By Martyn Church, CSP, ASM
While workplace violence is a hard subject to cover within any organization, I feel it gets even harder for snow professionals. We work unusual hours of the day and night under stressful and hazardous conditions, sometimes with very little or no sleep. We operate noisy equipment when clients and neighbors are often trying to rest or work. Many of us have employees and subcontractors working side by side, racing the clock to clear properties per the contract. Throw in a few equipment breakdowns, perhaps a work-related injury, and all of this in below freezing conditions. If this is not an environment ripe for workplace abuse and violence, I don’t know what is.
I have never been a big fan of the term “workplace violence” because the true definition of violence requires physical force; but workplace violence is so much more.
According to OSHA, workplace violence is “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. These acts range from verbal threats and abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. They may affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”
Abuse and violence against employees can transpire from a variety of situations including the following:
- Robberies and other crime
- Actions by frustrated or dissatisfied clients
- Acts by disgruntled co-workers
- Domestic incidents that spill over into the workplace
Before you decide that your company doesn’t need to have a proactive approach to workplace conflict, know that under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”
As business owners or managers, we are obligated to provide a safe work environment. So how do accomplish this?
If you don’t already have one in place, a workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training, should be a high priority. This is especially important for an employer who has experienced acts of workplace violence or becomes aware of threats, intimidation or other indicators of the potential for violence to exist.
Also, as a business owner and self-defense coach, I advise you to know your state and local laws regarding labor and background checks if you choose to perform them. Also, learn about weapon and gun laws. This way, if you want to limit personal carry restrictions for employees or clients, you can understand what you can and can’t do. Understanding these laws and regulations will help you write your policies.
The nature of our business can expose our employees and subcontractors to violent and abusive situations. One incident that occurred with my company this past season was a heated disagreement between a subcontractor and an employee. In the middle of a snowstorm, the subcontractor alerted me that he had upset my employee. He told me he removed himself from the job site until the issue could be resolved. At the same time, the employee called to give me his report of the situation. The two involved were at a somewhat remote location and it was very difficult for me to reach them in good time. I managed to defuse the situation by speaking to both parties over the phone and also sent extra staff to the site to help maintain a calm working atmosphere. I explained to my staff that they had done the right thing by walking away and contacting me, and they worked together without incident for the rest of the season. Although I have simplified this story somewhat, my point is this: These situations possibly happen more times than we know and this needs to change. If I hadn’t been told about the argument and tension grew over the season, the outcome could have been a lot worse. The scenarios are endless, and it’s hard to cover everything that may happen. Here are a few steps to help you start.
- Create a zero tolerance workplace abuse/violence policy.
- Implement a workplace abuse/violence prevention program or incorporate this into existing operating procedures.
- Educate all personnel on how to recognize concerning behaviors and which behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.
- Establish clear reporting procedures for field employees who may be threatened on site.
- Create multiple options for people to report unacceptable and potentially dangerous behavior. These may include an anonymous reporting tool such as a Dropbox program or dedicated phone line or identifying multiple staff members to which employees can feel comfortable reporting such incidents. Good old-fashioned snail mail is also an effective method.
- Educate supervisors and managers on how detect and defuse potentially bad situations.
- Create safe zones for office staff and field personnel.
- Implement an alert signal that can notify all personnel quickly and discreetly.
- Practice, much like you would a fire drill.
- Create an opportunity for staff to train with a self-defense instructor or local law enforcement.
Awareness is the best way to protect yourself and others. Nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace abuse and violence, but by following these steps, the odds can be greatly reduced.
Martyn Church, CSP, ASM, is owner of Eco Snow Removal in CO. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is trouble brewing?
Failure to promote emotional safety in the workplace can result in an unsafe climate that could doom your business.
By Leslie Boomer
In many ways, the workplace is no different than other areas of our lives when it comes to managing personal conflict. Building and maintaining strong, productive and lasting relationships takes work. Yet, getting leadership to invest in developing relationship skills is rarely easy, even for organizations that value training and education. They’re all in for training to improve the skills needed for operations but often view leadership or relationship training as soft skills that are less important to long-term success.
For example, workplace safety is a hot topic that most successful companies focus on with pride. Yet the focus is likely on operational safety and slip and fall prevention. What about emotional safety in the workplace? Keeping your employees safe from conflict and emotional harm should be of equal importance, and an intentional focus on the development of trusted relationships should be, too.
Following are some factors supporting the necessity for a culture of emotional safety in the workplace:
It starts at the top
Owners and top-level managers are critical to creating a sense of security and hope for the future - the foundation of a positive workplace culture where employees feel safe and secure. People want and need to know that leadership is stable. When owners or top management are too often a source of conflict with mid-level managers and leaders, that tension will have the opposite effect and create instability for the workforce. Think about the solid, steady leaders in your life. They help you navigate challenges at work and know how to solve conflict, not create it. Of course, not everyone is a “people person” or has a natural ability or even desire to develop deep relationships.
