When economic conditions lead to layoffs, benefit reductions or pay freezes in your company, employees may suffer from feelings of insecurity, frustration and stress. These triggers may cause ordinarily composed employees to express their mounting frustrations and worries in an aggressive manner. Companies must always take steps to reduce the risk of workplace violence, but under stressors like those provoked by a down economy, it is especially important to concentrate on mitigating this risk by identifying sources of stress and improving corporate communication.
Identifying employees who will turn to violence is difficult because they usually have no history or previous signs of violence and are generally compliant, veteran workers. Outlining the origins of workplace violence during tough economic times can help you develop a plan to prevent it.
Stressors That Preclude Violence
One of the biggest stressors that can trigger workplace violence is the potential for job loss or a reduction in hours or wages. Employees who fear a layoff feel less comfortable coming to work. Normally even-keeled employees who find themselves unable to make ends meet could suddenly take their frustrations out on others in the workplace.
Also, because of the lack of job availability, employees are more likely to butt heads with co-workers and compete viciously for a new position or promotion. The increased pressure to succeed and provide for a family in the midst of economic crisis may drive even the most unsuspected employee to hostile behavior, threatening behavior or bullying. Desperation can be an extremely powerful force behind many cases of workplace violence.
In some cases, economic conditions may force you to lay off employees who have dedicated years of service to your company. Those who feel they have been loyal to the company for years may consider the layoff unfair, and these ex-employees may seek violent retaliation. Similarly, disputes over economically-driven benefit changes may be a trigger for violent actions.
Actions to Take
One of the most important things you can do as an employer is assure your employees that their work is valuable. Look for extreme stress, anxiety and other behavior changes in employees to identify those that might be at risk.
Another side effect of economic downturn and layoffs is the remaining employees tend to pick up the slack and commit extra hours to complete increased task loads. This occurs sometimes by necessity, but often it is a choice employees feel they need to make to avoid being the next one laid off. Avoid placing this kind of pressure on remaining staff through effective management – carefully monitor work levels, and never allow employees to take on more than they can handle.
The Importance of Good Communication
Communication is important in preventing workplace violence, especially when the economic climate is an underlying factor. Speak with employees who feel overworked and, if possible, take steps to alleviate some of the stress. Explicitly explain to longtime employees the reason for the layoff and make an effort to part on the most positive terms possible. Be as transparent as possible by informing employees about company changes, and most importantly, encourage open communication between management and workers to ensure a healthy, safe environment.
Regardless the situation, GDI Insurance has material and support for virtually any Human Resource situation GDI's Employee Practice Liability Page. Please contact GDI Insurance today for more information regarding these services and much more.
Matthew Davis MBA, AAI