Whenever an act of workplace violence rocks an organization to its core, there are almost always people who come out of the woodwork remembering prior incidents leading to the tragedy. Fortunately most workplace violence does not result in tragedy, shootings, or death. Fighting, harassments, threats or inappropriate behavior are some of the many acts that go unreported and lead to more serious incidents. Realizing that hindsight is 20/20, what are the reasons these people didn't voice their concerns/fears when it was appropriate? And could one word from one employee prevent a horrendous act with devastating consequences?
In working with hundreds of organizations dealing with workplace threats or actual violence, we have found that 95% of the time there are co-workers who were aware of a potentially violent person or situation.
Here are the top seven reasons employees do not report workplace violence:
1. Fear of Retaliation
Employees are dealing with a bully in the workplace or a very angry co-worker and while they don't like it - many are afraid to 'turn the person in' or 'report the situation' for fear of retaliation to themselves, their families or their co-workers. Most likely the person in question has acted in a violent way before, and his/her co-workers do not want to be the brunt of their further frustration. Employers need to make it clear to all employees who report workplace violence, that they will support and protect the employee from harassment, retaliation and intimidation.
2. Becoming the 'Office Snitch'
Since we were kids, parents, coaches and teachers have told us not to 'snitch' on each other. In the workplace many employees' initial reaction is that they SHOULD report a potentially violent person, but because they have been socialized to believe that this is 'snitching' - which makes them look petty, judgmental, or like a 'goodie-goodie' - they go against their better judgment and don't report. They also fear they will be ostracized by their co-workers - especially if the questionable person is popular among his/her co-workers. Employees sometimes rationalize their failure to report by thinking, 'I don't want to get this guy in trouble…He has five kids and needs his job!' Employers must teach their employees to be responsible and report all incidents of workplace violence. Employee's should reframe their thinking to 'What if I don't report this behavior and this guy comes into work, starts shooting and kills three people! How would I feel then if I had information that could have prevented the whole tragedy?' 3. Grievance or Lawsuit
Some employees are afraid that if they report a potential situation, they may end up involved in a law suit or the person that they reported may file a grievance against them. They weigh the time and effort that they will have to endure due to the report against the million other responsibilities on their plate - professionally and personally. Employers must educate both employees and supervisors that the lack of reporting and taking responsible action is more likely to lead them into a grievance or lawsuit!
4. Fear of their Supervisor's Reaction
Employees tell us that they are afraid to report potential workplace violence to their supervisor because they think the supervisor will over-react or think they are unable to handle their own job/responsibilities. With unemployment at record rates, employees are in constant fear of losing their jobs - especially if they are on thin ice with their superior for any reason at all. If employees know that reporting an incident will cause more work for their supervisor and that the supervisor may not appreciate this, they may keep quiet in an effort not to 'rock the boat.' Employers must create a reporting policy that allows employees who fear their supervisor or who think that their supervisor will not take action to by-pass or go around their immediate supervisor & go up their chain of command. 5. Denial - 'It will all blow over' or 'That's just Joe'
Employees often become complacent in dealing with 'problem children' in the workplace. Someone's bad behavior is just their temperament and it's falsely believed that the behavior doesn't need to be reported because 'It will just blow over' or 'That's just Joe!' In this scenario the boundaries of the aggressive behavior will be pushed further and further to where people feel that they allowed it for so long, there's no turning back now and they just have to deal with it. This is incredibly dangerous since the potentially violent person holds all the power and is controlling an office based on fear. Employers must train employees to recognize that this type of behavior is in fact workplace violence and it must be reported. In almost all cases of workplace violence, fellow employees had knowledge that collectively would have raised red flags. The problem is always the same - no one was able to connect the dots and see the full threat.
6. Lack of Company Procedures/Policies
Who is the employee supposed to tell? Is it their supervisor, the violent person's supervisor, an HR generalist, or the VP of HR? What about confidentiality? If they report the behavior is the entire office going to be talking about it? Employees are confused so it's your job to make it EASY! A reporting procedure is a 'must have' in any workplace violence policy. Employers must let their people know very clearly who they need to report to and how to report.
7. Lack of Training
Employees also need to have a clear understanding of what workplace violence is, what the warning signs are, and how to handle a potentially violent situation. Too many companies institute policies and have employees sign off on those policies even when there is no real understanding of workplace violence and its severity - from a safety and liability standpoint. If it's an in-house training by a qualified expert within the organization or bringing in an outsourced workplace violence expert, the topic must be addressed and reinforced. You wouldn't believe the millions in dollars of difference from a liability standpoint that the proof of quality workplace violence training makes.
These seven reasons are a jump-start to thinking about where your gaps are and how to create a proper reporting system where your employees feel safe and supported when dealing with a potentially violent person or situation. Clarity is key - make certain all supervisors and employees are on the same page when it comes to workplace violence.
Carol Fredrickson is the CEO and Founder of Violence Free. Clients rely on her skills and expertise to prevent 6 and 7 figure lawsuits and avert workplace violence. Over 100,000 people have benefited from Carol's powerful messages. Visit http://www.violence-free.com for Carol's most requested topics that may be a fit for your next meeting. Reach Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-242-8797.