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Survey: Violence in the US workplace is epidemic

Violence in the American workplace is an epidemic according to a new survey. The “Violence in the American Workplace” survey conducted by AlliedBarton Security Services reveals that over half of Americans employed outside their homes (52 percent) have witnessed, heard about or have experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace.

The results of this survey are featured in the new book, “Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organisational Success,” by Bill Whitmore, chairman and CEO of AlliedBarton Services.

Potential shows how a range of stakeholders - from CEOs and senior leaders to building management, human resources, contract security and law enforcement - can work together to lower an organisation’s workplace violence risk and enhance its overall morale and performance. The new book was previewed at the 2011 American Society for Industrial Security conference and is now available to the public.

“Workplace violence often starts as verbal assaults or harassment and can escalate into threatening behaviour, bullying, physical assaults and even, in some instances, deadly encounters,” says Whitmore. “With the significant increase in unemployment in the past several years and the downturn in the economy, there is every reason to believe that these incidents may increase. This book is intended to encourage more senior leaders to take a proactive stance against workplace violence and reinforce how leaders at every level can play an important role.”

The objective for the survey was to determine if American workers have personally experienced violence in the workplace, witnessed violence while working, been threatened with violence, have concerns about workplace violence, have taken actions to ensure their own safety, and their attitudes toward their current employer. Conducted by David Michaelson and Company, LLC, this was a comprehensive nationwide scientific phone survey of 1,030 adults working outside the home.

Highlights of the research include:

Events that can lead to violent encounters are epidemic in the American workplace

Over half of Americans employed outside their homes (52 percent) have witnessed, heard about, are aware of or have experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace.

These events include open hostility, abusive language or threats and can escalate to significant physical harm to someone by another person. Even more significant is that 28 percent of workers report a violent event or one that can lead to violence happened to them at their current place of employment or they have been personally affected by this type of event.

Overall, 12 percent have witnessed, heard about or are aware of an incidence of significant physical harm to another person, and five-percent have had this happen to them or have been personally affected by this type of incident.

High incidence of workplace violence and related events is reflected in a significant level of concern with personal safety in the workplace

One in three (34 percent) of those Americans employed outside the home are very or somewhat concerned with their personal safety.

Workers are reluctant to report violence and related events that occur at their place of employment

Even with high levels of concern for their personal safety, three in ten (29-percent) workers who witnessed, heard about or experienced workplace violence did not report the incident or take other action. The most common action taken was reporting the incident to a supervisor or human resources, which was done by two in three (62-percent) workers.

Workers who experienced or are aware of violence are even less likely to take other actions when violence occurs in the workplace. Of those reporting, 21-percent contacted security, 14-percent reported the incident to the police and 12-percent called a confidential employer-provided number.

Employers appear reluctant to take aggressive actions when violence occursAlmost all (94 percent) employers take some action as a result of workplace violence. However, the most likely type of action taken is meeting with employees. Three in four (73 percent) workers who witnessed, heard about or experienced workplace violence report their employer held an employee meeting, and 69 percent say the employer met with the employee who experienced workplace violence.

However, employers appear much less likely to take other actions when these events occur. Only half (53 percent) took disciplinary actions. Even fewer implemented training for employees (45 percent) or supervisors (35 percent).

Changes to physical environments (31 percent) or revisions to company policies (22 percent) were even less common. Increasing security through the involvement of police or other authorities or contracting with a security provider were the actions least likely to be taken as a result of workplace violence.

Perceived low level of involvement by senior managers when workplace violence occursFewer than half (44 percent) of senior managers (CEO/president/owner) are perceived as being concerned with workplace violence, with only 17 percent seen as being very concerned.

Workplace violence is closely linked to lower employee morale and less positive attitudes toward jobs

Workers who experienced or are aware of violence or the conditions leading to violence at their workplace rate their current place of employment lower on every key measure than those who did not experience, witness or have awareness of these types of events.

Two in three Americans (63 percent) employed outside the home, strongly agree they are a valued employee. However, when comparing those who experienced or had awareness of workplace violence with those who did not share this experience, there are substantial differences. Fifty-eight percent who have an association with workplace violence strongly agree they feel valued. By contrast, 70 percent of those who did not share this experience have the same attitude.

In spite of the high incidence of workplace violence and related events, employees are highly likely to remain committed to their current employers Seventy-one percent say they are very committed to their current employer for the next year and an additional 20 percent report they are somewhat committed.

Even with a high level of commitment to their current employers, high proportions of workers are seeking or considering seeking a new jobWorkplace violence appears to be a significant contributor for workers in seeking a new position. Twenty-eight percent of those who experienced or are aware of workplace violence are looking for or are seriously considering looking for a new job. By contrast, only 17 percent of those who have not had this experience are considering new employment. Overall, one in four (23 percent) employees is currently looking for or is seriously considering looking for a new job.

“Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success” is available from online retailers in hard-cover at $24.95 and in eBook format at $9.95. All profits from the book will be donated to non-profit organisations dedicated to workplace violence awareness and prevention.

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Published February 28, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 28, 2012 at 7:50 am)

Survey: Violence in the US workplace is epidemic

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