We’ve all heard the story of a teen who started mowing lawns to make a few bucks and five years later is running a small company with a crew, equipment, a building and a ton of responsibility. For that owner, it may seem much more important to focus on customers and building the business; but they’re missing a fundamental building block: developing the knowledge and skill required to be a well-rounded leader who knows how to invest in relationships and manage conflict. Long-term success will be much more difficult to achieve and maintain with conflict, and fighting that starts in the boss’s office. If ownership and management set the example, those same behaviors will manifest at all levels, trickling down to every person in the organization. Strong leadership and conflict management begins with owners and managers who learn how to help others get along and build trusted relationships.
At the next level, trusted and caring employee-manager relationships will keep your workforce stable, productive and happy. Research shows that the most common reason people leave a job is because they don’t feel secure, safe or cared for by their direct report manager. When there is conflict between workers and managers, those struggles negatively impact the entire company. Investing in training that gives your managers the knowledge and skills they need to manage well and avoid conflict with the people they lead, contributes positively to your bottom line.
When a crew knows their manager cares about their well-being, they work harder, care more about your customers and invest more of themselves into ensuring quality work is getting done. Managers who know how to create a safe environment for workers in physical and mental safety see less of the conflict and violence that negatively impacts workplace culture. Relationship building doesn’t come naturally to every manager, and those who don’t know how to focus on successful relationships run the risk of much more frequent conflict with the people they manage. Over time, unresolved issues and the conflict that comes from them kills organizational health and employee morale.
Keep morale up
The quality of relationships impacts every area of a person’s life. When things are going badly at work, that can spill over into home life and beyond with increasingly negative impacts everywhere, but especially at work.
Employees who feel isolated, criticized or intimidated often act out in ways that hurt others, which makes work difficult and causes conflict. When someone feels like they don’t have friends at work, they may withdraw, avoid interactions or intentionally cause arguments that create drama and cut productivity. Managers need to be aware and recognize when someone is at the center of conflict so they can intervene.
Your crew needs operational skills and good tools to effectively get work done. The same is true for relationships. Proper training provides the tools and skills needed to develop positive working relationships. Without those skills, people are more likely to get hurt and will limit the company’s success.
Workplace conflict is a serious issue. People disagree, have bad days and don’t always play nice -and that causes problems.
Avoiding conflict or ignoring the importance of conflict resolution puts your people at risk. Over time, a lack of stabilizing relationships and conflict resolution will cause a buildup of anger and hostility that may erupt into more damaging verbal or physical violence. You may not have expected it or seen it coming, but when it does the damage very likely will be irreparable. Unresolved conflict has a natural next step: workplace violence. Being intentional about awareness and having a policy about what to do about it can and will make a difference.
Leslie Boomer is publisher of Snow Business magazine, a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and is trained in PREP Workplace Relationship management. Contact her at email@example.com.
The Department of Labor offers information on how to recognize the warning signs for potential workplace abuse and how to respond. These levels can be used as a tool as you build your workplace violence and abuse policies and processes, but understand that each situation, the people involved and their responses may be different. Learn more about recognizing violence at www.dol.gov.
Behaviors: Intimidation, bullying, uncooperative, disrespectful, verbally abusive
- Observe the behavior.
- Report concerns to supervisor or the next level of supervision if the offending employee is the employee’s immediate supervisor.
- Document the behavior.
- Supervisor should meet with the offending employee to discuss concerns. Ask for their input and how you can help, and outline expectations, including repercussions for failing to correct behavior.
Behaviors: Argues with customers, vendors, coworkers, managers; refuses to obey policies and procedures; sabotages equipment; steals property; verbalizes threats of violence toward others; sees self as the victim in the situation
- If warranted, call 911 and other appropriate emergency contacts, especially if any actions require immediate medical and or law enforcement personnel.
- Immediately contact the supervisor, who can contact other appropriate personnel to respond.
- If necessary, secure your own safety and the safety of others, including contacting people who are in danger.
- Document the observed behavior.
- Supervisor should meet with the employee and follow the Level 1 response and, if appropriate, begin or continue progressive discipline. In addition, the supervisor should remain calm; ask the person to sit; and ask relevant questions to the complaint including what they are trying to gain by committing violence and how you can help regain control of the situation.
Behaviors: The person displays intense anger resulting in suicidal threats, physical fights, destruction of property, displays of extreme rage, or use of weapons to harm others
- Call 911 and other appropriate emergency contacts, particularly if the situation requires immediate medical and or law enforcement personnel.
- Remain calm and contact supervisor.
- Secure your personal safety.
- Leave the area if your safety is at risk.
- Cooperate with law enforcement personnel when they have responded to the situation.
- Document the observed behavior.
- Supervisor, where needed, will contact functional area experts and will follow the procedures described in Level Two.
Did you know?
- The Department of Labor reports that every year approximately 2 million people throughout the country are victims of nonfatal violence in the workplace.
- The Department of Justice has found violence to be the leading cause of fatal injuries at work.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15,980 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2014. These incidents required multiple days away from work.