When a female employee’s ex-husband entered her workplace and fatally shot her, a co-worker, and himself in Salina, Kan., in October 2009, it stunned the city of nearly 50,000 residents.
The tragedy occurred despite legal actions the ex-wife had taken against the shooter and “created fear and vulnerability in many citizens, employees and employers,” noted Natalie Fischer, PHR, HR director for the City of Salina and past chapter president of the Salina Human Resource Management Association.
Inquiries and phone calls from people concerned about workplace violence poured into the local police station, said Fischer, who had regular conversations with the police chief. In addition to a feeling of vulnerability, people were seeking guidance on noticing warning signs and prevention techniques.
“We knew that something needed to be done,” she told SHRM Online.
In response, the chapter collaborated with local and state law enforcement to create the 2010 Pinnacle Award-winning public education seminar, “Coping with Community Tragedy—Workplace Violence.”
Salina was one of seven U.S. chapters and two state councils to win the coveted national competition that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and ADP sponsor annually. Winners were announced during the SHRM Leadership Conference in November 2010.
Relevant for Community
The shooting occurred around the time that the chapter was conducting a needs assessment of its membership, and education about workplace violence was among the issues members had identified.
Tapping into its connections with the City of Salina, the chapter created a two-hour seminar that attracted 185 attendees from 59 organizations. Attendees included people from nearby Wichita.
“Our efforts allowed us to do something relevant and meaningful for employers and the community,” Fischer wrote in the Pinnacle Award application.
The chapter held the seminar in April 2010 in the auditorium of the highway patrol’s training headquarters in Salina, and a local police officer was among the speakers featured at the seminar, which aired numerous times on local TV.
The officer provided an overview of workplace violence and insight into public safety, including causes and warning signs, the importance of documenting incidents, personal safety tips, and proper responses in a crisis.
The chapter vice president, who serves as vice president of HR at a local business, provided the business perspective. That included highlighting workplace violence statistics, common errors businesses make regarding workplace violence, preventive steps employers can take and a sample policy.
The seminar included a panel that included the keynote speakers, a mental health professional, an advocate for victims of domestic violence and an employee from the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center where the fatalities occurred.
HR professionals attending the seminar earned HR Certification Institute recertification credit. The chapter later created a DVD of the seminar to sell for $12 as a training tool. The chapter gave the DVD to new members and chapter members renewing their memberships. The chapter’s costs were less than $400 and covered producing the DVD and offering refreshments.
While the aim was to educate employers and employees about workplace violence, the program raised the chapter’s visibility in the community and mobilized new members, Fischer said.
“They really stepped up,” she said of new chapter members. “We were able to include them and get them more active in our chapter.”
The success of the seminar, held on a weekday afternoon, also underlined the importance of scheduling chapter activities on different days and at different times in order to attract members.
“We’ve tried having luncheons and a breakfast once a quarter, because we realize when we have our regular meetings the same time every month we’re missing some of our members for scheduling reasons.”
The seminar’s success prompted the chapter to use a similar format in April 2011 to educate employers about synthetic street drugs, which have become a problem there in recent months and resulted in at least one death. These are designer drugs that do not show up on drug screens but mimic the properties of marijuana, according to Fischer. They are sold under such names as “herbal potpourri” and “bath salts.”
The ability to create a timely program comes from building partnerships and relationships, Fischer said. Involving the local police department, for example, opened up a partnership with the state highway patrol.
Additionally, “we were able to collaborate with so many organizations that we might not work with daily, or work with directly” on a daily basis.
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.
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