Combating the Varieties of Violence at Work

Effective strategies that address on-the-job aggression are rooted in respectful, service-oriented and safe organizational cultures.

Targets May Have Minimal Legal Protections
At present, there are few clear federal or state laws in the United States that make workplace bullying illegal unless it is a component of other protected employee practices or classes, such as harassment or discrimination. Senate Resolution 106 in Hawaii urges employers to voluntarily adopt anti-bullying policies. Since 2003, 13 states have introduced workplace bullying prevention legislation, but as of this writing none have passed.

The Joint Commission has adopted a new leadership standard that addresses disruptive and inappropriate behaviors in two of its elements of performance for healthcare facilities. These went into effect Jan. 1, 2009 for all hospital accreditation programs and involve a required code of conduct that defines acceptable behaviors as well as those that are disruptive and inappropriate. They also clarify that leaders should create and implement a process for managing disruptive and inappropriate behaviors in accredited settings.

Although the United States has been slow to adopt laws barring bullying on the job, other countries, particularly Canada and several European nations, have been more proactive (see sidebar). Regulations, standards, laws, guidelines, policies, and precedents mandating respect are bold, revolutionary, and proactive. They have been adopted for good reason, often as a result of tragic circumstances. They represent just some of the compelling reasons why campuses should foster respectful, service-oriented, and safe workplace practices.

Unfortunately, these laws have not been successful in eliminating discrimination, harassment, intimidation and many other problematic workplace behaviors.

11 Steps You Can Adopt to Tackle the Problem
Fortunately, there are things a campus can do to address workplace aggression. Although the Joint Commission guidelines listed here are designed for healthcare facilities, schools and universities can also apply these strategies. The recommendations include:

  1. Educate all team members on appropriate behavior as defined by the organization’s code of conduct. The code and the education should emphasize respect.
  2. Hold all team members accountable for modeling desirable behaviors, and enforce the code consistently and equitably.
  3. Develop and implement policies and procedures appropriate for the organization.
  4. Develop an organizational process for addressing intimidating and disruptive behaviors. The process should solicit and integrate substantial input from an inter-professional team, including representation of medical and nursing staff, administrators and other employees.
  5. Provide skills-based training and coaching for all leaders and managers in relationship-building and collaborative practice, including skills for giving feedback on unprofessional behavior and conflict resolution.
  6. Develop and implement a system for assessing staff perceptions of the seriousness and extent of unprofessional behaviors and the risk of harm to patients.
  7. Develop and implement a reporting/surveillance system for detecting unprofessional behavior.
  8. Support surveillance with tiered, non-confrontational intervention strategies, starting with informal conversations directly addressing the problem. If patterns persist, move toward detailed action plans and progressive discipline.
  9. Conduct all interventions within the context of an organizational commitment to the health and well-being of all staff.
  10. Encourage inter-professional dialogues across a variety of forums as a proactive way to address ongoing conflicts, overcoming them, and moving forward through improved collaboration and com
  11. Document all attempts to address intimidating and disruptive behaviors.

There are no easy answers to this devastating workplace problem. Campus organizations that are proactive, however, embrace respectful, service-oriented and safe workplace practices.

Their commitment to best practices is evident through management’s attention to and employee involvement at all levels in combating workplace aggression. Additionally, awareness training and skill building are essential for all employees in translating policies and procedures into everyday workplace behavior.

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