Tips to Mitigate and Respond to Workplace Violence

August 4, 2010

When workplace violence hits your company or community, statistics do not matter. The community of Manchester, Connecticut, and employees of Hartford Distributors probably know that all too well after yesterday’s tragedy
 
For the rest of us who follow these situations and wonder if lessons are evident, the statistics provide some context. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace homicides have fallen 52% between 1994 to 2008. Yet, nearly 2 million U.S. workers still fall victim to workplace assaults. And 70% of U.S. workplaces do not have a formal program or policy in place to address the problem. (See page 14: http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osch0033.pdf). Thus, while most experts concede that workplace violence cannot always be prevented, there is clear room for improvement from the private sector. 
 
Eventually, the media cycle in Manchester will lead to questions on Hartford Distributors’ values, corporate environment (indeed, early reports suggest some racial intolerance directed at the suspect) and its overall focus on workplace safety. Time will tell if the company had adequate measures to protect its employees. Companies that do have best practices to help minimize these situations typically . . .  


  • Approach violence prevention strategies through a multidisciplinary team approach

  • Conduct thorough background checks when making new hires

  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any threatening or harassment activities in the workplace

  • Provide diversity and sensitivity training

  • Conduct recurrent manager-as-communicator trainings

  • Treat employees in a humane manner during disciplinary actions and/or terminations

  • Consider personality testing  

  • Monitor employee misbehavior and address situations immediately when there are “caution flags” of concern

  • Take all threats seriously and respond appropriately.

Despite all of those steps, workplace tragedies can still occur.  When they do, organizations must be ready to . . . 


  • Respond quickly and with genuine empathy to media and key audiences (Note: When suspects are still at large, this must be coordinated very closely with law enforcement officials so as not to impede the investigation)

  • Provide counseling for family members and employees

  • Organize and support victim memorial services

  • Participate in hospital visits and memorial services, as appropriate

  • Work closely with community leaders and authorities

  • Provide appropriate vehicles to express condolences and information (coordinated closely with victims’ families).

Do you have any additional mitigation or response best practices to share? If so, please provide your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

James Donnelly is senior vice president, crisis management with broad experience in issues/crisis management, crisis training, communications training, corporate public relations, and global corporate communications. He is also the main steward of the agency’s North American Issues & Crisis Management Network – a group of 40+ counselors.

As a senior member of Ketchum’s Issue and Crisis Management Specialty Team, James leads programs that include: threat assessments, capability building, trainings, simulations, strategic counsel and response support. In addition, James leads programming of the Executive Crisis Management Academy, the most comprehensive training program ever offered on crisis management.

James is currently an advisory board member of the Center for Global Public Relations at UNC Charlotte, a university where he also guest lectures on crisis management. He can be followed at www.twitter.com/jamesjdonnelly and through his blog: www.jamesjdonnelly.com.