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Nobody expects workplace violence to happen where they work. But when the extraordinary happens to ordinary people like you and me it rattles your sense of safety. As a responsible business leader and manager, it makes you wonder what if anything you could have done to prevent the unthinkable from happening where you work. That’s why I’m excited to welcome my next guest, a workplace violence prevention expert, who says most businesses are thinking about this explosive problem all wrong.
What You’ll Discover About Workplace Violence Prevention (highlights & transcript):
* What size a business needs to be before considering workplace violence prevention planning. [2:39]
* The “red flags” managers should keep on their radar screen to anticipate and mitigate workplace violence. [4:35]
* Why the term workplace violence includes much more than going “postal.” [2:49]
* How employees’ home life spills into work life and impacts workplace violence. [7:43]
* Steps small businesses can take to promote a culture of safety and workplace violence prevention. [12:04]
* How organizations inadvertently heighten the risk of workplace violence. [14:47]
* Why effective leadership requires a humanistic perspective to achieve meaningful workplace violence prevention. [20:22]
* And much MORE.
Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] Nobody expects workplace violence to happen where they work, but when that extraordinary horror happens to ordinary people like you and me, it rattles your sense of safety and it makes you wonder if anything you could have done to prevent the unthinkable from happening where you work. And that’s why I’m excited to welcome my next guest, a workplace violence prevention expert who says most businesses are thinking about this explosive problem all wrong.
Announcer: [00:00:32] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view, that matters to your bottom line.
Hanna: [00:00:43] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Mr. Felix Nater, whose specialty is helping organizations solve issues around aspects of workplace security and workplace violence prevention. Felix is nationally recognized as a highly skilled workplace violence prevention consultant and adviser and is the president and owner of the security management consulting firm Nater Associates Ltd. His thought leadership has been showcased in his many articles that are published in nationally recognized publications which reach a global audience of professional security facility and human resource providers and his extensive experience in mitigating the threat of workplace violence has been shared with a variety of private, corporate and government clients through presentations, workshops, mentoring, coaching, training and as well as panel discussions. So I’m really curious to learn more about how businesses and other organizations can be more proactive in protecting their workforce and sidestepping the threat of violence. So let’s get started. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Felix.
Felix Nater: [00:01:56] Well, thank you have that’s a mouthful. I hope I can live up to your expectations.
It Can’t Happen in My Business
Hanna: [00:02:00] Oh, I know you will not. No worries. No worries. Now, I know that the thought or the threat of workplace violence is foreign to many businesses because they think it can’t happen to them. What do you think about that perspective?
Felix: [00:02:15] What would you tell those folks, whether you’re a small midsize or a large organization or someone who walks into a business?
Felix: [00:02:24] We have to look at the environment as a microcosm of our society.
Felix: [00:02:29] Violence is an increasing, ever increasing concern in our society today in one form or fashion or another.
Felix: [00:02:35] We’re not immune Hanna everybody is susceptible.
Hanna: [00:02:39] Ok, now, do organizations need to be a certain size before they need to be thinking about workplace violence? I mean, it sounds so severe, you know?
Felix: [00:02:49] Yeah, yeah, I look at workplace violence as anything to do with the “at risk” situation or condition that may make you feel uncomfortable, such as being harassed, such as being threatened, such as being intimidated. And no business, whether you’re a small business, mid-sized, large, for profit or non-profit type of organization, is really immune from such behaviors. It’s how we approach it and how deep in our resources and our capabilities might be to be able to mitigate or introduce formal programs. It all depends upon where you are in that business environment.
Workplace Violence is More Than Physical Violence
Hanna: [00:03:31] Now, that’s interesting because I think what a lot of people hear workplace violence, they think of physical violence. So you’re saying that this could also just be emotional violence.
Felix: [00:03:40] Emotional violence. Traumatic violence. We focus in on that person, can I say goes postal? I’m a retired postal inspector. I don’t mean to be disparaging, but we focus in on that. And that is such an infrequent event of OSHA, for example. And this is a low number, even though it sounds significant. Because about two million annual reported incidents through their reporting channels of workplace violence related, non-fatal type of incidents like harassment, verbal abuse, name-calling, assaults and things of that nature. And even fights that don’t rise to serious injuries. So it’s a lot more than just waiting for that guy to come in the back door or that robber who comes in the front door to commit a serious violent crime against you.
Red Flag Warnings and Next Steps
Hanna: [00:04:35] Interesting. Interesting. What would you consider to be sort of red flag issues that could escalate that manager or management should be aware of and kind of keep on their radar, keep a lookout for?
