Patients attacking employees is not the only type of workplace violence that should trouble risk managers, says Steve Paskoff, the founder and CEO of the workplace learning company ELI in Atlanta.
Abusive coworkers should be considered part of the workplace violence problem and addressed in prevention efforts, Paskoff says. Abuse, in this sense, includes not only physical violence, but also includes verbal abuse and intimidation, he says.
The power imbalance between physicians and nurses or other hospital employees can lead to abuse of this type, Paskoff notes. Nurses commonly complain about doctors who swear at them and throw things, he says. "This problem is preventable, so why do we have it? We have it because we have tolerated it, looked the other way, and we haven’t given it primacy," Paskoff says. "The healthcare industry is realizing now that workplace abuse can hinder effective communication of services. Culturally, we have to change it."
That change means that in addition to policies prohibiting abuse and procedures for reporting it, the healthcare organization must demonstrate at the top levels that it will not be tolerated. Executives at the top level must frequently and publicly acknowledge the problem and declare a commitment to ending workplace abuse.
Paskoff suggests making this type of workplace abuse a common discussion point in meetings and educational sessions at all levels. He cautions that writing policies and procedures is not enough.
"I’m sure everyone can compose a policy that spells out what is not acceptable in the workplace, but that is not going to prevent workplace abuse," Paskoff says. "If you have a good policy and you still have workplace violence, it’s because you have a problem in leadership and accountability."
When abuse is reported, the organization must follow up with a thorough investigation and appropriate intervention, Paskoff says.
"This will happen in a high-energy, stressful environment with the public coming in and often in an emotional state," Paskoff says. "The response has to be a cultural change, not handling each incident as a routine problem for human resources."
Steve Paskoff, CEO, ELI, Atlanta. Telephone: (770) 319-7999.