Workplace violence is a taboo topic. Both female and male workers, whether they be victims or witnesses of violent acts, often adhere to a set of myths on the topic, which partly explains why they do not report instances of workplace violence.
Reality – Several studies dealing with the consequences of victimization show that the risk of developing a state of posttraumatic stress, as a result of an act of violence, is twice as high for women.
However, the same studies show that women cope better with the consequences. Indeed, women tend to give more meaning to the attack and to seek help, while men tend to be more hesitant. Social pressure often requires men to be strong in the face of violence. Showing that they are affected means they were not strong enough to face the assault. This can leads to a decrease in self-confidence. Therefore, men tend to experience the consequences in silence, rather than seek help.
Myth – The VISAGE research team conducted a survey of 1,141 workers in the healthcare and law enforcement sectors in Quebec in 2012 aiming to identify predictors of the trivialization of violence at work. No differences were observed in the perception of taboo: both sexes believe they would be judged if they complained about violence in the workplace. However, women working in law enforcement fear being stigmatized as “incompetent” twice as much as their male colleagues if they complained about violence. The results also showed that men in the study tended to normalize violence more than women.
These results are worrisome, especially for women. Indeed, if these women isolate themselves and do not seek the mental or psychological help that they would need following victimization for fear of being judged by their colleagues or by their superiors, they will suffer more and will do so in silence. Thus, this taboo may exacerbate psychological consequences for women, because it inhibits a natural adaptation strategy for women: support seeking.
Myth – Some people believe that reporting the violence they have experienced or witnessed will not change anything. They assume that workplace violence is inevitable and that they must learn to live with it. Believing that the damage has already been done, that the abuser will never be punished or that the employer can’t do anything about it, they conclude that reporting violence is too complicated or a waste of time.
Yet, reporting acts of violence allows the victim or witness to benefit from support measures and to take concrete action to prevent such acts from happening again. It also allows the employer to measure the extent of the problem and to strengthen measures against it. If acts of violence are not reported, the employer may assume that there is no problem and thus reduce the resources allocated for the prevention of workplace violence. It is important to keep in mind that the implementation of many measures of prevention actually depends on the number of official statements. This is particularly the case for support programs for victims, training programs for employees and initiatives to strengthen security (with video cameras, for example ). These measures are implemented and assessed over time, with consideration given to the number of incidents reported. So, report violence! It makes a difference!
Myth – Some people who are victims or witnesses of violence feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, or they fear they’ll be judged as incapable of managing their own problems. They convince themselves that they do not need to talk, despite the psychological or work-related effects. They believe these will pass with time, which is partly true.
Asking for help is a very difficult process and it requires a lot of courage. Indeed, it requires someone to admit that they have experienced something difficult and that they are not able to face the consequences alone. Yet, several studies show that people who ask for help recover more quickly from the consequences of violence. These people experience a shorter duration of symptoms (depression, stress and anxiety). So, ask for help! It will help you to recover faster!
Myth – Some employees are told, or believe, that their salary justifies the violence they experience. For this reason, they accept threats and attacks, considering them to be part of their job. If by trivializing violence, one can better endure one’s daily work, it is still important to keep in mind that no one is paid to be a victim or witness of violence.
There are many reasons we may choose a particular type of job; for example, we may want to help our neighbours, improve security, or make life easier for clients. However, nobody chooses a job in order to experience violence. For many reasons related to the environment of the workplace, the types of tasks we perform and the specific population served, violence may be part of the risks associated with the job. Even in these cases, violence should never be treated as “just part of the job.” It must be reported in order to better establish and facilitate anti-violence policies.
Reality – Some people think that being a witness to an act of violence will not have any consequences. They believe that if we don’t suffer directly from the violence, we can easily forget it and move on.
Research shows that many witnesses to violent situations suffer negative consequences, even if their number is generally lower than that of victims. Specifically, they may have frequent flashbacks, insomnia, or develop a sense of guilt. In some cases, workplace violence can be as damaging to the witness as it is for the victim.
Reality – Some people believe that workplace violence can not cause psychological damage. They believe that violence has only physical consequences.
In addition to causing physical injury, workplace violence can have many psychological consequences (for example, anxiety, nightmares and depression). These effects may persist over time – especially when one does not find help – leading to a state of post-traumatic stress. This is a severe mental health disorder that can develop in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. Workers who are regularly exposed to traumatic events may be more vulnerable to develop a state of post-traumatic stress. When a worker sees repeated traumatic events, he does not always have time to recover and thus finds himself struggling to manage extreme and recurring stress. If he experiences major difficulties in his work or personal life, this risk factor increases. The worker can also become more susceptible to other psychological disorders.
Reality – Some people think that violence only affects people who work for law enforcement, such as police officers. They do not imagine that violence may be present in other professional sectors.
Violence in the workplace is a problem that affects all professional sectors. Some workers, however, are more likely to be victims or witnesses of violence, especially those who are in contact with unstable or distressed people, handle money, perform work at mobility sites, or are responsible for enforcement of regulations. The number of victims and witnesses of violence at work is particularly high in specific sectors. The results obtained from a survey conducted by the team of FACE indicates that violence affects up to 81% of caregivers, 80% of bus drivers and 77% of police officers. Both women and men can experience an act of workplace violence.
Reality – Some people think it is impossible to predict aggressive behaviour and thus to deescalate violence before it develops.
Fortunately, it is possible to distinguish signs of violence (for example, clenched fists, accelerated speaking, heightened tone of voice, irrational or threatening words). Training on the prevention of violence can help workers identify these signs and deescalate violence. Through training, workers learn to interact peacefully and safely with an aggressive partner.