Felix: [00:04:50] So I will answer that question in this fashion handed by saying the response is applicable to every realm, every type of business: confrontational, argumentative employee, disagreeable employer, fails to follow instructions, suddenly begins looking disheveled in appearance, comes to work online late, often takes a lot of time away, is quiet, is predisposed in his or her thoughts in the way of a non-employee, suspicious people, suspicious activity, gut reaction, response to an individual that comes into your workplace. That’s just a certain look without asking you to consider profiling as a consideration. If you get a gut feeling about a situation, whether you’re in a workplace setting or a public setting, go with that gut feeling in terms of a warning sign or a red flag concern and associate it to your observations and the person’s demeanor if that helps.
Hanna: [00:05:51] Well, it begs the next question. All right, so let’s say I get this gut feeling, what should I do next?
Felix: [00:05:59] If it’s in a personal situation and you’re in somebody else’s workplace, remove yourself from that opportunity to be exposed to the “at risk” moments. If you’re in a workplace environment, it’s difficult because most workplace environments, I don’t know if it applies to small businesses, have this legal construct called zero tolerance. And zero tolerance, if you’re an employee of any organization, pretty much says, I don’t want to drop a dime on my observations because it could be Felix having a bad day. I’ve had many bad days in my life and I don’t want to cross the line of accusation without having any solid evidence that he is predisposed to violence. So they may or may not report it, but typically they don’t report it, even when they know it might be a potential “at risk” because it’s a co-worker whom they don’t want to get in trouble. That is difficult Hanna.
Hanna: [00:06:59] Well, is this where human resources comes in?
Felix: [00:07:03] If human resource in this definition of human resource does intervene, then we shouldn’t take the aggressive posture of discipline as the ultimate objective. The primary objective should be to ask many questions that help you arrive at a solution that is amenable to the workplace retention of employee employment and the resolution of problems, or even an eye-opening opportunity to help the employee through his or her particular issues. And there are many, many reasons for why an employee may come to work preoccupied with issues that may affect his or her workplace or workplace relationships.
Hanna: [00:07:43] Definitely, because as much as we tried to leave home at the door when we walk into the office, that typically doesn’t happen. And especially in an environment where more people are working from home, it’s really hard to separate the two. So, yes, it definitely shades everything that happens here. Some organizations do have a security department or even a violence prevention program. What’s your thought about how those operate and how they should work together?
Physical Security and Access Management Realities
Felix: [00:08:22] I have a slide that I adjust whenever I’m invited to speak, and I call it workplace realities. Workplace Realities has two subsections, the employer’s realities and the employee’s realities. So let’s focus in on the employee realities and micro focus on the small business. So we have physical security concerns and we have access management concerns. And this is real big employee type employer type of concerns. But the larger organizations may have funding set aside for those type of protective measures that they could employ to help mitigate risk, reduce risk and to help controlling access control. But if you’re a small business and someone says to you, you better do something about managing who comes in this place or surveilling who’s in your place or tracking and monitoring who’s around your place when you lock the business, that can run anywhere from five thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars. So when we’re saying buy technology, deploy technology, you better understand who your audience is, what the capacities are, what their capabilities are, and how deep their resources might be.
Hanna: [00:09:40] Interesting, because, you know, when you’re watching these crime shows on TV, you know, one of the first things the police want to ask is let’s see your surveillance video. And it’s like, hmm, maybe don’t have one or it’s just a camera that’s right there.
Felix: [00:09:54] That’s right. And by the way, it’s just a camera and there’s nothing in it is as dangerous as the bad guy who comes in. And you don’t catch it because having a camera with nothing in it or capability suggests that you care about the employee’s safety and concern or the customer’s safety and concern when reality you’re really cutting corners.
Hanna: [00:10:16] And the reality could be just a budget constraint, as you pointed out, although technology is getting smaller and more affordable every day. It seems like you mentioned from the employee’s standpoint. Right? What about the employer’s standpoint?
Felix: [00:10:36] The employer, from their standpoint, depending upon the size and scope of their operation, when you talk about prevention, preventing an act of violence or mitigating or containing an act of violence that’s resource intensive. And whether you’re a small organization with no such resources at your disposal or your midsize or large organization, you typically look at this as an insurance policy. You don’t look at it as a proactive, readiness, engage, procedural practice. You look at it as something that you need to throw minimal resources to. Otherwise, I’ll be spending my entire day looking at something that may never happen. And that’s the other problem. And so larger organizations that think they have a handle on prevention have larger resources that allow them to collaboration, to create the impression that they’re in control. But when someone decides to go postal, they know they don’t know the hour of the day, nor the minute when that person is going to decide to exact vengeance on them. So employer responsibilities run the gamut from formal policies to prevention measures through procedures and plans and organizations. Even mid-size organizations invest in that kind of commitment to workplace security and workplace violence prevention.
