Recent events have focused the business community on safety in the workplace like never before. While it’s nice to think that “it will never happen to us”, you and everyone involved will feel more at ease with a plan. I’ve admittedly had situations where I thought, “I did NOT go to school for this!” A confrontation with a former employee left me feeling cornered and attacked, and I was not prepared. Whether you’re a non-profit or small business, outline and practice the procedures prior to an incident so that you and your staff know what to do in the event that they occur. It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive.
1. Be prepared to end a working relationship with a client if you or a staff member feels uncomfortable or threatened. Let tempers calm down and, later, contact the client and let them know that you are sending them their records or files so that they can find another service provider that better suits their needs. Keep the conversation and correspondence on what is best for them. Tip: Make sure that these procedures are outlined in a “client manual” so that you, your staff and the client have these procedures, even before an event occurs. This can protect you legally.
2. Neither you nor your staff should ever be alone with a new client. If you are a freelancer, meet your client at a public location, like a coffee shop. If you operate a physical location, make sure that someone else is there with you. Tip: use “stranger danger” procedures in your business. The safety of your staff, as well as your own safety, should always be paramount.
3. Listen to your staff. Your staff meets with the general public for many hours a day and has learned a thing or two about human behavior. Listen to your staff when they say “something isn’t quite right” about a client interaction. Tip: keep notes. Make a habit of documenting the temperament of your clients, current concerns, and behaviors. Do not record financial information, as this can be a liability of another sort. This is an invaluable tool for other staff members.
4. Your staff needs to know that they come first before revenue from a hot-tempered client. Support your team without referencing lost income. Remember that your business is worth more than ONE client, as is your staff.
5. Staff training and role-playing through difficult situations will make staff more comfortable and more able to de-escalate a tense situation. Take the fear out of the unknown and show your staff what is expected, even in a dangerous situation. Tip: have law enforcement come in to do a brief workplace safety workshop. They’ll be able to give you and your staff a few tips on behaviors and body language to look for, and how to stay safe.
6. If you have more than one location, alert other locations of threatening behaviors. Make sure that safety procedures and protocol are the same across all locations. Larger business should have a trained staff member that is responsible for all safety trainings, procedures, and documents.
7. Contact the police. Too many people think “it’s not that bad” or “we don’t need to get them involved.” The risk is too high; always let the police know and they can decide what to do with the information. (See #5)
8. Make sure that you have similar procedures for workplace conduct. Employees should know that they will not be threatened or endangered by a fellow employee. As unpleasant as it may be, disagreements do happen, and they should be handled in a way that respects the dignity and safety of all persons involved. These procedures also need to be known and understood by all staff members. Be willing to resolve conflicts, but also recognize the signs that a work relationship has to end.
Remember, as a business owner you are liable for the well-being and safety of not just your clients, but also your staff. The safety of the people that visit, work, and serve your business is always your concern. Set the expectations and best practices before an incident occurs so that your staff can safely do their jobs and look after the best interest of your clients.