If you’ve tracked the evolution of trending HR topics over the last 10 years, you’ve seen topics like workplace violence and sexual harassment overtake more traditional HR conversations like performance management. Additionally, states like New York, California and Connecticut have passed laws that require annual sexual harassment training and employer policies prohibiting such conduct, while the federal government is discouraging confidentiality of sexual harassment settlements. In this new landscape, there is an important conversation to be had acknowledging the presence of workplace violence and harassment issues, as they can all point to a broader issue.

In 2018, there were 76,418 charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2018, there were approximately 153 million people employed. This means that .05% of the American workforce filed charges of discrimination. The practical reality is that HR professionals are more frequently dealing with those problematic behaviors that are not necessarily illegal but establish the foundation for the slippery slope from bad behavior/toxic environment to illegal harassment and even violence in the workplace.

It's time to talk about workplace culture

According to a New York Times poll, 25% of employed Americans have reported bullying at work, meaning 30 million people potentially feel like their workplace has toxic elements. Additionally, most experts consider workplace bullying a precursor to, or form of, workplace violence.

It’s important that our focus is not just on individual illegal behaviors, but more broadly, the toxic workplace cultures that create unproductive, disheartened workforces. When unaddressed, toxic cultures and workplace behaviors like bullying, harassment and discrimination can escalate toward violence.

Worker-on-worker violence is even specifically identified by OSHA as one of four types of violence employers are at risk for and should attempt to prevent. Interestingly, HR professionals are uniquely positioned to address these issues where workplace culture and workplace violence intersect to create programs and initiatives to prevent and intervene. Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Create a multi-disciplinary team and complete a needs assessment. Every company is different and there is no “one size fits all solution” for addressing toxic cultures and workplace violence. Identify key stakeholders and assemble a team of people to assess the current state of your organizations culture and related risk of worker-on-worker violence.
  2. Address your workplace culture. Work with organizational development experts to create an environment where employees feel supported and comfortable addressing workplace issues with leadership and coworkers. Address communication and culture in your organization through team building, leadership development. Employee rewards and recognition - among other initiatives - can have a significant impact on your employee’s workplace experience.
  3. Develop and implement a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. There is wide consensus across leading professional organizations like ASIS (security), SHRM (HR), ASSP (Safety) and a large body of knowledge identifying best practices and roadmaps for developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention plan.