You have to feel sorry for Sir Alex Ferguson. When most of us vent our
feelings at work on the nearest inanimate object, we aren’t within ricocheting
distance of one of the highest-earning faces on the planet. Of all the eyebrows,
in all the dressing rooms, in all the world, it had to land on David Beckham’s…
Still, it’s kind of comforting to think even the most urbane and coolly
professional of managers can lose it occasionally. Because it seems more of us
are losing it more often at work. It even has a name – work rage. From punching
colleagues to vandalising equipment, work rage has been identified as yet
another manifestation of the stress, overwork, bullying and other problems
stalking the 21st century workplace.
While this so-called phenomenon has ‘media invention’ stamped all over it,
it does hint at a real and urgent problem, which is that violence has become a
serious hazard for a sizeable portion of the British workforce. The latest
crime figures available show there were about 1.3 million incidents of violence
at work in England and Wales in 1999, around half of which were physical
assaults and half threats. Retailers such as Tesco have seen an average rise of
about 40 per cent in violent incidents against staff in the past year, and of
about 75 per cent in the last three. Whether these incidents are staff on staff
or customers on staff is not clear. The distinctions are obviously important as
different scenarios may have different triggers, and therefore different solutions.
Violence between colleagues, for example, may indeed have stress as their root
cause, or underlying discrimination. Violence against staff by customers may
have implications for job design or the work environment.
Whatever the situation, employers are legally obliged to make sure the risks
to their workers from any source are assessed, measured and dealt with
effectively. As the Old Trafford debacle has shown, no-one is immune. And it’s
going to take a lot more than fetching sticking plaster to put things right.
Heather Falconer, is editor of employers’ Law