According to the findings of a newly released survey of American workers, workplace violence has become an epidemic in this country, as senior business leaders close their eyes to the problem and incidents go unreported because workers have lost faith in their leaders to do anything about it. The cost in lost productivity as a result of those disturbing facts is almost incalculable.
I had a fascinating discussion earlier this week with Bill Whitmore, chairman, president and CEO of corporate security services provider AlliedBarton Services, and author of the book, "Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success." The book includes the results of a survey conducted for AlliedBarton by David Michaelson & Co., titled, "Violence in the American Workplace." The survey, which was released just this month, found not only that over half of Americans employed outside the home have witnessed, heard about or experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence in their workplace, but that one-third of Americans go to work every day afraid.
Whitmore stressed at the outset of our discussion that workplace violence is a solvable problem.
The thrust of the book is that if you put a focus on anything in a business to improve it, you generally can. If executive leadership comes out and says they want to eliminate, or greatly reduce, workplace safety issues, for example, they're able to accomplish it. What's happening in the case of workplace violence is it's not a focal point of the organization. Think about this for a minute: When incidents were reported, only 53 percent of employers took action. Another thing the survey found, which I think was really interesting, fewer than half of senior managers are seen as being concerned with workplace violence, and only 17 percent are seen as being very concerned about it. So the survey has clearly indicated that within the organization: One, there's a lack of focus or leadership around it, it's not something that's on the top of people's minds; and two, because there's no program, you see a third of the people in America witnessing it, and not doing anything about it.
Whitmore explained that business leaders' lack of focus on the issue stems from a culture that's based on false premises:
What came out clearly in the survey is people felt it was someone else's job to prevent workplace violence. The second falsehood is, "It can't happen here." The third falsehood is that workplace violence is usually blue-collar-related. That's absolutely false-statistics don't back that up. Falsehood No. 4 is that workplace violence is caused by outsiders. And the fifth one, which is the one I think we all get stuck on, is that it's all a matter of luck. People think, "Why should I put a lot of time, effort and money behind this initiative, because workplace violence is a matter of luck-either I'm lucky that it doesn't happen or unlucky that it happens, so there's not a lot I can do about it." But we know from the companies with histories of dealing with it is that it is preventable-you can reduce your incidence of workplace violence.