Todd Packer

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Creative defusion

Somewhere beyond the dramatic statistics, creative business leaders are learning how to manage the impact of workplace violence.

There is no simple answer, but you can use new ideas to sustain a successful organization. The key? Commit to awareness, listening and creative problem solving.

It's been reported that there are about 13 workplace murders every week and an estimated 1 million workplace assaults every year. A 1999 survey of human resources professionals reveals that 57 percent of business owners have dealt with at least one violent workplace incident in the recent past.

According to a 1998 U.S. Department of Justice report on workplace violence, in each year between 1992 and 1996, more than 2 million U.S. residents were victims of a violent crime while at work or on duty.

But there is hope.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, workplace homicides decreased significantly from 1993 to 1998 -- from 1,074 to 709. Among efforts that have helped: corporate zero tolerance policies, conflict resolution training and tip lines.

Workplace violence can affect all types of organizations. While the disgruntled former employee who returns to work with firearms has captured popular attention, this is only one relatively rare scenario. In some settings, violence can be caused by outside criminals or enraged customers.

Depending on the location and nature of your business and employees, you may need to address some of the following: homicide, threats, assaults, rape, sabotage (physical/virtual), vandalism, terrorism, kidnapping/torture and external relationship spillover (domestic violence, attacks on other offices in the same building).

How can you address this issue without being overwhelmed? Through education, planning, collaborative conversations and networking with other businesses, experts and your community. Ignorance is not an option.

Always seek the advice of professionals, particularly security, legal and human resources staff and/or advisers, as you implement your prevention and response plans. The D.E.F.U.S.E. model can help identify aspects of workplace violence:

Disarm. Remove possible weapons (for example, scissors on counter tops) and engage safely, calmly and respectfully with others.

Educate. Train staff and managers in conflict resolution, security procedures, communication, negotiation and creative problem solving.

Focus. Clearly identify and plan for prevention and crisis response with various staff and departments, especially community/public relations.

Understand. Conduct an organizational assessment and research best practices, limits, resources, concerns and experiences.

Secure. Co-create systems and avoid abuse for physical plant safety and video surveillance.

Empower. Move beyond fear to inspire hope and awareness in your co-workers and community. Actively participate in nonwork efforts for peace through public statements, encouraging employee volunteer activities and recognizing (through awards, gifts and scholarships) successful efforts for promoting nonviolence in your schools and community.

As you develop your plan, remember the following:

  • Consider a human resources screening tool. There may be issues of liability, test accuracy and discrimination.

  • No approach is guaranteed. Acts of violence can happen despite your best efforts, but a prepared organization is best equipped to effectively and promptly handle any crises that may occur.

  • Threats, concerns and incidents may be symptoms of deeper organizational problems beyond the scope of your business. Be open to listening for possible problems that may be causing frustration that could erupt into violence.

  • Take all threats seriously.

  • Document, document, document. This includes policies, incidents of threats and violence, resources within and outside the organization and results of actions.

While workplace violence can generate fear, remember that you have many resources at your command in the modern workplace. The resilience and innovation of your employees can be encouraging sources of successful strategies.

Work with them to show your concern and commitment to their safety. Together, you can help defuse violence and create safe businesses and communities. Todd Packer ( is an independent consultant providing research, writing and training in organizational development, creative problem-solving and stress management. Contact him at (216) 752-6926.

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:03

Working in vampire time

The modern-day businessperson faces pressures similar to those experienced by Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

While you may not have an evil creature of the night thirsty for blood breathing down your neck, you feel mental and physical exhaustion during a typical workday. You -- and your employees -- face numerous challenges that you can sink your teeth into.

But when complications arise due to conflict, global competition and cross-cultural communication, many people experience a loss of time, energy and effectiveness.

This stress is linked to our shifting experience of time in the Internet Age. Time is a vampire. And we can all learn lessons in effective time management from Gothic horror tales.

What is your blood?

Vampires feed on the essence that sustains life. Before you can figure out what drains you, list what you lose to time. To find out your blood, go to the source -- what you hold as valuable in your heart.

What is the lifeblood of your organization? Whether a mission, vision, product or service, something flows through your workplace that sustains your business. How does time impact this?

Why do you return?

The seductive power of vampires often causes victims to return again and again against their will. What tasks and environments have moved beyond the routine to consume you with boredom and stress?

Identify what benefits you receive from returning. Often, the fear we know is more comforting than the fear we refuse to face.

How were you bitten?

Vampires' victims must willingly cross the threshold to enter the castle or tomb. You may feel you have always been stressed, but take a moment to identify when you first entered the time that drains you.

Know the history of your company, as well. Have the same patterns occurred to the detriment of your business goals?

Who is your stakeholder?

Knowing this can help you identify sources of strength as you combat that which drains you. Build trust and seek the guidance of people who can help you with their experience and expertise.

Stakes can also be tools that you can use, such as technology, to help manage time. But beware. Like a wooden wedge that misses the vampire's heart, misguided use of technology can actually put you at greater risk for losing the battle to time.

When are you free?

One challenge to facing vampires is to know when they no longer have power over you. Sometimes the fear of success, of managing your time, can be as overwhelming as the fear of failure.

Be prepared for new difficulties that may arise as you get closer to finding your freedom.

What can you do to fend off the vampires? Try these three exercises:

A day of stress. Tense your whole body, from eyebrows to toes, and hold while you count out seven seconds, then relax. What did you notice? Do different parts of your body hold stress?

Relax in the moment. Inhale to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale to a count of four and hold your breath again for a count of four. This technique can help bring about calmness.

Find your free time. Think of a situation when you felt confident, successful or at peace. It can be a personal or professional accomplishment or even a special vacation spot.

Close your eyes and spend seven seconds in that memory. How does that change your stress level?

As you take small steps to renew your strength and vitality, you may see new opportunities for productive and healthy time. And, you will be free from the curse of deadly time.

Todd Packer ( is a Shaker Heights-based consultant. He can be reached at (216) 752-6926.