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Leadership, Trust, Key to Workplace Violence Prevention

A Book Review

November 1, 2011
Potential book cover

This month, Bill Whitmore, Chairman and CEO of AlliedBarton, will release his book, Potential, Workplace Violence Prevention and Your Organization’s Success. “As business leaders, the safety and security of our employees is critical to our operations,” Whitmore says. “As individuals, the well-being of those to whom we have promised a safe workplace is a great responsibility. And in today’s society, implementing safety initiatives and security programs is only the beginning. We need to actively engage in worst-case scenario planning to review our level of preparedness and ability to react quickly. One scenario that demands our attention is workplace violence. The idea of an armed person entering the workplace with the intent to harm or kill is difficult to think about, but it happens every day.”

Here’s a preview of the book. More information can be found at: www.potentialthebook.com

Engaged Leadership, Safety and Success. There’s a direct connection between engaged leadership, workplace security and organizational success, regardless of your product or service. Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified safety and security as among the most basic human needs on the road to self-actualization — achieving one’s full potential. It therefore follows that if your employees don’t feel safe and secure, they’re not going to do the best job for you. Even the lower levels of workplace violence can create that insecurity, so good leadership is critical to creating a safe, high achieving workplace.

Our own experience shows that where there is a culture of leadership engagement — where leaders are seen as plugged in and responsive to their employees; where employees feel that their leaders are concerned with their everyday activities, personal well-being and overall security — those are the places where you see engaged employees on every level along with higher morale.

A nationwide scientific survey that AlliedBarton conducted in May 2011 revealed that workers who either experienced or are aware of violence or the conditions leading to it at their workplace rate their current place of employment lower in most respects than those in violence-free workplaces. Among the details:

  • When comparing employees who have experienced or are aware of workplace violence with those who have not shared this experience, there are substantial differences. Fifty-eight percent who are aware of violence in their workplace strongly agree they feel valued. By contrast, 70 percent of those who haven’t experienced violence in their workplace have the same attitude.
  • Workplace violence also affects an employee’s view of compensation. Our survey found that 55 percent of those who have not experienced or are not aware of workplace violence strongly agree they are paid fairly. However, only about one in three (36 percent) of those who are aware of some form of violence at work share this attitude. Does this imply that their pay isn’t worth the risk they perceive, or is it a reflection of their overall feeling of value? Our survey didn’t drill down to that level, but either way it doesn’t reflect good employee morale and engagement.

Clearly, workplace violence can impact morale, turnover and bottom line. But what is the leadership connection? It’s right here:

  • Our survey also shows that employees who have not reported violence or a related event are more likely to say their employer makes safety a top priority. In essence, the reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that when employers show concern with workplace violence, the actual number of incidents is likely to decline. When workplace violence declines, greater benefits follow.

The Trust Factor. Interpersonal trust between leaders and their employees is another key factor in creating a safe, secure workplace, especially as organizations have become flatter and more team-based. Acclaimed organizational theorist and author Chris Argyris and many others have shown that trust is a significant influencing factor with variables such as the quality of communication, individual performance and growth, problem solving and overall cooperation. Leadership’s effectiveness depends more than ever on the ability to gain the trust of the people who work for them. It also assumes that the one holding the trust, the employee, will perform certain desired behaviors, and that the leader has both the desire and the ability to “walk the talk.” So trust works both ways: Employees considered to be trustworthy behave in ways expected of them with little or no supervision, and are more supportive of and committed to both their leaders and the overall organization. They also are likely to be more satisfied with their position in the organization, more loyal and committed to its goals, and more willing to behave in ways that help to further those ideals — all essential factors in mitigating the risk of workplace violence. 

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