Workplace Violence: 'One-third of Americans Go to Work Every Day Afraid'

Don Tennant

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.

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Feb 24, 2012 10:47 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

Not to trivialize or minimize workplace violence, but I find it highly unlikely that 1/3rd of Americans are afraid to go to work.

When I was going through college I was an electrician apprentice - almost built up enough hours to be a journeyman.  I normally worked with small operations and one of the guys I worked with who owned the small company got angry when I let out a snicker after he stepped in dog mess.  He lived a tough life, and construction is a tough business.  Anyways he wacked me with something metal... it hurt and left a lump on my head.

We had words but he apologized for wacking me and I apologized for the snicker.  We were beer buddies again that night.  There was not fear of showing up to work.  No lawsuits.  No HR intervention team.  I curled up in the fetal position that night with my teddy bear and went right to sleep

Technically that was workplace violence... and there isn't room for that in the IT profession.  But fear is a strong word and having seen some pretty rough and tumble stuff when I was younger in construction even then I don't think there was much fear.

Who are these 33% and why are they afraid? 

People should have more economic fears in the workplace - such as "will the offshore this project" or "will they downsize" and insult me by calling t "right-sizing" but I don't ever remember fearing that someone would harm me at work.  I was afraid that I would get hurt doing the job - especially when working around high voltage and a fear of heights where falling would result in certain death... but that type fear can keep you safe. 

I guess I just don't get it Don.  I agree that we should take workplace violence seriously but I just haven't seen that in IT.  It's probably more common in more "blue collar" occupations.  I mean I've been ready to throw down over a really bad DB schema design... just kidding.  I've worked with professionals and we have professional disputes but they've never been violent.

Feb 24, 2012 11:17 AM Su Su  says: in response to R. Lawson

Yes even I can't imagine even 1% is worried in IT to go to work for workplace violance.

Probably that is the reason for "lack of focus or leadership around it".

IT leadership has other things to worry about and I don't think anyone much focused about workplace violace in IT just because it doesn't happen  -almost never.

Feb 24, 2012 2:42 PM SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6  says:

I think most people are afraid of the psychological violence that has been created by apathetic companies in this shaky working environment. More people are afraid of that "pink slip parade" on a friday afternoon than anything else.

Feb 24, 2012 6:03 PM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to SealTeam6 SealTeam6

One third? That sounds like something a "corporate security services provider" might say, but I don't believe it.

Feb 25, 2012 12:06 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Su

Another point, there is some resentment over the h-1b visa and still I haven't personally witnessed any violence related to that.  I think most anger is directed at corporations or politicians.  I've witnessed some insensitive commentsuu but I'm not aware of any h-1 b workers who face fear.  I'm sure some are reading this so please say something if you've seen things to the contrary.

Feb 27, 2012 9:01 AM Su Su  says: in response to R. Lawson

True and correct in work place.

I personally saw abuse outside work (say in pubs and all) due to cultural differences and resentments you mentioned

But then bouncer and bartenders actually throw those elements out - not me. That is why US is great

Feb 27, 2012 2:24 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Su

Su, I am glad to hear you say that (regarding the patrons and bar staff).  I have always railed against people making insensitive comments on this matter.  I don't believe it furthers the debate.

On the other hand, when you read Don's next post it is easy to understand where this anger and resentment comes from.  That doesn't make it right, but the actions of corporations are breeding hatred.  I don't understand why so many people can't see through the what these corporations and politicians are doing and why they point the finger at foreign workers.

But to be fair I have seen a number of foreign workers make insensitive comments towards American workers. 

I disagree with Don on globalization.  I don't believe it has been a net-positive.  Globalization was suppose to create a more stable world and spread democracy.  I don't see that happening.  Instead, I see globalization triggering a race to the bottom.  Instead of bringing people out of poverty, we are putting more people into poverty.  Instead of expanding environmental protections we are seeing them trampled on - in the name of global competition.

The bottom line is that for globalization to work, you need participants in the global economy who value human rights, democracy, and a sense of fair play.  We don't have that, and without that globalization will always reward cheaters, exploiters, and abusers.

I may repost something like this to Don's next thread.  I don't understand why people think globalization is such a good thing when there is evidence that it causes so much harm.  Sure, we get cheaper shoes and toys.  But how is it improving society?  How can we justify perpetual trade deficits?  The reason trade and globalization is so harmful is because we have all these cliches and straw man beliefs that globalization is always good - and to fix anything wrong with it is "protectionism".

Jan 31, 2014 3:21 PM Jen Jen  says:
Well, I'm afraid on most days, because I work with violent, emotionally damaged and disabled children. I am threatened to be killed, (stabbed, cut, murdered) almost on a daily basis, and I also have been beaten by clients, ( Scratched, kicked and punched). I take care of the children that parents have "thrown away" and they are very angry children. Someone needs to take care of these kids, and I do, however I am afraid of gettimg my teeth knocked out 62 plus hours a week. Reply

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