The Cost of Workplace Violence Prevention and Awareness

Posted on: July 27th, 2014

The Threat of Violence is On the Rise…

A safe and productive workplace is in everyone’s interest, but the number of violent acts, including threats of violence, has increased over 400% over the last decade. Workplace Violence Prevention and Education initiatives are paramount before an incident happens, saving businesses considerable time, resources in addition, legal fees, but most importantly, the implementation of mandatory changes to the workplace to protect employees from any future threat of a violent act. It is important to note that when experts refer to violent acts, they are referring to acts of violence by employees and criminal predators that commit armed robberies or assault employees while on the job.

Reality Hitting Home…

OSHA & NIOSH Statistics show that the risk of being attacked while working is seven times greater in the U.S. than in Europe. Did you know that the number of managers killed has doubled over the past 10 years. Moreover, that only 40-50% of workforce victims report crime to the police. The threat of Workplace Violence has proven to be a challenge, it can occur internally (co-workers, self-inflicted) and externally (customer/employee, domestic violence, robbery/assault/rape) and can be physical or non-physical. Recent trends suggest that places of work are now the victims of domestic and international terrorist demands.

The Hidden Cost of Workplace Violence…

  • Organizational effectiveness, productivity, the culture and image are adversely impacted by a violent act at work including:
  • Lost work time (average of 3.5 days per incident for those
  • directly impacted);
  • Increased security and facilities repair costs;
  • High probability of litigation; increased workers compensation claims & costs;
  • Increased medical claims; Personnel turnover;
  • Increased incidents of stress between labor organizations and management, significantly reduced performance & productivity & Negative internal and external publicity & press are but a few symptoms of the hostile workplace.

Personnel turnover is deeply rooted in an employee’s unwillingness to be perceived as a troublemaker and resigns or asks for a reassignment rather than complaining. Such personnel turnovers are a company’s worst nightmare, as they will undoubtedly volunteer to testify against the employer in the aftermath.

No one knows the exact dollar figure associated to workplace violence related exposure. Such costs are absorbed in increased medical and injury compensation claims under other unrelated ailments related to a workplace violence exposure. In this category might be the victims of harassment, verbal abuse and other forms of non-physical assaultive behavior but victims of psychological assault.

4 Responses

  1. Having a daughter directly exposed to workplace violence at its worst exposed the fact employers would rather bury their heads in the sand instead of addressing a serious problem head on. In my daughter’s experience every employee was intimidated and scared of a fellow coworker. Their fears were validated at the expense of my daughter who was intimidated and brainwashed, as well as assaulted emotionally and physically multiple times. Due to “one” employee there was a high rate of turnover that surely cost the business money in time vested training new hires. Management was clearly intimidated and afraid to discipline and/or terminate the problematic employee which consequently lead to multiple assaults on my daughter. With that said I subsequently sued which came at great expense to the business. During the process of the law suit “all” former employees were subpoenaed and questioned about the workplace environment as a whole. The former employees were not sworn to silence so a can of worms were opened the company never saw coming. The law suit continued for 3 years costing the company long term legal fees, and later a settlement.

    Although I am not a business owner it would seem logical that the hidden expenses are not so much hidden, but ignored. I would suggest the majority of employers hope the problem will just go away.

    My thoughts are that strong ground rules are set, understood and documented at the time of hire regarding unacceptable behavior in the workplace. Good employees should be treated with dignity and respect by management. Regular recognition of a job well done will establish mutual respect reducing the number of disgruntled employee behavior. At the very “first” sign an employee is not adhering to the rules it should be addressed immediately, directly and privately.

    Sadly sometimes there is no way to detect if someone is mentally ill. Their behavior will eventually leak out. Management must remain in charge by placing their emotional feelings aside and make the right choice to ensure the safety of themselves and employees.

    Generally when an employee is treated with respect from day one of employment, even the mentally ill, they will most often walk away without retaliation if terminated. There is no absolute or certainty, but fear cannot keep a workplace safe.

    My point is the theory of fear. Is fear costing companies millions of dollars?

    • Felix says:

      Thank you for your heartfelt comments Sandy and thanks for sharing in this medium. We hope to learn through your experiences and offer some perspectives. We share some common ground on the topic of fear. I happen to think that employers are truly fearful of responding inappropriately to workplace violence. Hence, much of what transpires in a serious threat of violence, commission of a violent homicidal act or serious injury is cloaked in confidentiality to protect victims, the organization and the “employee perpetrator” against legal scrutiny or premature disclosure. Even when organizations are due diligent their cautious concerns of uncertainty don’t allow them to be as open or even forthright. Your specific experience probably represents the perception created and impression generated by the employer who rather than risk compromising their position fails to conduct a comprehensive assessment and investigation of the employee’s complaint in establishing credibility or disqualifying the complaint.

