Violence In The Workplace: Types, Causes and Consequences

Workplace violence is a concerning issue that can have severe consequences for both employees and organizations. It encompasses various aggressive behaviours, from verbal threats and harassment to physical assault. This comprehensive article will explore the various types of workplace violence, delve into their detrimental consequences, and discuss effective prevention strategies. We aim to provide valuable insights to raise awareness and empower organizations to create safer work environments.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behaviour at work. It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide involving employees, clients, customers, and visitors.

The key element in defining workplace violence is that the violence or threat of violence happens in a work-related context. This means it could occur in the workplace itself, at off-site business-related functions (like conferences or trade shows), or in other settings where the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim is based on their professional affiliation.

Workplace violence is a serious concern for employers and employees alike, as it can lead to physical and emotional harm, decreased productivity, high turnover, and in some cases, significant legal repercussions. It’s crucial for organizations to understand the risks and to take proactive steps to prevent incidents of violence in the workplace.

Workplace Violence Examples

Examples of workplace violence include:

  • An employee physically assaulted a coworker during an argument over a project.
  • A customer becomes verbally abusive and aggressive towards a salesperson after a disagreement over a purchase.
  • A delivery driver was robbed at gunpoint while delivering to a high-crime area.
  • An individual with a personal vendetta against a supervisor targets them with threats and intimidation in the workplace.
  • A nurse is physically assaulted by a patient or their family member in a healthcare setting.
  • A coworker stalking and harassing another coworker, both in and outside the workplace.
  • An employee bringing a weapon into the workplace and making threats against their colleagues.
  • A disgruntled former employee vandalizing company property and equipment after being terminated.
  • A customer service representative receiving death threats from a dissatisfied customer.
  • An armed individual enters a workplace to harm multiple employees, causing a mass shooting incident.

These examples highlight the various forms workplace violence can take, emphasizing the need for effective prevention strategies and a commitment to maintaining a safe and secure work environment for all employees.

Violence In The Workplace

Causes Of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence can have various underlying causes, and understanding these causes is essential for developing effective prevention strategies. Some of the common causes of workplace violence include:

  • Conflict and Disputes: Conflicts and disputes between individuals in the workplace, whether they are colleagues, supervisors, or employees and customers, can escalate into violence. These disputes may stem from personal disagreements, power struggles, competition for resources or promotions, or differences in work styles and approaches.
  • Job-Related Stress: High levels of job-related stress can contribute to workplace violence. Employees facing excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines, long hours, or job insecurity may become frustrated, anxious, or irritable, increasing the likelihood of confrontations or outbursts.
  • Personal Issues: Personal problems, such as financial difficulties, relationship conflicts, substance abuse, or mental health issues, can spill over into the workplace and lead to violent behavior. Employees dealing with personal crises may struggle to manage their emotions and reactions effectively.
  • Bullying and Harassment: Workplace bullying and harassment can create a hostile environment and lead to violence. Persistent bullying or harassment, whether verbal, psychological, or physical, can push victims to retaliate against their aggressors.
  • Access to Weapons: The availability of weapons in or near the workplace can significantly increase the risk of violence. An individual with easy access to firearms, knives, or other weapons may use them impulsively during a confrontation.
  • Substance Abuse: Alcohol or drug abuse by employees can impair judgment and self-control, making them more prone to aggressive behavior. Substance abuse issues can exacerbate conflicts and contribute to workplace violence.
  • Lack of Training: Inadequate training on conflict resolution, communication skills, and violence prevention can leave employees ill-equipped to manage tense situations effectively. When individuals lack the tools to de-escalate conflicts, they may resort to violence as a means of resolving disputes.
  • Organizational Culture: An organizational culture that tolerates or condones aggressive behavior, harassment, or bullying can foster an environment where workplace violence is more likely to occur. A culture that prioritizes power and control over collaboration and respect can contribute to hostility among employees.
  • Customer Frustration: In customer-facing industries, dealing with dissatisfied or irate customers can be challenging. Prolonged wait times, service errors, or miscommunication can escalate customer frustration, leading to aggressive behavior directed at employees.
  • Personal Vendettas: Personal vendettas or grudges held by individuals against coworkers, supervisors, or the organization itself can lead to targeted threats or acts of violence. These vendettas may be unrelated to work but manifest within the workplace setting.
  • Mental Health Issues: Individuals with untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions may be at higher risk of engaging in violent behavior. The symptoms of certain mental illnesses can impair judgment, impulse control, and emotional regulation.
  • Societal Factors: Societal factors, such as economic downturns, political tensions, and cultural influences, can create a more volatile environment. Widespread societal stressors may lead to increased incidents of workplace violence.

Addressing the root causes of workplace violence requires a multifaceted approach that includes not only organizational policies and procedures but also efforts to support employees’ mental health, reduce job-related stress, and promote a culture of respect and conflict resolution. By identifying and addressing these underlying causes, organizations can take proactive steps to prevent workplace violence and create a safer and more harmonious work environment.