Simple Steps to Improve the Strategic Value of Your Program
Hanna: [00:12:04] Well, that begs the question, if I’m a small business owner with plans to grow, where should I begin to plant the seeds so that I can start to have an appropriate workplace safety workplace violence prevention program?
Felix: [00:12:23] Another reality that every business, regardless for the small, midsize or large size, has to deal with, because the courts don’t care about the budgetary constraints, when it comes to serious injury or death in a workplace environment. But there are things that small businesses, mid-sized businesses can do that are not going to be that costly. For example, your new employee orientation should focus in on expected behaviors, expected relationships, expected employee duties and responsibilities that collaborate, to depending upon the size of your organization, to do their part in mitigating risks and conducting themselves in an expected manner in reporting the observations and not engaging in inappropriate conduct, in understanding the people contribution to the workplace from an employee perspective to help in a less formal fashion while still introducing risk mitigation through new employee orientations and new employee dialogue.
Hanna: [00:13:29] And what about for the larger organizations that may have an edge, somebody dedicated to H.R., maybe security, and maybe they do have some, at least on paper, policy about workplace violence prevention. How can they get more bang for the buck and leverage the investment that they’ve made?
Felix: [00:13:52] Through a very, very simple practice that creates more work for them. Ask the employee how they feel about their workplace safety and their workplace security. And therein will lie the explanation and the opportunity for them to exploit what the big boys and girls sitting behind the desk are assuming they have a handle on, because by not asking the employee how they feel, by not asking the employee what has happened to them, by not asking the employee: are there any contributions that they can make? Those in security are looking at it from a security standpoint. Those in HR are looking at it from the HR perspective. That it’s easy for me to deal with that problem because recidivist conduct I handle that through progressive discipline and I fire them. And they have a zero-tolerance policy that pretty much says if this happens, I’m going to walk you up the progressive disciplined ladder and that I’m going to fire you.
Felix: [00:14:47] Well, that is not a solution to a potentially large problem, because what you do is you shut down employees. So a cost-effective approach that I recommend to my clients is create an environment where the employee feels good about sharing their observations. And that’s where I come from in my project in New Jersey, where the employees felt trusting of their responses to questions that somebody would do something with their answers rather than just putting it on a shelf somewhere or not doing anything at all. So it isn’t all about technology. It isn’t about having these critically complicated policy plans or procedures. It’s about creating a culture of responsible behavior so that the employees know their realities and help meet managements realities.
Hanna: [00:15:36] That’s interesting. So you’re telling me that a lot of the companies that you’ve had experience with, organizations, really are out of touch with what the employees are experiencing?
Why Most Cultural Assessments Don’t Work
Felix: [00:15:48] They develop their own type of cultural assessments that have nothing to do with the workplace security or as much as I would consider important enough to survey about how that affects the employees. A simple question like when was, can you tell us of an incident when you had a contact with an employee, customer or visitor that affected you in the following areas? That kind of question doesn’t get asked. Or, tell me the last time when you were in a service-oriented relationship with a customer outside the workplace where you felt threatened, or tell me the kind of environment that you work in now and is that environment conducive to your safety? I don’t think those questions get asked because when I ask those questions, it’s the first time an employee gets an opportunity to answer those kinds of questions.
Hanna: [00:16:42] That’s scary. It sounds like a lot of stuff is falling between the cracks.
Felix: [00:16:46] Because depending upon the type of organization, the magnitude and scope of what they do — see, a factor is applied to keeping calm, this command and control, so to speak, over employees. If you cross the line of expectation or cross the line of civility, there’s discipline and we’re going to walk you up that ladder and eventually get out of here. So they have all of these behaviors codified under the employee handbook as such behavior that is unexpected behavior and failure to comport. You’re going to get disciplined. That is the way that all the larger organizations manage the workforce.
How Small Businesses Can Be More at Risk
Felix: [00:17:28] Whereas smaller organizations don’t tend to be formal at all and there is no management capacity or capability in place. And they have the same complicated issues, the same challenging issues, the same risk, you know, issues that all organizations have. But because they’re smaller, they tend to be informal in their approach. And most conflict escalates to verbal altercations. And the solution is firing or the person walks away angry, goes home, cools off and comes back the next day without having any true, genuine solution to the day’s previous problems until their frustration boils over and manifests itself in another way. Yes. That you don’t hear often in small business environments, but you hear it in the larger corporations where the disconnection with the emotions that an employee might legitimately be feeling translates into a moment of anger where the person is terminated or separated, prefer the use of the word separation, rather terminate. Look up the meaning of the word termination, folks, and you’ll see why I despise that word when it comes to connecting it and associate it with the need to separate a human being from all the things that he or she needs.
