace violence is defined as any act in which a person is abused, intimidated, threatened, or assaulted, in their employment.

Exact definitions vary in legislation, but generally speaking workplace violence includes:

  • Threatening/Aggressive behavior – shaking fists, property damage, throwing objects, vandalism
  • Verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm
  • Verbal abuse – swearing, insults, slander, patronizing language
  • Physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing, kicking

Workplace violence can also include bullying and acts such as cyberbullying, spreading rumors, pranks, and sabotage.

How to implement a workplace violence prevention program

Predominantly, workplace violence is the product of the interaction between three factors.

  • The person committing the violence
  • The triggering event that motivates the person
  • A workplace that is more conducive to allowing violence to happen

Implementing a workplace violence prevention program can help mitigate all three factors. Here are seven steps to creating an effective workplace violence prevention program.

1. Analyze your workplace

To understand where to focus your workplace violence prevention program a thorough analysis of your workplace is necessary. Consider these questions to evaluate where you are in terms of workplace violence prevention:

  • Has there been violence in your workplace before?
  • When, what kind, and who was involved?
  • How was it reported?
  • How was it handled at the time?
  • Were any systems put in place afterward? What were they? and were they effective?
  • If there have been no violent incidents in your organization’s history, what are you doing well?
  • Have you developed official workplace violence policies? Are there gaps in your workplace violence policies? Where?
  • How safe is the physical environment for your employees?

Analyzing your existing organizational systems can help target potential risk factors for workplace violence and define where you need to concentrate your efforts.

2. Create a supportive environment

Every workplace violence prevention program should start with developing an open, trusting relationship with your employees.

Employees need to feel heard and supported at work. This level of trust helps those who are experiencing violence or harassment to be more open with you and you can respond accordingly.

It is important that employees feel confident to speak up. Team members reporting potential violent behavior should not be scared that they will face repercussions, regardless of whom they are reporting. Workplace violence policies apply to all employees, no matter how high up they are on the career ladder.

3. Offer workplace violence, communication, and empathy training

Workplace violence training will help your employees recognize certain behaviors and lower the risk of escalated situations. Training courses can take place in-person or online and will also help employees identify warning signs, as well as providing them with coping and response tools.

Workplace violence training often concentrates on how to handle a violent episode as it is occurring, but training in effective, empathic communication is a preventative measure that can stop the problem before it starts.

4. Establish clear workplace violence policies

Ensure you have clear workplace violence policies and procedures which set out how you will prevent, manage, and respond to work-related violence. Having clear policies and procedures demonstrates your commitment to tackling workplace violence and ensuring the safety of your employees. Establish how you will handle violent behavior and verbal and nonverbal threats and actions.

Make sure that your entire team is aware of these policies with consistent training.

5. Make a solid commitment to a non-violent workplace

Making a strong commitment to cultivating a non-violent workplace takes time, money, and resources. But taking a firm stance helps to show your employees and your clients that your organization has pledged to prevent violence and maintain a safe, comfortable environment for everyone involved.

6. Train employees to recognize warning signs

If your employees are familiar with the warning signs of potential workplace violence it can prevent an incident from escalating.

Warning signs of potential workplace violence can include the following:

  • Excessive use of drugs or alcohol, especially during working hours
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Behavioral changes including poor job performance
  • Use of aggressive or threatening language
  • Complaining about unfair treatment
  • Violation of organizational policies and procedures
  • Mood swings and overreaction
  • Paranoia

An effective workplace violence prevention program should include training in warning signs and how to respond to and report them safely.

What can be done to prevent violence in the workplace – Written policies

The most important part of any violence prevention program is commitment. Your commitment is best communicated in a written policy.

A written policy should:

  • Be developed by management, HR, and employee representatives, including health and safety representatives, if applicable
  • Apply to everyone who has a relationship with your organization
  • Strictly define what constitutes workplace violence, harassment, and bullying in precise language
  • State in clear terms your organization's commitment toward preventing workplace violence and harassment
  • Provide clear examples of unacceptable behavior
  • Precisely state the consequences of verbal threats or committing physical acts of violence
  • Outline how preventive measures will be implemented across the different levels of the organization
  • Encourage the reporting of all incidents, including witness reports
  • Outline the confidential reporting process
  • Assure no repercussions for reporting employees
  • Define procedures for resolving or investigating incidents or complaints
  • Describe how information about potential risks will be communicated to employees
  • Commit to providing support services and resources to victims of violence
  • Commit to monitoring and regularly reviewing the violence prevention policy
  • State applicable regulatory requirements

Preventing workplace violence – A conclusion

Workplace violence prevention is crucial to keeping your employees safe and happy. Through open communication, consistent training, and clear-set policies you can maintain a secure, supportive workplace.

For more information on preventing violence in the workplace, read our article Conflict Resolution in The Workplace