This topic seems to hit the news in spurts; first it gained infamy with postal employees, but has since permeated nearly every sector of the working community.
While Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, like every employer, aims to hire dedicated, considerate employees, the stresses of life can have a toll on everyone, unfortunately some to the point of violence at home or in the workplace.
We wish to provide the community with some information on the warning signs and how to protect themselves.
What is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence is defined by OSHA as "violence or the threat of violence toward workers. It can occur at our outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults." Violence can be from a co-worker, any other member of our community, or a visitor.
What Can We Do?
The college does not tolerate any violence toward or against their employees. Department managers are encouraged to provide education to their employees so everyone understands what conduct is not acceptable, and what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence. Campus Police and our Director of Safety and Environmental Affairs can be resources for departments wishing to conduct such training.
Departments should assure the security of their workspace. Campus Police can provide staff to assess your workplace and make improvements for increased safety. Employees themselves are a big part of this; employees should always lock offices or department spaces when not in use. Employees should avoid working alone where possible and make other safety arrangements when working alone is necessary. Report lighting or lock issues to Facilities Management as soon as possible.
If someone does not feel comfortable with a situation, s/he should contact his/her immediate supervisor. If the concern is with that supervisor, the Human Resources or Dean of Faculty office should be consulted. If there is a concern that someone is becoming or may become violent, an employee should contact Campus Police who can work with departments to assess the situation and assist in making employees safer.
Watch for these nonverbal signs that someone may be becoming angry:
- an inappropriate smile; a smug look that suggests they don't believe you
- touching or rubbing the nose
- turning the body slightly away, showing they are not interested in what you are saying
- rubbing the back of the neck (a sign of frustration)
- scuffing their shoes
- short, quick breaths
- flaring nostrils
- clenched fists
- tight neck and face muscles
What to Do if Someone is Becoming Angry
Showing the person you are in control of the situation can help give you the authority to diffuse it.
- sit or stand erect
- square your shoulders
- smile sincerely
- avoid touching your face or hair - these show nervousness
- use the person's name to show a sense of caring - it makes them feel more like a person than a number
- get them moving - offer them a chair or take them to a private (but safe) area. This demonstrates your concern
- offer them a beverage
- acknowledge their feelings
- only offer assistance you can provide. Use "I," "What I can do is..."
- offer them an alternative if one is appropriate and available
- call the Campus Police at 1-911 from a campus phone (dial 413-538-2304 from a cell phone) if you sense things are getting out of hand
- if you work in an office that is prone to dealing with angry people, develop a signal system with co-workers that indicates that you want them to call for help, and make sure someone else is nearby whenever dealing with someone who is irate
- offer to have the person speak with a supervisor. This shows you are confident with your actions, and may allow the person a chance to cool off; they may present themselves differently to someone they feel has more authority
What are some signs that an employee may be at risk for violent behavior?
- attendance problems
- concentration problems
- signs of stress, heightened anxiety, mood swings, depression
- performance problems of fluctuations in performance
- poor job relationships/interpersonal conflicts (uncooperative, argumentative, belligerent)
- inability to accept responsibility or constructive criticism
- poor or slipping hygiene or health
- disregard for safety
- inconsistent behavior, including substance abuse
If you notice these signs, consult with Human Resources and/or Campus Police. While recognition of warning signs and helping someone deal with issues is important, there is a balance between employees' individual rights and privacy are important to consider. Human Resources and Campus Police can assist you with assessing the situation and taking appropriate action to assure the safety of your staff and visitors.
If you notice an employee dealing with an angry customer or co-worker, offer your assistance. Your command presence may help to diffuse the situation. You may choose to sit both parties down together, or perhaps even better is to meet with the angry party in a safe location to diffuse the issue. If you don't feel comfortable, you can offer to meet with the angry person with a Human Resources staff member, or with the college's Ombudsperson. This allows the person some time to cool down and perhaps when you meet again, s/he will be in a better place to communicate more rationally.
If you sense a situation has the potential of becoming dangerous, notify Campus Police immediately at 1-911 from a campus phone; Do not take your safety or that of your staff lightly. It is far better to be over-cautious than risk dealing with violent behavior.
Can we Get Some Training?
Yes! Deputy Chief Barbara Arrighi is trained as an instructor in Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB) which was originally designed for law enforcement officers dealing with difficult people. Over the years she has tailored a program for campus community members. To request a training, email Barbara Arighi or call 538-3303.
- National Center for Victims of Crime - Employee Information on Workplace Violence
- National Center for Victims of Crime - Employer Information on Workplace Violence