Archive for February, 2013

Workplace Violence: Awareness & Prevention

  • 22nd February 2013

workplace_violenceThere is nothing is more basic to the safety and well being of the workplace than keeping it violence-free. This truth has been tragically spotlighted over the past many months. In these cases, the violence came from outside. Human behavior is inherently difficult to predict, but it can be even harder to foresee when a perpetrator is a relative stranger. It is within our ranks where we have the greatest opportunity to prevent such attacks on the peace, safety and well being of our workplaces.

On Dec. 14, 2010, a gunman whose wife had lost her job as a teacher walked into a Panama City FL school board meeting and fired several rounds before being wounded by a security guard and taking his own life.

On Jan. 8, 2011, at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s Congress on the Corner event at a Tucson mall, a gunman killed 6 and wounded 14 including Rep. Gifford and members of her staff. For them, others working at the event, and the many employees of the mall, this was a workplace violence incident.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a horrific incidence of workplace violence took the lives of children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

What is known is that, according to OSHA, the risk for violence is higher for jobs with extensive public contact in the community. Other high risk workplaces include health care, social service, where money is exchanged or deliveries made, and where late night or early morning hours are worked, particularly in high crime areas. 7,000+ workplace homicides occurred between 1997-2007 (the most recent U.S. Labor Data available). Of those, 1000+ involved work associates, which is our focus here.  Although most incidents don’t involve a death, they can none-the-less be scarring for the individual and collective psyches of your team and your organization. In addition to any physical injuries, the toxic fallout from violence can include cognitive distraction, fear and anxiety, increased absence, turnover, emotional exhaustion, more accidents, performance deficiencies and lower production.

According to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, workplace aggression also takes a heavy toll on the financial health of businesses.  An Institute study estimated the aggregate cost of workplace violence to U.S. employers to be more than $36 billion as a result of expenses associated with lost business and productivity, litigation, medical care, psychiatric care, higher insurance rates, increased security measures, negative publicity, and loss of employees. Problems in any of these areas can create a difficult financial environment for companies, especially those that are in the small or mid-sized range. Investigations in the aftermath of violence by employees often reveal that warning signs were missed or unreported, either by employees to management, or by supervisors up the line.

For supervisors, there are some common reasons why warning signs aren’t addressed:
•    Aversion to conflict
•    Discomfort with emotion
•    Not knowing the company’s safety policy and procedures
•    Lacking confidence in the company’s safety policy and procedures
•    Reluctance to spend time on “non-bottom line” issues
•    Fear of retaliation

Given the legal duty of employers and their agents (everyone in a position of authority) to create and maintain a safe workplace, companies are much more likely to train supervisors on Workplace Violence than the rank and file employees. Yet employees are a powerful piece of the violence prevention puzzle when educated, enlightened and engaged in protecting their turf.

Harassment is at the beginning the violence continuum. In our training, we let employees know harassment can escalate into warning signs of potential violence, which can include:
•    Threats of harm or suicide
•    History of violence
•    Physical or verbal intimidation (for example: harassing phone calls or stalking)
•    Unwarranted paranoid behavior
•    Excessive conflicts at work
•    Inability to take criticism about job performance
•    Carrying or fascination with weapons
•    Fascination with news about violent incidents
•    Approval of violence to solve problems
•    Despair over personal problems
•    Drug or alcohol abuse
•    Disregard for employee safety
•    Obsessive involvement with the job with no apparent outside interest
•    A loner romantically obsessed with a co-worker who doesn’t welcome or share the interest
•    Extreme changes in behavior

In our experience, employees overwhelmingly want to be good workplace citizens — do the right thing for themselves, the team, and the company

At your company:
•    Are employees empowered and committed to take action if they see a risk?
•    Is there a culture of compassion, respect and professionalism up and down the line?
•    Are employees informed about the proper action to take re: potential violence?
•    Is there an atmosphere of trust in which employees feel comfortable coming forward?
•    Are employees confident they will be protected from retaliation?
•    Has it been demonstrated that concerns will be taken seriously and information handled with maximum confidentiality?
•    Are supervisors aware, informed, engaged with management in helping troubled employees, including support through the EAP?
•    Have you thought about providing reference cards to employees with warning signs and prevention tips?

It’s a pressure-cooker world. Even if the workplace is copacetic over-all, we can’t necessarily jettison outside stressors at the door. We’re hearing about an uptick in hostility in client workplaces as staff members deal with such things as caring for older parents, kids returning to the nest, spouses losing jobs, and financial worries. This is a time to engage your entire team in being compassionate, watchful, and proactive in preventing violence from ripping at the fabric of your workplace community.

Kit Goldman, President and Founder of Workplace Training Network, Inc., An OSHA4less,com Strategic Partner. Over the past 20 years, Goldman’s courses have engaged hundreds of thousands of executives, managers, and employees in a vast array of industries. She has appeared frequently as workplace experts in the national media and contributes to the OSHA4Less blog on a monthly basis.

Is Work a Laughing Matter?

