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Illustration by Stephanie Dalton Cowan​​​​​​​

Building a Hostility-Free Workplace

​This is the #MeToo era. The great wave of public accusations involving inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment between managers, employees, and coworkers has washed over U.S. workplaces, unsettling everything in its wake.

But sexual harassment is not the only conduct that can help turn a working environment hostile. Given this, employers and security managers who take action now to help establish and solidify a welcoming and hostility-free work environment will be better positioned for the future. Such actions can come in many forms, ranging from zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies and violence prevention training to diversity task forces and team-building exercises.

But while they vary, these actions all benefit from a proactive approach. Opposing views and opinions are inevitable among a diverse workforce, but leaders of organizations should not wait until disruptive incidents break out before focusing on the state of the workplace environment. Instead, they can start immediately.

Respect and ​Dignity

Security is a team sport. No one security director or manager, no matter how talented or knowledgeable, can completely shoulder the burden of protecting his or her firm. A cohesive security team, on the other hand, is positioned to tackle anything thrown its way. But when one gear gets out of whack, the whole team is affected and compromised.

Take, for example, one security director who we'll call Sam. The team was led by a small group of managers who worked well together; they collaborated to achieve goals and boost one another to success. However, a new manager, Chris, was brought on. 

Chris has a markedly different type of attitude and leadership style. Chris is demanding, and sometimes even yells at employees in public. He occasionally disparages another manager's directions to team members and will go so far as to threaten a firing in an attempt to improve performance.

A few months after this leadership transition, some employees began to leave Sam's team by choice. But those are not the only changes triggered by the new manager. Some of Sam's team members have absorbed the negative qualities Chris exhibits, including degrading public chastisements, gossiping, and expressing increased agitation in the office. Chris' overwhelming negativity threw a wrench into a once strong security team and threatened to break it down into an unproductive group of individuals. Before Chris took over, Sam's team members respected one another and successfully accomplished goals. Chris' harsh leadership eroded the members' respect and kindness, causing productivity to decrease and spirits to drop.

How can this situation be avoided? When building a team, it is important to establish respect, dignity, and kindness as foundational principles. This will very likely increase productivity and reduce the risk of violent workplace behaviors. When employees feel respected and treated with dignity, they are more likely to treat coworkers and customers the same way. This creates a positive culture within the organization.

To facilitate this, security managers should go beyond simply asking employees to be civil and respect one another. They should also explain how to do so, and demonstrate what civility means to the organization by providing examples of positive interactions.

During my time as an assets protection manager, there were key opportunities for me to support the company culture. Security managers can take advantage of the same opportunities, if their organizations are willing to provide them.  

For example, orientation sessions are an opportunity to introduce yourself, your department, and the values of the organization to those who are being onboarded. Time can be devoted to explaining appropriate workplace behavior through the use of scenario-based situations.

In addition, team meetings—whether daily, weekly, or monthly—offer opportunities for managers to touch on relevant issues and provide training through small group discussion or case study review. Individuals can assess a situation and provide feedback on how it should have been appropriately handled. Using both positive and negative behaviors for examples will help employees understand the difference.

Open houses are another possible venue for educating discussions. The security company may arrange with company leaders to have a time where employees come in, ask questions, and participate in discussions that help workers understand their role as part of the larger effort to maintain a healthy workplace.

Finally, it is important to remember that security managers and staff should always be role models of appropriate behavior. If they are behaving badly by being rude, disrespectful, or uncivil, how can they expect to help the organization promote a culture that values everyone?

In the end, managers cannot assume that people understand what is and is not appropriate. Setting expectations from the start, and clearly demonstrating how to positively act and show respect to coworkers, is an effective way for managers to set the right tone—and a more active and effective approach than simply hoping for the best. This will have a ripple effect throughout the workforce, and it will help prevent future breaches of conduct from triggering a domino effect of disrespect, such as the one caused by Chris' behavior.​

Violence Preve​ntion

Another common violation of positive foundational workplace principles is workplace bullying. The following scenario illustrates some gender issues, which are starting to become more common in workplaces.  

