Workplace Safety: Violence Has No Place in Deeply Engaged Cultures

employee workplace safety

On a day usually reserved for love and lovers, the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida ripped through America’s social conscience.  Schools are meant to be safe, secure, and engaging environments for students and those employed as teachers, administrators, custodians and cafeteria staff.

While devastating school violence draws mass media coverage, the sad truth is workplace violence happens everywhere. It runs the gamut: from unprofessional behavior manifesting as taunting, bullying, or harassment (sexual and other), to mental or physical abuse, suicide and homicide.

According to the National Safety Council’s 2016, based on data for 2013, no occupation is immune to workplace violence. Government (37,110 injuries, 128 deaths), Education and Health Services (22,590 injuries, 35 deaths) suffer greatest.

Why Employee Engagement Stands Up to Workplace Violence

Research has been able to show that a deep culture of employee engagement can stem the number and severity of workplace safety/violence incidents. When an organization’s leadership embrace engagement, are demonstrably caring, hold all people managers accountable for the same, develop people strategies and support training programs that instill values of cooperation and collaboration, and consult employees about policies and procedures, processes and problems, positive workplace relationships are inevitable. Confident their insights are valued employees will flag concerns and offer up solutions long before potential issues become full blown problems.

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. Not the rule. A 2012 survey found more than half of working Americans (52%) had seen, were aware of, or had experienced a violent event or an event that could lead to violence at their workplace. While 70% of employees who had not experienced workplace violence felt they were valued by their organizations, the number fell to 58% for those who reported they had. Digging deeper into findings, only half of the employers took disciplinary actions, 31% changed the physical environment to improve safety and 22% revised company policy.

Fast forward to 2018 and findings aren’t any better. A survey released by the union standing for elementary school teachers in Ontario, for instance, revealed 70% of educators have seen or experienced classroom violence and say it’s increasing and getting more severe. Yet almost a quarter say steps are rarely taken to prevent recurrence and three quarters rate actions taken as ineffective. Moreover, 22% who had experienced classroom violence did not report incidents because they were told not to, or feared repercussions.

In his book, Safety Excellence for Business, author Richard N. Knowles writes about culture as an outcome of all the interactions of people – with each other, with supervision, with management, with the systems and processes they work with and in the carrying out of every day “norms.” How interactions happen, how engagement takes place, and how deep it evolves are all key cogs in the workplace culture wheel – whether it’s spinning for safety, quality, morale, involvement, sustainability – the very same critical engagement processes need to happen.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classifies workplace violence under four categories: criminal intent, worker-on-worker, customer/client (teachers/students, health workers/patients), and personal relationships (domestic abuse that spills into the work world).

Safety surveys combined with action planning send powerful messages to the workforce that workplace safety is a priority. In TalentMap’s experience, measuring employee perceptions is an important factor in building a safe workplace. The more employees are engaged in the safety process:

  • the stronger employee engagement becomes
  • morale and trust lift
  • safety outcomes improve
  • safety-related costs reduce
  • profitability rises
  • a positive corporate image advances among stakeholders.

Although confidentiality is critical for honest and open employee survey feedback, safety can override confidentiality; TalentMap has protocols in place to deal with sensitive situations.

It shouldn’t take something as horrific as a mass school shooting for business leaders and HR professionals to take a stand on safety in the workplace. The first step is to set up mechanisms for employees to report abusive behavior—the bigger step is to create a culture where reporting the behavior is supported and acted upon.

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