Work Violence Essay, Research Paper
By Mariann M. Robertson
Violence in the United States has reached epidemic proportions (Mason 1). Increasingly, violent behavior is being observed in the American workplace (McCune 52). This research examines the phenomenon of work-related violence. An overview of the problem is followed by a discussion of possible explanations for such behavior.
The increase in the incidence of work-related violence in the United States is characterized by behaviors that range from telephonic threats to murder (Filipczak 39-40). Homicide is now the second most common cause of on-the-job deaths in the United States. Approximately 7,000 work-related homicides occur each year in the United States (Segal 33). More than 80 percent of work-related homicides result from gun-related injuries (Windau 58-9). A general profile of the perpetrator of violent work-related acts is a white male under a high level of stress (Filipczak 39). A more specific profile narrows the age range to 30-40 years old and adds the condition that the individual is entirely dependent financially on the individual’s current employment (Schut 125). Victims of work-related violence are predominately males (83 percent) between the ages of 25 and 54 years old (Windau 58-9). The proportion of American workers who have been the victims of physical attacks in connection with their employment over the span of their career is estimated at 15 percent (Lipman 15).
Four percent of the total number of homicides in the United States are work-related (Schut 125). With respect to non-fatal violent incidents, however, 16 percent of all such incidents in the United States are work-related. Almost one million non-fatal work-related violent incidents occur each year in the United States (Friedman 4). Approximately 10 percent of these incidents involved the use of handguns (Friedman 4).
Violence is most typically an outgrowth of conflict. By definition, conflict is simply a disagreement between two or more parties over some issue, objective, or behavior. A conflict, thus, is a dispute. Violence is an outgrowth of conflict when peaceful dispute mechanisms fail.
When family members, co-workers, friends, strangers, ethnic and racial groups, and even entire nations perceive that they are being denied something that they feel they should have (regardless of the validity of their justification for such a perception), the typical response is to identify the party responsible for such denial. When such identification is established, the essence of a conflict situation, the issue and the parties has been defined. Conflict may be the result of genuine inequities among parties, or conflict may stem from cultural differences that shape perceptions. Conflict need not necessarily be detrimental to the parties involved. Effective and peaceable dispute resolution may introduce greater equity into society and bring the parties involved in a conflict closer together; conflict is detrimental, however, when violent behavior is the outcome.
The profiles of persons who perpetrate acts of work-related violence always characterize such persons as “loners” (Schut 125). Definitively, loners often experience difficulty both in establishing and maintaining worthwhile personal and group relationships. The integration of individuals into their society stems from the forces that place them within the social system and govern their participation and patterned associations with others. Social values, group memberships, and social roles are conceived as the axes providing the ties that structure social interaction, place the person in society, and order relations with others (Bertrand 22). In effect, actors are integrated into society through the beliefs they hold, the positions they occupy, and the groups to which they belong. Maintaining social patterns, however, is often difficult (Bertrand 23). While great individual variation exists, many people find it increasingly difficult to maintain friendships, neighborhood ties, and family relationships under the changing conditions of their lives.
The development and growth of adult groups are functions of four activities described by Bertrand (76). These activities are adaptation, goal attainment, integration, and pattern maintenance and extension. The motives for the development of adult groups include the immediate gratification of personal needs, the gaining of mechanisms for continuing gratification, the pursuit of collective goals, and the gaining of conditions for self-determination. When individuals cannot fulfill these objectives, they may then resort to violent behavior as a consequence.
An absence of effective interpersonal communications within organizational settings may be implicated in the estrangement of some individuals from their co-workers and then resort to violent behavior (Weide & Abbott 143). One of the primary requirements for the development of effective interpersonal communications with and between persons is the establishment of interpersonal trust (Bertrand 198). Research indicates that a person will likely distort information received from another that is not trusted. Thus if person ‘B’ distrusts person ‘A’, then person ‘B’ will become evasive, attempt to put himself or herself into a more favorable light, or will express exaggerated disagreement with person ‘A’. As a consequence, person ‘B’ may attempt to be quite accurate in communication with person ‘A’ however, the potential of such accurate communication is reduced because of the low level of trust existing between the two parties. Further, pleasant matters are more likely to be the subject of communications where interpersonal trust is not stronger than unpleasant matters, and achievements were more likely to be the subject of communications in such an environment than are problems and difficulties (Bertrand 202). The accuracy of communications, thus, is a function of trust. The accuracy of information and the fostering of effective interpersonal communication are essential to the defusing of conflicts that may result in work-related behavior.