Stephen, a security department employee, was encouraged by ongoing legislation for gender-neutral bathrooms. As a result, Stephen approached a manager to explain that she gender-identified as female and would like to be referred to as Shawna. Shawna was later confronted by a handful of coworkers who said they would never support legislation and would monitor the bathrooms should such laws pass. The confrontation caused Shawna to feel unsafe at work and scared to "come out" as a female to the rest of the office. 

Depending on where Shawna lives, she may be protected. Approximately 20 states and 200 cities have laws that protect transgender individuals from discrimination specifically related to job status and/or promotion. However, just like bullying of a non-transgender person, there are limited laws preventing bullying types of behavior.

A key component to preventing bullying in the workplace is to start by defining what bullying is. Bullying involves repeated unreasonable actions with the intent to intimidate, degrade, or humiliate another individual or group of individuals. This can occur between any two coworkers or groups of coworkers, regardless of rank or status.

Hostile environments often stem from bullying, sexual harassment, or discriminatory conduct that interferes with an employee's ability to perform his or her job. In such environments, verbal, physical, or visual behaviors create an intimidating, offensive, threatening, or humiliating workplace. It's important to note that hostile behaviors can be perpetrated by anyone in the work environment, from employees to customers to vendors.

These situations can adversely affect an employee's psychological wellbeing. Moreover, the psychological injury that results from harmful conduct can be considered a form of workplace violence. Complicating matters is the fact that every employee brings a unique set of values, upbringing, experiences, and education into the workplace. Certain incidents, conversations, or remarks that may be acceptable to one may be harmful and injurious to another.

Luckily, various preventative measures are available to managers. Engaging in conversations about appropriate workplace behaviors helps to set a line between right and wrong, so HR sessions that allow for this can be helpful. Gaining an understanding of what is and isn't considered harassment, bullying, and incivility allows employees to differentiate between certain behaviors and comprehend the context of any policies and procedures. Given the global diversity of most workforces, it is important to define and discuss what civility and respect mean to your organization to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Security managers also can implement violence prevention training. Just as it is vital to teach what behaviors are acceptable, it is a good idea to define and train employees on behaviors that are unacceptable through examples, case studies, or role playing. Setting a definitive line between right and wrong helps employees recognize these behaviors in themselves and others, mitigating the risk of conflict.

In the case of Shawna, the security manager eventually worked with HR to organize violence prevention training sessions for all employees. The sessions instructed employees about how to take steps in certain workplace situations. Furthermore, they allowed employees across the office to learn more about their coworkers and gain a better understanding of everyone's unique backgrounds and values. This strengthened respect for each other. Overall, the sessions were a success. Had they been implemented as a matter of course, they may have prevented the incident from ever occurring. ​​

Multi-Generational Teams

Multi-generational workforces are here to stay. The members of Generation Z, or those born between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, have started to enter the workforce. They join the Generations Y (commonly known as Millennials) and X, and the Baby Boomers. In some workplaces, members of the Silent Generation are still productive in their seventies.

This age-diverse workforce can make for a rich and vibrant mix of ideas, opinions, and viewpoints. It also can cause problems when conflicts arise, and two employees don't see eye to eye. Given this, more employers are trying to keep up with changing demographics and are taking a closer look at office dynamics and making adjustments to fit their multi-generational teams.

To help create an environment where a diverse community of workers can collaborate, employers may create a multi-generational task force to survey their current workforce and gain a sense of what is useful and what is outdated. The task force should include at least two individuals from each generation represented in the workplace, with additional gender and cultural considerations applied. It may operate as an Employee Engagement Committee, with task force members serving as the voice of their fellow employees and implementing various staff celebrations. Members may also facilitate professional growth opportunities that appeal to the group of employees they are representing.