  • 22nd February 2013

laughterworkplaceWith all of the headlines about Workplace Harassment, violence and other scary and depressing issues, I think we need to lighten things up! It’s been said that laughter is a survival skill in the often intense atmosphere of the workplace. Well, guess what?  It actually is. If you Google “health benefits of laughter”, you get 2,240,000 results. The secret is out! Laughter is a great way to promote physical and mental health, the key ingredients of a high performing workplace. Laughter boosts the immune system, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles, prevents heart disease and lowers anxiety, among many other benefits.

Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. It signals acceptance, positive interaction and membership in a group. There are thousands of languages, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way. Babies can laugh long before they speak. Did you know that children born without sight and hearing have an inherent ability to laugh? Laughter is uniquely, innately human – like each of us!

As long as the source of laughter is not offensive, hurtful, or at someone else’s expense, mirthful moments at work can foster harmony and teamwork. Laughter can also help reduce conflict. It’s a lot harder to argue and stay mad at someone when you’ve shared some healthy laughter! Some people would like to give the gift of laughter, but are afraid to take the risk. A well known survey shows that for many, speaking in public is their number one fear in life. Death was number 2! As Seinfeld observed, “At a funeral most people would rather be in the coffin then giving the eulogy!”

So… if you’d like to improve your humor proficiency and confidence, ask yourself these questions:

•    In a seemingly serious situation, what nuggets of humor can I find?
•    When faced with a potentially difficult situation, could humor help? Could it lead to a better outcome?
•    Am I funnier than I think I am? Less funny? Who will give me an honest assessment of my sense of humor?
•    Could I start my next meeting or conversation with a funny story?
•    What are the humorous situations in my life that have taught me something?

Here are some tips for keeping laughter safe and appropriate for the workplace:

•    Never joke about co-workers’ sexuality.  You see the headlines about Sexual harassment.  Don’t become one!
•    Don’t joke about people’s appearance. That is an emotionally charged area.
•    Say away from religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation. Leave “…so a priest, a rabbi, an imam, and a fat mud wrestling midget with a dress and a mustache go into a bar…” for outside of work.
•    Avoid joking about bodily functions.

Yes, yes, we are talking about keeping your humor politically correct in the workplace.  This can be challenging if the atmosphere of your workplace is down-to-earth and “family-style”. However, we must resist the urge to approach the boundary of harassment for a laugh. It’s not worth it! You can achieve healthy humor that enriches and enhances your workplace without it. Stick with humor everyone can enjoy, support, and relax with — goodhearted laughter that gives those great mental and physical perks! So… what are some fairly safe “targets” for getting laughs?

•    Yourself! Your own flaws and quirks.  Making lighthearted jokes about yourself puts people at ease and brings them closer to you. They can relate. Humility is charming!

•    Situations you all face, i.e. new regulations, how busy it is, the industry, difficult customers you all deal with (with no customers present, of course!)

•    Personal characteristics with low ego-involvement. Most of us are sensitive about appearance, but we’re less invested in other aspects of ourselves. For example, I don’t mind colleagues sharing laughter with me about my bad handwriting, my raucous laugh, or how grumpy I am when I get up at 5 a.m. for pilates and there’s no coffee going when I get there! They do it with affection for who I am, not with disdain or ridicule.

We’ve been using humor as a powerful training tool for 20+ years. We’ve learned that people are much more open to learn when we laugh together. Even the most resistant employees are engaged and enlightened once we get them to relax and laugh a little!

kit_promo2 (2)Kit Goldman, President and Founder of Workplace Training Network, Inc., An OSHA4less,com Strategic Partner. Over the past 20 years, Goldman’s courses have engaged hundreds of thousands of executives, managers, and employees in a vast array of industries. She has appeared frequently as workplace experts in the national media and contributes to the OSHA4Less blog on a monthly basis.

Update: Employee Rights Under the FMLA 2013

  • 5th February 2013

The Wage and Hour Division, released a revised FMLA poster today, 2/5/13.

The provision provides additional protection for families of eligible veterans and service members, plus families of airline personnel and flight crews.

In announcing this Final Rule, the Department of Labor is taking great steps toward protecting those families who have given so much of themselves to protect us. Provided that FMLA coverage and eligibility requirements are met, family members of current servicemembers and veterans will now have far greater abilities to attend to personal matters and medical needs related to their family members’ service.

If you have not purchased an updated poster or posted this update, please know that you risk Government fines.

Louisiana Update on Earned Income Poster- New LA Labor Law Poster Required

  • 5th February 2013

Louisiana Labor Law PosterThe Louisiana Earned Income Credit poster has had a mandatory change to the 2013 income limits for earned income tax credit.

The language regarding this posting states,

“Based on the recent IRS ruling, if an individual makes $46,000 or less, an employer should notify you at the time of hiring of the potential availability of Earned Income Tax Credits if you meet the 2013 income limits for eligibility. Poster contains the details for eligibility”

This posting is effective as of February 2013.

This is a mandatory change affecting all businesses in Louisiana. All employers must update their posters. Click here to purchase the updated version.