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. Anoverview of the problem is followed by a discussion of possible explanations forsuch behavior. The increase in the incidence of work-related violence in theUnited States is characterized by behaviors that range from telephonic threatsto murder (Filipczak 39-40). Homicide is now the second most common cause ofon-the-job deaths in the United States. Approximately 7,000 work-relatedhomicides occur each year in the United States (Segal 33).
More than 80 percentof work-related homicides result from gun-related injuries (Windau 58-9). Ageneral profile of the perpetrator of violent work-related acts is a white maleunder a high level of stress (Filipczak 39). A more specific profile narrows theage range to 30-40 years old and adds the condition that the individual isentirely dependent financially on the individual’s current employment (Schut125). Victims of work-related violence are predominately males (83 percent)between the ages of 25 and 54 years old (Windau 58-9).
The proportion ofAmerican workers who have been the victims of physical attacks in connectionwith their employment over the span of their career is estimated at 15 percent (Lipman15). Four percent of the total number of homicides in the United States arework-related (Schut 125). With respect to non-fatal violent incidents, however,16 percent of all such incidents in the United States are work-related. Almostone million non-fatal work-related violent incidents occur each year in theUnited States (Friedman 4). Approximately 10 percent of these incidents involvedthe use of handguns (Friedman 4). Violence is most typically an outgrowth ofconflict. By definition, conflict is simply a disagreement between two or moreparties over some issue, objective, or behavior. A conflict, thus, is a dispute.
Violence is an outgrowth of conflict when peaceful dispute mechanisms fail. Whenfamily members, co-workers, friends, strangers, ethnic and racial groups, andeven entire nations perceive that they are being denied something that they feelthey should have (regardless of the validity of their justification for such aperception), the typical response is to identify the party responsible for suchdenial. When such identification is established, the essence of a conflictsituation, the issue and the parties has been defined. Conflict may be theresult of genuine inequities among parties, or conflict may stem from culturaldifferences that shape perceptions. Conflict need not necessarily be detrimentalto the parties involved. Effective and peaceable dispute resolution mayintroduce greater equity into society and bring the parties involved in aconflict closer together; conflict is detrimental, however, when violentbehavior is the outcome. The profiles of persons who perpetrate acts ofwork-related violence always characterize such persons as “loners” (Schut125). Definitively, loners often experience difficulty both in establishing andmaintaining worthwhile personal and group relationships. The integration ofindividuals into their society stems from the forces that place them within thesocial system and govern their participation and patterned associations withothers. Social values, group memberships, and social roles are conceived as theaxes providing the ties that structure social interaction, place the person insociety, and order relations with others (Bertrand 22). In effect, actors areintegrated into society through the beliefs they hold, the positions theyoccupy, and the groups to which they belong. Maintaining social patterns,however, is often difficult (Bertrand 23). While great individual variationexists, many people find it increasingly difficult to maintain friendships,neighborhood ties, and family relationships under the changing conditions oftheir lives. The development and growth of adult groups are functions of fouractivities described by Bertrand (76). These activities are adaptation, goalattainment, integration, and pattern maintenance and extension. The motives forthe development of adult groups include the immediate gratification of personalneeds, the gaining of mechanisms for continuing gratification, the pursuit ofcollective goals, and the gaining of conditions for self-determination. Whenindividuals cannot fulfill these objectives, they may then resort to violentbehavior as a consequence. An absence of effective interpersonal communicationswithin organizational settings may be implicated in the estrangement of someindividuals from their co-workers and then resort to violent behavior (Weide; Abbott 143). One of the primary requirements for the development ofeffective interpersonal communications with and between persons is theestablishment of interpersonal trust (Bertrand 198). Research indicates that aperson will likely distort information received from another that is nottrusted. Thus if person ‘B’ distrusts person ‘A’, then person ‘B’ will becomeevasive, attempt to put himself or herself into a more favorable light, or willexpress exaggerated disagreement with person ‘A’. As a consequence, person ‘B’may attempt to be quite accurate in communication with person ‘A’ however, thepotential of such accurate communication is reduced because of the low level oftrust existing between the two parties. Further, pleasant matters are morelikely to be the subject of communications where interpersonal trust is notstronger than unpleasant matters, and achievements were more likely to be thesubject of communications in such an environment than are problems anddifficulties (Bertrand 202). The accuracy of communications, thus, is a functionof trust. The accuracy of information and the fostering of effectiveinterpersonal communication are essential to the defusing of conflicts that mayresult in work-related behavior. Individuals with high internal security levelsdistort communications less than do individuals with low internal securitylevels (Silberman 85). Thus, it appears that security is a primary need thatmust be fulfilled before effective interpersonal communications may beestablished. Insecurity is often a function of the high levels of stress. Highlevels of stress also have been included in the profile of the violentwork-related offender (Filipczak 39). Stress is a state of tension, strain, orpressure, and is a normal reaction resulting from the interaction between anindividual and the environment. Reactions to stress may produce either positiveor negative results, depending upon the causes of the stress, other factorspresent in an environment, and characteristics of affected individuals. Thephenomenon of stress is recognized as a major contributor to the onset ofsignificant physical and mental health problems in the lives of individuals(Hinkle 564). Since the late 1970’s, stress has also been increasinglyimplicated as an adverse factor in areas of life other than physical and mentalhealth (Naylor, Pritchard & Ilgen 42). In the organizational environment, asan example, stress has been implicated in the deterioration of individualperformance efficiency, which in turn affects overall performance of theorganization, and the phenomenon has been linked to high personnel turnover.
