Work‐Related Violence: Assessment and Intervention

Carol Boyd (University of Glasgow, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Boyd, C. (2000), "Work‐Related Violence: Assessment and Intervention", Employee Relations, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 293-298.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Work‐related violence is a growing problem that deserves more than a superficial reaction from governments, employers and employees. It is increasingly being recognized as a problem that cannot be resolved by a single solution or standard response, and instead demands an individually tailored organizational response based on the involvement, collaboration and cooperation of every employee and manager at each level of the organization. The complexity of work‐related violence and the importance of effective interventions are themes reverberated throughout this book, where the authors provide a clear rationale and framework for organizations aiming to develop effective strategies for addressing the issue of work‐related violence.

The first part of the book provides a background to work‐related violence, the legal framework, the influencing and contributory factors in work‐related violence, and a range of interventions. The second part builds on these areas drawing on rich case study evidence from the licensed trade, teaching profession, post office employees and health‐care workers. The authors encourage the reader to consider work‐related violence in three sequential phases, which relate to (before) preventive, (during) reactive and (after) rehabilitation strategies and suggest that these strategies must be considered in terms of the individual, group and organization as a whole. This integration across time and organizational level embodies what the authors refer to as an integrated organizational approach. The book gives detailed consideration to a range of preventive, reactive and rehabilitative strategies including the design, implementation and evaluation of reporting systems and trauma care systems.

An important focus of the book is the extent to which the totality of work‐related violence is considered. A range of individual, organizational and environmental factors are considered in terms of their influence on, and contribution to, violent incidents. Rather than placing the onus on the individual to manage potentially violent incidents, through, for example, conflict training interventions, the authors draw attention to the range of situational and environmental factors, such as queuing, overcrowding, long waiting times and uncomfortable temperatures. These factors are often within management’s control and may be related to staff numbers, workplace layout and operational efficiency. However, the reality in organizations is that the elimination of the “trigger” for violence may run contrary to other organizational objectives, illustrated by airlines’ persistence in selling alcohol before and during flights despite alcohol being the primary reason for passenger violence (Cunningham and Boyd, 2000).

The spectrum of violence includes verbal abuse and the authors note that, in many cases, this can be as damaging as physical abuse, for both the organization and the individual. More importantly, the extent to which verbal abuse and other violent incidents are under‐reported is highlighted. A number of the barriers to reporting are underlined such as a wrongly designed reporting system that does not take account of the limited time available to staff to complete report forms or organizational culture, where employees fear retribution or having their professional competence questioned. Under‐reporting may also be the product of employees and managers believing that certain types of violence are simply “part of the job”. The authors encourage the removal of such barriers to reporting and offer a range of guidelines for achieving this.

Chapter five focuses on the design and implementation of effective incident reporting systems, which breaks the system down into its component parts and offers valuable pointers and insight into the factors that managers should consider when designing and implementing such systems, while underlining the value and application of the generated data in developing preventive and reactive strategies.

The authors suggest a combination of methods to collect data on violence at work. These include risk assessments, and an emphasis on the necessity of involving employees and their representatives in this and other interventions. It is argued that management‐driven interventions run the danger of offering a one‐sided perspective of what constitutes a “risk” and what is considered an appropriate response. The authors further stress the importance of management and employee commitment to work‐related violence interventions, but do not fully acknowledge the reality of conflict and contradiction in the workplace. Productivity pressures, the availability of resources and lack of power in the employment relationship may undermine workers’ ability to adhere to policy and procedures and, in turn, their commitment to the policies.

Throughout the text, emphasis is placed on the effectiveness of the reporting system. According to the authors, the effectiveness of reporting systems is increased where a full feedback loop operates allowing, for example, information from such mechanisms to be used to update and inform training. This is illustrated in the case study of the licensed trade, where a long‐term project on violence in pubs provides a rich source of information on identifying and analysing the problem, devising policy and procedures, and carrying out evaluation.

Guidance on rehabilitation strategies is provided in further chapters, which describe in detail the factors to consider in the design and implementation of support mechanisms for victims of work‐related violence. The authors emphasize that organizations must develop a culture in which staff feel able both to make use of such services and to admit to having a need for them. However, creating this atmosphere of trust and support may prove to be quite a feat for some organizations, thus demonstrating the often prescriptive approach of the text.

In assessing work‐related violence experienced by teachers in chapter nine, Leyden considers the adequacy of the working environment. While the sole reliance on security measures is not recommended, the need for adequate provisions is essential, not just to prevent violence, but to make employees feel safe at work. As the author notes: “teachers who are working under highly stressed, unsafe circumstances are less equipped to meet the educational needs of their pupils” (p. 163). These sentiments could be extended to all workers who function in poorly designed workplaces while coping with unrealistic workloads and inadequate levels of managerial support.

Overall, the authors present a rationale for adopting an effective organization‐wide response to work‐related violence based on legal obligations and organizational performance, offering management the motivation and means to develop an effective response to the growing problem. From their chapter, “Violence in health care”, Brady and Dickson provide a useful illustration of how: “work‐related violence has a range of negative consequences beyond its physical impact, including lower job satisfaction, greater stress and increased consideration of job change” (p. 175). The book offers an instructive guide for the design, implementation and evaluation of interventions aimed at assessing and managing work‐related violence, with a variety of guiding principles, models and checklists included throughout the book.


Cunningham, I, and Boyd, C. (2000), “Violence at work in the air and rail industries: towards a labour process analysis”, paper to 18th Annual Labour Process Conference, 25‐27 April, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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