Curtis” had been fraying at the edges for weeks — grueling hours and problems at home. Sullen and irritable with co-workers at the trucking company for which he worked, he finally unloaded on “Cecil.” He had heated exchanges with the dispatcher for months. One day the usual argument intensified into something more. Curtis pushed Cecil to the ground, striking him multiple times.

The cost of workplace hostilities cannot be ignored — exceeding $120 billion annually, according NIOSH. Violence in your workplace carries a heavy toll, in addition to emotionally scarred or injured or murdered workers. Unwanted media scrutiny and publicity precipitates immeasurable damage to your corporate brand and reputation for years to come. Workplace hostilities contribute to increased absenteeism, excessive use of sick leave and reduced productivity among staff.

Your staff must confront workplace hostilities, which include verbal and physical confrontations, harassment and, in extreme cases, acts of violence. Here are some basic steps you should consider:

Examine your workplace ecosystem

Familiarity with key “stressors” among staff, the profile of customers and clients served, and the social dynamics among staff are crucial areas to consider when assessing your culture. Through audits, it’s important to assess your workplace and distinctive interactions so that you can decide about the type and level of safety training needed.

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Real world behavior-based safety training

Your internal audit should determine if your hostility safety policy (which most organizations have) follows evidence- and behavior-based best practices. Safety training rooted firmly in the behavioral sciences is, without debate, essential. Human behavior, and the forces that shape it, primarily drive workplace hostility. Awareness of these forces, then, helps you identify potential stressors early.

Stressors that alter behaviors include sustained prolonged hours at work, unrelenting workloads, domestic and financial struggles, growing feelings of powerlessness, unexpected and sudden life changes, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, or several of these concomitantly.

Be vigilant of integrated experiences. Integrated experiences refer to the interrelation of staff attitudes and behaviors on others. Once an individual becomes agitated, staff working with that person must remain calm and have a plan.

De-escalation and cycles of aggression

Verbal de-escalation techniques tend to be most effective. Consider the basic cycles of human aggression. The tiers of aggressive behaviors, according to the Crisis Prevention Institute, are Anxiety/Anger, Rage and Violence.

Anxiety/Anger makes up about 95 percent of all workplace hostilities. Anxiety/anger requires calming and supportive strategies, such as a brief, composed, direct conversation. Rage, which makes up about four percent of all workplace conflicts, requires your staff to communicate clear and simple limits that are reasonable, attainable and enforceable. The cycle of violence, an extreme that transpires about one percent of the time, is characterized by loss of rational thought, leading to physical crisis. A safety strategy might include evacuating and calling 911, providing as much information as possible. Your staff should be advised not to engage someone in this state.

Who should train my staff?

Your employees are your most pervasive and capable asset in curbing workplace hostilities. Their training should be led by highly skilled and reputable specialized educators. Look for:

  • Competent, accredited organizations, with practical, real-world experience engaging the most volatile and challenging populations.
  • Deep fluency in the behavioral sciences and integrated best practices from mental health, chemical dependency and other related practices.
  • Breadth and range so training can adapt to the unique attributes — size, multiple locations, etc. — of your organization.
  • Expertise that augments or enriches any essential training offered by OSHA or other agencies.

What’s at stake?

Almost two million U.S. workers report being victims of workplace hostilities annually, according to OSHA. Sadly, it is likely that hundreds of thousands more cases go unreported.

It’s not a matter of if workplace hostility safety training is necessary, but rather, how that training will be provided and by whom. The health of employees and your corporate brand are at stake.