Negative stress has been linked to impaired productivity among all employeegroups (Francis & Millburn 74). A strong predictive relationship betweenlife event changes and negative stress outcomes. Higher mortality rates arefound among widows, widowers, and divorcees than among married or single (nevermarried) persons as an example. Among cancer patients, significantly greaterproportions were found to have suffered a recent relationship loss than had not(Totman 16). Studies in this area also found that symptoms of stress outcomesoften began with initial relationship loses the symptoms subsided with thereturn or improvement of a relationship and subsequently re-appeared with afinal relationship loss. Even positive life event changes appear to be relatedto temporary negative stress outcomes (Lewis & Lewis 177). This finding wasinterpreted to indicate that social disruption and disintegration follow anymajor change in the normal living pattern, positive or negative (Lewis &Lewis 178). The significance of the research into the relationship between lifeevent changes and stress is twofold. First, significant stress outcomes may bereasonably expected from significant life event changes. Second, these outcomesmay be either positive or negative in character, such life event changes,however, likely are at work in people who perpetrate acts of violence in theirplace of work. Two primary sources of occupational stress have been identified(Bertrand 199). The first source of these stressors is the job itself. Thespecific characteristics of a job are the source of what are called”task-related stressors.” The second source of occupational stressorsis the organizational environment itself. Stressors associated with theorganizational 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 withinan organization, or some combination of all three (Francis & Millburn 112).
Task-related stressors involve role ambiguity, conflicting task demands, workoverload or underload, inadequate resource support, no provision for meaningfulparticipation in the decision-making process, and insecurity, among others(Francis & Millburn 112). Stress outcomes associated with occupationalstressors (both task and context) tend to vary rather widely. Workers may simplyresort to daydreaming or fantasizing. They may react more actively by creatinginterpersonal and interorganizational conflicts. They may get sick, or they mayterminate their relationship with the organization. These actions are just a fewof literally dozens of stress-related outcomes, which may result fromoccupational stressors. Absenteeism and substance abuse are two additional highprofile and easily identifiable stress outcomes of occupational stressors.
Unfortunately, an additional and increasingly frequent outcome oforganizationally related stress is violent behavior perpetrated either in theworkplace or directed at co-workers in other locations (Dreyer 19). Researchindicates that stress is often higher among blue-collar workers than amongmanagerial personnel (Friedman 33-4). Job level, associated with job status, wasfound to be tied to self-esteem. Lower self-esteem was associated with higherlevels of stress. Alienation from the organization is related to the developmentof occupational stress (“Murder at the Post Office” 29). Alienationwith respect to occupational stress is an objective social situation. Such adefinition of a stressor means that it could have an impact, whether or not itspresence in the environment was perceived by those individuals working in thatenvironment. Alienation has indeed been linked to violent behavior in theworkplace (“Murder…” 29). The increasing level of violence inAmerican society has also been implicated in the increasing level ofwork-related violence (McCune 35). More disgruntled employees are turning toforce in order to resolve their problems (McCune 38). This research examined thephenomenon of work-related violence as caused by various factors. Approximately7,000 work-related homicides occur each year in the United States along withnearly one million non-fatal acts of work-related violence. High levels ofwork-related stress as well as a failure to establish meaningful interpersonalrelationships have been implicated casually in this phenomenon along with agrowing acceptance of violence by society.
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