Prepare, Prevent and Reduce Risk at Your Facility
- By Patricia G. Coureas
- Jun 25, 2021
Violence in the workplace is taking on a position of greater priority and attention for businesses as they reopen after a year of COVID-19-related closings. In recent months, an increase in reported violent incidents at business locations across the country is shifting security concerns beyond virus transmission to a renewed focus on the steps companies can and should take to help protect their people, patrons and visitors from the threat of violence on their properties.
Virtually all of us have been isolated while managing or struggling to manage the impact of the pandemic on our personal, financial and professional lives. Additionally, watching our communities grapple with the realities and reckonings of the past year has only added to a sense of collective unease. As companies attempt to get back to normal, communicating your company’s reopening and return-to-work plans and procedures can facilitate meaningful conversations to help reduce employee anxiety about returning to the office. Drawing on my decades-long background in law enforcement, I recognize that for some people, the uncertainty and variety of stressors associated with COVID-19 and the related economic downturn have exerted inordinate strain on people’s lives, which has the possibility to translate into hostility or aggressive behavior in the workplace.
To help prevent a contained outburst on the job from developing into something more serious with catastrophic consequences, many companies are taking a proactive approach by looking more closely at the policies, practices and training surrounding the potential risk posed by workplace violence and elevating their priority. An important preventive measure companies are beginning to implement is de-escalation training for their own workers, educating employees on effective ways to defuse hostile or disruptive behavior before it intensifies into a crisis.
Organizations across different industries must first have a well-defined workplace violence prevention policy in place that includes a clear strategy for identifying and limiting possible risks to their business. These risks are different for every organization, which is why this kind of de-escalation training must be tailored to each individual company’s operations and needs in order to identify and understand the environment where employees are working. A comprehensive risk assessment would help to determine whether there are adequate lights, and that access control and video systems are in good working order. Are there seamless methods in place to summon emergency assistance and are employees trained in their proper use? Having a robust electronic security system can help reduce risk in emergency situations by providing the means to alert authorities quickly or notify others of a crisis. But it doesn’t stop there.
To help avoid a crisis in the first place, there are a few specific de-escalation techniques and strategies that can be considered depending upon the situation. Our Enterprise Security Risk Group has recently developed a series of interactive instruction and role-playing sessions aimed at establishing an understanding within an organization for how best to defuse confrontational situations in the workplace. Based on leaders’ own experience in law enforcement and drawing on research completed by the Crime Prevention Institute, these tactical strategies can further help organizations to home in on the right protocols to broaden awareness and provide training to a wider range of people in the company. Because the more people who know how to de-escalate aggressive type behavior, the greater the chances of getting out in front of a crisis before it happens.
De-escalation training is aimed at identifying specific situations that have the potential to arise in a given work setting, then conducting role-playing sessions so participants can practice the effectiveness of their responses based on recommended de-escalation techniques. Following training, the trainers are able to go back to their jobs and workplaces to establish new protocols appropriate to their work environments and provide training sessions to a wider range of people.
Following are just a few examples of some proven techniques developed through years of practice de-escalating chaotic or near disastrous situations that can help prevent an angry outburst from escalating into a dangerous, damaging or disruptive crisis:
Stay calm. It can be unpleasant and offensive to encounter a person who is acting hostile and lashing out. Try to remain composed, rational and professional, remembering that anger and aggression are emotions best handled by not reacting in a similar way or by responding too hastily.
Keep your body language and manner of speaking neutral. The more a person loses control, the less likely they are to hear your words and the more they react to your nonverbal communication. Relax your body and keep your hands in front of you, palms facing outward.
Move the conversation to a private area. If a conversation or confrontation becomes agitated and it seems safe to do so, it can be helpful to suggest moving the discussion away from public spaces and into a more private area to talk.
Respect personal space, but set clear boundaries. When possible, stand up to 3 feet away from the person, because allowing for personal space tends to decrease a person’s anxiety level.
When someone’s behavior is belligerent or disruptive, give them clear, simple and enforceable limits and offer concise and respectful choices and consequences. This might include saying that it’s important to remain calm in order for us to talk and asking the question, “How can that be accomplished?”
While some industries may face a greater risk of workplace violence, the potential exists for an encounter to turn into a crisis in or around any place of business at any given time. So as companies begin returning to more customary operations and full staffing levels, preparation is key to identifying the risks and having plans in place to prevent workplace violence incidents. Comprehensive risk assessments, well-defined workplace violence prevention policies, and adequate security technologies and practices can combine with effective de-escalation training and protocols to help keep people, patrons and visitors safe at your facilities. In this way, businesses can take the lead in helping to create safer, more caring and compassionate communities where conflict is addressed before it ignites into violence.