Managing Violence in the Workplace Part 2

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For the second part of this piece on managing violence in the workplace I would like to look at the aftermath of violence from the employers perspective. I’m not an employer and I don’t  want this article to be seen as telling employers what to do but I have managed teams before and I know what the aftermath of a serious violent incident looks like. I also know from an employee point of view what it feels like to feel let down and unsupported by your employer after an incident and I know that it’s not a very nice feeling. So for the next few paragraphs I’d like to talk about how to respond to an incident of violence in a way that’s not just legally but also morally compliant.

It’s your fault (generally)

The first thing to recognise as an employer is that regardless of who was right or who was wrong during a violent incident it’s your fault. If the patron/customer/attacker was 100% in the wrong then it’s your fault. Something in your policies, procedures, systems of work, risk assessment or equipment has failed. It may be that you have done nothing wrong  but your employee has been attacked while representing you and that’s your fault. Even if the opposite is the case it’s still your fault. If your employee has done something grossly stupid, negligent or even criminal that’s also your fault. You hired them, you trained them, you supervised them, you equipped them and then you sent them out to represent your brand so no matter how badly they mess up it’s your fault. Who’s to blame is not the theme of this article but it is important for employers to recognise this part of the puzzle. No matter what, if a person representing you has been involved in a violent incident it’s going to be your fault. Accept it, own it and fix it. Of course there are exceptions to this but in general it holds true.

Duty of Care

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (Section 8) employers have a duty of care to reasonably protect their employees from all forms of foreseeable  risk. This can include both violence and the recurring effects of violence after an incident. Once a violent incident occurs the first priority is obviously any immediate  medical care that may be required for all parties but once this has been sorted the next priority is to make sure the duty of care to the employee is fulfilled. Many organisations go straight into full brand protection mode (which is correct) but often neglect the employee in this part. A good idea is to have  a senior manager protecting the brand but also appointing a senior manager to ensure that the employees needs are met in the immediate aftermath.

Debrief

A very important part of the post incident review is the debrief. The recovery phase of conflict is often overlooked from both an individual and an organisational point of view. Some organisations pay out large sums of money every year on helpline services and access to external counselling services to assist employees in recovering from conflict. These services tend to be underused by employees following conflict for a variety of reasons. A common reason reason for this is that many front line operatives feel much more comfortable in speaking to somebody who actually does or has done the job that they do. They don’t see the value in talking to a stranger (even though it can be beneficial). This is where the post incident debrief can be an essential part of the incident if done correctly.

A chance to moan

Many supervisors dread the debrief as they see it as a chance for the affected party to shout and roar and sometimes moan about how unsupported they feel and how much it wasn’t their fault. Firstly that type of response isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After a stressful incident being able to vent in the privacy of a supervisor or managers office can often help. It sure beats going home and shouting at an unsuspecting partner or shouting about it in front of the rest of the team at work. Secondly it’s a sign of a badly ran debrief. Yes let the person rant but the debrief has a purpose and that purpose is to learn from the incident. It isn’t about blame or fault. It’s about asking the right questions to ensure:

  1. The staff member is ok and fit for to work
  2. That it doesn’t happen again to the same or another staff member
  3. The liability for both the individual and the venue is reduced
  4. Polices,  procedures and risk controls worked.

Deal with blame and investigation afterwards but these are the priorities for now.

Learning

Both the debrief and the following investigation have to result in some form of learning. Einsteins famous definition of insanity as “doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result” springs to mind. If there are constantly issues of violence involving various employees then perhaps it isn’t the employees fault. Perhaps it  is a process failure or a training failure which can be addressed. If there are numerous incidents involving a certain employee then perhaps it’s an individual failure but it could still be a training failure for the individual. We also have to accept as employers that you cannot eliminate violence altogether especially not in the security industry. If we did then there wouldn’t be much need for the industry anymore. We aren’t looking for the unicorn of completely eliminating violence all we should be doing is looking to keep our staff and our customers as safe as we reasonably can and if there are things we can learn from previous incidents of violence and can help reduce  further incidents then shouldn’t we at least explore them?

My closing message for employers, managers and supervisors is simple. Don’t forget that behind every violent incident there is a staff members who is affected by it in some way. Maybe minor or maybe seriously but you have a duty to that staff member. There is of course a brand to protect also and employees must recognise the effect their actions have on this as well. Even if however the employee is at fault then you as an employer have a burden to bear. You hired them, you trained (hopefully) and you sent them out there to represent your brand. Recognise it, accept it and learn from it.

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