Exploring some of the reasons behind workplace violence

Workplace violence can take many forms, including profanity, verbal abuse, physical violence and sexual harassment, and it would appear that it is on the rise. The reasons behind workplace violence are many and varied, and almost anyone has the potential to become a victim or perpetrator of this increasingly problematic occurrence.

Possible factors in workplace violence

Workplace violence can have long-lasting effects, both for those who are directly responsible or victimized, and the productivity and morale of a company. Incidents need not always result in serious injury to be devastating; violence in the workplace can be disruptive, reflect badly upon a company, allow employees to feel unsafe, and even lead to court proceedings. The reasons behind workplace violence are varied, from pressure and every day stresses experienced on the job, to mental health issues, problems at home, and substance abuse. There are a number of situations that are capable of turning an ordinarily placid worker into someone prone to violent outbursts. Extraordinary circumstances can be hard to spot, meaning that violent confrontations can be hard to predict or prevent.

The issue of substance abuse in the workplace

Substance abuse, whether it’s the misuse of alcohol or drugs, is perhaps the biggest problem faced by managers across the States, and is a huge contributing factor in workplace violence. It is estimated that nearly 68% of drug users are employed, while 10% of American workers have, at some point, experienced an issue with alcohol.

Of course, substance abuse on its own is not always a cause for workplace violence; often there are other contributing factors during the working day, or at a person’s home, that will push them over the edge. Potentially violent scenarios include instances where an employee has been suspended or even fired for their behavior, a colleague who may be suffering from withdrawal symptoms, a worker who feels persecuted in the office environment, an employee being overlooked for a promotion or spurned romantically, or someone who has been the subject of criticism, bullying or negative attention at work. These scenarios on their own would not normally lead to violence, but are magnified due to the effects of drugs or alcohol; this may make it difficult for a worker to perceive right from wrong.

Protecting a workforce

It is essential that managers learn to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse, which can vary from a significant change in behavior or mood, poor concentration and decreased productivity, frequent absence and poor personal hygiene, to heightened temper, becoming prone to accidents, and a tendency to borrow or steal cash and belongings from colleagues. Recognizing and acting upon any of these signs could help employees to access help, as well as preventing bubbling tension and physical violence.

Many workplaces, particularly industries in which heavy machinery, transportation or safety-sensitive equipment are used, already carry out drug and alcohol tests as part of company policy. A hotly debated topic that is the subject of much controversy, workplace drugs and alcohol testing can be vital to companies, allowing them to maintain safety records, employee wellbeing and productivity. A simple oral fluid lab test is all it takes to determine whether a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and is often enough to identify a problem before it escalates into workplace violence, or threatens employees and the company’s livelihood.

Workplace violence is unfortunately more common than many people think, and can be caused by something as seemingly insignificant as increased pressure in the office, or an issue as worrying as substance abuse. It is essential for managers and their staff to recognize the symptoms of abuse before they are allowed to escalate, and to act quickly to protect those involved, as well as the business itself.

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