#Covid-19 Return to Work Risk Mitigation Challenges and Opportunities

Posted on: May 13th, 2020

Management must not begin to view the “Covid-19 Return to Work” as a “new normal” yet, but, rather a “transition interim” towards a stabilized period where Employers and the Workforce can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In as much as Employers have a duty and responsibility to provide for a safe and secure workplace (OSHA Duty to Warn Clause) how it is achieved is not a mandate but a moral, ethical and legal obligation. Providing for a safe and secure workplace can be effectively implemented through organizational engagement and cultural support.

Whether your business or an organization is a small, midsize or large size one, Employers having a workplace violence prevention mindset will advance the thinking and aid the approach to managing #Covid-19 Return to Work Risk Mitigation Challenges and Opportunities during this “emergence phase”.

Because you may have a different understanding, emphasis and approach to workplace violence prevention you may  not understand risk factors as important and may not find contributing factors as relevant as I may. However, both are important in prevention and mitigation. Managing risk during this “emergence phase” will be full of challenges and opportunities.

You are apt to find more frequent outbursts, verbal altercations and acts of defiance in preventing the feared surprise attacker (active shooter). Be prepared for the angry workforce as they return from periods of isolation and separations to encounter a workplace full of rules that seem more alienating and contributing to conflict.

Depending on what side of the issues you are on Covid-19 Return to Work Risk Mitigation may or may not present challenges or opportunities.  Consider it a “neutral zone” full of opportunity to assess and evaluate what the “new normal” might look like. A time where rules are not clear and new approaches are required.

Will you anticipate the challenge in taking proactive measures in looking for a proper solution or will you have a reactive, dam the torpedoes, full steam ahead attitude and miss potential risk mitigation opportunities?

Is there room for changing old paradigms of thinking and operating while still providing for a safe and secure workplace and contending with other business-security expectations?

How the Covid-19 Return to Work Risk Mitigation challenges are handled and how opportunities are strategized will depend entirely on empathy, thoughtfulness and effective leadership.  Building new approaches might dictate new ways of encountering business-security decisions, managing risks and preventing escalation of nonfatal acts of violence to more aggressive physical acts of violence.

Supervisors may be called upon to lead and give employees the benefit of the doubt. During this “emergence phase” “new normal” will task the Employer’s management and leadership responsibilities:

  • They will need to be responsible and accountable for their actions in not allowing situations to escalate.
  • Engaged supervision involved in anticipating problems, recognizing and responding to warning signs and understanding the impact of business issues on the workforce’s perception of the issues.
  • An organizational mindset may require understanding the significance of owning outcomes in minimizing risks by acknowledging unintentional consequences.

What if scenarios become more prevalent and relevant in forecasting impact on business decisions and actions.  If you are in Human Resources you might see convenient opportunities in addressing adverse personnel decisions and personnel reduction actions not possible before Covid-19 but imaginable  now.  A shift in thinking may create new opportunities to improve approaches to discipline and refine the way you “terminate” or separate employees.  You may find expedient solutions more practical today by the government mandated workplace closings that may include assumptions on downsizings, reorganization or not rehiring employees. Done correctly, employers might find workable solutions not available before the government mandated closings.

Employee perception of disparate treatment will drive the thinking and the behavior that fuels the emotional contagion, rationale and justification to exact their vengeance. 

Supervisors and managers will need to be centers of influence and lead by example in being able to recognize the potentially volatile workplace environments and have the backing and ability to mitigate risks on the spot.

Success will be predicated on management’s commitment to empathetic leadership while providing for a safe workplace in addressing inappropriate conduct through root cause analysis.  Treating employees with dignity and respect will take on a different meaning that shows sincerity, care and concern for their emotional and mental well-being.

If you are the safety or security manager you may find yourselves as “Ambassadors of Change and Influence”.  You might view challenges as new duties and responsibilities in addressing social distancing relating to workforce, customer and vendor interactions; support management decisions in the removal of employee(s) who indicated positive during the infectious decease screening process; and enforcing violations of the workplace violence policy in response to nonviolent volatile acts of violence (verbal outburst, yelling, screaming)  to name a few.

Until such time when “new normal” stability is gained, Covid-19 Return to Work may very well be the “new emerging threat”.

Workplace Violence Prevention will require a different mindset that engages with the workforce in finding amicable solutions rather than hasty swift actions to discipline and removal. Containment of emotional reactions will drive the need for management and workforce civility.

Enforcing the Workplace Violence Prevention Policy may take on a more compassionate approach in some incidents by addressing root causes and contributing factors before disciplinary action. In other words management may need to become more transparent in adjudicating workforce discipline so as to promote sensitivity and flexibility.

