The Wall Street Journal has a lead article in its marketplace section on workplace violence headlined “Bosses Have to Learn How to Confront Troubled Employees”. While confront may not be the mot juste the intent of the article and the urgent need for addressing the underlying issue – workplace violence – is entirely right. Quoting from the VP of Human Resources of a software company who notes that “managers at every rank must watch for “warning signs” of disturbed and potentially violent employees. Angry outbursts, abusive language and intimidating threats to others must be taken seriously”.
Prompted by arguably the worst workplace (in more than one sense colleges are workplaces) related violent act in US history, the massacre at Virginia Tech has spurred calls for a review of workplace measures designed to thwart future outbreaks. While there are no surefire ways of preventing every act of violence, a lot of common-sense measures can do much to thwart a future act by a mentally disturbed employee. According to the ILO (International Labor Organization) the “hotel and catering industry has been identified as one of those most at risk of physical violence”. Most hoteliers are aware – some more so than others – of the stress factors that put the industry at greater risk. As the ILO’s website notes “Staff may have to work in highly stressful conditions, with frequent contact with inebriated clients and customers. Exposure to violence and sexual harassment is sometimes viewed as being a regular occurrence and a part of the job in the sector. Half of all recorded incidents of violence, e.g. in Norway, happen inside or directly outside hospitality industry establishments and are largely connected with abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Other specific factors of violence in this industry are unusual working hours (nightwork); persons working alone; general vulnerability of the workforce who tends to be young and transient in the industry, with little experience and little training; a majority of female and a large proportion of migrant workers, some of them belonging to ethnic minorities.
Stress factors in the hospitality industry include an intensive interface with customers; increasing customer demand for highly diversified and personalized services; tight requirements on timely delivery of services, especially in kitchens and restaurants; unclear roles in a customer-dominated environment; and lack of training for supervisors. These result in low control of employees over their work. The health status of workers in the hospitality industry is worse than that of the average population, especially concerning mental health“.
Many HR departments probably have measures in place to assess employees at risk. But the VT shooting ought to nudge each department head in the direction of review. One good source is the AH&LA’s video entitled “Addressing Workplace Violence in the Lodging Industry”. The video “helps managers identify risks of workplace violence and demonstrates the proper response to violent situations”. There is no better time than now to order it if it is not already in the HR department’s library and ensure that managers are aware of any potential risks.