Felix: [00:18:48] Imagine how you make that person feel when they’re at home. And after six months, the money starts decreasing. The ability to assist becomes challenging, and they think back to the way they were treated on the way out the door, escorting them out the building, overseeing. As you clean, they clean out their desk, overseeing them as they clean out their lockers. That whole ritual of walking you out the building that some enjoy doing in the termination capacity. That employee who’s sitting at home arguing with his wife, who can’t work because of illness, is now worried that the money that’s left in the bank is insufficient to pay college tuitions, to pay the car loans, to pay the mortgage loan, to pay medical care. It’s a melting pot of emotional tribulations that they’re going through. And who are they going to blame? The person who terminated them and all those associated with them.
Hanna: [00:19:46] Right. The source of all the evils. If it wasn’t for that, but for that single event, everything else would fall in place.
Felix: [00:19:54] And I commend our American way because the culture and those events and moments that lead to that hostility that we seem to foment when things don’t go our way for whatever it is, we’re doing a great job because there aren’t runaway incidents that we hear about and read about in the paper or the news. So we’re doing something good, but I hope it’s done from the humanistic perspective rather than from the threatening perspective.
Effective Leadership and Keeping a Humanistic Perspective
Hanna: [00:20:22] Yeah, there’s definitely a right and a wrong way to end an employment relationship, and it’s always how you do it, not just what you do. I work with somebody who when things didn’t work out, he actually had a real heart to heart conversation with people and they walked away feeling good. I mean, seriously, because he realized that it wasn’t the right fit. They realized it. He didn’t hold it against them and vice versa. And it’s like, OK, well, what would be a better use of your skill set? Where can you shine? Because it’s not working here. We know that. And that’s OK. But let’s find a better opportunity. And you know that.
Felix: [00:21:03] Right
Hanna: [00:21:03] That just takes a different tack than you’re wrong, you’re bad, you’re out of here. It’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa. And on top of it, it doesn’t get to the source of the disconnect that happened, you know, which is that whole employee engagement thing. And I think when you get into the workplace violence, there’s been a big disconnect in people’s expectations and their ability to contribute in a positive way. And so they do the only thing they know how they start shutting down.
Felix: [00:21:34] That’s correct. And therein brings to light another issue. Because with the focus in on blaming mental health and blaming mental health for the problems that exist from the violence perspective creates the problem, the low-level problem, that mental health may be affecting an employee to shut down. And this is what happens with that particular victim of mental health shuts down. They become less productive. They become less engaged. They spend more time away from the work environment. They’re on the phone frequently. And you know what that attracts? That attracts a supervisor who wants to know what’s going on. And do you think that victim of mental health is going to disclose to that that supervisor who is less sensitive, less in tune to his or her issues? They further withdraw and they eventually become the brunt of management’s need to discipline. And that person, unfortunately, leaves the organization or is terminated from the organization. So it’s very complex.
Felix: [00:22:37] It takes effective leadership. It takes an engaged effort at understanding the people from the other side of the best perspective as opposed to from my side. I need you to do things regardless of your moments and not understanding that sometimes those moments involve victimization at home from intimate partner violence, victimization at home from children who do not listen to parents anymore and threaten and confront their parents. I mean, the list of possibilities run the realm of credibility. When you hear these issues that I hear as to why people have issues in the workplace that come from issues away from the workplace.
Hanna: [00:23:20] Not to mention the ones that could be created in the workplace because of poor leadership. So it gets compounded. It gets compounded. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Felix. I really appreciate your being here and educating us about workplace violence, that it’s more than physical violence and that there are ways to mitigate it. It just takes asking the right questions and the right management approach. Thank you.
Felix: [00:23:48] You’re welcome. And thank you.
Hanna: [00:23:50] That’s our show for today. Thank you for joining me. If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest, you can go to our website at BusinessConfidentialRadio.com. It’s got a lot of other powerful information and resources available to help your business grow. So be sure to check that out. The website again is BusinessConfidentialRadio.com.
Hanna: [00:24:12] I’m Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. And you’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now. Have a great rest of the day and an even better tomorrow.
Guest: Felix Nater
Felix Nater specializes in helping organizations solve issues around aspects of workplace security and workplace violence prevention.
He is a nationally recognized as a highly-skilled Workplace Violence Prevention Consultant and Advisor and is the President and owner of the security management consulting firm Nater Associates, Ltd.
His thought leadership has been showcased in articles published in nationally recognized publications which reach a global audience of professional security, facility and human resources providers. His extensive experience in mitigating the threat of workplace violence has been shared with a variety of private, corporate and government clients through presentations, workshops & training sessions, as well as panel discussions.
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