Violence in the workplace isn’t a new phenomenon, but the frequency of such incidents is increasing at an alarming rate, suggests the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a 2003 special report on the topic. The agency traces the genesis of modern-day workplace violence to a 1980 incident in which a part-time letter carrier who recently had been fired walked into his former place of work and took 15 lives, including his own. While these types of news-monopolizing incidents of violence are what most people think of when they hear the term "workplace violence," not all violence in the workplace takes on this form.
Violence by Strangers
Violence by strangers in the workplace can be one of the most difficult forms to prevent, as there is often no warning that an attack is going to occur. Generally, this type of violence is motivated by one of two factors. The first, and most common, is robbery in which a stranger perpetrates violence while he tries to take money or goods. Other times, strangers enter a place of work and act in violence because they disagree with the principles of the business. Activists bombing abortion clinics is an example that fits this sub-category.
Violence by Customers
Violence by customers occurs when someone affiliated with the workplace, but not an employee, perpetrates violence. This is most common in locations that service large populations, such as schools and hospitals, "Campus Safety" magazine reports. Customers may act out violently because they are upset with the organization or simply as a result of a psychiatric problem. Because these locations are filled with so many customers, it can be difficult for employees and management to recognize potential perpetrators of violence and to be proactive in preventing it.
Violence by Co-Workers
This type of workplace violence gets most of the media coverage. It occurs when a worker enters the workplace and acts out violently against a supervisor or co-worker. To prevent this type of violence, leaders in the workplace must look constantly for signs of mental distress such as a withdrawal from socialization, an increase in on-the-job agitation and a decline in work quality. If a manager detects any of these warning signs, she must confront them, speaking to the worker about whom she is worried and assisting him in getting the help he needs.
Violence by Personal Relations
Sometimes, conflicts workers have with people in their lives, including spouses, spill over into the workplace. This may happen, for example, if a worker recently has left her husband and he comes to the place of work to confront her or inflict harm upon her. To prevent this type of violence, management must make it clear to workers that they can and should report personal problems to business leadership so officials can be on the lookout for potential problems.
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