The Forgotten Workforce

October 18, 2011
Raquelle Solon
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

My 18-year-old son recently followed in the footsteps of his older brother and took a part-time job at a 24-hour service station on third shift. I drilled him, just as I drilled his brother before him, on what he would do if a customer or coworker became violent during his shift, whether he had been trained in violence response procedures, and whether he knew of any policies or procedures in place. One may think that I was being a helicopter parent, but given his circumstances, I hardly think so.

Individuals who face an increased risk of violent incidents typically have one or more of the following circumstances in their workplace. They work alone; they work late-night or early-morning hours; there is an exchange of cash or delivery of passengers, goods, or services; there is a presence of alcohol; and/or they work in high-crime areas. My son certainly had at least half of these, so there was just cause to be concerned and to impress upon him the importance of knowing what to do should an incident occur.

When I was 16 years old and working in the fast-food industry, I experienced my first incident of workplace violence. This was another reason for my concern. At that time, my orientation consisted of approximately 30 minutes of paperwork, a tour of the store, and an introduction to the employees present. Then it was off to task-training with no instruction on what to do if we were robbed, physically assaulted, or if there was a fight on the premises.

Read more about workplace violence prevention training on our Knowledge Base page.

I know that training of our teenagers and young adults hasn’t changed much since my pizza-slinging days. I base this on the information I’ve collected in the field, from family and friends, and again, from personal experience. Knowing that the younger generation places a high emphasis on receiving respect and correcting those they feel have disrespected them, I think it is folly not to instruct them on how to handle situations in which disrespect occurs, starting with enabling them to take a step back and not take things personally. This is especially important because disrespectful interactions can very quickly escalate to threats and even a round of fisticuffs.

Teens and young adults aren’t the only segment that’s forgotten when it comes to internal training on workplace-violence prevention, policies, and procedures. Temporary employees, both long and short term, have similar experiences because they are not actual “employees” of the organization. The organization, therefore, doesn’t want to invest in providing training; this is a decision that could come back to haunt employers with the expansion of a nonpermanent workforce in this economy.

Whether you have a large population of teens and young adults, or temporary workers participating in your workforce, I strongly urge you to ask yourself whether they are prepared to handle disrespectful interactions, if they know what to do if they are threatened, and if they know how to handle witnessing or experiencing violence at work. If it were your child, wouldn’t you want him to be able to appropriately and professionally handle any incidents that could occur, minimizing the risk of injury, litigation, and reputation damage?

My sons may not have been given the tools they needed from their employers, but, thankfully, their mom was able to provide them with information to keep them safe. Not everyone is that lucky.

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