About a year ago, I had a meeting with an individual who runs a mandatory course for those involved in the perpetration of hate crimes. While this meeting focused on specific aspects of targeted violence, the information, understanding and behavioral awareness of the precursory signs for physical violence have a commonality with many of the reasons why physical violence can manifest itself in all aspects of our lives and within our work environment.
Most workplaces, whether federal organizations or private corporations have a zero tolerance policy for violence in the workplace—and rightly so. Physical violence is an act that transcends the ability to enact any type of conflict management or mitigating actions to resolve issues.
Furthermore, physical violence impacts all aspects of work related goals, from mission objectives, operations and fiscal productivity. Physical violence, the threat of physical violence and the precursors to physical violence, will instill fear into every aspect of the working environment and severely erode and degrade the ability to be successful and can lead to the inevitable demise of entire working groups.
However, as responsible management officials understand, the zero tolerance policy after an incident of physical violence occurs is not sufficient to alleviate concerns of physical violence, nor be a sole method of addressing the threat of physical violence and the precursors to violence in the workplace. The zero tolerance policy is a deterrent and like most deterrents it is a reactionary tool used to demonstrate the relationship between action and consequence.
This is most commonly illustrated in the use of our penal system. If you commit a crime, you will be incarcerated. However, as we are all aware, the deterrent itself is not sufficient to prevent criminal behavior.
There are certainly a great many reasons for criminal behavior, from sociological to psychological explanations, and much is written by experts on the subject. However, I use the illustration only to develop an understanding of our situational awareness and how we undertake the many challenges we face.
In our society we are fortunate to have a law enforcement culture whose objective is to tackle criminal behavior, including violence and violent offenders. We rely upon government to enact laws and enforce regulations which are meant to keep up safe and protected. However, within the workplace it is necessary for each individual to maintain a responsibility by taking a proactive approach to mitigating conflict which, for the purposes of this article can lead to the manifestation of physical violence. While there is no excuse for physical violence, all of us can be a part of the solution for preventing violence from occurring.
The term “awareness” connotes many things. The dictionary describes being aware as “having knowledge; conscious; cognizant.” As members of a workplace we must all be aware of many things which are critical to sustaining a cooperative and secure working environment.
In our society we work in a diverse environment with a multitude of race, ethnicities and unique and complex cultures. Many cultures have differing tolerances for what they consider physical behavior. It is the responsibility of workplace management to communicate properly what the expectations are of each employee based on the current policy and protocol.
As members of the workforce we must also be mindful of these cultures and the cultural triggers which can breed conflict and lead to altercations. Additionally, we must all be aware of all the other triggers which can lead to conflict. These triggers can be work stress related, personal issues and everything in between. It is not necessary to understand in detail what issues or catalyst events are being triggered, only to maintain an awareness of the situation and environment.
Action and Consequence
Our actions are crucial in preventing hostility. What we say, how we say it and how situations are perceived is a key element in preventing workplace violence. Recent articles in the news illustrate how inappropriate actions can provoke physical altercations.
While inappropriate actions do not warrant or justify the perpetration of physical violence, it is nonetheless a routine catalyst leading to physical violence. We are all aware of the examples regarding “road rage” and how simple actions, verbal gestures or other none physical actions have led to unfortunate acts of physical violence. The same can be said for “office rage”. Certainly the catalyst of events might be different, although the unique combination of initial actions, reactions and results are similar in the course of the chain of events leading to physical aggression. It is imperative to always by cognizant of the consequences of our actions, how they are perceived and the different perceptions based on the changing situations. All actions have consequences, positive or negative.
The manifestation of physical violence in the workplace is not necessarily based on an immediate reaction to a specific on-the-spot encounter or altercation. More often, the manifestation of physical violence is based on a set of events or series of events, over the course of a period of time, which can be short or long term. However, we can define this course of events as precursors to the “impact moment.”
How we recognize these precursors or catalyst events, maintain an awareness of the potential for negative consequence from these events and more importantly, the principles, fundamentals and mitigating activity we employ, in addition to the reactionary deterrent protocols; is vital to ensuring a safe and secure environment within the workplace. We all play a critical role in deterring and preventing violence by maintaining a level accountability through the serious of events taking place prior to the impact moment.
It is each person’s responsibility to maintain accountability for his or her actions. To ensure that the dynamic environments with each culture of diversity, coupled with the stresses and frustrations of a particular job function are perceived and engaged with caution and prudence. It is our responsibility to ensure that our verbal or physical actions are not the catalysts or precursors for aggressive behavior or foster a hostile atmosphere which can give rise to destructive actions. The burden of accountability rests on all shoulders. We rely on senior management to address issues as they arise in the manner necessary to sustain a secure environment. However, it is every individual’s responsibility to communicate the issues in order for issues to be addressed and resolved. Accountability is crucial when assessing each person’s responsibility of their position, how we address issues and ensuring that we are gravely aware of the consequences or our actions or as important to remember, the consequences or our inactions.
Physical violence is unacceptable and there is no justification for the use of physical force as a means to resolve conflict in the workforce. There are many avenues to resolve conflict and as professionals, it is our responsibility to act with reason and intellect. Turn on any news program and we can see that physical violence is a part of our environment. However, it is all of our responsibility to be a part of the solution and evolution to preventing destructive actions.
This article provides a general framework and does not address what actions should be taken or explain the relationship between policy and responsibility. Please refer to your company or agency human resources personnel for specific policy and protocol directives.
Seth Gordon is an Inspector for the Department of Homeland Security (TSA) at JFK Airport and has operated in various security and administrative government divisions. Prior to the TSA, Seth worked in private industry, management and political affairs by serving in a legislative oversight capacity as the Chairman of Ethics for the City of Long Beach.