Leader Volume 8, Number 11
a Hostile Workplace
McClure is a consultant and keynote speaker on managing high-risk
employee behaviors. Author
of Risky Business: Managing
Employee Violence in the Workplace (Haworth Press,Binghamton,
NY, 1996). She is
President of McClure Associates, Inc. in Mesa, Arizona (phone
480-829-6801; email LMcClure@McClureAssociates.com; www.McClureAssociates.com).
The impact of a
1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision will blindside some managers and
enlighten others. Faragher
v. City of Boca Raton was the first case to state that
companies must prevent--not simply react to--all
hostile acts at work. “Hostile
acts” include employee violence, harassment, intimidation,
discrimination, and other behaviors that prevent an employee from
doing his or her job.
still do not recognize the implications of this decision.
Yet by taking action only after an incident occurs, firms
risk huge losses. Workplace
violence alone costs U.S. businesses $36 billion a year, and
losses in productivity, reputation, and employee retention
increase the cost immeasurably. And sexual harassment costs plenty as well--in 1998,
Mitsubishi paid a landmark $34 million to settle claims that
female employees regularly were harassed.
But to other managers, this new expectation presents an
opportunity: the most
effective way to prevent a hostile workplace also boosts
innovation, creativity, and productivity.
In sharp contrast
to traditional reactive approaches, the most effective preventive
approach is for managers to identify and address eight categories
of high-risk employee behaviors in the early
stages, long before the behaviors escalate to violence,
harassment, or other hostile acts.
Both the categories and the early intervention are
When using the
eight categories, three criteria help managers assess the degree
1. How many of these
behavior categories does the employee demonstrate?
2. How often does he or
she demonstrate them?
3. How intensely does he
or she carry them out?
The higher the
employee “scores” on these three scales, the greater the risk.
high-risk employee behaviors differ greatly from popular
“profiles,” which are too generic and which rely too much on
demographics such as race, gender, and age.
These categories give managers a structure within which to
observe employee behaviors.
1. Actor Behaviors:
Acting out anger and other negative feelings instead of
talking about the work problems that caused the feelings.
2. Fragmentor Behaviors:
Making no connection between what
he or she does and what the outcomes are.
3. Me-First Behaviors:
Acting in ways that meet only his or her needs, without
regard for the needs of the team, the company, or the customers.
4. Wooden-Stick Behaviors:
Behaving in rigid, inflexible, and controlling ways.
Acting in ways that contradict his or her
in ways that avoid reality.
7. Shocker Behaviors:
Suddenly acting out of character.
8. Stranger Behaviors:
Becoming fixated on a person or an idea.
such early stages is, itself, an innovative act.
So is focusing on employee behavior as part of the
performance criteria. By
adding behaviors to the list of task-related job duties, and by
using the eight high-risk categories to monitor for unwanted
behaviors, mangers will have a preventive system for formal and
informal feedback about employee performance.
These steps allow managers to recommend or require
training and/or counseling sessions for employees,
depending on the degree of risk, before hostile acts occur.
To manage high-risk behaviors, managers must:
require, in advance, appropriate behaviors (versus the eight
provide training in appropriate behaviors at work
document high-risk behaviors an employee demonstrates
discuss high-risk behaviors with the employee
require that the employee replace high-risk behaviors with
offer or require additional employee training in appropriate
offer or require external counseling for the employee
monitor the employee’s behaviors regarding appropriateness
recognize and reward positive changes in behavior
At the same time,
managers must be prepared to fire the employee if high-risk
behaviors continue and/or escalate.
The goal is to intervene early enough to change high-risk
behavior. If change
does not occur, or if the behavior already is too far along on the
high-risk scale, termination may be necessary--another innovative
step, compared to many firms’ denials of the problem. In most cases, however, the use of these eight categories,
documentation, training/counseling, and monitoring will lead to
new behaviors and a more productive environment for everyone.
These steps will
enable companies to prevent hostile acts at work, which they now
are required to do. At
the same time, these preventive steps also can increase a
company’s innovation, creativity, and productivity.
First, the focus
on employee behaviors also helps managers recognize and reinforce
positive employee behaviors, such as designing new methods
(innovation), solving problems in new ways (creativity), and
producing better-quality results more quickly
Recognition--perhaps the single most significant
motivator--and reinforcement can lead to an increase in all these
reduction of negative elements--such as legal liability, physical
risk, and behavior problems--will lead to a more relaxed and
comfortable environment. Morale
and commitment are likely to soar, and this atmosphere is more
conducive to innovation and other positive outcomes.
preventive steps can be used in the hiring process.
Interview questions that seek out behavior patterns can
identify applicants who are most likely to be innovative and least
likely to be high-risk.
The pressure to
prevent a hostile workplace can, in fact, lead to a more
innovative, creative, and productive company.
Great Is Your Company’s Violence and Harassment Risk?
statement, check the response that describes your
company, to see how high the risk is
1. T_____ F_____
Most employees openly discuss and
2. T_____ F_____
Technical specialists get input from co-workers,
3. T_____ F_____
Work performance and appropriate behaviors are the
4. T_____ F_____
Most managers genuinely ask for employees’ input,
5. T_____ F_____
Most managers are good role-models for adapting to
6. T_____ F_____
No one is required to work more than 40 hours per
7. T_____ F_____
Most managers notice, and address, changes in the
8. T_____ F_____
Managers consistently address and document
9. T_____ F_____
Your firm requires training in violence-prevention and
10. T_____ F_____
There’s never been a violent incident at work.
11. T_____ F_____
No harassment takes place where I work.
12. T_____ F_____
Your company has and
Give yourself one
point for every statement you marked “false.”
Then check below to see how high the risk is in your firm.
Your company is not likely to have incidents of violence
1-2 The risk is still low, but
the one or two items you checked could increase it quickly.
3-5 Risks are increasing daily.
Here’s hoping that those in charge notice and take
6-8 The risks are great enough
to find ways to protect yourself.
9-12 Your company is at risk of injury,
lawsuits, or both.
© 1999 McClure