By Ryan Schonfeld and Eden Gillott Bowe: It’s chilling when business owners realize that workplace violence neither begins nor ends at the door to your office building. It happens during lunch at a local restaurant or at a bar during happy hour. It happens when your employees are working in the field. It’s also about tensions at home that can spill over to the office or affect workplace interactions, including with clients.
Workplace violence is widespread. Each year, nearly 2 million cases are reported, according to OSHA. And that doesn’t include all the ones that go unreported.
Who’s at Risk?
Any business that has employees is at risk, but certain industries are bigger targets. Stadiums and sporting venues may (or may not) have excellent security protocols on game day. But these venues are often used for other events. A stadium or arena may be rented for a concert. These events, often planned and executed by outsiders, have a greater likelihood of ineffective security coverage and thus of a violent incident occurring.
Any office or site with lots of people coming and going makes it difficult to keep a tight lid on security. In healthcare, serious workplace violence which require days off from work is four times more common than in the private industry overall. Construction, manufacturing, and retail also rank high on the violence list.
Certain times of year are also more prone to spikes in workplace violence. Retail and other jobs with seasonal workers tend to see an increase in workplace violence during peak holiday seasons. Christmas and Thanksgiving rank among the highest, as do hot summer days and night.
What Can You Do?
First, from an executive level, don’t be afraid to have the uncomfortable conversations. By preparing your employees, you’re protecting your organization. It builds a culture that spots warning signs before they become major problems. Your employees will be appreciative and feel better equipped when the situation strikes, or even if it doesn’t. In addition, employees who feel safe and comfortable at work are more productive.
The three most important takeaways for your employees are how common violent events are, how to recognize triggers, and techniques to de-escalate situations.
Second, assess the space and implement design elements to reduce the attractiveness of your site as a target. Construct layers of security entry to decrease the likelihood that someone will successfully make it through all of them.
Not all companies (or workplaces) are created equal. There are aesthetically pleasing ways to achieve this without making the space feel like a prison. You can’t take the same approach to a tech company or creative office that you would at a government agency. While a government agency may want low-cost and sterile-looking metal bollards, a tech may opt for bollards that are just as safe but are hidden by or incorporated into planters.
For those of you who love to harness the power of social media, sentiment analysis is an effective way to learn people’s plans for a protest, an attack, or other planned nefarious actions. You can focus on specific hashtags, use geofencing, or a combination of both. For example, you can monitor for hashtags related to an event or product within a 3-mile radius of your office. This technology can increase business intelligence as well by determining reactions to products, announcements, and more.
Also, make sure your company has a media relations policy. While you can’t control what your employees say, there should be a company policy about how to handle incoming media inquiries. Train your employees what to do and not do. Don’t just put it in a manual that no one will read.
How Do You Communicate After an Attack?
Quickly and frequently. If there’s been an injury or casualty, your messaging must demonstrate empathy and compassion. This isn’t a time to discuss how well your business is doing, nor should you seek to use the tragedy to gain an edge over your competition. (Hard to believe, but some people have done that.)
Your goal is to comfort and reassure your employees and their families. If you don’t communicate with them, they’ll rely on rumors, speculation, and the media for answers. That will spook them even more. Worse, they may talk to the media and spread speculation that casts you in a negative light for having left them in the dark.
Understand that anything you say or email to your employees may make its way to the media, so treat all communications as if you’re prepared to have it show up on the front page of the newspaper. If you do an awesome job, you could become a case study of how to do the right thing!
The media tends to sensationalize traumatic events. An old saying in the news industry is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” When the media comes calling, you have an opportunity to shape the story. Seize it, don’t shun it.
You need to quickly squash speculation and rumors before they take hold and spread like wildfire over social media. At the same time, you don’t want to rush to comment before you have all of the facts. Trying to walk back a misstatement is much harder than you think. It also ruins your credibility.
In all of your communications, avoid using negative or emotionally charged words. They reinforce undesirable imagery. Even if a reporter uses them, don’t repeat words such as attack, massacre, disaster, unprepared, or carelessness.
Ryan Schonfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of RAS Consulting & Investigations, a security consulting and private investigations firm based in Hermosa Beach, Calif. He has a background in global security, IT, and law enforcement having worked as a police officer and investigator, an instructor for the U.S. Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, and a leader of a Fortune 500 company’s Global Security & Safety Technology Group.
Eden Gillott Bowe (email@example.com) is president of Gillott Communications, a crisis and reputation management firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. She frequently appears in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Washington Post, Forbes, and Security Magazine. She is a former business professor and author of “A Board Member’s Guide to Crisis PR” and “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR”.