More Engagement, Less Violence

For business leaders, employee safety and security is critical. The first line of defense in preventing most forms of workplace violence can be found within the workforce, within people who are engaged, educated and empowered by HR and all levels of management.

The 3E approach fosters a culture that nourishes:

• Engaged employees who are in tune with and committed to fellow employees and the organization’s goals.

• Educated employees with a track record of personal growth and improvement, regardless of any formal certificates or degrees they may have held when they entered the organization.

• Empowered employees who are trained, encouraged and supported by the organization to report unusual or threatening behavior.

Steven M. Crimando, managing director of behavioral science company Extreme Behavioral Risk Management, spoke in June at a workplace violence seminar in New York City about how safety and security in the workplace are shared responsibilities. He said employees at every level can never be passive observers to their own safety and that awareness and confidence have a force multiplier effect at improving overall organizational safety and security.

Making an organization safe from a broad range of potential behaviors and incidents begins with developing the skills necessary to create an aware, caring engagement culture. When people feel fully invested in their company — that their leaders listen to them and care — they’re more likely to step up and say something when they observe troubling behavior.

Whenever workplace violence is reported, you frequently hear the perpetrator was isolated or disengaged. For incidents where workplace violence is perpetrated by someone within the organization, that factor can be critical, since there likely were opportunities to engage that person. Engaged employees are not only more inclined to point out issues, they’re more likely to help when a situation develops.

Creating an engagement culture has benefits beyond increased safety. It may encourage employees who start their career at an entry-level position to work their way up through the company with the organization’s support. An engagement culture rests on open, proactive communication between management and the employee base, and promotes constant personal and professional development. Those who have advanced to management or executive positions are encouraged to reach out and help others do the same. This process strengthens the bonds of organizational community and better prepares those in it to effectively deal with any workplace violence issues.

A nationwide survey conducted in May by AlliedBarton Security Services provides evidence of a direct correlation between lower feelings of engagement and more workplace violence. This data shows that in situations where only 58 percent of respondents reported they feel valued by their employer, there is more observed workplace violence than in environments where 70 percent report feeling valued. In other words, the higher the feeling of engagement, the less violence there is.

Leaders appear reluctant to take aggressive action when troubling behavior or violence is reported. Only 45 percent of employers implemented employee training programs, and 35 percent did so for supervisors. Changes to company policies were even less common, occurring only 22 percent of the time. Increasing security through police involvement or other authorities or contracting a security agency were the actions least likely to be taken as a result of workplace violence. Probably as a result, fewer than half — 44 percent — of senior managers are perceived as being concerned with workplace violence. Only 17 percent were seen as “very concerned” about the issue.

Outstanding companies recognize excellent execution is the result of fully engaged employees. An organization’s people define its character, affect its capacity to perform, represent the brand to the marketplace and reinforce its critical internal culture. To achieve this goal, you need to create an engagement culture, a safe environment and provide the tools for career advancement.

Bill Whitmore is chairman, president and CEO of AlliedBarton Security Services and author of Potential: Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organizational Success. He can be reached at