Individuals with high internal security levels distort communications less than do individuals with low internal security levels (Silberman 85). Thus, it appears that security is a primary need that must be fulfilled before effective interpersonal communications may be established. Insecurity is often a function of the high levels of stress. High levels of stress also have been included in the profile of the violent work-related offender (Filipczak 39). Stress is a state of tension, strain, or pressure, and is a normal reaction resulting from the interaction between an individual and the environment. Reactions to stress may produce either positive or negative results, depending upon the causes of the stress, other factors present in an environment, and characteristics of affected individuals.
The phenomenon of stress is recognized as a major contributor to the onset of significant physical and mental health problems in the lives of individuals (Hinkle 564). Since the late 1970’s, stress has also been increasingly implicated as an adverse factor in areas of life other than physical and mental health (Naylor, Pritchard & Ilgen 42). In the organizational environment, as an example, stress has been implicated in the deterioration of individual performance efficiency, which in turn affects overall performance of the organization, and the phenomenon has been linked to high personnel turnover. Negative stress has been linked to impaired productivity among all employee groups (Francis & Millburn 74). A strong predictive relationship between life event changes and negative stress outcomes. Higher mortality rates are found among widows, widowers, and divorcees than among married or single (never married) persons as an example. Among cancer patients, significantly greater proportions were found to have suffered a recent relationship loss than had not (Totman 16). Studies in this area also found that symptoms of stress outcomes often began with initial relationship loses the symptoms subsided with the return or improvement of a relationship and subsequently re-appeared with a final relationship loss.
Even positive life event changes appear to be related to temporary negative stress outcomes (Lewis & Lewis 177). This finding was interpreted to indicate that social disruption and disintegration follow any major change in the normal living pattern, positive or negative (Lewis & Lewis 178).
The significance of the research into the relationship between life event changes and stress is twofold. First, significant stress outcomes may be reasonably expected from significant life event changes. Second, these outcomes may be either positive or negative in character, such life event changes, however, likely are at work in people who perpetrate acts of violence in their place of work.
Two primary sources of occupational stress have been identified (Bertrand 199). The first source of these stressors is the job itself. The specific characteristics of a job are the source of what are called “task-related stressors.” The second source of occupational stressors is the organizational environment itself. Stressors associated with the organizational environment are referred to as being “context-related”. Context-related stressors are external to the tasks associated with a job. Context-related stressors typically develop as a result of flawed development, the inability of an individual to pursue achievement goals successfully within an organization, or some combination of all three (Francis & Millburn 112). Task-related stressors involve role ambiguity, conflicting task demands, work overload or underload, inadequate resource support, no provision for meaningful participation in the decision-making process, and insecurity, among others (Francis & Millburn 112).
Stress outcomes associated with occupational stressors (both task and context) tend to vary rather widely. Workers may simply resort to daydreaming or fantasizing. They may react more actively by creating interpersonal and interorganizational conflicts. They may get sick, or they may terminate their relationship with the organization. These actions are just a few of literally dozens of stress-related outcomes, which may result from occupational stressors. Absenteeism and substance abuse are two additional high profile and easily identifiable stress outcomes of occupational stressors. Unfortunately, an additional and increasingly frequent outcome of organizationally related stress is violent behavior perpetrated either in the workplace or directed at co-workers in other locations (Dreyer 19).
Research indicates that stress is often higher among blue-collar workers than among managerial personnel (Friedman 33-4). Job level, associated with job status, was found to be tied to self-esteem. Lower self-esteem was associated with higher levels of stress.
Alienation from the organization is related to the development of occupational stress (”Murder at the Post Office” 29). Alienation with respect to occupational stress is an objective social situation. Such a definition of a stressor means that it could have an impact, whether or not its presence in the environment was perceived by those individuals working in that environment. Alienation has indeed been linked to violent behavior in the workplace (”Murder…” 29).
The increasing level of violence in American society has also been implicated in the increasing level of work-related violence (McCune 35). More disgruntled employees are turning to force in order to resolve their problems (McCune 38).
This research examined the phenomenon of work-related violence as caused by various factors. Approximately 7,000 work-related homicides occur each year in the United States along with nearly one million non-fatal acts of work-related violence. High levels of work-related stress as well as a failure to establish meaningful interpersonal relationships have been implicated casually in this phenomenon along with a growing acceptance of violence by society.
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