Economy down = Violence up

As Workplaces Feel Strain, Crisis Firms Flourish

Firms that provide crisis-preparedness counseling say their business has increased during the recession, as more managers address frayed workplace emotions amid layoffs and general downsizing.

ComPsych Corp., which runs employee-assistance programs to more than 13,000 organizations world-wide, reports that requests for crisis counseling related to layoffs have doubled since August 2008.

Meanwhile, revenues for Crisis Management International Inc.'s crisis-preparedness division have more than doubled since last year, said Bruce Blythe, chief executive of the Atlanta consulting firm.

"When the economy goes down, threats of violence tend to go up," Mr. Blythe said.

While the government keeps no statistics on threats of workplace violence, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that on average 497 workplace homicides occurred annually between 2003 and 2008.

Police in Manchester, Conn,. said a man who allegedly shot eight co-workers, then killed himself on Tuesday went on his rampage after a disciplinary hearing.

Mr. Blythe suggests that employers create threat-notification systems that workers can feel comfortable using.

"A lot of times [workers will] hear something and need to tell management but there's a natural resistance," he said, due to fears of becoming a target of the person they consider dangerous. An anonymous hotline or guarantee of confidentially may help relieve those qualms.

If a company is terminating an employee who has shown erratic behavior, Philip Deming, a human resources consultant who specializes in workplace safety and investigations, suggests interviewing his co-workers and manager to see if the employee has ever suggested that he or she blames management or his co-workers for money problems or lack of success at work.

"Classic language could be something like, 'If my boss had just given me that raise, I wouldn't have had to go through bankruptcy or get a divorce,'" Mr. Deming said.

Employers also may be able to minimize the likelihood of violence following layoffs by taking care in how they go about dismissing workers, said Bob VandePol, president of Crisis Care Network Inc., a provider of crisis counseling. "If people feel disrespected, they're more likely to come back violently," he said.

Still, many employers aren't making advanced efforts to safeguard themselves against threats of violence from layoff victims, Mr. VandePol said.

He reasons that some employers undergoing downsizings can't afford to invest in crisis-prevention planning. Others may be in denial that an employee outburst could occur on their turf, he added.

"Their mentality is, 'We're not going to deal with it until we have to,' " Mr. VandePol said.

However, when threats are made, employers are now taking them more seriously due to fears of hostility resulting from layoffs, he added.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - August 4, 2010)

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