How to manage violence at work

12 August 2016 -


Intimidation, humiliation and violence are unfortunately a far more common feature of UK working life than most employers would like to admit

Jermaine Haughton

Responsible for ensuring customers are correctly sold products and services by the telecommunications company’s department of salesmen, quality standards manager Dean Hunter found himself at odds with sales colleague after a deal collapsed. “The customer was clearly mis-sold. What he thought he bought, and what he actually bought was different,” he said.

In the middle of the office, the salesman confronted Hunter expressing his frustrations. “My colleague started shouting at me, telling me how I should do my job and I kept telling him don't tell me how to do my job, I don't tell you how to do yours, and I won't be shouted at,” he said. “He then pitted his head against mine and said “I’ll knock you the hell out.” I said are you threatening me? And before I could hear his response I walked away out of the office.”

Hunter admits that it wasn’t the first time that he’s been physically threatened at work, but claims his managers tend to have a lacklustre approach to handling the situation.

“Whenever I complain to my boss, nothing is really done. At the end of the day, the salesmen are the ones bringing the money to the firm to keep it alive, and threats are often explained away as just a minor aberration,” he said.

For employers, violence in the workplace can lead to poor morale and damage the reputation of the firm, making it difficult to recruit and retain the best staff. Furthermore, the hostile atmosphere correlates with greater risks of absenteeism and even legal proceedings, adding to the company’s costs.

For staff, a volatile workplace can lead to pain, distress and even disability or death.

Nevertheless, nearly one in seven (14%) of HR staff say they have felt physically threatened at work, according to new research from MetLife Employee Benefits, with 47% of HR departments saying there has been a rise in workplace arguments and disputes over the past two years.

The study conducted by MetLife, which works with a range of employers and partners to increase awareness of organisational resilience and training to help overcome negative feelings at work, found disputes among staff are not confined to employees.

Some 26% of HR departments say they have had to mediate in fall-outs between senior management while 27% have had to deal with bust-ups among employees.

Tom Gaynor, Employee Benefits Director of MetLife UK, said: “Nobody should be getting physically threatened over work disputes and it is shocking that so many HR staff have been concerned about it.

“Disputes in the workplace may be inevitable to some extent and the research demonstrates they take up a lot of HR time, with senior management just as prone to falling out as the staff they are managing.”

According to the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), an estimated 1.2% of working adults have been the victims of one or more violent incidents at work, with 285,000 adults of working age in employment experiencing work related violence including threats and physical assault.

The major driver of violent disputes at work is stress, the report found, with some 56% of HR departments admitting the rise in violence in the workplace correlates with an increase of stress caused by increased workloads.

“Stress in the workplace can be detrimental to the mental and physical health of employees, as well as workplace productivity,” Gaynor said. “Organisations should seek to find ways that help address the rising levels of stress in the workplace and reduce the fallout of colleagues

“By adopting a range of relatively low cost solutions including conducting a stress audit, offering line managers support and resilience training as well as making use of the range of health and wellness benefits on offer, organisations help create a healthy working environment for staff to build their resilience and reduce incidences of stress occurring.”

Ralph Fevre, Professor of Social Research at Cardiff University stated that employers must seriously consider the level of pressure they are applying on their managers and employees on a daily basis.

“Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities while, damningly, some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them,” he said. "We suggest that managers need to have standards of good treatment and civility built in as an essential part of their roles.

"At the same time, employers need to recognise the pressures many managers are clearly under themselves, and give them the time and space to embed fairness in the workplace."

Powered by Professional Manager