An act of mass violence carried out in the workplace is a reality that organizational leaders are facing with increased frequency. No industry is left untouched. Government agencies, non-profits, schools, hospitals, and places of business are all vulnerable.
The growing active shooter trend has spurred leadership to take a hard look at ways to respond if the worst nightmare comes true. Other forms of workplace violence have similar impact. Experts use the phrase “hostile event” as an umbrella term encompassing all forms of active violence that threaten the workplace, including an active shooter.
Best practices have been developed that teach ways to preserve loss of life in the moment of a hostile event.
But what happens after?
Amidst heartbreak and chos, organizations are forced to respond to a number of overwhelming challenges. How you respond to these challenges can mean the difference between making a full recovery and closing your doors. Putting together a well-thought out response before a hostile event gives organizations their best chance of recovery. As you create plans for responding to an event, it’s important to fully understand the five ways organizations across all industries are impacted.
WHAT TO EXPECT
- Human Toll
Without question, the most devastating consequence of a hostile event in the workplace is the loss of life and/or injuries that result from the attack. There is nothing more dire or damaging to an organization than the loss of employees, friends, and colleagues.
For reference, an FBI study of active shooter events from 2000-2013 showed an average of three deaths per incident (not including the assailant) and six and a half casualties per attack.1 Human loss feeds the psychological, reputational, and cultural impacts that can cripple or even shutter a business.
Response plan: To prevent loss of life, make sure you have a written policy and clear instructions for all your employees in all locations. Consider on-site training.
Psychological effects wreak havoc within organizations in the aftermath of violence. When these gruesome scenes play out, people are faced with unimaginable terror. The stress, anxiety, and horror that come from witnessing violence, or having to make life-saving decisions amid chaos, can breed Acute Stress Disorder and ultimately lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD has a degenerative effect on cognition and leads to avoidance, depression, and in some cases, suicide.
Leadership can expect significant lost time for those affected, increased employee turnover, and reduced productivity. The link between active shootings and productivity is perhaps best seen in school children who demonstrated degraded proficiency rates across standardized math and English tests after a shooting occurred at their school (1). These effects will be amplified among those closest with the victim(s).
Response plan: After a hostile event, it is crucial to immediately deploy psychological first aid resources. Onsite trauma counselors and professionals like those available through an Employee Assistance Program help people cope, reducing human suffering and mitigating the long-term organizational impact.
Any organization navigating the post-attack landscape will encounter significant financial pitfalls. Normal business operations will be interrupted and portions of the building/campus will be inaccessible while investigations are ongoing. If that interruption occurs at critical points within your value chain, then the financial results can be very damaging in the short term until business continuity is restored. Litigation against the company for not meeting the standard duty of care for the victims is also commonplace. Much of this litigation is resolved through costly out-of-court settlements.
After an attack, we also typically see increased investment in security personnel and equipment to protect and reassure their vulnerable and shaken workforce. Finally, there are many additional costs associated with the diverted attention of leadership and delayed or canceled projects or initiatives.
The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence ran recovery cost estimates for a workplace attack scenario at a fictitious manufacturing company with 1000 employees. The most significant costs come from lost revenue (25% over 6 weeks), employee replacement (20% of annual salary) due to 10% turnover, plant shutdown and temporary relocation. The total recovery cost for the firm was modestly estimated at about $4.6 million.2
Response plan: As you calculate how your organization might be impacted financially, compare the cost of responding to an event after the fact to the cost of implementing a workplace violence prevention strategy prior to a hostile event. As is often the case, prevention is money well spent.
Workplace violence can quickly degrade the most positive and effective organizational cultures. This is especially true after a hostile event, when employees begin to question how and why something so terrible could happen. Many employees, customers, and stakeholders will question why security was not more of a priority. Unfortunately, this perception can persist regardless of how many security measures were in place prior to an incident.
Corporate culture is increasingly cited as one of the most important drivers of long-term growth as well as a top reason for strong employee retention and recruiting. As leaders attempt to foster a unique and powerful organizational culture, the basic needs of safety and security become critical. This is why hostile events are so devastating to corporate culture. Without a foundation of security, employees cannot fully pursue higher level needs like belonging and esteem which drive greater productivity and engagement. In the wake of a hostile event, high rates of turnover and absenteeism collectively erode the unifying effects of culture.
Response plan: While it’s hard to control for the impact to your organizational culture, there are things leaders can do. Plan to have senior leadership onsite after a hostile event to send the message that associates are not alone. Also, consider involving associates in cultural recovery by seeking their input on ways to honor loved ones lost or injured. Build relationships with local blood banks to provide associates a way to serve others and rebuild their sense of belonging. Coming through a tragedy together can bind a group and be the start of deep and meaningful relationships and a stronger culture over time.
- Brand Reputation
Brand reputation is best described as how your organization is viewed by others. With this definition, it is easy to find the link between a hostile event and the subsequent reputational harm. As information about the attack begins to spread through traditional and social media channels, many develop a subconscious connection between violence and a particular organization. This negative view shapes consumer behavior and requires costly PR and marketing campaigns to overcome.
Response plan: Similar to the impact to an organization’s culture, there are no hard and fast rules for reversing the devastating impact to your brand. It’s not possible to simple deny that you were THAT company. Embracing the reality of what’s happened and seeking ways to re-invent your brand as one dedicated first and foremost to the well-being of your employees, your clients and your community is a starting point.
YES, IT REALLY COULD HAPPEN TO YOU
It’s only natural to want to dismiss the potential impact to your own organization, especially in the wake of high-profile incidents like the shootings at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando or the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. It’s tempting to look at the ways we are different from others when faced with the unthinkable. Keep in mind though that in2009 alone, the workplace experienced 542 homicides3 and 572,000 non-fatal violent crimes.4 Studies suggest that most organizations either have been impacted by a hostile event or will in the future.
Violence in the workplace brings with it pain beyond measure. The effects are serious, long-lasting and warrant considerable efforts to combat. Although it’s an uncomfortable subject to discuss, the potential impact of a hostile event at your place of work is a reality and calls on leadership to focus on prevention and a planned response.
Michael Bottenberg is co-founder and COO of Vigilance Risk Solutions, LLC. Vigilance Risk Solutions offers active shooter awareness and response training, physical security risk assessment, and emergency operations planning. He leads Active Shooter Seminars at Barney & Barney, a Marsh & McLennan Insurance Agency LLC company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- "A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013." FBI. FBI, 2016. Web. 24 Dec. 2016. https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-study-2000-2013-1.pdf/view
- "The Financial Impact of Workplace Violence." The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence, n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2016. http://www.workplaceviolence911.com/docs/FinancialImpactofWV.pdf
- "News Release, National Census on Fatal Occupational Injuries."US Department of Labor, The Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2016. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf
- Harrell, Erica. "Workplace Violence, 1993-2009." US Department of Justice, Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2016. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/wv09.pdf