      Workplaces expose themselves to civil scrutiny and employee doubt when management fails to give the victim’s version any credibility or fails to conduct a hasty, thorough investigation. In either example, the perceived lack of care and concern stymies the ability of the organization to be due diligent in the process. Interviewing other employees could easily build or dismantle the allegations. Proper employee interviews might have expedited the process, engendered an image of trust and confidence in your daughter, her co-workers and the organizations and enabled the “perpetrator employee” to receive proper attention. When avoiding the inclusion of the internal legal staff and corporation counsels, workplaces become encumbered by rules and regulations lawyers are accustomed to working through.

      The value of competent advice gives way to bad or poor advice which interferes with swift adjudication and poor decision-making. That employees had evidence that could have been used legally underscores why workplaces expose themselves and lose civil liability law suits. The failure to conduct a hasty and thorough investigation might expose the workplace to allegations of negligence. Based on your comments I find it incredible to believe that those involved did not understand the ramifications of their behavior. High rate of turnover is a measurable negative inhibitor to the bottom-line and a cause for concern.

      Properly preparing the response requires a definite approach to workplace violence prevention that involves supervision and management. Workplace violence prevention should not just be about training the workforce on warning signs but training supervisors and managers and staff to know how to manage the potentially hostile workplace in protecting the workforce and the workplace. The first ethical duty of every workplace is to provide for a safe and secure workplace for all regardless of the OSHA Duty to Warn Clause which implies a legal duty to provide for a safe and secure workplace. Training supervisors and managers in managing the potentially hostile workplace will help them understand that “Generally when an employee is treated with respect from day one of employment, even the mentally ill, they will most often walk away without retaliation if terminated” or disciplined for inappropriate behavior if we value them. I agree that “there is no absolute or certainty, but fear cannot keep a workplace safe”.

  2. Scott Bump says:

    Such a fine line between retaliation and “fighting an injustice”. With people having different levels of tolerances for so many different reasons or mental limitations. I think it’s important to be aware of possible flags that there may be a problem? For example; What if an institiution in a location had 4 different managers in the same position in four years, 7 managers in that same position in 10 years. A complete cycling of staff at least 4 times in 10 years leaving perhaps 2 that didn’t leave. Say if something like this happened would it not make sense to examine two deviates of the data ? What were they doing to survive? Or what were they doing to not be affected? A mixed methods study could show much, the cost of such turn overs would/ could be staggering. Once the root cause is discovered on such a scenario as this what’s next? What could solve that problem so it never happens again? just having the awareness by the right people may be all that’s needed

    • Felix says:


      Did I not reply to this already? If not, please accept my apologies. Thank you for indulging me.

      There is a fine line between retaliation and “fighting an injustice” that when left unresolved has the potential for escalation. There’s a business myth surrounding employee background screening and the prevention of workplace violence that suggest it will reveal risk indicators; and they will if there are official reports on file.

      But what happens over a ten year period of time when the employee is exposed to the experiences you’ve alluded to and they feel trapped in a defenseless management arena where policies are meaningless and employees are victims of “rogue” managers and supervisors? They’ve created a “blackhole” a disgruntled festering of unhappy people who begin questioning the circumstances of their situation.

      The ingredients for escalation are apparent but taken for granted because management has a tool called “Termination” if the employee gets out of line.

      With people having different levels of frustration tolerance becomes the defining line that for many is substantiated by their need of employment. So what do we really have? We have dysfunctional workplaces where “zero tolerance” has little prevention value only another management tool to keep the restless under control.

      Though important to be aware of possible red flags that there may be a problem there’s rationalization and justification by the observer who witness a careless management team whose only objective is “getting over”.

      In your example of an institution with 4 different managers in the same positions over an inordinate amount of years the opportunity for success in controlling situations becomes quite successful for them. There is nothing that escapes or gets resolved that will make them look bad.

      So a background check will not predict the outcome of this impending situation. The only way of validating this deviant behavior would be through a credible reporting system with anonymous reporting capability and managed at a senior level.

      Even with my wish of a desired credible reporting system recognition of a problem and it’s solution is a decision that may not fall into the in-basket and stay there.

      Studies show that employees in toxic work environments would rather leave it than fight it. Those who stay take out their vengeance as nonviolent workplace avengers sabotaging systems, programs, equipment and operations; vandalizing property; creating strife; lack luster performers and an imaginative mixed bag of other devious tactics of retaliation. “The cost could be staggering.”

      Discovery of root causes and contributing factors alluded to will never be resolved because their existence is tied to the managers involved like an umbilical chord. There is no such thing as resolution in a toxic environment unless you clean house.

      Having awareness is only the beginning, Scott. Doing something about it is the follow through. Follow through is all that people really, really want.

What are your thoughts?