In mid-February a shooting broke out in Long Beach, California between two high ranking ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents during a performance review. A month earlier, an employee of McBride Lumber in North Carolina shot four of his co-workers, killing three of them, before killing himself.
Workplace violence of this sort makes headlines because it is rare and because it is shocking. But the issues which lead to such outward demonstrations of hostility are not rare. These acts of violence are not random. While they may not always be pre- meditated, they are brought about by a history of tensions and anger between specific individuals in the workplace.
One-time events do not create this volatility. Single incidents may upset or confuse, but they don’t trigger a drastic response. It is the historical repetition of events – be it bullying, intimidation, refusal to cooperate, or other unfair, unkind behaviors – which leads to these reactive measures. The problem is, if we focus on the violence, we are looking for solutions in the wrong places.
As a conflict resolution and management expert, I see the commonality of the behaviors which lead to workplace shootings. Thankfully, the vast majority of people never engage in such violent measures, regardless of the abuse they were suffering. Instead, their reactions more likely lead to employee turnover, increased absenteeism, theft, harassment claims, and EEOC complaints. These circumstances occur in most workplace settings, and even occur in other teamwork environments. A timely example can be found with the UCLA Basketball Team. A failure to discipline or force accountability lead to key players transferring schools, and caused a winning team to become a struggling one.
Most, if not all of this is preventable. It begins with staff having a trusted place to bring their concerns. They must believe that by bringing their concerns forward, they will get help. There must also be a firm resolution, by leaders and managers, to bring swift, decisive intervention when problems perpetuate. Conflict management readiness is, for this reason, vital to all businesses. Staff must learn skills in conflict communication. Human Resources, leaders and managers must have skills for addressing workplace problems in a way that empowers, rather than punishes, staff whenever possible. And formal conflict resolution, such as mediation, must be engaged at the earliest possible time if other efforts fail to yield the desired results.
If you have questions about how to address these issues, or want to discuss the concerns of your workplace, please contact us for a free consultation.