Another way to improve relations between generations is implementing an onboarding buddy system. New employees are paired with someone outside their own generation, allowing for an opportunity to learn while appreciating another's perspective.

Take, for example, a task force which includes members Kelsey and Carol, two employees who are nearly 30 years apart in age. As a Millennial, Kelsey prefers to receive information electronically through either text or email. She also prefers a manager who takes an educational approach and who takes time to understand her personal and professional goals. Like many Millennials, Kelsey also values meaningful work and desires to contribute to the larger mission.

Carol, a Baby Boomer, prefers face-to-face communication. She benefits from managers who take a democratic band-of-equals approach to working with a group, and who clearly define the team's mission. Carol is a dedicated worker and at a point in her career where she isn't really interested in moving ahead. She is counting down the days to retirement. She is willing to train her younger coworkers to step up and take on leadership roles.

Gaining a greater understanding of employees' management needs will help security managers create a more inclusive environment. Once organizations gain a better understanding of who their employees are as individuals, they can strategically partner with people who will work well together. The employer may realize Kelsey's strengths as a Millennial can be enhanced with a little coaching from a seasoned worker like Carol. Many Millennials grew up with a coach or mentor teacher who provided a positive influence, and they desire a similar relationship in their jobs.

By pairing Kelsey with Carol in a buddy system, both stand to learn from each other. Perhaps Kelsey learns the inside scoop of the job while teaching Carol about the latest technology trends. This pairing helps coworkers relate to one another, create new bonds, and build new skill sets. Additionally, the teamwork between a Millennial and Baby Boomer prepares both employees as the Baby Boomer transitions to retirement. Carol can effectively train Kelsey on her roles in the company so that when she retires, Kelsey is able to seamlessly take on new responsibilities without Carol's guidance.

One of the best things security managers can do to create connections between employees is to promote team development activities and implement cultural diversity training. Multi-generational workforces can learn about their younger or older peers through non-threatening teambuilding activities. Older employees' fears of feeling outdated may be lessened, and younger employees' frustration about being excluded from certain operations due to inexperience may be reduced.  

These activities foster engagement between coworkers, allowing them to discover commonalities, as well as highlight what makes them valuable to the organization. They also make for a more comfortable workplace, and they foster the guiding principles of respect and inclusion.

Improving Workplace Resiliency

Resilience has recently become an important concept in many different arenas; cities, communities, and even countries are all striving to achieve it in different ways. It is also critical for a security team to exemplify resiliency. In this case, resiliency describes the capacity of people, organizations, or systems to adapt to changing conditions and rapidly recover from disruption.

To improve the resiliency of a security team, it is advisable to incorporate overall concepts of resilience into existing training programs. For example, a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of team members can greatly reduce the stress on the team and therefore increase resiliency. Moreover, each individual employee has an innate level of resilience that can be further developed through training.

Just as training employees helps to build confidence, so does recognition of performance. Thus, one of the most direct ways to increase resiliency is to build people up by recognizing them for their work. The act of thanking employees and acknowledging quality work helps create a positive and productive environment—in effect, the opposite of a hostile workplace. When people feel appreciated, they often feel more energetic, and are willing to go the extra mile when the going gets tough.

I used to work as an operations manager of a retail store. I realized the importance of maintaining resilience and of expressing my appreciation for my staff's hard work. Therefore, I would look for ways to show them my appreciation. After an especially challenging week, I called a team meeting to recognize everyone's hard work and thank them for their dedication. I showed them my gratitude with a catered meal accompanied by praise and motivating remarks for continued success.

In addition to showing appreciation, managers can also offer rewards for exceptional work. For example, I implemented a "recognition wall" that encouraged employees to fill out a card briefly detailing something another employee did and add it to the wall. The actions written about could be as simple as someone going out of his or her way to help a fellow coworker or customer. In a seemingly small but important way, the system allowed employees to support one another, boost each other's confidence, and ultimately enhance company morale.

