Monday, June 25, 2007

Pay attention to anger on job

Jun. 24, 2007 12:00 AM

Do you feel safe at work?

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 2 million assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work occur annually. This includes 325,000 aggravated assaults, 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults, 70,100 robberies and 900 homicides. In addition to assaults and threats, a substantial number of employees report being bullied or harassed on the job.

Workplace violence costs employers billions of dollars in lost work time and wages, reduced productivity, medical costs, workers' compensation payments and legal and security expenses.

Providing training to recognize and address workplace violence should be a regular part of an employer's annual training regimen. An inappropriate-language tiff between employees can escalate to something much more serious if left unattended. Such behavior was reported at my company, MackayMitchell Envelope Co., so several months ago, management took time to review our offensive-behavior policy with all of our employees. We hired TEAM (Total Employee Assistance Management Inc.) and held several mandatory training classes.

I learned a lot about this issue, and while writing about such a topic is a real departure for me, I think this is especially important.

First off, what constitutes workplace violence? It includes name calling, yelling, angry remarks, obscene phone calls, vague or specific threats, throwing things, destroying property, shoving, stalking, hitting, stabbing, rape, suicide and murder.

Violence in the workplace can come from patients, students, customers and clients. Supervisors, managers and current or former employees can also commit it. In addition, violence can come from a spouse, child, neighbor or anyone who has a personal relationship with an employee.

A number of risk factors increase the likelihood of workplace violence, including a mishandled termination or disciplinary action; a grudge over a real or imaginary grievance; drug or alcohol use; bringing weapons to work or fascination with weapons; increasing belligerence; vague or specific threats; interest in recently publicized violent events; frequent outbursts of anger; and homicidal or suicidal comments or threats.

An employer has an obligation to provide a safe work environment. What can be done to decrease the likelihood and occurrence of workplace violence?

• Adopt a workplace-violence policy and prevention program.

• Communicate the policy to all employees and provide training sessions for all new and current employees and members of management.

• Adopt consistent and fair disciplinary procedures.

• Foster an environment of trust and respect among co-workers and between employees and management.

• When necessary, seek help from outside resources, such as law enforcement, employee-assistance groups and mental-health professionals.

Employees are often the first to notice potential problems with co-workers and should be encouraged to be active participants in keeping the workplace safe. What can employees do to help prevent workplace violence?

• Accept and adhere to your company's workplace-violence preventative policies and practices.

• Become aware of warning signs.

• Report any threatening and violent behaviors to management or human resources.

The instructor of our violence-in-the-workplace class shared this story with me about the "worry tree":

"I was in a session with a police officer and asked him how he dealt with all of the tragedy, death and inhuman behavior exhibited between people on the assorted police calls he makes.

"He told me that every night when he went home, he touched a tree before walking into his house. By touching the tree, he told himself, he was dumping all of the tragedy, stress, death and trauma on the tree. He then went into his home, took off his vest, locked his gun away and made the conscious choice to stop being a police officer and to start being a husband and dad.

"The next morning, he touched the tree on the way to his car to go to work and assumed all his worries. The amazing thing is, there aren't nearly as many as he hung up the night before. He told me that touching the tree allowed him to compartmentalize his life and prevented him from burning out."

The officer found a positive way to keep his anger and frustrations from turning into violent behavior. Help yourself and those around you to do the same.

Mackay's Moral: Control yourself: Remember, anger is just one letter short of danger.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times' No. 1 best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his Web site,, by e-mailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co, 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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