The Security Professionals’ Dilemma: Does Talking About Safety Make Employees Feel Unsafe?

Explore the balance of security communications in the workplace to foster a safer environment without instilling fear.

Security strategy at American organizations can, at times, be something of a contradiction. 

More than half of respondents in the 2022 State of Protective Intelligence Report said their company waits until a catastrophe strikes to react rather than try to get ahead of potential threats that could harm and damage their business. These companies believe that being proactive and training employees will create a culture of fear.

This mindset presents serious risks. Violence is the 4th-leading cause of death for American workers. In 2019, there were more than 40,000 episodes of workplace violence that resulted in a worker missing at least one day of work. More than 700 American workers lost their lives to violence in the workplace in 2020. 

Following years of pandemic-related stress, most organizations are seeing a rise in concerning behavior among personnel, including, for some companies, nearly twice the volume of threats seen previously. In addition to concerning behavior exhibited by some employees, many employers have become aware of domestic violence issues to their employees – a significant concern for employers because, in many cases, the workplace is where a stalker or abusive partner can find their victim.

Workplace violence prevention policies (and more importantly, practices) are critical to have and to use consistently because of the emotional and psychological impact that violence imposes. It hurts overall business performance in a number of ways. In addition to the impact of physical violence, threats, harassment, and bullying — which in some cases are precursors to physical violence — lead to lower employee morale, increased turnover, absenteeism, and mental health service costs.    

Despite these impacts, 87% of those surveyed in Ontic’s 2022 State of Protective Intelligence Report agreed with the statement, “Our company has workplace violence fatigue — threats or harmful incidents occur so often that employees are used to erratic and violent behavior and don’t report these as warning signs until it’s too late.”

It is important to underscore here that providing employees with information and training related to workplace violence prevention doesn’t build cultures of fear, as some corporate leaders mistakenly think. The reality is quite the opposite. When companies have trained violence prevention teams that understand threatening situations and train employees about what behaviors to report, where, and why, they can help reduce the risk of actual violence. Plus, at the same time, it helps allay fears among employees that occur when lack of information and lack of transparency fuel concerns.

As we have detailed elsewhere, the American Society for Industrial Security, in partnership with the Society of Human Resource Management, has created a roadmap for how to build or enhance a workplace violence prevention program. This roadmap has been approved by the American National Standards Institute and serves as an objective benchmark against which employers can track their progress. Recommended components include having a clear policy, a way to document and track incidents, a multidisciplinary team trained in behavioral threat assessment and threat management, and training for employees and supervisors about the critical roles they play in helping to maintain workplace safety. 

Done right, companies can effectively manage threats and proactively address the potential for violence. 

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The 2022 State of Protective Intelligence Report

Dr. Marisa Randazzo, Ph.D.