Communication and Buy-In: Learning from 2014’s Workplace Violence Mitigation Trends
We’ve all heard it said before, “Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst!” It applies more today than ever in terms of designing the appropriate workplace violence prevention response needed to protect employees and stakeholders that it may all be coming together sooner than later. Even despite recent events, some of the trends noted in 2014 gave me a hopeful feeling that enterprise leadership is taking workplace violence prevention to the next level.
As a workplace violence prevention consultant who takes a holistic approach to violence prevention and violence response, I regularly review past incidents with associates, audiences and clients, discussing the need to enhance physical security, review policies to ensure workplaces are nor unintentionally contributing to conflict, devise appropriate management training and better coordination of resources with local first responders. For example, one township in Long Island, New York, decided that their entire workforce including their police force could benefit from a unified training program focusing on their unique workplace security threats. One hospital security director and head nurse developed active shooter training designed to complement their hospital’s alert, notification and communications system and workplace violence prevention efforts.
For the most part, 2014 brought indications that organizational investment by senior managers is essential if there is to be an effective organizational response to workplace violence prevention. Current leadership is beginning to appreciate that without the organizational commitment there is no effective collaboration of resources in providing for early warning if employees are not sufficiently engaged as part of the solution. Up until now the focus of workplace violence prevention seems to be on discipline rather than change management. The investment component is critically important from the perspective of purchasing the best in workplace violence prevention consultation services and procurement of safety and security technology.
There’s more to active shooter mitigation than training employees that organizations should become more aware of and familiar with. The enhanced partnerships I see cropping up between HR and Security is commendable, as exemplified by the joint ASIS – SHRM Workplace Violence Prevention and Violence Response ANSI. There’s excitement in the air as it appears both entities are beginning to see their unique offerings and moving towards a profound, collaborative role. Workplace active shooter training can now begin to achieve desired effects and attain maximized value and long-range potential. By integrating “safe harbor” room procedures, active shooter plans, immediate protective measures, notification and communications protocols with workplace violence prevention, enterprises’ training will produce greater value. The focus on active shooter is shifting to reinforce prevention and preparation for the “when” rather than the “if.”
2014 saw introduction of technology and systems in support of the workplace violence prevention strategy. Vendors I spoke with were excited to collaborate with organizations, and were eager to customize rather than generalize applications. My sessions with members of the C-suite and other senior leaders focused on how we can support the workplace violence prevention effort.
These are some of the trends I have noted that were driven by events, circumstances, media attention and national level programs and politics:
- Active shooter/hostile intruder training
- Violence response preparatory plans
- Schools and colleges campus incidents continue to receive higher visibility and attention
- Better coordination between police and first responders and workplaces, schools, colleges, universities and healthcare in coordinating better response
- Continued barriers to effective implementation of workplace violence prevention programs
- Questions of coordinated intervention ineffectiveness
- Management commitment, investment, awareness, verification and engagement
- Bullying and cyber-bullying
- Increased situation awareness: Increased use of technology in tracking and monitoring reports, situations and activity
- Deployment of surveillance as the solution to threat recognition
- Workplace violence and remote employee settings
Beginning the Right Conversation for Collaboration
Recent violent acts in workplaces, schools, colleges and churches always draw attention to the problem and organizations’ need to reexamine existing strategies. Enterprises are increasing their situational awareness through the use of technology to track and monitor situations, and the plethora of commercial solutions available indicates a keen interest within the security industry, driven by security directors, HR, facilities and other enterprise stakeholders.
Competing against the need to take proactive measures and deploy intervention strategies, however, are the perplexing myths that continue to contradict logical thinking, specifically, that workplace violence is not preventable. A lack of understanding of the aspects of workplace violence prevention unintentionally stalls managements’ commitment in rolling out collaborative strategies, plans and procedures. National politicians drawn into the discussion by the media reporting following a shooting often misunderstand the totality of the issues, often repeating inaccurate statements about the mentally ill, access to weapons or better background screening, all in all offering no real, tangible solutions.
Fourteen years following the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, workplaces are still having challenges overcoming this culture of misunderstanding. Even the SHRM – ASIS ANSI Standard on Workplace Violence Prevention has to be worked as a living document. It’s not a plug-and-play guidebook. Even though we see a movement to improving relations, there still appears to remain a divide between HR and Security in how best to integrate, collaborate and approach workplace violence prevention and violence response from a mutually supportive perspective, but, in my perspective, it is getting better.
The challenge remains in being unable to break down institutional barriers at the workplace essential to sharing of information across siloes confidentially. The barriers that keep security and HR apart are presumptive and workable. Until workplace violence and school violence prevention programs are aligned with security plans, physical security and human resources, proactive intervention will never be realized. Such an alignment will only be realized when there is a genuine integration and collaboration of effort from the top down, from Boards of Directors/C-suite through supervision to the workforce.
