How leadership and culture can help control the risk of work-related violence

This guidance explains the role of leadership and culture in controlling risks of work-related violence and may help employers and others with leadership roles.

Definition of work-related violence

Work-related violence involves incidents in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This definition covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that can create a risk to the health and safety of employees. It includes behaviour sometimes described as acting out, challenging behaviour and behaviours of concern.

The role of leadership and culture

Leadership and culture play an important role in work-related psychological health and safety. It is important to spend time actively creating a work environment which effectively manages work-related violence and where employees are able to report work-related violence.

Culture

Workplace culture refers to the shared practices, behaviours, norms and values of people within an organisation or workplace. Culture creates the 'unwritten rules' that guide the behaviour of employees, including how they interact with each other, how they interpret and respond to events or change and the things they prioritise. Research shows that a positive workplace culture which prioritises safety plays an important role in the prevention and management of work-related illness and injury. Positive workplace culture also creates an environment that effectively addresses work-related violence and other hazards that increase the risk of work-related stress, also known as psychosocial hazards. 

Employers can encourage a 'safety' culture through alignment of leadership behaviours and employer policies and practices. Examples include visible leadership and communication about the importance of health and safety, recognition for initiatives that reduce the risk to health and safety and timely interventions for health and safety risks. Sometimes encouraging a 'safety' culture requires changes or new practices.

Positive culture

A workplace culture that prioritises the prevention of work-related violence and physical and psychological injury:

  • has leaders who are vocal and proactive in promoting employee safety
    • has policies and procedures in place to prevent and manage work-related violence and expects and promotes compliance with these policies and procedures
      • consistently recognises and rewards employees for prioritising safety
        • seeks out and implements new and improved ways of preventing work-related violence
          • gives employees genuine opportunities to speak up about issues and have input into decision-making
            • is clear about everyone's roles, responsibilities and the desired outcomes they are working towards in preventing work-related violence
              • has teams and groups across the organisation that can work well together to solve problems relating to work-related violence
                • provides employees with the skills and knowledge necessary to do their work safely
                  • provides employees with the support and resources they need to do their work safely
                    • encourages open discussion and reporting of work-related incidents involving violence and aggression
                      • encourages employees to report and discuss emotional distress arising from exposure to work-related violence and provides appropriate support
                        • takes proactive steps to prevent and manage negative emotional responses arising from exposure to work-related violence

                          Leadership

                          Leaders at all levels, from the most senior leaders to frontline managers, play an essential role in creating a 'safety' culture that prioritises the prevention of work-related violence. Active and visible commitment to prevention and management of work-related violence from the top down is critical for driving positive change and ensuring continuous management of risks.

                          Leaders' responsibilities

                          In particular, leaders should take responsibility for:

                          • setting and enforcing health and safety objectives and accountabilities
                            • ensuring effective safe systems of work to identify and control risks
                              • developing and promoting policy and key initiatives to support safety
                                • allocating resources to the prevention and management of work-related violence
                                  • consulting with and creating opportunities for employees to speak up about risks and their ideas for managing those risks
                                    • supporting different groups within and outside the organisation to understand their role in risk management and to work together to minimise risks
                                      • modelling compliance with policies and other desired behavior
                                        • providing the support, information, feedback and resources for employees to do their job and manage work demands, including additional support during difficult events such as organisational change
                                          • providing support and assistance for employees who are struggling to cope with the potential for or risk of work-related violence