Everybody's working from home, so why train Workplace Violence Prevention & Response?
I recently had a client reach out to let me know that their leadership was “pushing back a bit” on the idea of continued workplace violence (WPV) prevention & response training since most of their workforce was now working from home. Evidently, the thinking goes something like this… Since the employees in this organization are no longer working alongside one another in a traditional office setting, the risk of violence in the workplace is greatly reduced, so why train?
This is a natural question and one that deserves a considered response. Here are 2 important things to consider.
1. It’s important to remember that, like other training initiatives such as equity, diversity, and inclusion training, WPV prevention training is part of a larger “culture stack” focused on cultivating safe and productive workplaces, but with an eye toward nurturing mutual dignity and respect.
As such, the goal of WPV prevention is more than just the prevention of and protection from physical violence. It helps demystify what, for many, is a distressing and volatile subject; that of interpersonal violence.
Effective WPV training enables employees to understand the evolutionary nature of interpersonal violence and that troubling behavior often begins long before someone acts out in a physical way. This can include psychological violence and aggressive behavior such as bullying and/or intimidation. Training further teaches important concepts surrounding the nature of psychological stress while providing the necessary language to help people explicitly identify something that may only have been rumbling around their brains as a fuzzy, “gut feeling” that something isn’t quite right with a colleague or co-worker.
And while the risk of physical violence in the traditional workplace might be slightly offset right now due to a larger number of folks working from home, a remote working environment also means it’s harder to check in on folks day-to-day to see how they’re managing. This can contribute to a slow erosion of the social and cultural fabric of an organization since interpersonal relationships managed through video teleconferencing systems have a much lower emotional and psychological fidelity than face-to-face interactions. The result is that organizational members can grow apart and small conflicts and misunderstandings can metastasize and fester into something more serious. Work-from-home settings may also desensitize us to appropriate behavior around others as our ability to interact with one another in person atrophies.
Continuing to speak the message of WPV prevention reminds folks of the vital need (perhaps now more than ever) to stay aware of how everyone is doing and to reinforce the language that’s needed to help employees put words to their intuitive concerns AND urge them to take action by bringing their concerns forward.
Even among virtual work team members it’s important to cultivate awareness of low-level behaviors perceived as aggressive, rude, or discourteous-- or that simply display a lack of regard for others --as these types of behaviors can often be the earliest indicators that someone could be on a path that might lead to violence.
2. Unfortunately, we’re reminded almost daily that we all need some basic awareness and guidance in responding to extreme violence, just in case we find ourselves being swept into something like an active shooter incident whether that might happen in our work environment, a store, a restaurant, or even a place of worship. We live in unprecedented times and most people are experiencing much higher levels of stress both personally AND professionally. Remaining committed to providing extreme violence response training additionally reflects a deep organizational commitment to overall employee well-being and that can be a great assurance to employees.
So, while it might seem that, on the surface, the need for workplace violence prevention and response training is not as necessary, due to recent changes in our work environments, I think closer examination reveals that, if there was ever a time to reinforce our efforts to get the message of violence prevention and response out to our coworkers and colleagues, it is NOW.
Heart & Courage,
Some things to consider when participating in video teleconferences regarding behavior from others. Here are some considerations:
Does the person look like they’re relaxed and reasonably comfortable?
Are there any indications that they might be under some sort of emotional or physical duress? Things such as:
Are they dressed in acceptable working attire for the video call?
Does it appear that they’re taking care of themselves such as attending to personal hygiene, combing their hair, applying makeup, etc.
Are there any other indicators such as a significant change in weight (loss or gain) or a clear presence of deep fatigue?
Do they arrive on-time or ahead of the call, or are they joining calls consistently late?
Do they present a sense of personal awareness such as staying mindful of how their home workspace looks on the video call? Does it appear to be clean, organized, and reasonably quiet?
Do they present themselves in a courteous manner such as muting themselves when not talking and waiting to chat when appropriate.
Do they exhibit any behavior that might indicate frustration such as eye rolling, crossing of the arms, excessive fidgeting, or shaking of the head side-to-side to indicate intense emotional disagreement?
Are you noticing any odd behaviors such as dropping off the call with no attempts to reconnect?
Are you picking up any passive aggressive communication behaviors such as:
”Ghosting” a participant (i.e. pretending that a person is not in the video call etc.)
Stonewalling someone by not providing a response when directly addressed
Using sarcasm as a primary form of communication (e.g., saying “You know how much I love these calls!” in a sarcastic way.)
The use of any language loaded with contempt (e.g., saying “Oh you tried to meet the deadline but it was too hard? Pathetic!”)
The use of backhanded compliments (e.g., saying “I’m impressed you actually showed up today!”)
Are they staying engaged in the call or are you noticing that they’re “multi-tasking” or ignoring the call altogether.
Do they appear excessively distracted or easily startled?
None of these signs are absolute indicators that someone is in a bad place or that the stressors in their lives might be leading them to consider acting out violently. After all, we’ve all had bad days when we’ve struggled just to get through the day. But, taken together, clusters of these behaviors over time may indicate that someone is moving from a stressed to a distressed state and that their ability to cope positively with the stress in their lives is being overwhelmed. Trust your intuition… If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t and be sure to bring your concerns forward to your management, HR, or security.
About the Author
James Sporleder has more than 25 years' experience in the security industry. With a unique background in specialized captivity survival, James has trained thousands of US military personnel from some of the most elite unites in the US Department of Defense. He's worked in the corporate arena for more than 17 years, focusing on the development and implementation of specialized training programs and helping more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 prepare for and respond to emerging challenges related to workplace violence, intimate partner violence, and extreme violence such as active shooter.
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