Zero tolerance approach is needed over work violence

Firms
are failing to meet legal obligations to staff attacked by clients.  Paul Nelson reports

Prime
Minister Tony Blair raised the profile of violence in the workplace during his
election campaign when he pledged to increase the length of sentences for
people who attack public sector workers.

But
many HR professionals believe there is more to tackling workplace violence than
harsher sentences. Employers need to implement training and guidelines that
equip their staff for conflict situations, claims Lionel Fairweather, HRmanager
of outsourcing company Logic Systems Management.

Surprisingly,
recent research by the University of Central Lancashire and recruitment company
Lawrence Allison Group, shows that a significant proportion of organisations
are breaking the law by not keeping records of violent incidents or having
policies in place which deal with aggressive behaviour.

The
survey indicates that 35 per cent of organisations do not keep records of
incidents, such as verbal and physical attacks by members of the public, and 25
per cent do not have policies to deal with aggression.

HR
professionals have ex-pressed concern at the report’s findings, claiming that a
recording and reporting system are the very least that an employee should
expect from an employer.

Dominic
Grealy, head of personnel at the Sumitomo Trust and Banking, said, "I am
surprised at these figures considering the negative effect that intimidation
and bullying can have on retention."

The
report, Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace, recommends that employers
should implement zero-tolerance policies. It suggests such policies should
address potentially violent situations as well as full-blown incidents, and
would only be effective where the reporting of incidents is accurate.

John
Adsett, secretary of NHS HR group AHHRM, said, "We have a zero-tolerance
policy. It takes a lot of paperwork but is well worth it."

He
added, "I used to work with a man who did not have to take a swing at you
to make you feel bad. In five minutes he could verbally distress you enough
that it would be worse than a beating. That type of harassment is just as bad
as violence as it has a damaging effect on team morale."

Wendy
Foers, HR director of the London Ambulance Service, urges employers to improve
internal communication to raise morale over the issue.

She
said, "Communication is all important. Employees must see that the whole
organisation is pulling together. Staff need to be confident that the employer
will look into all reported incidents and act when necessary."

The
report’s co-author Tom Swan wants to see employers introduce conflict
resolution procedures. He believes that in addition to improving staff morale,
it will reduce sickness and stress levels and help companies comply with health
and safety and human rights legislation.

The
retail sector has the highest proportion of incidents, categorised as verbal
abuse, threats of physical violence, acts of physical assault and physical
assaults with a weapon, according to the research."This is a national
problem, particularly in retailing, and requires a government initiative as
soon as possible," commented one retail HR manager quoted in the research,
who did not wish to be named.

Jim
White, director of HR at Safeway, agreed, "Retailers are on the front line
of shop crime. Statistics show that you are more likely to be injured in the
workplace through dealing with customer theft than any other activity."

To
combat this problem Safeway has trained 1,400 staff through its managing theft
and conflict in the workplace course.

The
report also calls for the government to produce a consistent set of guidelines
for employers that would enable them to develop effective monitoring and
training systems.

The
British Retail Consortium also wants the Government to act. A consortium
spokesman said, "The priority is for the Government to produce a set of
guidelines for employers to help them develop effective monitoring of training
systems."

But
many HR professionals dispute the need for government involvement, claiming that
it is the employers’ responsibility.

Adsett
said, "I think that there should definitely be guidelines to help
employers, but I’m not sure about the Government getting involved as it
encourages a ‘nanny state’.

"The
problem does not really lie with the Government. Good employers should have
policies in place and I would only like to see it involved as a last
resort."

Foers
agrees. "It is up to the individual employer to tailor its own policies.
It is vital that employers understand the risks that are involved in the roles
of their employees – that way they can shape their policies to the
organisation."

Whether
the Government gets involved or not, it is clear that employers need to address
violence in the workplace.

The
report states, "Conflict in the workplace is a continuing and escalating
concern, although systems exist that can minimise or eradicate its existence.
The issue does not appear to figure in the bottom line, it is not a performance
indicator for many organisations."

Guidelines
for facing up to violence at work

The
Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace report includes employer guidelines to
help address work-based violence. It urges all employers and employees to be
aware of their rights and responsibilities under UK legislation. These include:


Encouraging employees to report incidents to establish a true picture of
violence and bullying in the workplace.Organisation should treat the reporting
of incidents confidentially and ensure action will be taken


Ensuring accurate records of violence and abusive behaviour are maintained


Ensuring full and comprehensive assessments of risk undertaken by appropriately
qualified individuals


Providing relevant training and education programmes


Working in close collaboration with employees to develop measures to create
strategies that ensure individual and organisational safety needs are met


Updating policies and procedures to reflect research-based best practice in
order to remain effective


Appointing a "violence" monitor with responsibility for recording and
monitoring violent, aggressive or abusive conduct with a named individual or
group within the organisation


Setting up staff support systems to help employees deal with cases of conflict

The
latter could include establishing an independent helpline that employees can
call if subject to unwanted behaviour, and facilitating debriefings to provide
opportunities for employees to talk about what happened; providing time off
work for employees where necessary after an incident or offering legal help
where appropriate in serious cases.

www.lawrenceallisontraining.com

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