When it comes to effectively addressing workplace violence, persistent myths that surround this volatile issue are among the greatest obstacles to overcome. These myths may give people a false sense of security, portray a misleadingly limited view of workplace violence, or guide poor decisions that can leave organizations more exposed to risks and dangers. Replacing these mistaken myths with facts not only provides a needed reality check, but also provides a basis for building programs that can help keep people safer and workplaces more secure.
Below are five of the most common myths about workplace violence.
Myth 1: It won’t happen here.
Reality: This is perhaps the most harmful and therefore, most important myth to dispel. The truth is that violence can happen in any workplace. Denying this risk can lead to a false sense of security and management ignoring important warning signs. It is best to know your risks and be prepared to assess, prevent, manage, and mitigate threats if and when they arise. Realistic awareness, not paranoia, can improve the safety of your workplace.
Myth 2: Workplace violence is all about homicide.
Reality: With the increased media attention on terrifying attacks and mass shootings in the workplace, many mistakenly believe that workplace violence most often takes the form of homicide. The FBI’s Workplace Violence: Issues in Response guide notes that, “Homicide and other physical assaults are on a continuum that also includes domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, bullying, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create anxiety, fear, and a climate of distrust in the workplace. All are part of the workplace violence problem.”
Myth 3: Disgruntled employees perpetrate workplace violence.
Reality: Workplace violence and threats can come from any number of sources, including employees, former employees, the spouses, significant others, or ex-partners of employees, customers, and criminals. There are four generally recognized types of workplace violence:
The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, trespassing, and terrorism. The vast majority of workplace homicides (85 percent) fall into this category.
Customer or Client
The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. This category, which accounts for 3 percent of attacks, includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, and any other group for which the business provides services.
The perpetrator is an employee or former employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or former employee(s) in the workplace. Worker-on-worker fatalities account for approximately 7 percent of all workplace homicides.
The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business, but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work and accounts for about 5 percent of all workplace homicides.
Myth 4: Potentially violent people fit a demographic-based profile.
Reality: Relying on demographic profiles can cause people to ignore potential threats and result in harmful stereotyping. Perpetrators of threats and violence come from different demographic backgrounds. Rather than focusing on generalizations, it is more effective to watch out for disturbing behavioral clues and indicators.
Myth 5: Violent individuals snap, without warning or clues.
Reality: It is exceedingly rare that an incident of workplace violence takes place without warning signs. Potentially dangerous people often present multiple clues leading up to a violent incident in the form of threats, statements, unusual behavior, obsessions, threatening physicality, or other means. Such warning signs should not be ignored.
Facts about Workplace Violence