Customer Service and Creating a Culture for a Safe Workplace
First in a four-part series that will discuss superior customer service and employee safety: strategies for dealing with low-risk interactions as a foundation to ensure success with high-risk issues.
By John A. Haley
Senior Consultant, Baron Center, Inc.
The episodes of workplace violence that make it onto the evening news are distressing and downright scary, and they might give any employee pause for thought: could this happen where I work? As someone with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, my honest answer would be yes…and no, if the three “P’s” (Planning, Practice, and Preparation) are part of the workplace culture.
Back to that thought in a moment, as we can’t talk about workplace safety without starting by discussing customer service. It’s important to understand that customer can mean any stakeholder—client, co-worker, subordinate, boss, service provider, etc.—and service refers to any interaction that takes place between an employee and a stakeholder.
How does this relate to workplace safety? There’s actually a direct link, because how these interactions play out can either increase or decrease an employees’ sense of security at work. Would your employees know how to respond to someone who’s short-tempered and vengeful towards either a specific person or the workplace at large? What about an unwelcome infatuation that has become common knowledge, or someone who shared that her estranged spouse has become violent?
These types of incidents can range from uncomfortable and distracting to dangerous, and this is where those three “P’s” noted above come into play. Employees need to be empowered—with tools, education, systems and support—to handle low-risk exchanges, as they provide a baseline for handling more serious situations. What is a low-risk exchange?
Low-risk situations are those that do not present an imminent danger. They are situations that are uncomfortable, but there is very minimal indication of potential threat or danger. This would include people who are frustrated and moderately angry, but not aggressive in nature or demeanor; they can be controlled through communication and generally follow all instructions. But, improper handling can worsen the situation.
Conversely, high-risk situations are those where the danger potential is apparent through threat indicators. This may include assaultive language, direct or indirect threats, physical posturing or intimidation, failure to comply with requests, etc. This also may include active threat situations where aggressive action is imminent. This would include people who are very angry, not able to control their emotions or actions, and are physically intimidating through their behavior. They can be on the fringe of assaultive behavior or the assault is actually happening. High-risk situation include an actual or potential physical assault (using hands or feet) or an assault with weapons.
When employees are equipped with the foundation and confidence needed to deal with high-risk issues, that indicates your company has a culture that clearly defines employees’ safety as a priority—and that’s the first step toward a healthy work environment.
Employees must be trained to know what is and isn’t acceptable, to hold each other accountable, and to understand limitations and roles, something that provides a game plan for verbal dialogues or serious threats. They also need to realize that communication is key to setting the stage for the proper reaction; if it’s not considered OK to say something when a potential threat is suspected, that can leave the whole workplace teetering on the edge.
It’s worth mentioning here that at successful companies, employees feel healthy, safe and happy. In the next blog, we’ll discuss a simple formula to help employees achieve positive results and resolutions when dealing with low-risk interactions, which establishes a key preliminary element for an improved overall workplace safety culture.