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The increase in disruptive and abusive behaviour is no joke

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

Have the public become more abusive post lockdown? Comedians certainly think so. Others argue audience behaviour was deteriorating before lockdown but has certainly got worse. Managers supporting staff who deal directly with the public have been concerned about reports of increased aggressive and abuse behaviour for a number of years.

The problem has grown to such an extent that in some areas of work employees have come to expect almost daily instances of abuse as the norm. The reason for this are undoubted as much to do with social attitudes as individual personalities. But whatever the reason for people feeling more able to vent their frustrations and opinions in such an unrestrained and aggressive way the issue for employers is how best to protect and support employees.

No one should be the subject of abuse and threatening behaviour just for going about their work. But how does an employer safeguard their employees and what constitutes support after experiencing an abusive and aggressive outburst?
“ You’re expected to have a thick skin. So someone shouting abuse at you is hardly worth reporting. If you felt threatened well that’s worth recording and if the person becomes violent even if they don’t actually hit you well you defiantly need to report that. Same by the way if they spit at you. But then what. Your line manager asks you if you are all right , you say a little shaken. The incident is added to the statistics for the annual report. And senior management reiterate that abusive or aggressive behaviour towards staff will not be tolerated. “
Training  seems to be about deescalation, what you can do to take the heat out of the situation. Which may help the immediate problem but doesn’t deal with the feelings stirred up inside you. Which is why it is important that incidents are reported and recorded and managers have training in how to respond . In my experience a typical response is for the individual to report the incident but reassure the line manager they’re fine. It might be tempting for the manager to leave it at that but best practice is to get the individual to talk through the incident and what led up to it in detail, as soon afterwards as possible.  This is not the time to suggest that they might have handled the situation differently. Such strategies are best dealt with in training sessions.
It may simply not be possible to completely protect front line employees from verbal abuse or aggressive behaviour which is why the line manager/supervisors immediate response is so important. Abuse or aggressive behaviour should never be considered normal no matter how frequently it may occur.

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