The “new normal” may require understanding of the unintentional consequences of new policy changes and personnel decisions affecting business and organizational reorganizations, consolidation and required learning of new functions. The transition from disgruntled to aggression may become more apparent and a frequent occurrence during these turbulent periods were VUCA concepts (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) may prevail and creating opportunities of their own.

Whereas prior to Covid-19,  Employers might have been more inclined to act swiftly on the disciplinary and separation process in addressing misconduct and acts of violence, during the “emergence phase”,  prevention and de-escalation may necessitate an empathetic response where appropriate before eventual administrative action is taken.

Because of the workplace turbulence and employee perceptions of unfair labor disparate treatment there will be a tendency for more frequent emotional outbursts. As such, there will be a need for supervisory training in aspects of workplace violence prevention that includes defusing conflict, de-escalation, warning signs, risk factors, contributing factors and issues around managing the potentially volatile workplace environment.

The real challenge awaiting Employers in this “new normal’ will be the employee perception of disparate unfair management decisions masked as Covid-19 Pandemic Return to Work Labor Management Employment actions. Being honest and above board could very well diminish anger and reduce frustrations.

The manifestation of frequent nonviolent acts of defiance and episodes of anger by employees will be more frequent in response to workforce reactions to disagreeable news.  In short, increased tensions will become more apparent and frequent as management and workforce resolve perception issues during this “emergence period”.

How will you respond to the Covid-19 Return to Work ‘new normal”? Will you be proactive or reactive?

Felix P. Nater, CSC is a security management consultant who helps Employers implement and manage workplace security strategy and policy with an emphasis on workplace violence prevention. He believes that workplace violence prevention is an ongoing process involving  multiple intervention strategies. He derived his experiences and consulting model while working as a Postal Inspector on U.S. Postal Inspection Services’ New York Division Violence Interdiction Team.

Contact Felix P. Nater at 1-877-valu101 or 1-877-825-8101. Visit his website www.naterassociates.com

2 Responses

  1. Felix;

    Good article. It appears that people will be returning to work with a shorter fuse then when they left and that management will have to implement emphatic safeguards to address employee tension. I see today’s riots as an example of what management may have in store for them. After so many weeks kept in-doors many people threw way their masks and went to the street to protest and found themselves drawn into looting and violence. It is not the normal American way of things, but the Covid19 tension ran over the brim of the cup and spilled out into the streets.

    I would like to see more recommendations in the article relating to what the new normal will look like and how it should be addressed. For example: will more employees be allowed to work from home for for efficiency and to safeguard the staff; what will happen to common areas like pantries?; will the Open Office disappear? and if so what will it be replaced with?; how should the guards and other security personnel address the new normal and treat personnel; will HR have to define new rules for a Safe Work Site and Violence Prevention.

    Most managers will just be happy to return to work and may not be thinking about the new normal and how treating personnel may change. Should orientation start before people return and in what manner. Is a memo from management enough, or should videos be prepared?

    It’s nice to see your still dedicated to a Safe Site and Workplace Violence Prevention. Someone has to open the eyes of management to these concerns and I have always found you to be an excellent representative for the field.

    I’m located in Ashburn, VA outside of Washington – working in Security, Enterprise Architecture, Enterprise Resilience, Corporate Certification, and of course Business Continuity Management. Finally got married and living in a nice house. Life is much different than my days in NYC and I don’t miss the city life at all. I’m glad you contacted me. Lets not make so long in between hellos again.

    Tom Bronack

    • Felix says:

      Thank you Tom Bronack for the excellent feedback. Let me see what I can do to address your concerns around recommendations. As you know, the purpose and scope of my Blog is to increase awareness and inform Employers of new potential realities.

      While I wanted to focus on the threat of workplace violence and personnel security and not generalities relating to “new normal” my message was on not be reluctant to change while not throwing out the playbook.

      I think I referenced some terminology unique to my approach but appreciate your perspective. But to your point, Employers who are not flexible and adaptable will find themselves either in ligation, arbitration or personnel actions. As alluded to there will be more acts of defiance than ever seen before not to mention business operations.

      I did not want to delve into admin, operations or management activities that assuredly will require attention and consideration.

      However, I did want to peak interest in a plethora of areas around safeguarding the workplace, remote sites and the need to rewrite specific policies addressing personnel and workplace safety as well as cyber security, safeguarding information and personnel security.

      Workplace security changes will be required. The “new normal” could be considered an “interim period” requiring technology procurement to be strictly managed for longterm procurement and application.

      HR & Security are encouraged to collaborate on workplace security and Violence Prevention. Supervisors could benefit from receiving additional instructions on conflict management and problem resolution.

      Thanks for your thoughtful input and feedback. I too have enjoyed living in North Carolina and recently working out of my Home Office. It has been a blessing in disguise.

What are your thoughts?