I write this article after reflecting on a workplace investigation I undertook last month and the connection it has to some of the workshops I have conducted in relation to workplace behaviour.

The investigation started with one complaint that involved 6 employees and rapidly became 14. The disturbing factor throughout the investigation was the acceptance for behaviour that had crossed the line, otherwise illegal. The issue I struggle with was that a couple of employees in leadership roles thought the behaviour was not serious enough to act on.

To add to the complexity was how the unlawful behaviour was impacting the employees outside of work.
Figures from The Victorian WorkCover Authority estimates that workplace violence costs $57 million per annum. Compared with international studies it could be much higher.

What is Workplace Violence?

It is – Incidents where employees are abused, threatened, assaulted or subjected to other offensive behaviour in circumstances related to their work.”

It can be Physical and/or Psychological

Whilst Physical Violence is easy to identify, it is the existence of Psychological Violence that has been long underestimated. Psychological Violence is often perpetrated through repeated behaviour of a type which may seem minor but which cumulatively escalates to a serious form of violence. It often consists of repeated, unwelcome, unreciprocated and intended action which may have a devastating effect on the target, not to say a single event would constitute an act of violence.
Often Physical and Psychological Violence overlap one another, making it difficult to categorise different forms of violence. Some of the most frequently used terms are:

It involves the misuse of physical and psychological strength, it is behaviour that is uncivil. It includes harassment, bullying and mobbing.

To menace hurt or injure resulting in fear of physical, sexual, psychological harm or other negative consequences to the target(s).

Physical Assault
To physically injure or attack a person(s) leading to physical harm.

It can be unwelcome conduct – physical or psychological, verbal, non-verbal, visual – based on the protected attributes under EEO legislation such as age, disability, domestic circumstances, sex, sexual orientation, race, colour etc, including sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written.

With violence comes stress for the targets, other employees, the employer and those outside of the workplace.

What is Stress?

“It is the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”

Both positive and negative stresses can be present at any given time. Employees build up their own resilience and skills to deal with stresses as they arise in normal circumstances, which is a positive phenomenon. Stress one would say is normal and necessary. It’s when this stress changes and builds in intensity, is continuous and repeated leaving a person being unable to cope, lack of support being shown where stress then becomes negative, leading to physical illness and psychological disorders.
In a report written by (Hurrell et al., 1997, pp. 163-170), it was concluded that assaults may occur more frequently among highly stressed workers than those experiencing less stress.

Knowing what Physical and Psychological Violence is, is the first step in establishing a framework to manage both Physical and Psychological Violence in the workplace.
This brings me back to the beginning of the article, so what went so incredibly wrong last month and in other workplaces I have worked in.

Stress was a common denominator in many of the discussions both in the workplace and in some cases the domestic situation. So why did it get to this level?

  • Workplace Policies not reinforced;
  • Employees in Leadership Roles without regular training;
  • Promoting up to Leadership Roles without any training;
  • Employees did not receiving training on workplace behaviour;
  • All employees not being performance managed;
  • In fact it is the culture of the organisation not being driven by its values or lack of them.

One needs to consider the correlation between Psychological Violence the employee was going through in the workplace and the impact this may have on their personal life. There have been relationship breakups, physical violence against women, strained relationships and suicidal tendencies.
It is the responsibility of all workplaces to work towards creating a workplace that is built on mutual respect.

At Maureen Kyne & Associates we deliver the Civil Treatment® Series that is designed to help organisations prevent, detect, and correct inappropriate behaviours and build productive, inclusive cultures. We use engaging, interactive learning to put participants in real life scenarios.