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Workplace Violence Training: HR/L&D and Safety/Security Partnering for Results

October 9, 2019
By Jim Sporleder
HR/L&D and Safety & Security are two very different groups of people. But… working together, they can have a powerful impact on their organization’s culture and the prevention of workplace violence. This post explains how.
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There’s a serious problem with workplace violence.

And it’s not what you think it is.   

Of course, violence in the workplace, in and of itself, is clearly a serious problem. But that’s not what we’re referring to. 

We’re highlighting this common reality: Corporately, we’re still struggling to come together as an integrated team that can develop and implement effective and lasting solutions to this challenging issue.

With more than two million incidents of workplace violence reported annually, at a combined cost of at least $130 billion, everyone agrees workplace violence has become one of the most pressing issues we face in society today. In fact, as recently as February of this year, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released a report showing that a surprising 1 in 7 employees do not feel safe at work.

So the challenge isn’t about our collective awareness of the problem.  We know we need to respond… to do something. Rather, it’s more about the specifics of what we do and how we go about doing it. And, in general, there are two independent, and often very different groups within organizations that are striving to chart the best way forward.

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  • On the one hand, professionals in Human Resources and Learning & Development (HR/L&D) wonder about the best ways to train for awareness and prevention.
  • And, on the other, Safety/Security professionals approach the challenge from a risk management and emergency response perspective.
Each group brings unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to their approach to the issue of workplace violence.

For example, HR/L&D professions tend to attract people who are interested in how people think, what motivates them, and how they learn. They’re typically dedicated to improving organizational culture, hiring for cultural fit, and supporting employees in learning and developing their careers. Both HR and L&D professionals study what are often referred to as “soft” skills; things like communication, ethics, leadership, relationship management, how adults learn, change management, and performance improvement. In summary, it might be said that HR/L&D professionals generally approach the world from a “helping ensure good things DO happen” perspective.

Meanwhile, professionals who are drawn to the world of Safety/Security tend to be action-oriented people who thrive in high-risk or threat-centric environments requiring immediate and, in some cases, life-saving responses. Additionally, it’s not unusual for these professionals to have had some previous experience or service in the military or law enforcement communities. Some of their primary concerns lie in making sure appropriate safety and security procedures are followed in order to optimally control the environment and mitigate risk as much as possible. Therefore, it might be said that a fundamental approach of the Safety/Security world is “helping ensure bad things DON'T happen.”   

And so stereotypes develop, which further entrench a sense of separateness between the two organizational functions. Safety/Security professionals are sometimes called “door-kickers,” who focus too much on “guards, gates, and guns.” While HR/L&D staff get labeled as too “touchy-feely,” living in an unrealistic land of “rainbows and unicorns.”

In reality, both perspectives are needed to fully address the issue of workplace violence. And, in truth, both groups have a heartfelt and professional commitment to serving others. Still, a dynamic tension can emerge as these entities work to create an environment where employees naturally look out for each other, while at the same time staying alert to, and bringing forward, potential concerns and trouble.

Nonetheless, a joint approach is worth the effort. This side-by-side comparison of strengths and focus shows how each group can complement the other in ways that, with a good working relationship, will produce a more holistic – and therefore more effective – approach to workplace violence prevention and response.

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Blending and coordinating the two worlds of HR/L&D and Safety/Security provides a balanced approach to the effective deterrence of workplace violence. In this environment, individuals can become mindful… not fearful. Nurtured in a culture of dignity and respect and educated in awareness and prevention, they’re optimally prepared to be key stakeholders in their personal safety and security. And, if the worst happens, they should be able to reach to the necessary mindset and response options that will increase their chances of survival, wherever and however such extreme violence might occur. 

When HR/L&D and Safety/Security work together, they can collaborate to create a cross-departmental, comprehensive approach that’s required to holistically and effectively address workplace violence… to develop a culture of shared responsibility and personal investment resulting in balanced deterrence and realistic response.

What might this kind of collaboration look like using a couple of “real life” examples?