Types of Workplace Violence

Understanding the types of workplace violence is crucial for prevention and response. Here are some common types:

1. Criminal Intent

Criminal intent in the context of workplace violence typically involves individuals who are not employees or have no direct affiliation with the business. These outsiders may initiate acts of violence driven by several factors, such as an intent to rob, steal, or settle personal scores. Instances could range from direct physical assault to more indirect forms of violence, like vandalism or sabotage.

Given the motivations are often material gain or personal satisfaction, these acts tend to be premeditated rather than spontaneous. This form of workplace violence is commonly witnessed in public-facing industries or deals with valuable goods and cash transactions, making them attractive targets for criminals.

2. Customer/Client-Related Violence

Customer or client-related violence refers to instances in which an individual receiving services from a business or organization behaves aggressively or abusively toward staff members. This type of violence can take various forms, including physical assaults, verbal abuse, threats, or intimidation. Such incidents are more prevalent in industries that deal directly with the public, such as healthcare, hospitality, and customer service.

In these settings, high-stress situations, long wait times, dissatisfaction with services, or miscommunication can provoke a client or customer to act aggressively. The volatility of such encounters poses significant physical and emotional risks to employees.

3. Worker-to-Worker Violence

Worker-to-worker violence refers to situations where conflicts between colleagues escalate into verbal or physical altercations. This violence can stem from personal disagreements, power struggles, job-related stress, or competition. It can manifest in various ways, including harassment, intimidation, bullying, verbal abuse, or even physical confrontations.

The implications of worker-to-worker violence are serious, with potential consequences ranging from decreased morale and productivity to psychological trauma and physical harm. Moreover, such incidents can significantly erode the overall work culture, fostering a climate of fear, distrust, and dissatisfaction among the staff.

4. Personal Relationship Violence

Personal relationship violence in a workplace context refers to situations where conflicts from an employee’s personal life intrude into their professional environment. The sources of these conflicts are typically domestic or interpersonal relationships, which can manifest in various forms, such as stalking, harassment, or even physical violence.

For instance, an employee may be the target of an abusive partner who decides to harass or confront them at work. Such incidents can significantly affect the targeted individual’s well-being, productivity, and safety. They can also create an atmosphere of fear and tension among other staff members, affecting overall workplace morale and function.

Workplace Violence Examples

Consequences of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and organizations alike. Let’s examine some of the detrimental effects it can have:

1. Physical and Emotional Impact on Employees

Employees who experience workplace violence often suffer physical injuries, including bruises, fractures, or even life-threatening wounds. Beyond the physical harm, they may also endure long-lasting emotional trauma, leading to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The resulting impact on their overall well-being and job performance can be significant.

2. Decreased Employee Morale and Productivity

Instances of violence in the workplace create a climate of fear and apprehension among employees. Witnessing or hearing about violent incidents can significantly diminish morale and job satisfaction, leading to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. This negative atmosphere can further erode teamwork and collaboration within the organization.

3. Financial and Reputational Losses for Organizations

Workplace violence can result in substantial financial losses for organizations. These losses stem from increased healthcare expenses, legal fees, and potential lawsuits. Moreover, organizations may suffer reputational damage, adversely affecting customer trust, employee recruitment efforts, and business partnerships.

4. High Turnover Rates and Recruitment Challenges

Workplace violence can lead to increased employee turnover rates as staff members may choose to leave a hostile environment for safer employment opportunities. This not only disrupts the organization’s operations but also imposes additional costs related to the recruitment and training of new employees. Additionally, an organization known for incidents of workplace violence may face difficulties attracting new talent, as prospective employees may be deterred by its negative reputation.

5. Increased Workers’ Compensation Claims

Violent incidents in the workplace often lead to increased workers’ compensation claims, resulting in higher insurance premiums for the employer. These incidents can involve direct physical injuries requiring medical attention, psychological trauma necessitating counselling, or situations warranting paid leave. This escalation in insurance costs can pose a significant financial burden on the organization.

Workplace Violence

6. Strained Business Relationships and Customer Loyalty

Violence in the workplace can damage business relationships, as partners, suppliers, and customers may reconsider their association with an organization perceived as unsafe or volatile. This can lead to lost business opportunities and declining customer loyalty, significantly impacting the organization’s bottom line.

7. Regulatory Compliance Issues

Workplace violence can also lead to regulatory compliance issues. Many jurisdictions have regulations requiring employers to provide a safe work environment. Violent incidents can result in investigations, fines, and other penalties from regulatory bodies, further damaging an organization’s resources and reputation.

8. Increased Need for Security and Prevention Measures

Finally, recurrent episodes of workplace violence can necessitate increased spending on security infrastructure and violence prevention measures. These include installing surveillance systems, hiring additional security staff, conducting regular training sessions, and implementing robust violence prevention policies. While these are necessary expenditures to ensure safety, they represent an additional financial burden for the organization.

Workplace Violence Prevention

To effectively address workplace violence, organizations must implement proactive prevention strategies. Here are some key measures that can help create safer work environments:

1. Establish a Zero-Tolerance Policy

Developing a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence sets clear expectations for all employees. This policy should outline the consequences of engaging in violent behaviour and emphasize the commitment to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace for all.

