|Violence at Work - Second Edition (ILO, 2000, 192 p.)|
|PART I: UNDERSTANDING VIOLENCE AT WORK|
|Chapter 3. Explanations|
There are many attributes of a victim of workplace violence, who is in most cases likely to be an employee, which could be associated with the risk of violence.21 These include appearance, health, age and experience, gender, personality and temperament, attitudes and expectations.
21 The Tavistock study equated employees with victims. There are likely to be some situations, however, where workplace violence affects non-employees. An armed robbery during business hours of a financial institution, for example, could well result in the victimization of any customers present, as well as the staff of the enterprise.
Appearance and first impressions are important in any job, as they can set the tone of the interaction and establish the role characteristics for an encounter. In occupations involving direct contact with members of the public, for instance, the wearing of a uniform may encourage or discourage violence. Uniforms are often worn in occupations where employees are expected to act with authority or have the respect of members of the public. Uniforms also identify staff and distinguish them from the public. It is likely that in many circumstances uniforms will discourage violence, but there are situations in which the presence of uniformed staff is resented, and which can provoke abusive or violent behaviour. In the United Kingdom, for example, an increasing number of cases of aggression against ambulance staff has been reported because of general public hostility towards people wearing a uniform like those of police officers. For this reason, ambulance staff are now beginning to wear green boiler suits rather than blue uniforms, to distinguish them from law enforcement officials.
The health of workers can also influence how they interact with clients and the public at large. Stress from a heavy workload, or mild forms of mental illness, may lead to misunderstandings or misleading behaviour which precipitate aggressive responses. The age and experience of workers is another factor that can either increase or diminish the possibility of aggression. Previous experience of handling similar difficult situations, which is obviously associated with age, should enable workers to react more wisely than inexperienced staff.
As has been made clear earlier, a persons gender can influence aggressive behaviour in a number of ways. Men are more likely than women to respond in an aggressive way to many workplace situations, while women are also at much greater risk of certain types of victimization at work than men.
The personality and attitude of workers is also relevant in considering risks of victimization. Some staff members are often better than others in handling difficult situations - a quality which is usually associated with an individuals less tangible personality characteristics and style of behaviour. The attitude of workers, and their job expectations, can also be factors influencing aggressive behaviours. For example, staff members who are working in an enterprise which is about to be shut down, or which is experiencing massive layoffs, are less likely to be tolerant in their encounters with clients. Similarly, uncertain role definitions associated with a particular job can influence how a violent or potentially violent incident is handled. Schoolteachers expect to deal with unruly children, but bus drivers may not; police officers anticipate encounters with disturbed or dangerous people, but firemen and other emergency service providers may not.
Overall, the ways in which victims react to aggressive behaviour appear to be important in determining whether that aggression diminishes or escalates. It seems to be important that the victim is not seen by the aggressor to behave in some unfair or unreasonable way. Anxious or angry behaviour by the victim may also trigger violence, while controlled behaviour may help defuse tensions.