EXAMPLE 1:  High-risk Termination

Without HR/L&D and Safety/Security partnership

Human Resources alerts and asks for help from Safety/Security in support of a high-risk terminationMMTeams_bad news just moments before the action. Caught off guard, Safety and Security can only provide an ad-hoc response, which is to “stand-by” in case of an emergency.

With partnership

With an increased awareness of how each office contributes to the organization as a whole, more opportunities for collaboration will be recognized. In this case, HR would recognize the need, and solicit input from, Safety/Security as soon as an issue with a disgruntled employee emerges. 

The combined team could then discuss a variety of options and formulate a specific protocol for the termination; one that preserves the individual’s personal dignity as much as possible, while at the same time ensuring the personal safety of all those involved. 

Plans such as these can be very detailed to include precise termination verbiage, individuals specifically identified for particular actions (such as escort), precise schedule of events, and a prescribed and calibrated security presence.

Additionally, understanding that, sometimes, situations develop that require a “rapid response,” an HR and Safety/Security partnership could develop and refine a quick-response plan that could be activated whenever needed.

Example 2: Improperly Securing the Office
Without HR/L&D and Safety & Security partnership

An employee has not been properly securing their office (building or workspace) in a manner consistent with good physical security practices and policy. Following a “second offense,” (notice the language here) the employee was advised by security as to the importance of following proper closing procedures and was warned that a third offense will result in termination of access.  

On a third occasion where the office was not properly secured, Safety & Security follows its established policy and protocol, which results in termination of access. Since the employee requires access to perform their duties, they now face losing their job.  

Without a strong partnership, Safety/Security will likely default to ensuring proper security protocols are adhered to without much investment into the “personal” aspects that might be at play. The employee might then be terminated “for cause,” which could result in a) the loss of a qualified and talented employee and/or b) the creation of a challenging personnel issue that HR will have to “mop up.”

With partnership

As said before, with an increased awareness of how each office contributes to the organization as a whole, more opportunities for collaboration will be recognized. In this case, HR and Safety/Security could develop a plan where initial security protocol infractions result in a notice to HR for follow-up. 

Resp Supv_listenGiven an opportunity to talk about developments with the employee, HR might discover that the person is rushing closing procedures at the end of the day in order to meet a “hard deadline” at their daycare provider; that a delay of more than 10 minutes in picking up their child could result in fines or even the loss of the daycare service.

Here’s where HR and Safety/Security have the opportunity to get creative. For example, HR could explore some flexible shift arrangements, which could allow the employee to secure the office earlier and allow them more time to close and secure the office properly. Concurrently, Safety/Security could review its closing procedures to ensure they are as streamlined as possible. In either or both cases, the employee will likely feel heard, validated, and supported. This could then result in an  increase in their commitment and connection to the organization and minimize the chance they become disgruntled or even hostile. 


In Summary, forming a partnership between HR/L&D and Safety/Security is a powerful way to address the issue of workplace violence from a more holistic approach, facilitating balanced deterrence. Here are a few things to keep in mind going forward: 

WP Violence Partners_handshake-rev-3CULTURE: Remember, the organizational goal is to nurture a culture of shared responsibility… not just between offices or departments, but amongst your employees as well.

“KISS”: It doesn’t have to be hard. Start small. Focus on “quick wins.” Build relationships, consensus, and, ultimately, inertia. 

SHARE: Communicate… Communicate… Communicate

PREPARE: Train… train… train… your employees

Expect the best, prepare for the worst

So that: Employees are AWARE of what workplace violence is, can RECOGNIZE the signs, have a bias toward ACTION, know HOW and WHERE to report, and TRUST that their information will be treated with DISCRETION and RESPECT.


For the departments working together to inform and prepare all employees, we recommend these training video programs: 

GRAWV_Jim TitleGetting Real About Workplace Violence (Awareness & Prevention + Response)

Getting Real About Workplace Violence Run|Hide|Fight Version



Jim Sporleder Jim Sporleder has more than 25 years experience in the security industry. He and the team at Regulus Media produced the top-selling Getting Real About Workplace Violence program. They've also created customized WPV Prevention Training solutions for many Fortune 500 organizations.




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