NIOSH takes an interesting look at this summer’s comedy “Horrible Bosses”
Workplace violence in the real world
Horrible bosses. If you’ve had one, hopefully they were not as bad as those portrayed by Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Colin Farrell in the newly released movie of the same name. While the plot and characters are exaggerated and the comic elements may not be to everyone’s taste, the movie highlights the very real issues of work stress and violence. Each week in the United States, an average of 33,000 workers are assaulted on the job and 14 are murdered.
By and large, robbery-related factors account for the toll of homicide at work. The situations portrayed in the movie are not typical—worker-on-worker (or boss) violence accounts for only about 8% of workplace homicides. More than half of all workplace homicides occur in retail or service settings such as conveniences stores, taxicab services, and gas stations with the majority of these homicides occurring during a robbery.
While we don’t want to throw a wet blanket on a summer blockbuster, here are some real-world alternatives to “offing the boss” for the characters in the movie.
Management candidate Nick (Jason Bateman) has been logging 12-hour days and eating everything his twisted supervisor Harken (Kevin Spacey) dishes out, toward the promise of a well-earned promotion. But now he knows that’s never going to happen.*
Providing employees with training in nonviolent response and conflict resolution is believed to reduce the risk that volatile situations will escalate to physical violence. In this example, such training could benefit both boss and employee.Information on workplace stress can be found on the NIOSH Stress at Work topic page.
Dental assistant Dale (Charlie Day) has been struggling to maintain his self-respect against the relentless X-rated advances of Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), when she suddenly turns up the heat.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Charges of sexual harassment can be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Accountant Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) has just learned that his company’s corrupt new owner, Pellit (Colin Farrell), is not only bent on ruining his career but plans to funnel toxic waste into an unsuspecting population.
The Whistleblower Protection Program prohibits employers from firing or in any manner retaliating against any employee for reporting violations of environmental, workplace safety, financial reform and various other laws.
These recommendations are to the fictitious situations presented in the movie. There is not one solution to workplace violence as the risk factors in each industry are different. In the taxicab industry, installing partitions and cameras have helped reduce the number of taxicab driver homicides. In New York City, armed robberies in taxicabs are down from 2500 per month to between 200 and 300 hundred per month and murders are down from 25 per year to 1 or 2 per year.
In convenience stores and gas stations measures such as using locked drop safes, keeping small amounts of cash on hand, and posting signs to this effect are used to deter robbery and thus homicide. Visibility, lighting and creating distance between workers and customers and patients can also act as a deterrent to violence in retail and healthcare. Nonfatal violence in the healthcare industry can be reduced by conducting a workplace security analysis and implementing appropriate environmental (e.g., arrange furniture to prevent entrapment of staff), administrative, (e.g., adopt measures to decrease waiting time), and behavioral (e.g., train employees not to carry keys, pens or other items that could be used as weapons) prevention measures.
NIOSH and its partners are part of a broad-based initiative to reduce the incidence of occupational violence in this country. NIOSH conducts, funds, and publishes research on risk factors and prevention strategies related to workplace violence. The NIOSH Workplace Violence topic page contains information on NIOSH research as well as links to external research programs, statistical reports, and public and private initiatives to address the problems of workplace violence.
We would like to hear from you. Has your workplace implemented violence prevention strategies? Are they working?
*Film synopsis from Warnerbros.com
—Dan Hartley, Ed.D.
Dr. Hartley is the NIOSH Workplace Violence Prevention Coordinator in the Division of Safety Research.