The Workplace Violence-Staffing Connection

As increased workplace violence meets staff shortages, improvements to training programs can help address the challenges.

By AlGene Caraulia, Contributing Writer

Staffing shortages and costly turnover rates are two significant challenges facing healthcare facility managers. Difficult conditions for healthcare workers — primarily, increasing violence — create stress, burnout, anxiety, trauma and physical danger. As a result, managers are witnessing strikes, increased turnover rates, recruitment challenges and healthcare professionals who feel unsafe in the workplace. 

Seventy-seven percent of healthcare professionals believe a healthcare crisis will occur within the next year due to understaffing and employee burnout, according to an August 2023 report by Tebra. One in three healthcare workers also plan to leave their jobs within the next year, and 14 percent plan to leave the industry entirely. 

Facility managers can provide solutions that create a safe and welcoming workplace culture. By demonstrating a commitment to workplace violence prevention programming, in-house teams will know that managers prioritize their safety, which can create measurable improvements in retention and a culture that aids recruitment. 

Data and violence prevention 

Healthcare professionals want to know their organizations support and advocate for them. They want to feel safe. Overall, 77 percent of healthcare workers believe workplace violence is a priority, but one-half of them either do not know about or claim not to have a workplace violence prevention committee. Two-thirds of workers do not think the policies they have are effective, and just as many claim workplace violence has increased. 

In April 2024, the Crisis Prevention Institute released the second edition of a research study assessing the state of workplace violence prevention training in healthcare. The 2024 Workplace Violence Prevention Training Annual Report shows that most healthcare organizations run the risk of unsafe work environments and highlights notable gaps in violence prevention training strategies across the industry. At the same time, as healthcare professionals continue to report rising violence, many report feeling unprepared to address it. 

Healthcare organizations are taking steps to address workplace violence, according to the report, but more needs to be done to improve programming for workplace violence prevention. Responses showcase the improvements leaders can make to protect healthcare professionals and their organization’s reputation from the growing concern of workplace violence, as well as to create a reason for those professionals to continue the work they were called to do. 

Three steps to improvement 

Responses to the survey indicate three areas where managers can improve their workplace violence prevention training: implementation, role definition and organization-wide collaboration. Making targeted improvements in the approach can spark holistic cultural adoption of workplace violence prevention programming so it becomes a core component of an organization’s culture. 

Managers can help create the consistency healthcare professionals at all levels need to feel included, empowered and more prepared to address workplace violence and, ultimately, feel safer in their workplace. Focusing on each of these areas can help teams improve workplace violence prevention programming and deepen their trust in the organization. 

Implementation. Data show that many organizations only focus their training in specific, acute areas of care. In healthcare, when feelings of stress, fear and anxiety are high, incidents of violence can occur anywhere. Workplace violence prevention programs and de-escalation training are most effective when all teams work from the same training and use a shared language. 

Managers can audit each unique role, situation and need to effectively plan ways to implement de-escalation training throughout the organization. By ensuring the right staff receives the right level of training for their roles and risk levels, managers can foster collaboration among all teams, not just those in patient-facing, acute care situations. 

Role definition. Managers can clearly define roles for everyone in an organization and make those expectations part of onboarding, training, mentorship and management of healthcare professionals. They also can extend implementation and program management strategies to conversations among employees, supervisors and team leaders so everyone feels informed and understands the roles they play in creating a safer workplace. 

By clearly communicating workplace violence prevention programming, along with plans, policies, and progress toward goals, managers can ensure everyone has a part to play. When they understand the ways they can make a difference together, they will feel supported and empowered. 

Organization-wide collaboration. Managers can stimulate wider collaboration and adoption of de-escalation training by empowering workplace violence prevention committees to include representatives from all levels of the organization. Together, they can help manage and implement cross-departmental and organization-wide training programs, providing unique insight into targeted needs and ensuring holistic adoption of that shared language, including when and how to call for help when it is needed. 

A workplace violence prevention program is most effective when it includes all teams and all individuals working together to create an environment of safety, not just those in positions that are perceived to be at the most acute risk of danger. 

When teams know and share responsibility for the program’s development and successful implementation, it creates momentum toward change that improves the immediate safety of employees, patients and visitors. It also proves to employees that leadership is serious about their concerns. 

Then employees will see and feel the effort executive leadership puts into prioritizing workplace safety. It can have a powerful effect on the professionals who count a desire to feel safe as the No. 1 factor in their decisions to stay with their employers. This approach creates an incredible return on investment for executive leadership. Employee satisfaction increases, which aids in recruitment and retention. Turnover is reduced, confidence in leadership builds and trust is deepened throughout the organization. 

AlGene Caraulia is vice president of integration and sustainability with the Crisis Prevention Institute

May 6, 2024

Topic Area: Safety

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