Column: Making sense of workplace tragedyLast Thursday I taught a class, met with a couple of students and settled into my office to write quizzes on the upcoming reading material. (My students love my quizzes, believe me.) Not until late in the evening did I open a browser to send an email to a colleague.
By: Andrea Langworthy, The Farmington Independent
Last Thursday I taught a class, met with a couple of students and settled into my office to write quizzes on the upcoming reading material. (My students love my quizzes, believe me.) Not until late in the evening did I open a browser to send an email to a colleague.
The MSN home page popped up with the headline front and center: “’Several’ Dead in Minneapolis Workplace Shooting”. I froze, a sick feeling spreading through my stomach. I clicked on the story, waiting anxiously as the page loaded. At one of my former companies an employee threatened to come back with a gun after being fired. When the story finally opened, I quickly saw it wasn’t about my former workplace. Yet the sick feeling did not abate.
As the news stories continued to pour in the next day, a sense of sadness and a deep sympathy for those employees who were killed and injured spread through me. I couldn’t help but think of their families, and their co-workers who witnessed an unimaginable terror. Work seems like the ultimate safe place.
Some days I crave the boredom and humdrum of my cubicle, to sit quietly and type away with my headphones tuned to a low volume. After a demanding day of teaching, settling into my ergonomic chair amidst a stack of books and papers feels like a respite. The idea of violence at work, of danger, seems unfathomable. In a conference with reporters Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Kris Arenson echoed my thoughts when she said, “This is something we see on the news in other parts of the country, not here in Minneapolis.”
In the face of this tragedy, I feel paralyzed, unable to imagine what to do in a situation of violence at work. I just sat through an orientation last week where we went through the lockdown procedure for an active shooter situation on campus. But by the time we get to the lockdown procedure, people are already in danger. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this horrifying scenario from ever happening?
The CEO and president of AlliedBarton Security Services, Bill Whitmore, conducted a wide-ranging study on workplace violence to help his company’s clients make their work environments safer. In his book, Potential Workplace Violence Prevention, Whitmore cites several factors which correlate with a safe workplace, including employees feeling valued and well-compensated, trustworthy leadership, and two-way communication between employees and managers. Whitmore stresses that co-workers need to show integrity and “walk the talk.” I taught a leadership and management class last year, and what is fascinating to me is these same factors reduce employee turnover and promote healthier relationships with customers. In short, “walking the talk” yields abundant benefits.
Thinking back to the situation where my former company received a threat from a fired employee, I realize none of Whitmore’s positive factors were present. Sadly, employees were repeatedly threatened with termination by upper management during staff meetings, were paid well below the standard for the industry and lived in fear for their jobs. There was no two-way communication between employees and managers, because employees were afraid to speak about even the most trivial issues, like a broken chair or a lost ID badge.
I hope that Whitmore is correct, and we can reduce the threat of workplace violence by showing our co-workers they are valued, by acting trustworthy, and speaking honestly between employees and managers. I try to impart the importance of “walking the talk” to my students, not just because it might reduce workplace violence or reduce turnover, but because it is the right thing to do.
There is no magic formula for preventing workplace violence, and sadly, even in workplaces where there is great respect and integrity, tragedies occur. I hope we can look to our integrity, our respect for others, and our compassion for co-workers, to provide reassurance in the face of a terrible tragedy. My thoughts and prayers go out to the employees of Accent Signage and their families.