2. Enhance Security Measures

Investing in robust security measures can act as a deterrent and provide a sense of security for employees. This includes installing surveillance cameras, implementing access control systems, and improving lighting in and around the premises. Regular security audits and risk assessments should also be conducted to identify potential vulnerabilities.

3. Conduct Comprehensive Background Checks

Thoroughly screening potential employees before hiring them is essential for preventing workplace violence. Background checks can help identify individuals with a history of violent behaviour or criminal records. By implementing this practice, organizations can make more informed decisions during the hiring process.

4. Provide Training and Education

Training employees on recognizing the signs of potential violence, conflict resolution techniques, and personal safety measures is crucial. This education empowers employees to take proactive steps in diffusing tense situations and reporting concerns to the appropriate authorities.

5. Foster a Supportive Work Culture

Creating a supportive work culture built on mutual respect and open communication can help prevent workplace violence. Encourage employees to report incidents or concerns promptly and ensure appropriate actions are taken to address them. Establishing employee assistance programs can also provide resources and support for individuals dealing with personal conflicts that may spill over into the workplace.

Types Of Workplace Violence

6. Develop Crisis Response Plans

Having a well-developed crisis response plan can help organizations effectively deal with instances of workplace violence. This includes guidelines for immediate action, communication protocols, and procedures for reporting to law enforcement authorities. Regular drills can also be conducted to familiarize employees with the response plan, ensuring a swift and coordinated response when needed.

7. Regular Employee Surveys

Conducting regular employee surveys can help organizations gauge the overall work environment and identify any undercurrents of dissatisfaction or conflict that may escalate into violence. Feedback collected from these surveys can inform adjustments to company policies, work processes, or employee support programs.

8. Implement Threat Assessment Teams

Organizations can consider establishing threat assessment teams of HR, security, and mental health professionals. These teams can assess potential threats or risky situations and develop mitigation strategies. They can also provide guidance to management and employees on how to handle potentially violent situations.

9. Encourage Use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

EAPs offer various services, such as counselling, legal advice, and financial planning, which can help employees deal with personal issues that could otherwise lead to conflict or violence at work. Promoting the use of these programs ensures employees receive the support they need, contributing to a healthier, safer work environment.

10. Regularly Review and Update Policies

Workplace policies for violence prevention should be regularly reviewed and updated to accommodate changes in the workplace environment and legal framework. This ensures that the organization’s preventative strategies remain current, comprehensive, and effective in addressing potential risks.

By implementing these strategies, organizations can help ensure the safety and well-being of their employees, fostering a positive and productive work environment.


Workplace violence is a complex issue with far-reaching implications. It can manifest in various forms, including criminal intent, customer/client-related violence, worker-to-worker violence, and personal relationship violence. The consequences of such incidents are significant, affecting employees’ physical and emotional well-being, eroding morale and productivity, and causing substantial financial and reputational damage to organizations.

However, proactive strategies can effectively manage and minimize workplace violence. Implementing measures such as a zero-tolerance policy, enhanced security measures, comprehensive background checks, training and education programs, and fostering a supportive work culture are critical steps in prevention. Further measures like developing crisis response plans, regular employee surveys, implementing threat assessment teams, encouraging the use of EAPs, and keeping policies up to date, can fortify these efforts.

Violence in the workplace is a serious matter. Still, organizations can protect their employees and mitigate the risks with comprehensive prevention strategies and a commitment to fostering a safe, respectful environment. It is a collective responsibility to ensure that workplaces are not just spaces for productivity but also environments where safety, respect, and well-being are prioritized.

Workplace violence refers to any act or threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and encompasses a range of behaviors including harassment, intimidation, and physical violence.

There are four main types of workplace violence: criminal intent (such as robbery or theft), customer/client violence, worker-on-worker violence, and personal relationship violence. Each type presents unique challenges for prevention and response.

Risk factors for workplace violence may include working with the public or volatile, unstable individuals, working alone or in small numbers, having a mobile workplace, working late at night or early in the morning, and handling money, valuables, or prescription drugs.

Healthcare workers are at particular risk of workplace violence due to the nature of their work. The risks are heightened in settings where patients may be agitated, in pain, disoriented, or under the influence of drugs. Healthcare workers may also face threats from distraught family members or friends of patients.

The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies more than 22,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the United States, has established standards to address workplace violence in healthcare settings. These standards are designed to promote a safe environment for healthcare workers and patients.

The consequences of workplace violence can be significant, including physical and psychological injuries, decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and potential long-term impacts on the well-being of affected individuals. Additionally, workplace violence can create a culture of fear and apprehension in the workplace.

A workplace violence prevention program should include a risk assessment, clear policies and procedures for reporting and responding to incidents, employee training on recognizing and addressing workplace violence, and strategies for mitigating potential risks within the specific workplace environment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established guidelines and resources for preventing workplace violence. Additionally, some states have enacted laws requiring employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs.

Employers can implement measures such as providing safety and health training, enhancing security measures, improving communication channels for reporting concerns, and fostering a culture of safety and respect in the workplace to reduce the risk of workplace violence.

Resources related to workplace violence prevention can be found through organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These agencies offer publicly available information and tools to help employers and workers address workplace violence issues.