The workplace should be healthy and safe for everyone, and employers are expected to provide a working environment with welfare facilities, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
However, their own research shows that too many employees are having to deal with threats and violence, with an estimated 680,000 incidents reported in the UK in 2019/20, says Owen Miles.
Apart from the physical and mental effect on individual employees, workplace violence can also impact the smooth running of a business and could have far-reaching reputational and financial implications. A NatWest Bank employee with disabilities received more than £4.7 million when an employment tribunal found that, amongst other discriminatory behaviours, there was a failure to make reasonable adjustments to her workstation and that she had been bullied to the point of feeling worthless and humiliated.
Companies owe a duty of care to their employees and need to prioritise safety by putting in place proactive measures to prevent violence and threats. Here are some practical strategies that businesses can adopt to deter bad behaviour in the workplace:
Step 1 – Devise policies to prevent violence, harassment, and bullying
Employees need to understand clearly what unacceptable behaviour is, so a policy which clearly defines the parameters of good conduct in the workplace is vital. Guidelines around the reporting of incidents and the disciplinary processes that are in place should be provided to all staff members. If a firm is prepared to take a zero-tolerance approach and communicate it across the organisation, it will reap benefits by creating a culture of respect which will, in turn, lead to a safer environment. These policies should be regularly reviewed and updated if necessary to ensure they continue to align with changing workplace dynamics.
Step 2 – Implement training & awareness programmes
Bring employees together to improve awareness of topics including anti-bullying strategies, conflict resolution, mental health awareness and the five types of violence (criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, domestic and ideological). This can be challenging given the “work anywhere” environment organisations are operating within, so it is vital to deliver this through auditable technology solutions that provide feedback capabilities to allow employers to listen, adapt and improve their programmes. If employees can identify warning signs and manage conflict, they will feel more confident about dealing with challenging situations as they arise. Programmes that endorse a culture of non-violence will also empower individuals to take action to bring about positive resolution. Periodic refresher training should also be offered.
Step 3 – Establish confidential reporting procedures
Employees can be deterred from reporting incidents if they fear retaliation. Reporting procedures should be confidential so that they engender trust, and their concerns should be addressed quickly and taken seriously. The reporting procedures should be communicated clearly to all staff members, highlighting the channels they can use, and the level of protection in place to ensure they are safe. Channels include anonymous hotlines and online reporting systems.
Step 4 – Improve security measures
Keeping employees safe should be a priority inside and outside the physical building. This is why visitor access management, video surveillance, entry systems and security guards are reassuring, and effective. These measures, together with integrating systems, can prevent threats from developing and allow staff to focus on their jobs. Regular assessments of security protocols will ensure that any vulnerabilities are managed quickly and efficiently. Organisations also need to consider how they will provide security to employees who are not working within the organisation’s infrastructure, how will they know where their employees are and what risks could impact them, irrespective of if they are travelling or working remotely, organisations need to provide the same levels of confidence to all employees no matter where they are working.
Step 5 – Perform regular risk assessments
Workplaces and teams are constantly changing, so it’s important to conduct risk assessments that can identify any areas for improvement. These could evaluate the success and completion rates of training programmes, gather feedback on policies and their effectiveness, and change safety protocols that are no longer fit for purpose. Employees can help by providing their observations to gain valuable insights into potential risks.
Step 6 – Communicating in an emergency
Fast access to emergency communication tools will help to distribute information to employees when they need it. Emergency notification systems, mobile apps and panic buttons will help to guide staff if they are facing a crisis and ensure their safety. Regular drills need to be conducted to familiarise employees with the procedures for an emergency and to test the efficiency of communication channels.
Step 7 – Maintain a healthy workplace
The healthier the workplace, the less likelihood of violence. Companies should foster a professional and caring workplace culture that promotes clear and open communication, respect for fellow workers, a work-life balance, and development opportunities. Employees should be able to access well-being programmes and resources for mental health support. Employers can encourage open dialogue, provide assistance programmes and agree to flexible work arrangements to help staff achieve a healthy work-life balance and a positive attitude to the workplace.
Step 8 – Carry out post-event analysis
If an organisation does experience a violent incident, it is necessary to conduct a post-event analysis. This addresses why the event happened and will identify any system failings. It will also be important in determining the preventive measures to ensure similar events can be avoided. Companies can learn from past experiences and adapt policies and prevention methods to strengthen their overall safety protocols. Involve employees in the analysis process by encouraging them to provide insights and suggestions for improvement.
Build resilience to combat workplace violence
Prevention of violence should be the over-riding aim for all organisations, and responsibility for that lies with the employer. With preventative measures in place including policies, training programmes, confidential reporting systems, security measures, regular risk assessments, communication channels, and the maintenance of a healthy work environment, companies can significantly reduce workplace violence risk.
Involving employees and continuously evaluating and boosting strategies to prevent incidents will ensure the ongoing safety and well-being of the entire company and create an environment where staff feel safe, respected and able to focus on their work.
By Owen Miles, Field CTO, CEM Business Systems at Everbridge.