I also required my leadership team to write out three to five cards per shift to keep the wall filled with positivity each day. Within three months, the culture of the workplace improved dramatically; many employees who had been disheartened and unmotivated became much more engaged. The employee attrition rate also dropped from 30 percent to 20 percent.

A workplace where employees do not feel valued or recognized is not a positive workplace. Often, it is one where employees feel they need to escape; they feel that management is not helping them feel like a part of a mentally and emotionally safe and healthy environment. This in and of itself may not constitute a hostile environment, but it is likely close to one. 

​Using an EAP

Security work can be highly stressful, and stressful work situations can lead to anger, withdrawal, and even situations of workplace violence. Stress, anxiety, and depression do not just affect the employee suffering from them. The employer and the company are also affected, by way of factors like lost production time and negative effects on coworkers.

To help prevent violence between stressed coworkers, HR and managers should take note of signs and symptoms of stress and attempt to address changes in behaviors. Behaviors to look for include decreased productivity, frequently arriving to work late, and sudden shifts in mood.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 866 fatal work injuries involving violence in 2016. To keep employees safe, security managers can train all employees to recognize warning signs of workplace violence. Training should include steps to take for violence prevention and verbal intervention. Security managers also should encourage employees to notify them of any threats, so they're able to take action before an incident occurs.

Additionally, employers can provide an employee assistance program (EAP) in their employee benefits package. An EAP provides quick, reliable guidance on everything from stress management to family care options so staff can come to work with greater peace of mind. A good EAP helps alleviate stress and worry, connects employees with the resources they need to manage their mental health, and helps prevent potential violence before it occurs.

Take the example of Patrick and Jordan. Patrick is a long-term employee struggling at work due to personal dilemmas stemming from a rough divorce. Jordan, Patrick's manager, noticed a marked decrease in Patrick's productivity and engagement. Jordan took Patrick aside to discuss the productivity problem. When Patrick shared his personal struggle, Jordan was able to provide resources to help Patrick via the company-provided EAP. The EAP offered guidance and a referral to a local counseling professional. With this support, Patrick was able to adjust to the changes taking place in his life and return to work with a greater sense of normalcy.

Of course, a solution like this one is not always possible in every case. Many employers do not provide an EAP; if they do, employees are unaware it is available or believe it isn't confidential. Inattentive managers or fellow coworkers may not notice the warning signs, and the stressed employee will keep his or her feelings bottled up. When this is the case, the employee can lose control and become verbally or physically violent towards coworkers. With the appropriate training and resources, all members of a security team are able to de-escalate and curtail potentially troubling situations without resorting to physical confrontation.

Company Policies

The workplace should be an inclusive environment where employees feel safe to effectively share ideas and join forces to create new ones. Going the extra mile to develop a welcoming community for employees will help security teams thrive and improve the likelihood that the work produced there will be exceptional. Moreover, it is the responsibility of managers to create and enforce the policies and procedures that will guide employees towards resilience.

 Establishing specific and explicit policies regarding harassment, bullying, and violence, which also include plans and procedures for responding to incidents, is essential. These response plans should include processes for communicating with employees, families, and the media, working with law enforcement, and a capacity for staff debriefing if any type of violence is committed, threatened, or observed. As part of the onboarding process, new hires should be made aware of the plan, so they are well-versed on the organization's policies.

With these policies in place, the next step is to consider using some of the training programs mentioned above that will develop employees as team players, improve overall productivity, and mitigate problematic workplace behaviors. Finally, security managers should continuously review how employees interact with one another and update policies and procedures to fit the needs of their advancing workforce.

Raquelle Solon is a business solutions engineer for FEI Behavioral Health in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is responsible for, among other things, helping organizations implement crisis management systems and workplace violence prevention strategies. She was named "Woman of the Year" for 2012-2013 by the National Association of Professional Women.