Workplace Violence Can Be Invisible, But You Can Help End It

While you may not have directly witnessed workplace violence, do not assume it does not happen. Let us talk of it.

Imagine working in a space where your manager constantly finds opportunities to criticize you for no fault of your own. Or, a space where your co-worker keeps violating you physically. Somehow, there is no aid or escape for you from this. Hopefully, the scenario is not your reality. Unfortunately, such behaviours are more common than we would like to believe. 

Almost 743 million employees faced workplace violence on a global scale in 2021. Despite their age, gender, seniority, and place of work, various employees said they had experienced workplace violence in forms such as sexual harassment, mental harassment, or even physical assault at least once in their lifetime. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported this data in ‘Experience of violence and harassment at work: A global first survey.’

When you look at these data points, do you wonder if your team members, peers, or colleagues have been a part of these statistics? Or worse, if they are experiencing violence at work but cannot report it?

The study mentioned, “Only 54.4% of people in employment who had experienced violence and harassment in the past five years said they had disclosed it to someone else.” Lack of trust, fear of being recognized, and fear of punishment were some of the reasons employees kept their silence. So, how can we, as leaders and employees, promote strategies and policies that curtail workplace violence? Here are some steps you can take:

Define workplace violence 

Even with the proper procedures, employees might not always be sure of what comprises workplace violence. In such cases, organizations must:

  • Define workplace violence and its types.
  • Define the spaces that count as places of work. These spaces should also extend to transport vehicles for employees, offsite venues, research fields, labs, and other possible workplaces.
  • Give employees more information on the avenues they can use to lodge official complaints against workplace violence. For instance, POSH can help tackle sexual harassment. While there are no clear-cut laws for mental and physical harassment in India, the Indian Penal Code has sections on defamation and physical violence. 

Build and promote inclusion to curb workplace violence

There are several ways to build an inclusive workplace:

  • Hire a Human Resource team that is diverse and competent at making empowering decisions. Ensure all the company employees, including the HR team, are regularly enrolled in sensitization training and inclusion workshops. 
  • Design workplace violence policies that do not discriminate based on gender and employment status. 
  • Encourage the utilization of safe spaces such as an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in case of workplace violence. Make sure these committees maintain confidentiality and include adept members.
  • Send out surveys, which employees can fill out anonymously to register any complaints about the infringement of their personal space at work.
  • Ensure all employees, including the support staff, can voice their concerns.
  • Host seminars or workshops that educate employees about workplace violence and the need to take action in case of violation 

Win the trust of your employees

The ILO report stated, “More than half, 55.0 percent, (employees) believed that talking about it (workplace violence) would have been a waste of time.” While giving employees a space to talk is necessary, attaching accountability to problem resolution is crucial. Moreover, the fear of being recognized and punished stops employees from raising their concerns. The organization must, therefore, promote awareness against workplace violence in such a way that there is a promise of confidentiality and employee safety. A highly trained Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) can help in this case. The organization can also tie up with an external, neutral grievance redressal organization to assure employees that they will not lose jobs because they reported the violent acts of someone in a powerful position. The organization must build an equal work environment. 

Simplify the grievance registration process around workplace violence 

In times of mental distress and the need for privacy, a disoriented grievance registration process is the last thing anyone would want. As per the ILO, one of the top reasons employees found it difficult to register their complaints about workplace violence was the lack of clarity around workplace procedures. Therefore, as an employer, you must design a process that clearly states:

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  • The registration process for a workplace violence complaint
  • The timeline within which employees should expect some action
  • Policies attaching accountability to the organization to take an action
  • Defining how the accused and the victim will handle workplace responsibility upon the registration of the complaint

Making it easy for survivors to talk about their experiences is the first step to making the workplace safe. 

While you may not have directly witnessed violence in your workplace, do not assume it does not happen. No matter the position you hold, as a leading and responsible employee, you must deep-dive into the mechanisms needed to expel it. If you are not on the policy-making committee, talk to co-workers who can help you bring about a change. You must support a healthy workspace. 

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About the Author

Rhea Sakhardande

I am a researcher working toward understanding the complex fabric of society. I have a Master's degree in Sociology and am currently exploring Diversity and Inclusion in corporate spaces. read more...

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