Members of the Desloge Chamber of Commerce received a primer on workplace violence from Corporal Juston Wheetley, public information officer with Troop C of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, when he spoke at the organization’s June 5 luncheon.
Wheetley discussed the growing incidence of workplace violence, provided indicators of potential problems and offered suggestions on how best to respond when it occurs in one’s presence.
“Workplace violence can be anything as far as harassment, intimidation, threatening, any type of destructive behavior — that type of thing,” he said. “The big thing about being a business owner or manager is that you need to confront the problem, especially before it starts.
“A lot of workplace violence is building, and you see it coming. You may choose to ignore it, or you think, ‘Oh, it’s OK, maybe he’s got some problems at home,' but problems at home equal problems at work. So, we have to come up with solutions to help the employees. You’ve got to give them a good working environment.
“Everybody remembers coming up — you had to start somewhere —moving up either in your business or working maybe when you are younger. You wanted to be treated right. You wanted to do good. You had some good ideas — they might not have been the best ideas, but sometimes you want to express them.”
According to Wheetley, every social problem eventually finds its way into the American workplace.
“So, maybe somebody is having problems at home — they’re going through a divorce, maybe they’ve got some financial issues, maybe their kids were diagnosed with some kind of disease. You don’t know what’s going on until you ask them.”
Wheetley listed several social problems being seen more frequently in the workplace: drug abuse, spousal abuse, sexual orientation (homophobia), racial discrimination, women’s rights, age discrimination and juvenile violence.
“Nearly 2 million workers report being victims of workplace violence each year,” he said. “Some businesses are providing services and care — alcohol related, drug abuse. I know these are bigger companies.”
Wheetley noted that the most dangerous position to hold in a corporation is the human relations director.
“The boss comes in and says, ‘I need you to fire this guy.’ So, they go in and say, ‘You’re fired.’ Who are they going to go off on? Not the person that told them to do it — it’s the person in front of them. H.R., supervisors.
“Supervisors are usually the ones who are kind of the middleman, right? Big guy says, ‘I want this done.’ Well, they don’t want to do it, so they pass it on down. They’re catching the flack between, ‘Why didn’t this get done?’ and ‘How come I have to do it?’
“These are the people who give the bad news, such as downsizing of the company … you get layoffs. Kill the Messenger Syndrome is what we call it. We see economic systems that fail to support full employment for downsizing.
“The criminal justice system is another big one we see. It fails to protect the citizens. These people are getting funneled into the workplace and the problem is that you don’t know who you’re hiring anymore.”
Wheetley noted that other factors include the media’s glorification of violence, standing up to authority, people’s acceptance of violence as a means of communication, a breakdown of family values and the availability of weapons.
“It’s not the easiness of buying them, it’s the easiness of going into a house and getting them,” he said. “All you have to do is know someone who hunts — especially around here. You know if they hunt, they’ve got guns. What do they have to do? Break into the house and they’ve got a gun.”
According to Wheetley, 80 percent of workplace homicides are motivated by robbery. Another major cause is loss of a job and personal stressors such as divorce; finance; substance abuse; mental problems; anger and feelings of mistreatment; and lost loved ones.
“Anybody who’s been through that knows you have this depression,” he said. “You don’t care about anything for a while. You’re going through a grieving process, so what’s the first thing that drops off? Work ethic. It just sort of falls. You care less. No motivation.”
Wheetley offered several preventive measures to avoid incidences of workplace violence.
“Report threats and intimidation where people threaten to harm you,” he said. “That’s a crime. Management must be compassionate and show concern for their employees.
"Create an avenue for employees to voice their concerns about violence in the workplace. We’ve got to have that bond — that connection with the workers.”