Energetic Solutions To Conflict, Aggression, and Violence In the Workplace
It’s been almost seven years since that fateful, stormy, dismal, day when Mary Richmond, an HR specialist for United Applications in Atlanta, Georgia, had lunch with Bill Cole, an account manager. They had just rushed in from a stormy, rainy day outside and sat down and ordered lunch. While they were waiting to be served, Bill says to Mary, seemingly half-joking and half not, “he felt like blowing away everyone on the seventh floor,” the upper management suite. “But don’t worry, Mary, I won’t kill you though”, followed by a nervous chuckle.

You see, Bill was just informed that his pay was going to be garnisheed $800 a month going to his ex-wife for child support. He was mad; partly because it was so much, and some because of the cold, uncaring way he was told by HR-didn’t seem right.

Over the weekend, Bill’s remarks weighted heavily on Mary’s mind. She decided to report it to her manager. Management met and decided to terminate Bill. His comments were unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

They hastily put together a plan, were the HR manager was going to give Bill the bad news and then his immediate supervisor was going to escort him from the building.

Bill came to work especially early that Monday. As he entered the building and shuffled past the receptionist, "he seemed a little unsettled, scatterbrained, not his usual self", thought the receptionist. Bill headed directly for his desk, went to the back of the bottom, right-hand drawer and pulled out a 45 caliber, semi-automatic, fully loaded. He headed for the seventh floor.

Once there he entered Mr. Tomlinson’s office, the General Manager, unannounced. Bill gunned him down with a single shot, turned and walked out, without saying a word. Next was the VP. By this time the Vice President was up from behind his desk responding to the sound of the gunshot coming from the next room. Bill entered his office, fired twice and left him dead on the floor in the middle of the room.

Next he went to HR, and found Mary hiding under her desk with her office mate, Claire. Bill looked at both of them and shot Claire twice in the chest, despite her pleading not to hurt her. Bill looked at Mary and said, “I told you I wouldn’t kill you.” He turned and left the room.
After killing a total of seven people, Bill approached the elevators; four Atlanta police officers entered the floor, weapons drawn and pointed at Bill. Before they could fire, Bill squeezed off a round into his own head and ended the entire ordeal right there.

In subsequent interviews, Mary told authorities that if she hadn’t treated Bill will some respect, even though he was sick, “he would have killed me too.”

While this was not an actual incident, it includes some details from real tragedies. The amazing thing is, with all the publicity about workplace and school shootings, with the heightened workplace security concerns brought about by September 11, 2001, most employers remain unprepared to deal with violent episodes.

Do you know what else? Most incidents are preventable!

Are you prepared?

Is your organization safe?

Does your staff know how to prevent conflict before it becomes an incident?

Is your staff trained in specific techniques to persuade difficult people away from aggressive and violent actions?

Hello, I’m Dr. Robert Evans of A Center for Human Potential. I am an educational psychologist, with over 25 years experience in the behavioral and social sciences. We have a program that is designed to train staff in resolving conflict, reducing anger and aggression and preventing violence. In addition, our program will help protect and organizations from law suits and in the end, possibly save people’s lives.

The Problem: Let’s look at the scope of the problem.
• Employers are being sued for negligence and injuries resulting from workplace violence and could pay between $5 to $6 million for settlements.

• There are about 1,000 homicides in organizations each year.

• According to a number of sources, between 1.5 to 1.7 million workers are victims of non-fatal workplace violence; mostly simple assaults.

While the fatalities are small, the costs are enormous. The annual cost for violence and hostility in the workplace is estimated to be $13.5 Billion in medical costs. In addition about 500,000 workers miss 1.75 million days of work.

While homicides on the job are relatively infrequent, what are not, are other behaviors that are related to or lead up to violent incidents. Managers and co-workers have to deal with a wide range of behavior, everything from Verbal Abuse, Sexual Harassment, Insults, Domestic Violence Infiltration, Stalking, Assaults, Road Rage, Robbery, Terrorism, and Homicide; many the products of anger.
Did you know that workplace violence is the leading cause of death for women on the job?

OSHA: OSA Section 52 describes the Employer’s General Duty: provide a workplace free of harm.

Workplace violence has recently been assigned the employer’s responsibility by the United States’ Supreme Court; if a fatality occurs on the job, it’s the employer’s responsibility.

Let’s look at a typical sequence of events that I am very familiar with: an employee makes a threat; the employee is suspended, frequently with pay; the organization fails to comply with it’s own policy and procedures or doesn’t have any or they are inadequate and fail to address a situation; management and staff are untrained in this area; the employee gets terminated; the employee sues the organization; the organization settles out of court for lots of money. This is the way it usually goes, I know, because I served as an expert on a case, and it went just like this!

Let’s look at the costs: attorney and settlements; medical and psychological costs; salary obligations for injured and traumatized staff; “good”, non-violent employees quit; productivity decreases, during and immediately following an incident; lost work, the organization never catches up; worker’s comp claims increase; organizations purchase more “security”; and then there are the repairs to the facility and equipment.

