The modern workplace has been, over the previous thirty years, shaped by the zealous application of the cost principal, with the organisation which manages to squeeze more productivity from each of its employees than its competitors winning the race to the bottom and surviving to bid for another contract another day. The human face of the cost principle is, as the media never ceases to remind us, over-remunerated upper tiers of management and an increasing impoverished, pay-frozen workforce that suffers stress levels unheard of since the appalling days of the nineteenth century’s dark, satanic mills.
If these workers also work in an employment sector which has historically experienced high levels of customer/client/patient on employee violence, such as the police, prison service or health and teaching professions, stress levels can rise to a point at which severe emotional distress can incapacitate the victim. This work related violence induced stress is present even amongst workers who haven’t themselves suffered verbal or physical aggression – it only needs to be present in the workplace to have a generally felt negative effect. For those who have actually suffered verbal or physical abuse from a customer or patient, the effect can be even more severe and when added to a possible physical injury, result in extended absences of work for legitimate recovery or because of stress related absenteeism.
For the employer, the consequences of violent assaults on its staff will usually manifest in difficulties recruiting and retaining staff as their public image becomes tarnished by association with customer on employee violence that seemingly cannot be stopped. The only exceptions to this perhaps being the police and prison service where the culture has been one of resignation to the inevitability of staff being attacked and its prevalence has been accepted as ‘part of the job’.
Violence should not, of course, be expected to be a part of anyone’s job and employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from it. Their failure to do so during the year 2010-2011 alone resulted in 314,000 employees suffering a physical assault and 313,000 having to experience threats of violence. These levels are of course unacceptable, which might become a point of view negligent employers start to come around to as levels of absenteeism, claims for compensation and their employer liability insurance premiums all begin to sky-rocket.
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