Consider that one-third of Americans go to work every day afraid-that's what this survey says. Think about the lack of productivity. Yes, there can be an incident that results in a lawsuit and a worker's comp claim, and there's definitely a cost there. But I would propose to you that the far bigger cost is the cost in lost productivity. For years we've heard about the effect a bully can have in school. That bully can have the same effect in the workplace. When I finally met the pollster, David Michaelson, I asked him what his top three takeaways from the survey were. He said he does a lot of surveys for a lot of people, and he had never paid attention to workplace violence. But he said he can't get over what an epidemic it is in America. No. 2 is what I just mentioned, that one in three Americans go to work every day afraid. The third is that most Americans believe that the senior leaders in their companies have very little regard for this issue.
I asked Whitmore if he had any sense of the incidence of workplace violence perpetrated by people in the IT profession compared to people in other professions, and he said he does not:
The external panel that I put together for this book-chief security officers from a variety of organizations, all of which would have IT departments-one of their [concerns] has been [the lack of] data surrounding the demographics of workplace violence. If you look at workplace safety, for example, there are all kinds of key performance indicators and metrics that you look at, but certainly not around workplace violence. I can't tell you that I've seen or read or heard anything that it's more or less prevalent within one discipline at work.
I noted that there's a lot of resentment among IT workers who feel that jobs are being taken unfairly by people from other countries, primarily people from India here on H-1B visas, and I asked Whitmore whether he's seen any indication that that resentment has led to workplace violence. His response:
Not specifically that resentment, but what we heard from this external group that we dealt with, there is certainly a lot of tension in the work force, just generally, over the economy. Certainly, jobs going overseas has been the focal point of a lot of the conversation politically, within the business world, and within academia. I think I just saw a statistic that the number of programmers in the U.S. has not risen for 10 years. Generally, economic issues cause employees to be under pressure, but to say that anyone has been targeted because of it, I haven't seen any evidence of that.
Finally, Whitmore stressed that it's essential to understand that workplace violence is a "continuum," in the sense that the violence tends to escalate from what was relatively mild behavior. He charts the continuum this way:
Here is how Whitmore encapsulated the continuum idea in his book:
Workplace violence typically occurs on a continuum. It starts small and then it gets big. You rarely see an incident that starts out at the top of the scale. It's frequently a progression, which means that in many cases it can be recognized and stopped early-which is good news. Part of this issue is understanding that behavior matching any level of the continuum is going to prevent you from getting the full potential of your employees. The lower forms of workplace violence are disruptive to productivity and bad for morale. Nobody wants to work for or with anyone who disrespects them, speaks poorly to them and generally doesn't give them the time of day. These are all forms of harassment, and you need to get a handle on them throughout your organization. With a disrespectful, aimless culture, you will get an employee that says "forget this guy; I'm going to do what I want to do. I'm going to put out the least I can." Such a person may decide to retaliate, sabotage, do work incorrectly or go up the continuum of violent behavior. It's a lit fuse.