What’s even more disheartening than all these statistics is the fact that each incident builds over time and then there is a triggering event – a reprimand, demotion, a stressor of some kind that gets the person to execute and act out their plan. You see, they’ve been thinking about this for some time. It’s premeditated. No one, no body, just snaps! And because of this, once trained, organizations can prevent such incidents. An interesting side effect of the training is that organizations will experience an increase in productivity and efficiency.

Organizations need to be “premeditated” just as the perpetrator, that is, have a well-trained staff that can spot potential incidents or pre-indicators; or PINs, Pre-incident Indicators, as Gavin De Becker calls it in his book Fear Less and respond to them effectively.

As Mary Richmond can attest, one unpleasant message may be all it takes to push a violent employee over the edge. And, HR is very frequently the target. Why? They are usually the bearer of bad news.

Organizations also need policies and procedures, a written plan, specifically addressing each of the stages of an incident. These can address preventive measures prior to an incident; procedures for dealing with an incident in-progress; and post-incident management, after it’s over. How each of these is handled plays a significant role in how much the incident will cost, in dollars, injuries and ultimately lives.

Does planning and training pay off? Ask the employees of Morgan Stanley who worked at 1 World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Exactly 1 minute after the first plane hit, they began evacuating. By 9:50 AM all 3528 employees were out of the building; they lost only six, four of whom whet back into the building to make sure everyone else was out. Why such an astonishing accomplishment, especially knowing that Morgan Stanley’s offices were above the impact point? They had a plan and they practiced it repeatedly.

Does the plan have to be in writing? Absolutely! And staff needs to be trained in, not only the Policy and Procedures but how to deal with people, especially as they become more difficult.

Staff also needs to learn how to deal with the media. Once there is an incident, the media will descend like a flock of vultures, describing the event in as sensational language as they can. And the organization typically is not presented very favorably.

Why then are only about 10% of the organizations in America prepared for such events? Surprisingly, even organizations that have experienced repeated incidents of workplace violence aren’t taking adequate steps to prevent a recurrence. Why is prevention such a low priority?

Well, for sure, prevention costs money. And in today’s culture, resources are scarce. There are some interventions that are not that costly but can have big payoffs. Background checks, are one simple and easy tactic that can be implemented that will help an organization avoid hiring the wrong person from the start. Having a “Zero tolerance” policy that prohibits threats, intimidation, harassment, and other forms of violence, costs little but yields big dividends. Many organizations believe that if it hasn’t happened here yet, well, maybe we can get through another year.

Frequently, however, managers and decision makers, fixate on the word “violence” or “crisis”. Such words conjure up images of bloody tragedies, leaving in their wake mass devastation. Images many of us would prefer not to have, no less prepare for. So the typical mind might imagine an extreme case but then quickly dismiss it as if it is too unlikely to occur in our setting. In addition, it is really too painful to focus on. After all, we haven’t experienced any like that before, so why should we now?
Management can quickly lull itself into feeling prepared, after all HR did prepare a Crisis Management Policy and Procedure, so we’re already prepared; all we have to do is review it regularly and we’re protected. Right? Not really.

You see, Crisis Management or Conflict Management is a reaction, an intervention; it’s not prevention! The supposition is, first you have to have a crisis or conflict and then you’ll manage it. This is quite consistent with our society, we are very intervention oriented, not prevention focused. We’ll spend money on security cameras, metal detectors, security officers and even conflict resolution training. These are all interventions. We’re not saying that these are total waste of time and money. We are saying they’re not Preventative and being preventative saves even more money, injuries and lives.

As stated earlier an interesting and positive consequence of training in preventative techniques is an increase in productivity, efficiency and a more contented, loyal workforce.

In our program, you’ll learn the three keys to prevention:

The Key of PRO-Action, where you’ll learn the anatomy of an evolving critical incident and identify the PINs so appropriate action can be taken;

The Key of Persuasion, that is, the Psychology of Persuasion utilizing a unique anger management model, where you’ll learn to gently guide someone away from violence and deal with his or her concerns while they’re just being difficult.

And the Key to Safe Enviro-Scape includes how to physically landscape your organization so you can minimize harm in the event you can’t prevent an incident and to understand the internal environment, the human body so you can control your reactions to an
emerging incident.

Author: Robert A. Evans, Ph.D., President A Center for Human Potential (www.acenterforhumanpotential.com)

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Evans is president of A Center for Human Potential (www.acenterforhumanpotential.com). He has over twenty-five years of experience in applied psychology & the behavioral sciences. He has practiced in a wide variety of areas including: individual, group & family counseling; psychological & educational evaluations; development, delivery & evaluation of staff development workshops; approved sponsor of continuing education for psychologists by the American Psychological Association.

He has managed training and training related activities for the: U.S. Departments of Transportation; Energy; Internal Revenue; Defense, and the U.S. Postal Service; other training programs presented to: Allied Signal; AT&T; CIGNA Insurance; Crum and Forster; Kennedy Space Center; Public Schools in the Counties of: Citrus; Clay; Flagler; Hillsborough; Orange; Pinellas; Seminole; and Volusia; and Tampa General Hospital; also gave an invited address to the 2nd Joint National School/Community Conference on Youth Violence and Substance Abuse in Orlando, FL, 11/18/99.

Dr. Evans is a Certified Anger Management Facilitator trained by Anderson & Anderson.