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When more people return to work, are we at a higher or lower risk of workplace violence?

Workplace violence after COVID-19

It’s been a rough mental health year for a lot of people. Americans who have suffered job losses or strained wages are at additional stress. So what happens when all those workers return to the workplace? 

It’s a myth that people just “lose it”. There are always signs that predict growing anger or violence toward other people. The risk many employers face right now is being unable to pick up on these signs or notice them as quickly if people are working from home or staff movement has been limited inside a building. The signs we look for most often are:

  1. Deteriorating performance and sensitivity to criticism or feedback.
  2. Obsessing over other employees or an issue.
  3. Fascination with tragic events.
  4. A sudden increase in the acquisition of weapons.
  5. Dramatic mood swings, depression, or bursts of anger.
  6. Threats of harming themselves or others.

These signals can be noticed online if an employee is working from home, but it’s much more challenging and likely to be missed.  It’s also hard to notice these signs in workplaces where people are spaced out, reducing “walking around time” for supervisors, or just not interacting as much at events like company outings or lunches. Which, in turn, is another stressor for people as human connection and socialization are shunned.

The result is a high level of uncertainty when employees fully return to work. Numbers for 2020 aren’t available yet, but it’s not unreasonable to assume significant drops in reports of workplace violence, abuse, and stalking as teams remain distributed. Long-term, numbers are likely to rise again.

Preventative measures for employer liability protection and how VPC can help

Employers aren’t powerless to protect themselves and their employees. Organizations could make therapists or mental health screenings available or required. Random mental health screenings similar to random drug tests could be effective on as little as 5% or 10% of employees. This is particularly useful in healthcare or where close, intimate one-to-one contact with customers is necessary.

VPC can also help you create a screening process similar to COVID-19 questionnaires that can help you identify individuals who might pose a violence risk. To be clear, this doesn’t mean every workplace has a quiet killer in their midst. Don’t focus on an active shooter situation being the only risk. Stalking, bullying, verbal abuse, and physical abuse such as slapping or pushing are equally alarming and unacceptable. In addition, stalking and verbal abuse are incredibly common, and showing efforts to mitigate or eliminate it can be a useful way to attract and retain talent.

Lastly, employers can offer training to their employees on how to de-escalate situations. Likewise with full-on active shooter awareness training and drills. In both instances, VPC can help train large teams, “train the trainers”, or train select individuals. Training select individuals is not unlike training a few people to operate an AED or in CPR.

Everyone has a role in preventing violence. Now is a good time to implement changes, training, and screening while teams continue to learn and adapt to today’s business environment.

To get started and inquire about trainings, contact us.

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