By Kathryn Harris
As an employee, you should have a high expectation of a safe and healthy working environment. A workplace free of all stress and anxiety would be wonderful as well.
Burdens weighing heavily on the mind often impact the work day, the quality or quantity of work, attitude or mood and body language.
When we have a job, we also have a certain set of personal obligations. We owe the employer a focused and prioritized day of work in exchange for a paycheck, benefits and a position within the team.
Unfortunately, sometimes the two worlds collide and we as employees are faced with coworkers who are either unable to control themselves or coworkers so overwhelmed with anxiety and stress that they resort to workplace violence.
The employer is also expected to protect the employee and to have a proactive plan to minimize workplace violence.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA provides a definition: “Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.”
Employers are tasked with finding solutions to keep employees safe. Does your employer have a workplace violence policy provided to all employees? Does your employer have an assessment team to determine risk levels of employee behavior, or a crisis team in the event of workplace violence?
As an employee, you should also be proactive and work to diminish your risks of involvement in workplace violence.
Demonstrate self control and work to be part of the solution. When we loose self control, we become part of the problem. Walk away from conflicts in the heat of the moment. At an appropriate time, discuss the conflict with someone that can make a difference, such as your supervisor, manager or the Human Resource Manager.
Take personal responsibility in the workplace. We all make mistakes with performance and judgment errors in relationships. When we are approached, accept the feedback or constructive criticism and make a commitment to do better.
Watch for warnings or red flags with your coworkers. When you see circumstances and behaviors that seem unusual or threatening discuss your concerns with your supervisor. The employer may be able to offer counseling through an employee assistance program.
A troubled employee may be overwhelmed with personal relationships and the battles that can surround these relationships. Perhaps there are serious health issues. Death and divorce are both extremely stressful and people do become overwhelmed, emotional and less practical with personal decisions.
We should be sensitive to coworkers with devastating personal, financial and legal challenges and when we see changes in their personality. In the workplace, we cannot diagnose emotional or psychological problems, but as coworkers and friends we can sometimes see changes in someone and see indications of something that may be very wrong. Emotional problems can lead to crying, paranoid behaviors, hearing voices, isolation and lashing out at others for no apparent reason.
Personal preferences (religious, cultural, regional and political views) can create conflicts within the workplace. Do you ever consider how your words and behavior may impact someone else in the workplace? Sometimes actions may be legally and constitutionally allowed, but still be extremely insensitive and inappropriate.
Another red flag to consider is the employee who has received corrective action or is terminated. This employee may be combative, arguing, yelling, cursing and may create a threatening, hostile and even deadly situation. There should be safeguards in place for handling discipline and terminations and a plan to deal with inappropriate behavior, whether through a security guard or through local law enforcement.
Employers need to be committed to taking absolutely every precaution possible. As employees, you should be asking questions and be on alert to anything that seems out of the ordinary. Your safety depends on you reporting any suspicious behavior. Let’s all make a concerted effort to work together and to make our workplaces as safe as possible.
Harris is a contributing columnist with more than 20 years of human resources experience, along with volunteer activities including career counseling and motivational speaking. Contact her at Job_Talk@ymail.com or become a Facebook fan of Job Talk.