People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. ~Stephen Hawking
Have you ever been sitting at your desk at work and suddenly found yourself on the receiving end of a very angry, loud and/or threatening phone call from a client or your boss. Or one of your co-workers has shown you an abusive or threatening email they just received from a stakeholder?
Or have you ever been in a meeting where one of your work colleagues suddenly stands up, leans over the table and starts yelling, then storms out of the room?
I recall in one organisation I was working in my office when my boss walked in unannounced and asked me to logon to the organisation’s HR system to amend staff information relating to Annie. Annie worked in a team managed by my colleague, Zara. Zara worked in the adjacent office, was at my level, and directly reported to my boss.
I was a bit confused and asked, “Doesn’t Annie work directly to Zara? Can’t Zara do this?” My boss said it was too difficult (WTF??) and after some further discussion, left the chair she was sitting on, stood up and leaned over me and snapped that she just wanted this to happen! I sat back in my chair and asked a few more questions. Frankly, I felt I had no business changing the HR details of a team member working in another section. Despite my concerns, my boss started yelling, then stormed out of my office, loudly saying, “Christ you’re a stupid cow!” and slammed my door. I remember my jacket hanging on the back of the door fell onto the floor. After a few minutes, I quietly got up, re-hanged my jacket, and opened my door. I looked out and met a number of nervous looks from the people sitting directly outside my office.
So what is occupational violence?
What is occupational violence? One legal definition is “repeated examples of organisational violence and aggression.” This includes online and offline workplace bullying.
Occupational violence is “voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing, threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both” (Robinson & Bennet, 1995, p. 556).
Occupational violence has also been defined as “organisational deviance” or;
“voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both” (Robinson & Bennet, 1995, p.556).
Organisation deviance refers to occupational violence as a “violence continuum.”
In my doctorate research, I found that the workplace “violence continuum” starts at discourtesy, disrespect, and intensifies into interpersonal intimidation.
This behaviour, if not interrupted, escalates into personal aggression such as online/offline harassment, abuse and bullying, which then spirals up into retaliation, including verbal and/or cyber assault, and ends as physical threats and aggression.
Without intervention, violence will always escalate. Always.
Interrupting occupational violence relies on robust reporting and conflict resolution processes that, according to Caponecchia and Wyatt (2011), are only successful when employees feel confident in their organisation’s management authenticity and support in enforcing the resolution process.
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