Can HR Keep People Safe? The Shapes of Violence in Retail Industry

© AR_HRComatrix_HR&WkViolence

Evoking the subject of safety to HR is apparently almost "taboo". It is not considered as a major HR "role" by many, so it is easy to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear on it.

Do most still think that it is not a matter of HR after recent unfortunate events? I previously talked abouth this subject here. It is not one's favorite topic by choice, but it is a sad reality that we have to face as a society, a workplace, and a community of HR.

HR and Violence? Can HR Do it All? 


Some numbers are chilling according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):  the number one cause of workplace death has been violence over the last 15 years; and this being more predominant in the retail industry. Whereas a 2012 SHRM  workplace violence survey  reported 36% of workplace violence, the Retail industry alone recorded some form of crime in 85% of workplace violence. Although there is little that the employer can do to prevent workplace violence, plans and policies should be in place and training provided, accordingly.

One question remains: How much can HR do to help prevent violence? And the subsequent question is: why HR? Doesn't HR has enough to do? In reality this role should be a shared reponsibility among management or local leadership with the leading role of Asset Protection. Because of its proximity with the public at large - think interviews, job seekers - and the internal clientele -think employees-related concerns: conflict resolution, performance evaluation, HR planning... - HR sees its role evolving by essence . For those of us who feel the need to dig a little bit more on the subject, here is a source for help or reference. If 5% of establishments were subject to violent incidents in 2006 (BLS), the number has increased over the years. The 2012 SHRM workplace violence survey reported an increase of 15% in frequency.  Enough to make us think that HR has a role to play in mitigation?

Violence in Retail Redefined: Bullying and more, from Inside and Outside


While all sectors can witness violence, such is more prevalent in the service industry where employees deal day-in and day-out with external clientele. Workplace violence has taken many forms and if we limit our definition of violence to physical altercations, we are far from the truth. Those are the most publicized and outrageous ones. Thankfully, robberies do not happen everyday at the same location. Some other forms or pernicious violence do occur on a daily basis and could trigger escalating conflicts.

Whether we realize it or not we are all familiar with the Retail industry: we are all consumers. Granted, to many of us it is a foreign world. And it will remain as such until we hear stories told by restaurant workers, boutiques owners, and other service workers. According to BLS 48% of workers' deaths is due to workplace violence in that sector. Beyond outrageous? OSHA defines violence as ranging from "threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide." If you are a small business and think that "small incidents" are ok and workers should just absorb them, you may want to get familiarized with the definition of violence in the workplace: this UK reference guide is an indication that the issue is global, widespread. As we all understand that asset protection is important, we often forget that workers are part of our business assets. Consequently, training retail workers, particularly in small businesses, is crucial: standards and policies have to be set and defined clearly, at least as how incidents have to be handled, and who should deal with escalating ones. Make it part of your orientation training. If you think it is a deterrent to recruiting and retention, then maybe the new hire was not fit for the service industry. You do not want to risk your business brand and much less your business safety. Click here  for a resource for employers of one.

© AR_HRComatrix_WkViolence


On a wider perspective, let's keep in mind that in a society where instant gratification is becoming a norm - this is not such a recent issue -, and where "choice" is expected to be respected, as consumers we tend to become more demanding. Should I say "unreasonably" demanding? California has passed a law on "abusive" behavior and made anti-bullying training mandatory. According to a SHRM survey, 51% of businesses have reported bullying incidents.  Conflict in the workplace is not always a matter of policy making or lack of thereof.  It is rather an issue of quality of communication: between customers and employers, among employees, between employees and managers, between HR and managers, between leadership and managers. It is also a matter of corporate and societal culture. In the Retail environment, employees can be subject to the most abject consumer behaviors. This happens on face-to-face occasions or over the phone. Examples are countless. Employees are caught between internal company policy and any form of violence from clients. Ensuing issues are certainly of HR concern: employee disengagement, loss of morale, and high turnover to say the least.

