Survey: Half of HR Pros' Workplaces Experienced Violence

New SHRM data demonstrates need for more education, training to prevent workplace violence

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 19, 2019
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​About half (48 percent) of surveyed HR professionals said their organization had at some point experienced workplace violence, according to research released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

SHRM surveyed 1,416 members in February 2019. The total of those who say violence has occurred at their workplace is up from 36 percent in 2012 and includes incidences of harassment and intimidation, as well as physical assaults and homicides.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 458 of the over 5,000 fatal injuries that happened in a workplace in 2017 were homicides. About 15 percent of those were perpetrated by co-workers or other work associates.


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A majority (82 percent) of 545 employees surveyed by NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent research institute, reported feeling safer in organizations that provide programs to prevent workplace violence and train employees to respond to violent incidents. But less than half say their organization has a program to prevent workplace violence (45 percent) or provides training to workers on how to respond to an act of workplace violence (49 percent). Less than one-third of workers (29 percent) said that they are unsure or don't know what to do if they witness or are involved in workplace violence.

"Education has to start from the top down, and often that starts with HR," said SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. "There's naturally a lot of fear when people think of workplace violence. But preparing and providing employees with hands-on training helps empower them to react and take action in the event of a worst-case scenario."

Preventing Workplace Violence

A culture of safety starts with a firm commitment and active involvement from senior leadership, said Hector Alvarez, founder of Alvarez Associates, a Sacramento, Calif., firm specializing in preventing workplace violence. Employers should then conduct an audit to identify and correct gaps in workplace safety and security.

"It has been my professional experience that many organizations address threats of violence on a case-by-case basis without the benefit of a structured and formal assessment process," he said. "This lack of structure supports, even encourages, a poor crisis-response environment. The time to prepare for and prevent workplace violence is before threats happen."

Programs to prevent workplace violence should highlight a zero-tolerance policy for violence—including threats, intimidation and harassment—at work, said Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR, an online HR resource site. "Train employees in what constitutes workplace violence and the procedures to report any form of workplace violence. A clear structure for reporting acts of violence should be implemented."

She added that employers should have policies addressing workplace-violence prevention, visitor security and weapons at work.

"The employer should also develop an emergency response plan detailing how an incident of workplace violence will be managed, including securing the premises, contacting law enforcement, informing employees of impending danger, notifying families during and after an incident, dealing with media, and providing any counseling or other employee assistance after an act of violence has occurred," Zoller said.

Supervisors should be trained on how to recognize signs of potential workplace violence, and employees should be trained on safe evacuation routes, safe hiding spots and how to interact with law enforcement.

Employers may also need to rethink their termination procedures. Five people, including two HR representatives, were shot to death during a termination meeting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, Ill., in February.

[SHRM members-only sample presentation: Workplace Violence Training for Supervisors]

Experts advise employers:

  • Keep termination meetings brief, and schedule them for the end of the day to minimize confrontation and embarrassment.
  • Work with building security and local law enforcement in risky terminations.
  • Review what can and cannot be done to lawfully restrict employees from possessing weapons on workplace property.
  • Counsel those in the meeting on de-escalation techniques; the use of a calm, nonconfrontational approach; and avoiding physical contact with the affected employee.
  • Offer outplacement services, resume help and, if appropriate, a letter of reference.

SHRM Resources

SHRM's newly released online toolkit Understanding Workplace Violence Prevention and Response provides information and resources to address workplace violence, including:

  • Creating a prevention plan.
  • Recognizing warning signs.
  • Implementing a response team.
  • Responding to violent incidents in the workplace.

"The goal for employers—and this is something we address in our toolkit—is making your workplace a difficult target for violent offenders and being prepared to react quickly," Taylor explained. "If you make the investment in security and preparation, your employees will feel safer and respect you for valuing their security."

 [Visit SHRM's resource page on workplace violence.]

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