Updated: Aug 17
Author(s): Bavneet Kular
Workplace violence and aggression have become widely recognized as a social problem. For many individuals, the workplace is considered their second home, which is why it is imperative that employees feel safe and comfortable. Workplace violence and aggressiveness is defined by researchers as the act or threat of violence directed toward people at work or on duty (Kelloway et al., 2021). The effects of workplace violence and aggression can take many forms, including psychological problems, bodily harm and even death in rare and extreme cases. Researchers found that social support from management is critical for maintaining work productivity and reducing workplace violence and aggressiveness.
Professions such as law enforcement, health care personnel and social workers, for example, are at a higher risk of violent and aggressive behaviour. Most workplace violence and aggression are perpetuated by employees and customers/clients (Tiesman et al., 2022). Researchers observed through studies that during the Covid-19 pandemic, there had been a reduction in violence and aggression by customers and clients, as most in-person businesses were closed (Edwards et al., 2021). However, those employees that experienced violence or aggression in the workplace reported extreme anxiety and stress (Tiesman et al., 2022). The employees who were subjected to violence or aggressiveness also demonstrated a lack of productivity, higher periods of absence from work and were more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorders (Anderson et al., 2021; Biering et al., 2018). On the other hand, when management provided social support to victims of workplace violence and aggressiveness, the employees were less likely to be emotionally affected and the work productivity did not decrease (Anderson et al., 2021; Biering et al., 2018). In addition, employees may also become depressed if they do not receive emotional support and understanding from management. They may feel unheard and unsafe, resulting in higher staff turnover and poor employee and management work relations. Recognizing violence and aggression in the workplace is crucial for organizations. If employers take appropriate steps, they can prevent or minimize the risks of violence and aggression.
Organizations can implement a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence, and those individuals who do not abide by the policy will be faced with harsh consequences, such as termination. Not only should this policy be for employees, but also for customers, visitors and patients to minimize violence or aggression. Those individuals who violate the policy will face consequences, such as being banned. By implementing this policy, individuals will be more cautious about their behaviours to avoid such consequences.
The level of workplace violence and non-physical mistreatment has been consistently proven to be negatively correlated with the climate surrounding violence and aggression prevention (Hutchinson et al., 2018). Workplace climate is described as an employee's perception of work and the work environment (Hutchinson et al., 2018). It is how employees feel at work, which directly relates back to how motivated the employees are to carry out their job. A few examples that can negatively change the climate of the workplace are organizational injustices, incivility and lack of social support from employers and coworkers (Hutchinson et al., 2018). In contrast, some ways organizations can positively improve the climate of the workplace are by employee recognitions, boosting team cooperation and clarity on the company’s goals. Organizations can implement these elements to boost morale and motivate employees, which maintains productivity and a positive work climate. The findings of the research suggest that the importance of violence/aggression prevention all point to the same conclusion. According to the studies, workplace violence and aggression are linked to growing episodes of work absences and reduced work productivity, and the majority of the workplace violence/aggression is perpetrated by customers and clients (Anderson et al., 2021; Biering et al., 2018; Tiesman et al., 2022). As a result, management commitment is necessary to minimize or prevent workplace violence/aggression by implementing training interventions (Edwards et al., 2021).
What strategies can an organization take to prevent workplace violence and aggression?
1. Having adequate training and awareness on workplace violence
Workers can pick up on the behaviours of peers, customers and clients by taking the time to train them explicitly on violence and aggression. Staff will know how to react and what measures to take as a result. Furthermore, organizations can also have training programmes in place for new hires, as well as refresher training programmes every three months for those currently employed. This can familiarize those who are currently employed, with the policies that are aimed at reducing violence and aggression.
2. Improving the recruitment process
Recruitment is the starting point for workplace violence and aggression. The thoroughness of the recruitment process determines whether the work climate will be positive. Employers can conduct thorough background screening on potential hires to see whether they have a violent history. If the screening results are unclear, the employer can ask the potential candidate for a reasoning. Based on the answer, they can either choose to hire or withdraw the employment offer. In addition, organizations should make it mandatory to check with prior employer references to determine how the potential new hire performed at their previous job. Moreover, employers should also consider employee referral programmes. Existing employees who are performing well in the company tend to surround themselves with people who are similar to them. This can result in employing someone who is a good fit for the company.
3. Educating employees on recognizing and accepting individual differences
Individual differences play a key role in the workplace climate. Employees bring different personalities, styles and values into work. Not accepting everyone for who they are can cause issues such as job dissatisfaction, verbal abuse and stress. Persistent issues can also cause high turnover within the organization. To prevent this, management can organize meetings or activities where employees can get to know each other, and also hold training programmes on diversity and inclusion. Accepting individual differences improves employee relations and makes them feel valued, thus reducing the chances of violence and aggression.
Management support ensures that employees maintain productivity, which contributes to the company's success and promotes a positive work environment. Nonetheless, organizational management must ensure that employees have access to social support without fear of any repercussions and training programmes to prevent workplace violence and aggression, which enhances the likelihood of employees feeling committed to their jobs.
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