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Debunking Myths About Workplace Violence

This summer at Villanova, our Human Resources Development program will be holding a 1.5 credit workplace violence course, taught by Dr. Lawrence Cozzens. This course will outline the different types of violence in the workplace, and what HR's role is in predicting, preventing and responding to these incidences. There are some common misconceptions around the topic of workplace violence.

Myth 1: Violence in the workplace is limited to physical attacks.

There are several acts of aggression towards employees that could be considered violent. In fact, many of the more violent actions stem from the non-violent harassment that may occur in the workplace. John Hopkins outlines this continuum of disruptive behaviors. It is important to be aware of these as they occur.

Myth 2: Workplace violence is rare and would never happen in your organization.

This is a very dangerous myth to perpetuate. By instilling this in the thoughts of your employees, you create a false sense of security. Management should keep a realistic viewpoint on these issues. They can achieve this by creating prevention and response plans to keep their employees aware.

Myth 3: Workplace violence is linked to mental illness.

The article "Predicting Workplace Aggression and Violence," discusses that these beliefs tend to circulate from media sources. While there is a large body of research behind mental illness and aggression, much of the empirical data surrounds anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. However, the only significant link was shown between drinking and aggressive behavior. Therefore, mental illness has yet to prove a significant role in the prediction of workplace aggression.

Myth 4: Violence in the workplace is unpredictable, and therefore, not preventable.

It is very rare for incidents to just happen without warning. Violence tends to stem from a series of different incidents that lead up to violent actions. Managers should be aware of odd behaviors, statements, and obsessions that come from their employees. Some things like role conflict, role overload, role ambiguity, work constraints and job autonomy could also be used to predict a workplace violence incident.

It is important to note that managers play a huge role in this process of predicting, preventing, and responding to workplace violence. It does not all rely on the security department within an organization. HR can play a huge role in this process. They have the means by which to plan, discuss, and execute strategies in several aspects of the business. Therefore, they can use these skills to help in establishing a violence prevention plan. In the Workplace Violence Summer course, Dr. Cozzens will be describing these processes and more.


Conor Kennedy is a Graduate Assistant in the Graduate Programs in HRD at Villanova. He also serves as the Treasurer of the VUSHRM chapter. Learn more about him here & connect with him on LinkedIn!

Photo posted with Creative Commons permission from

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