Helping to Grow C-Suite Support
I am heartened by the level of understanding of workplace violence prevention acquired by all levels of security directors and some HR directors who appeared to be willing to collaborate beyond the status quo. But for some reason, driving today’s lack of workplace culture connectivity is a lack of management understanding, commitment, investment and verification of capability of the workplace violence prevention effort. There is blame to go around and share on this one. We can help the C-suite enhance their commitment by providing them verifiable reports about their organizational efforts. Keep your C-suite informed by collaborating with HR, risk and compliance managers in arriving at a policy position that emphasizes people, property and premises over acceptable risk.
Until the C-suite asks the tough questions and wraps their minds around the security mission and the need for alignment of human resources, security and technology, there will never be an aligned workplace security strategy. If the cost of workplace security technology procurement can be shown as having cross-functional organizational application and value, cost can then be distributed throughout the organization. This discussion regrettably isn’t connecting with the CEO, who is often unfamiliar with the real and present threats because he or she is operating under the myths that “it won’t happen here” and that the homicidal act of violence is unpreventable. I beg to differ.
The 11 trends noted above are all interconnected to workplace safety, security and management in a variety of ways. They clearly show how the leadership communicates, manages workplace security and workplace violence prevention and violence response and how well they collaborate and integrate resources. The trends clearly suggest a chasm exist between security and human resources in terms of true proactive collaborative partnership that can be resolved over time with the help from legal and the corporation counsels. Judging from the type of questions posed over the year, the lack of C-suite involvement was obvious but seemingly improving. One client of mine in the wholesale beverage processing and distribution sector said that his workplace security advisor had to be willing to take risk beyond the requirement of the basic relationship if there was to be any authentic long-term mutual benefit.
There’s no denial of the acceleration of positive relationships. Going forward into 2015 and beyond, continued informal collaboration will inevitably enhance workplace positive relationships, improve the trust factor and shape understanding of the security and HR mission while dismantling the open communication challenges. While there’s no simplistic or rudimentary approach to workplace violence prevention, workplaces are beginning to see the value of collaborating and integrating of resources in building that effective alignment that can provide for early warning, notification and risk mitigation in cases of civil liability.
Communication for Better Responses
Workplaces have to consolidate their approach to workplace violence prevention in dismantling myths, communication challenges and coordinating efforts. Consolidating the threats and risks under workplace violence prevention can simplify the coordination effort. For example, the increase of bullying and cyber-bullying are two examples of how great the misunderstanding in how best to coordinate the effort remains a communication challenge.
Combatting the threat of workplace violence in many workplace settings remains a disjointed effort often haphazardly managed through security, HR, facilities and safety without any one coordinating entity responsible for creating a “global” organizational alignment of resources. There does not appear to be a connection between the workplace violence prevention initiative and bullying, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and employee misconduct. This lack of coordinating vision becomes apparent in the failure of early warning, proper response and how disciplinary action is taken.
No longer can the workplace violence prevention and security mission be viewed as security director area of responsibility in a time of need, just like workplace violence prevention should not be seen as a human resource responsibility in a vacuum. From my perspective, workplace violence programs should be managed through HR with input from legal, and security and other senior managers should share in the vision, goals and objectives.
The bottom line is to require the proper integration and collaboration of resource alignment that generates expeditious response and proactive engagement to protect employees and stakeholders, vendors, suppliers, family and brand from a “caught by surprise” moment after an act of homicidal violence.
Though the trends referenced would suggest a state of positive improvement, I would encourage you to continue bolstering senior management commitment, investment and involvement in verification of what constitutes workplace violence prevention and violence response. This increased sense of collaboration, integration and coordination between human resources and security will dismantle stovepipe communications and build credibility and trust. When an active shooter or hostile intruder incident occurs at your workplace, school or facility, thorough preparation will brunt any media-driven political inertia created in the aftermath.
The idea is to defend established protocols, not to avoid the discussion because of a perception of being unprepared. Getting senior management commitment and investment is the key.
In the final analysis the trends clearly suggest a stronger bond between human resources and security. Be prepared!
My 2014 trends suggests that the future can look brighter if and when there’s a serious collaborative effort within organizations to roll out policy, plans and procedures unique to their environments without imposing standards that handcuff creativity, innovation and leadership. Using the 11 trends from a workplace security and workplace violence point of view, we can build on an ongoing process of consolidating, coordinating, collaborating and integrating the effort. Bullying can be under the harassment category of workplace violence prevention,n and active shooter can be and should an assault/murder under the Occupation Safety Health Administration Act (OSHA), 4 Categories of Workplace Violence. The workplace violence prevention and violence response could be placed under the office of the corporation counsel or other EVP who would coordinate the intra-organizational roles, functions and efforts to include integration, deployment of resources, procurement, training, assessment and evaluation, reporting and monitoring system and coordinating the role of local police and first responders.
There’s a whole lot to be appreciative about these 11 trends as they reflect favorably on the high caliber of security and human resource professionals needed to sustain improvement, management changes in helping organizations keep pace with changing events, and adjusting workplace violence prevention strategies and approaches to ensure our capability to provide for a safe and secure workplace for all.