Real People, Real Impact: Workplace Violence

February 15, 2023 | Diversity & Inclusion | 5 min read

More people than you know experience workplace harassment. Even at your organization. Maybe even you.

Workplace harassment is prevalent and pervasive. It may include physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional harassment. Today, we’re talking about workplace violence – a type of physical harassment at work.

Here are some characteristics of workplace violence:

  • Workplace violence is pervasive. There are roughly two million victims of workplace violence each year in the United States alone.
  • Workplace violence is dangerous. Assault – physical harm or unwanted physical contact – is the fifth leading cause of workplace deaths.
  • Workplace violence is scary. Would you believe that 68% of workers worldwide do not feel safe at work? At least a fourth of victims do not report workplace violence incidents out of fear or embarrassment.
  • Workplace violence is expensive. Workplace violence costs organizations up to $330 billion every year.

Violence at work creates a toxic environment that leads to decreased trust and morale among employees, as well as a lack of respect for authority. Particularly if violence is allowed to permeate, it will lead to reduced productivity and lower output and quality of work.

But more importantly, workplace violence has a profoundly negative impact on employee mental health and well-being – especially among its direct victims.

Fabricio’s Experience

Meet Fabricio. Fabricio is a victim of workplace violence. He’s a real person – just like you and me.

Almost immediately after Fabricio started a new job at a hotel, one of his coworkers expressed discomfort about working with him. The coworker began making remarks that were unrelated to work. In a particular incident, he said to Fabricio, “Why don’t you go back to your country?”

This wasn’t an isolated comment. Fabricio dealt with verbal harassment on multiple occasions, including in front of his supervisor. “He didn’t do anything about it,” Fabricio said. The offensive comments intensified, soon targeting Fabricio’s sexual orientation.

And the harassment didn’t stop there. It only escalated.

What could Fabricio’s manager have done? Learn about ethical leadership here.

The coworker physically attacked Fabricio during an overnight shift at the hotel. While he was taking a break in his car, the coworker came to the parking lot and began circling the vehicle. The coworker knocked on the window and tried to open the door. Fabricio defused the situation by telling him they should talk later.

Later, at the end of Fabricio’s shift, the coworker stormed out of the hotel unprovoked and began repeatedly punching him in the parking lot. Fabricio was defenseless and tried to protect himself by dodging as many punches as possible, but eventually, he was stabbed in the heart. With his life still in danger, Fabricio managed to push off his attacker and drag himself back inside the hotel.

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Understand the Impact of Workplace Violence

Although Fabricio’s life was miraculously saved, the incident still impacts him today: “I had open-heart surgery. I have a scar that reminds me every single day of the event. And I take some medications because of the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that it caused me.”

One of the most significant adverse impacts of workplace violence is its permanent effect on employee mental health and well-being which inevitably, particularly if they are suppressing it, leads to decreased job satisfaction, motivation, and performance.

In severe cases such as Fabricio’s, physical violence in the workplace can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

“It feels like I am less of a person,” admits Fabricio. “It feels like I was dealt a bad hand. It was very hard.”

Learn How Your Organization Can Address Workplace Violence

While workplace violence is more common than any of us would like to believe, there are steps that your organization can take to protect employees.

Adopt a zero-tolerance policy.

Set expectations across your organization that workplace violence will not be tolerated. Create specific punishments for breaking this rule that will immediately apply to all employees. Ensure that even people in positions of authority do not have the power to punish employees for infractions subjectively.

Stop it before it starts.

Preventing and stopping workplace harassment and punishing employees who commit harassment can have a direct benefit to preventing workplace violence. Educate your employees on what harassment looks like, what to do about it, and how to intervene as a bystander are key components to preventing harassment that turns to violence.

Educate employees on workplace violence.

Would your employees know how to diffuse the situation if workplace violence occurs? Many organizations incorporate workplace violence into their compliance training programs to help prepare employees to stay safe when/if workplace violence occurs. Help your employees to practice procedures and develop the skills they may need to diffuse a challenging situation.

Look for warning signs.

Warning signs of workplace violence include volatile behavior, excessive absenteeism or lateness, disregarding the health and safety of others, disrespect for authority, unsatisfactory work quality, and more. Educate your employees on these warning signs and provide them with clear directions on reporting potential issues.

Conduct regular risk assessments.

It is your responsibility as an employer to assess your worksites and uncover potential risks. Once you have done this, you can work to implement controls to mitigate the risk of violence.

Provide employee support and resources.

Help employees understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to preventing and reporting acts of violence in the workplace. Ensure they have the knowledge and skills to prevent and address violence in the workplace so they can help your organization create a safer and more productive work environment.

Workplace violence is a serious issue that impacts people's lives and livelihoods and can also negatively impact organizations and their employees. By implementing practical compliance training and other measures, organizations can help prevent and address workplace harassment and violence, creating a safer and more productive work environment for all.

This has been the first installment in Skillsoft’s three-part series on workplace harassment, which includes intimidating, offensive, or abusive conduct. Whether it manifests as name-calling, physical assault, threats, or something else, workplace harassment can have a real impact on real people within your organization.

Fabricio is not alone. He is among 44% of people who have experienced harassment at work.

Learn why harassment training has historically failed and how you can make a real impact on your employees through effective training.