Sirelark Divider Graphic
Divider graphic

Office Risk Insights: Workplace Violence in a Down Economy

An economic downturn can be stressful for employees, especially if your company has instituted redundancies, benefit reductions or pay freezes. The threat of workplace violence always exists, but when the economy suffers, ordinarily composed employees may suddenly become aggressive in expressing their mounting frustrations and worries.

Pinpointing employees who will turn to violence is difficult because they usually have no history or previous signs of violence and are generally compliant, experienced workers. Outlining the origins of workplace violence during tough economic times can help you develop a plan to prevent it.

Causes of Violence

One of the biggest stressors that can trigger workplace violence is the potential for job loss or a reduction in hours or wages. Employees who fear a redundancy feel less comfortable coming to work. Normally even-keeled employees who find themselves unable to make ends meet could suddenly take their frustrations out on others in the workplace.

Also, because of the lack of job availability, employees are more likely to butt heads with co-workers and compete for a promotion. The increased pressure to succeed and provide for a family in the midst of economic crisis may drive even the most unsuspected employee to hostile behaviour, threatening behaviour or bullying. Desperation can be an extremely powerful force behind many cases of workplace violence.

Difficult Decisions

In some cases, economic conditions may force you make redundant employees who have dedicated years of service to your company. Those who feel they have been loyal to the company for years may consider the redundancy unfair, and these ex-employees may seek violent retaliation. Similarly, disputes over economically-driven benefit changes may be a trigger.

What You Can Do

One of the most important things you can do as an employer is to assure your employees that their work is valuable. Look for stress, anxiety and other behaviour changes to identify those at risk. Another side effect of economic downturn and redundancies is remaining employees tend to commit extra hours to complete increased task loads. This can occur by necessity, but often it’s a choice employees feel they need to make to avoid being laid off. Avoid placing this pressure on remaining staff through effective management—monitor work levels, and never allow employees to take on too many tasks.

Alleviate Stress

Communication is important in preventing workplace violence, especially when the economic climate is an underlying factor. Speak with employees who feel overworked and, if possible, take steps to alleviate some of the stress. Explicitly explain to long-time employees the reason for the redundancy and make an effort to part on the most positive terms possible. Be as transparent as possible by informing employees about company changes, and most importantly, encourage open communication between management and workers to ensure a healthy, safe environment.

For more useful articles and resources, please join our mailing list:

The content of this publication is of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances or jurisdiction. It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of all matters relevant to its subject matter. The content should not, therefore, be regarded as constituting legal advice and not be relied upon as such. In relation to any particular problem which they may have, readers are advised to seek specific advice from their own legal counsel. Further, the law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly. © 2010, 2012-2013 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

Latest blog posts