Bullying, workplace violence often can be linked together

Bullying and workplace violence can go hand in hand – a lot of times bullying can lead to workplace violence.

That was the message Friday at a Blair County Chamber of Commerce Safety Committee program presented by Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jeff Petucci and Rebecca Bywater of Penn State University’s Threat Assessment

/Community Education Department.

Workplace bullying is repeated mistreatment of one or more people and can be in several forms such as verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior; and actions that interfere with work, Bywater explained.

“Bullying is deliberate and done intentionally to specific targeted individuals or groups; it is disrespectful and repetitive. It is not the person just having a bad day. It is repetitive and occurs more than once,” Bywater said.

Bullying can have a negative impact on the workplace.

For example, it can lead to increased absenteeism.

“Why would you want to come to work if you are disrespected? You could go elsewhere where you don’t have to deal with this situation,” Bywater said.

Bullying can also lead to frequent conflict within the workplace, a chilling and hostile environment, poor performance, high personnel turnover, less creativity and a poor public image for the company, Bywater said.

The better workers often are the victims of bullying.

“People become targets because they are ethical and honest and are well liked and are more competent. They threaten the bullies,” Bywater said. “Adult bullies tend to be insecure people with poor or nonexistent social skills and little empathy. They find satisfaction in the ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them.”

Employees need to take action if they believe they are being bullied.

“You need to get control of the situation. You have to realize if you are bullied you are not the source of the problem. Take action by documenting all of the incidents of bullying. That will help your HR department and supervisor with addressing that behavior,” Bywater said.

Employers need to take immediate action when an incident is reported.

“They need to make sure incidents are taken seriously and investigated. They should hold awareness campaigns for employees on what bullying is. They need to demonstrate from the top on down that bullying is not acceptable behavior,’ Bywater said.

Workplace violence is a serious problem, Petucci said.

According to the Department of Labor and Industry, from 1992 to 2010 there were 13,827 employees murdered in the workplace. About 2 million incidents of workplace violence occur annually, 1 million simple assaults and about 400,000 aggravated assaults. Homicide is the second leading cause of death on the job, Petucci said.

Workplace violence can come in several forms, anything from words to something physical.

Some types of workplace violence include assault, homicide, psychological or emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, Petucci said.

Petucci said there are several signs that might lead a person to commit violence in the workplace.

Some of these include direct or indirect threats; an unexplained increase in absenteeism; intimidating, belligerent or harassing behavior; conflicts with supervisors or other employees; an increase in unsolicited comments about weapons; a fascination with other incidents of workplace violence; an increase in drug and alcohol use; and an extreme change in behavior, Petucci said.

“If they have one of these signs, that doesn’t mean they are going to do something, but if they have two or three of these signs, they may be at risk to do something at work,” Petucci said. “If they talk about suicide, they need help right away. They may not care what they do. Make sure the person is reported and gets help.”

Employers should take action to try and prevent workplace violence.

“You need to have management committed to deal effectively with workplace violence so it doesn’t happen. You need employees able to provide feedback to help prevent it, have a system of accountability for the employers and workers,” Petucci said. “You need to create zero tolerance for workplace violence. Make sure there are no reprisals against employees who report incidents. A lot times those who report things prevent things from happening. If they don’t something bad could happen.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.