COPE CopeLine Supervisor

August 2017

A newsletter for supervisors and line managers

Violence At Work

Every day it seems we learn about violence and crime. We try to get on with our routine without worrying too much about what we read, hear and see. One of the last places most of us think violence will be a problem is at work. However, statistics show that violence is on the rise in the workplace.

How to Recognize violence in the workplace? We all have moments when we blow a circuit, so to speak, and lash out in anger or frustration. If a fellow employee slams his desk drawer shut, throws a book down, or yells at someone over the phone, is he being violent? The answer depends on whether anger is acted out directly at another person in a threatening manner. It may be difficult to clearly define “threatening.” The following list outlines some behaviors that warrant caution:

  • Any verbal threat to harm another person or destroy property
  • Any actual physical aggression
  • Any behavior interpreted by a reasonable person as potentially violent - such as throwing things, destroying property, or carrying an object which could be used as a weapon
  • Any harassment, including sexual harassment, that makes another person feel unsafe
What are the facts about workplace violence? Homicide is a leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Homicides accounted for 10 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in the United States in 2016. There were 500 workplace homicides in 2016, an increase of 83 cases from 2015. The 2016 total was the highest since 2010. Of the occupations examined, police officers, corrections officers, other protective services and retail sales employees saw substantial increases.

Four Main Categories of Workplace Violence
  1. Robbery and other commercial crimes
  2. Domestic Violence that spills over into the workplace
  3. Violence among co-workers or managers
  4. Violence committed by clients or patients
Risk Factors A number of factors may increase a worker’s risk for workplace assault (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
  • Contact with the public and in community-based settings
  • Exchange of money
  • Delivery of passengers, goods, or services
  • Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser
  • Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social service, or criminal justice settings
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late at night or during early morning hours
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Guarding valuable property or possessions
Is there a Violent Person Profile? While it is almost impossible to predict who will be violent on the job, statistics show the typical employee who resorts to workplace violence is male, aged 35 to 50, often an unmarried loner with no close friends. The individual may be considered “odd” by others. Another factor is often that the person’s life is his or her job. Take away that job and you destroy the person’s self-worth. Some of these violent personalities have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, may own a weapon, and have a history of violence towards women, children, or animals. At the core of anger, for many people, is the sense they are not being treated respectfully. Such persons, when ignored, feel slighted. Address grievances before they escalate.

Note the following behaviors and attitudes that are also part of the profile:
  • A history of interpersonal conflict with co-workers or supervisors
  • A history of unwelcome sexual comments or threats of physical assault
  • A recent termination or layoff, or the perception that he/she will be let go
  • A sense of persecution or injustice
  • Frequently exhibits paranoid behavior
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Holds grudges
  • Intrigued by previous incident of workplace violence
How Should you Handle a Violent Confrontation?
  1. Remain calm in order to out-think the other person. If you get emotional, your panic heightens the emotions of the other person.
  2. Keep your voice level and low. Say, ‘I am ready to listen’ and ‘Let me be sure I understand you.’ Act respectfully, even when the person is being unreasonable.
  3. Pay attention to the situation around you. Where are you? Are there other people around? Where are the exits? Don’t block the aggressive person’s escape, but consider your own escape options.
  4. Don’t contradict the person or discount what he or she is telling you. There is time to sort out the issues when things calm down. Try to suggest alternative ways for the person to get what he/she wants, but don’t promise anything you cannot deliver.
Violence in the workplace is a symptom of pressures involving numerous other social issues and corporate trends. A person who becomes violent has, in his or her own mind, a good reason for their actions and believes they will get something by being violent. Perhaps their goal is to get revenge, to embarrass someone, to show power, to get money, to intimidate, or reduce the boredom and frustration in their lives. Most every act of violence is preceded by verbal threats and/or physical warning signs. Violence is usually a last resort for a desperate person to communicate their feelings and desires. The best prevention is to be aware of the warnings signs. If you are concerned about a person in your organization, contact your EAP counselor for assistance before a potential problem gets out of hand.

Written by Marcia Carteret, M.Ed. and Interculturalist. Ms. Carteret is a writer and lecturer on a range of mental and physical healthcare topics. She has been a regular contributor and consultant to COPE. To learn more about Marcia go to

Edited by Mary S. McClain


Cope Incorporated