Help keep office disturbances from increasing further

Accompanying the stress of terrorism, war and a bad economy, there have been increasing reports of violence in the workplace. As a psychologist, I can say why these phenomena happen. But, as an individual, I can say this is not the kind of world I want to live in, and it’s certainly not what I want for UC Davis.

Let me reassure you, while headlines broadcast news of deaths, the actual possibility of being killed in the workplace is less than one in 2 million. As reference, there’s a one-in-3,000 chance of being in an auto accident. Also, the majority of workplace killings occur in places like all-night liquor stores and cabs.

However, the lesser levels of violence — the intimidation, threat, pushing, shoving and yelling variety — are occurring more often at work. Your chance of encountering this sort of disturbance is about one in 75.

The best way to avoid trouble is through prevention and early intervention. There are several resources at UC Davis to help you do that.

To begin with, we, of course, have policy — in the policy and personnel manual, sections 290-309. The manual defines terms, lays out procedures for dealing with potential violence and, more importantly, lists resources available — for example, the names of campus violence prevention committee members.

The committees bring together professionals in the workplace who have knowledge or input into this subject as an advisory group to management or individuals on how to handle disturbances, intimidations, threats or violence. You don’t have to be a manager; any campus community member can seek the help.

Each of us should take responsibility — so the campus can deal with events as they occur and so situations don’t have the opportunity to escalate. Usually, however, by the time things get to the violence-committee level, they are quite severe in nature — somebody has been emotionally or physically harmed, and somebody else may be facing disciplinary action.

Picture a triangle divided into four levels. The broad, bottom level should read “civility.” If we are being civil to one another, if we are respecting each person, if we are following our own Principles of Community, there is little room in that model for violence to occur.

The next step might be disturbances — incidents where people lose their tempers, say things they don’t really mean, insult somebody or look as if they are angry. For that level, UC Davis offers a number of resources. People can get together afterward to calmly talk or go to Mediation Services to work out some agreements. They can talk to their manager and/or they can visit the Academic and Staff Assistance office.

The next level would be threats and intimidation — interactions in which people actually express intent to harm another person or act in ways that make the other person feel fear. Campus policy is clear that there are consequences for such behavior.

If you are part of such an incident or observe one, involve a supervisor or manager, call a human resources representative or contact a campus violence committee member. Once notified, the university will assess the situation and see that the workplace is safe. Professionals from Employee and Labor Relations, Campus Counsel, Risk Management, ASAP and the UC Davis Police Department can get involved.

The tip of our triangle, of course, is violence itself — an actual physical assault or threat with a weapon. Then, of course, your first call should be to 911.

Maintaining workplace safety and civility only works if each one of us takes responsibility for our own actions or takes action if we observe events.

For more on this topic, call (530) 752-2727, and we will be glad to get you to the right resource.

Sally Harvey is the director of the Academic and Staff Assistance Program. Her columns appear regularly in Dateline.

Media Resources

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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