Basic Steps in Workplace Violence Prevention


A few basic steps are necessary while you can dwell on drafting elaborate policies:
  1. Stay tuned to relevant Federal and State legislation: this is a must. What you cannot do is as important as what you are allowed to do.
  2. Draft your safety policy or update it to meet the needs of current events and your industry/location issues. Think budget. Partner with Asset Protection, Operations and Communication departments.
  3. Train your HR and Safety staff periodically. Assess and periodically reassess the training for adequacy, especially if you contract with an external provider: keep it current.
  4. Train your employees annually: document it.
  5. Train all new employees within a reasonable time after hire or better yet, upon hire. Make sure that new hire orientation includes the basics of safety and communication protocols. 
  6. If you are a small business, follow the same guidelines. You might have to do it all, as usual.

While PR cannot escape from communicating on negative happenings, when it comes to workplace violence one cannot disconnect the communication component from the HR one. So. how de we deal with any form of violence in the workplace? Sadly, we all learn from experiences. In any event, we cannot burry any longer our heads in the sand, and as unpleasant subject as it is, workplace violence in all its forms calls for mitigation measures.
Having an operational workforce is good. Making sure that your workforce is equiped to deal appropriately with safety and communication issues on the job is better.

En Synthèse


La violence sur les lieux de travail, on n'aime pas en parler, comme de toute chose pénible. Mais l'on ne peut plus pratiquer la politique de l'Autruche. Temps de voir les choses telles q'elles sont.

Mais au fait, c'est quoi cette violence au travail? Non, tenez-vous bien: ce n'est pas seulement les shootings. C'est aussi les vociférations du patron et des collègues et des clients, les intimidations, les menaces, selon OSHA . Alors, informez votre staff et donnez-leur les moyens de se protéger. Training, training....et travailler de concert avec les départements Opérations, Sécurité et Communication et Sociologie/Psychologie. La sécurité, ça peut coûter cher, mais il en est de même de la marque employeur et de la vie des employés. 

Parfois, c'est juste une question de communication. Je me souviens d'avoir vu et "entendu" une altercation entre une cliente et une employée. La cliente avait tutoyé l'employée, probablement parce que dans sa culture l'on tutoie les étrangers. Un vrai fiasco! 
Aux USA, l'on peut en voir de toutes les couleurs pour ainsi dire. La notion de "privacy" et de tenue peut être ou devenir absolue floue, selon les gens. Et l'ouverture des frontières en Europe, la facilitation du  transport entre différents coins du globe met le monde dans une situation similaire. Assurez-vous que votre training en communication inclue la facette culture qui pourrait avoir un impact sur des situations précurseurs de violence sur les lieux de travail. Une personne informée en vaut deux. Qui sait, un consommateur dans un restaurant pourrait trouver deux glaçons dans son verre non seulement une aberration mais une insulte? Petit exemple, mais pas impossible scénario. 

En tous cas, c'est une question RH: elle cause  la démobilisation des employés, rase le moral, augmente le turnover, entre autres. La violence sur les lieux de travail doit être prévenue autant que possible. Et le training dès l'embauche, mais aussi régulièrement, peut apporter une différence immense.


Over one-third (36%) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence; compared with two years ago, most organizations indicated that incidents of violence had either stayed about the same (45%) or decreased in frequency (40%), while 15% reported an increase in frequency. This is part two of a two-part series of SHRM survey findings on workplace bullying and violence. - See more at: http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/pages/workplaceviolence.aspx#sthash.sefAhcDe.dpuf
Workplace Violence
Over one-third (36%) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence; compared with two years ago, most organizations indicated that incidents of violence had either stayed about the same (45%) or decreased in frequency (40%), while 15% reported an increase in frequency. This is part two of a two-part series of SHRM survey findings on workplace bullying and violence. - See more at: http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/pages/workplaceviolence.aspx#sthash.sefAhcDe.dpuf
Over one-third (36%) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence; compared with two years ago, most organizations indicated that incidents of violence had either stayed about the same (45%) or decreased in frequency (40%), while 15% reported an increase in frequency. This is part two of a two-part series of SHRM survey findings on workplace bullying and violence. - See more at: http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/pages/workplaceviolence.aspx#sthash.sefAhcDe.dpuf

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