Domestic Violence in the Workplace: In Memoriam

Sometimes I’ll use statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or other sites when trying to get a career development point across to clients or while blogging. But when it comes to statistics and the soft sciences like psychiatry or psychology, I rely on them not so much. Here’s why: People are dynamic beings. Their thoughts and behaviors change. I do not think it is realistic to assign probabilities to people’s behavior. But it’s done all of the time, often with disastrous results.

There seems to be a steady increase in the number of violent and fatal encounters in the workplace where people knew “something was wrong,” even thought it likely that troubled workers would “do something bad.” Many of those troubled workers had contact with mental health professionals who thought it just as “unlikely that this person was a danger to others.”  Until they were. Heck, one mass shooter was even an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood.

Why has there been an increase in deadly workplace violence? One can only speculate on this: perhaps the economic downturn fuels it, perhaps lax gun control contributes to it, perhaps dissolution of family values adds to a person’s stress until he or she cracks. I can spend a lot of time speculating on this, but I think the root of these tragedies often lies in violence, physical and mental, at home. The distress is then carried over to the workplace, and we all end up dealing with it.

Keeping Yourself Safe

After working in two environments where co-workers had ex’s threatening to come to work with a gun, I threw in the towel and said “Enough.” I started working from home, which I realize is not an option for everyone. So be proactive and keep yourself and your colleagues safe. Insist that your company have a crisis handling policy in place and train people on how it works. Insist that background checks on new employees are completed. Know who to call in an emergency and keep the phone number handy. Plan where you are going to hide or a route to get to a safe place. Make sure that no one is working alone at night or after hours. Does this sound paranoid enough for you? Good. Here are the statistics: Three workers die every day from US workplace violence, 1 out of 4 workers have been attacked at work, and if you are a manager, here’s the bottom line: 1.8 million work days are lost each year because of violence at work.

Get Involved

No one is asking you to step in front of a loaded gun and put yourself at risk. However, ignoring signs of distress in co-workers and not paying attention to the behaviors of strangers in your work area puts you and your colleagues at risk. Let someone at your workplace know that there’s a problem. Would you rather risk being a tattler or something worse like injured or deceased? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224 if you feel you need to. National Domestic Violence Hotline Website Call your local police or 911 if you feel it is necessary.

In Memoriam

Attitudes towards domestic violence have, fortunately, changed over the last few decades. Sheriff and police departments keep track of troubled homes, and if you call (and you can call anonymously), your information is added to their files. This was not always the case, and this is why you need to get involved: This blog post is subtitled In Memoriam for a very good reason. It is in memory of my 9-year-old friend Michelle. No last names are given to protect the privacy of the family members that remain. In the 1970s, her father and mine worked at a major employer in the upstate NY area. Her father had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt and had been released the day before I was at their house for a play date in preparation for a sleepover there that weekend. Why my father let me go, I cannot fathom. He must have heard at work that Michelle’s father was ill. Perhaps he relied on the psychiatrist who must have said: “There is a 99% probability that this man is no longer a danger to himself or his family” and let him go. But the psychiatrist was wrong. I did not make it to the sleepover at Michelle’s house that weekend, and that was a good thing. Her father  killed Michelle, her 7- and 2-year-old sisters, 5-year-old brother, his wife and himself on the night planned for the sleepover.

Again, please get involved. These tragedies mark the survivors with guilt and trauma. And the survivors include family, friends, co-workers, first responders and even counselors. We are beginning to understand how to cope with troubled workers, but you are on the front lines, and your response will make all the difference. Look here for a memorial to women and children who have perished from domestic violence; my young friend is included. Look here for more information on how to prevent workplace violence. Thank you for reading.


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