Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A survey from the University of Iowa shows that many companies have significant gaps in how they prepare for the potential for workplace violence, even though more businesses are taking the possibility for such a threat seriously.

While the majority of the 77 surveyed companies had policies and procedures addressing workplace violence issues, only 41 percent provided training for their employees about those policies. Further, only 48 percent provided training to frontline managers, who usually are the first to observe employees exhibiting abnormal behaviors that could lead to violence.

The three most frequently investigated forms of workplace violence, according to a survey of businesses by the UI College of Public Health:

  • Communicated threats of harm by another employee, customer, or client, reported by 55 percent of respondents
  • Abnormal behavior, 48 percent
  • Bullying, 33 percent

“Managers and supervisors can see these behaviors first and can set the tone in their work groups for reporting and addressing it early, before it escalates,” says Carri Casteel, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health and director of the Occupational Injury Prevention Program. “Likewise, employees need to know how to report incidents and understand what resources and services are available to them if they are victims of workplace violence.”

The survey was conducted by the Workplace Violence Prevention Working Group of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), an international professional organization. UI researchers surveyed 77 ATAP members and affiliate businesses about their policies and programs related to workplace violence.

Casteel acknowledges the sample size is small and perhaps not representative of companies’ workplace violence prevention programs nationally. However, she says she knows of no other survey of this type having been conducted, so it provides a baseline for future research into what businesses are doing to address the issue.

She also notes that if businesses that take workplace violence issues seriously enough to join a professional organization like ATAP still have gaps in their programs, she wonders what the gaps are like in businesses that don’t have the resources and backing of a professional organization to address the issue.

The survey found that the most frequent types of events that businesses investigated were communicated threats of harm by another employee, a customer, or a client, which were reported by 55 percent of respondents. Abnormal behavior was reported by 48 percent of the respondents, and bullying reported by 33 percent.

Casteel says the survey found differences in incidents based on company size. Domestic violence incidents were more frequent in larger companies, whereas bullying was more frequent in smaller companies.

She says that businesses often think about workplace violence as an incident that generates a lot of media attention, such as an active shooter scenario. While it’s important to address these kinds of situations, she says focusing only on gun violence misses the need to address other violent acts that are more likely to happen, such as bullying or threats. She points to studies that show intimate partner violence is growing as a workplace issue as more domestic disputes spill into workplaces.

Corinne Peek-Asa and Jonathan Davis of the UI College of Public Health also assisted with the survey, as did representatives of Boeing, Target, and Microsoft.