Making the case for preventing workplace violence

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, the rate of nonfatal workplace violence declined by 35 percent from 2002-2009. But, despite the decline, a recent survey conducted for AlliedBarton Security Services found 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.

Violence at work may be down, but it is still a problem that touches many people, according to Bill Whitmore, Chairman, President and CEO of AlliedBarton. Workplace tension, economic stress and perceived management apathy about security are impacting productivity and making workers uneasy on the job, he said.

[See an example of a workplace violence prevention policy]

Whitmore, author of "Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success," recently spoke with CSO about the statistics behind workplace violence, and what he thinks the nation's corporate leaders need to do start confronting the problem.

CSO:Statistically, workplace violence has decreased over the years. So, why did you decide to dig into the topic of workplace violence with this book?

Bill Whitmore: We know clearly from surveys that have been done in the last four years that workplace violence is high on the list of concerns for Chief Security Officers. AlliedBarton does seminars on a range of work place topics all of the time. We typically get 25 people at most of those seminars.

But our workplace violence seminars that we have been running for the past two years get 200 people at them. We had one in Connecticut recently that we sold out of and had to run a second one. That just shows you the level of interest in this topic.

The other thing is one of the markets we are heavily involved with is the healthcare industry. When I've been meeting with CEOs of hospital groups, healthcare organizations, I ask: what is your biggest issue that you face from a security and safety stand point? They say workplace violence. This is a big topic in America.

We started to do more research and found out the second leading cause of death in workplace is workplace violence Number one is traffic accidents, number two is workplace violence. I don't think many people know that.

As part of your research, AlliedBarton had a poll on the topic conducted. Tell me more about it.

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.

We hired David Michaelson and Company and they conducted a nationwide phone survey of 1,030 adults working outside the home.

After conducting the poll, the pollster said to me: When you see the numbers, you will see this is an epidemic.

Among the findings was that one in three Americans, 34 percent, go to work every day afraid. One in three! That is a startling number to me. I never knew that number was so high.


I can remember going to college and studying Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. At the peak of the pyramid you reach self-actualization — where you really feel good about everything and you are a peak performer. Well, near the base of the pyramid is your safety and security. If you don't feel safe and secure — if you have one eye on your work and one eye on the door — you're not going to be really effective.

Did anything else surprise you from the poll results?

Another issue that came out was the high number of folks who believe that leadership doesn't care. Forty-four percent of respondents believe the leadership of their company has no interest in workplace violence prevention. Only 17 percent believe that their leaders have a high interest in preventing work place violence. That's a big gap there and it tells me when most employees look at their leadership, they don't think they care about their safety.

Also, 29 percent of people who witness issues never report it to their employers. The leap of faith I might make there is to assume they do not report it because they think management doesn't care. If 29 percent of incidents are not being reported to anybody, those who don't report probably think no one really cares.

Why do you think workplace violence is as large of an issue as you say it is today?

Some if it is reflective of our society, we see violence in society increasing. And, also, I do wonder if the economic times we are living in are a part of it. That's just my opinion.

Because of the economy, there is tension in the workplace. There are layoffs going on. People are questioning their future. There is pressure on individuals that work every day. So I think it's a combination of factors. All of these factors that come together, you put them in a pot, stir them around and you get workplace violence.

What is the case you are making in your book for why management needs to become more involved in this issue?

Experts in workplace violence find that 51 percent of the cost of workplace violence is lost productivity. That is something that speaks to the C-suite. If I'm a CSO and speaking to the C-suite, I'm saying I want to kick start these initiatives to fight workplace violence; I want to do training, awareness, 800 lines for calling in issues, developing great relationships with HR. I want to build a program here and get the C-suite sanctioning it.

If you put a focus on workplace safety, safety numbers improve. The underlying thesis of the book here is I believe leadership focus on an issue works.

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