Recent news headlines, both national and international, have clearly exemplified the damaging impact that aggressive and violent behaviour can have on others – the majority of whom are innocent third parties to these unfortunate events. Large scale incidents such as the tragic outcome at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, the beating to death of a homeless Liverpool man by 3 boys under the age of 17, and the high profile murder cases of both Oscar Pistorius and Mick Philpott, all demonstrate the devastating and lasting effects on both the victims and the bereaved.

While these cases are all extreme examples caused by a diverse and small fraction of society, similar behaviours can also be found in the workplace, albeit on a much smaller scale. Thankfully, Managers and Leaders don’t come across such violent circumstances on a day to day basis, but they have certainly been both a witness and a party to varying negative and aggressive acts in the workplace that have had ill effects on those around them.

Met child protection detective Gary Quigley has been charged with poisoning one of his colleagues after allegedly putting antifreeze in his Lucozade after it kept getting stolen. Upset and determined to catch the culprit, Quigley resorted to aggressive and life-threatening behaviour. Fortunately, the victim made a full recovery, but his right to work in a safe place had been compromised by another individual.

An unnamed senior manager, still in his role at one of the big banks, has been described as a self-proclaimed ‘rock star’ who routinely walked around during meetings tapping a baseball bat on his palm when angry. This unnecessary aggressiveness towards his employees most likely causes great unease among them, resulting in disengagement, decreased productivity, panic or anxiety, and other equally negative repercussions. Furthermore, research shows that the actions of individuals are determined by their boss about 80 per cent of the time, potentially fuelling a viscous aggressor/aggresse cycle in the workplace.

So what role does HR have in attempting to eliminate workplace situations similar to these? The March 2013 issue of People Management touched on some important and relevant points on how to manage dissension and create appropriate channels for problem resolution in a more positive way.

According to their article ’It’s Down to You’, one of the aims of the HR function in a business should be to reinforce a values-based culture that learns from their mistakes and is clear about the way they do business by outlining commitment to clients and communities. This is achieved by tracking metrics on an on-going basis that measure how set values are embraced in the workplace, for example, how many employees have had a conversation with their manager about how they are living the business’ values.  Performance is more than sales and deals; it’s also about maintaining the highest standards in all areas from regulation to client services.

By defining moral values such as honesty, wisdom, courage, fairness, and empathy, businesses can build a healthy foundation free from the aggressive acts that have the potential to cause damage, literally and figuratively, to both the business and its employees.

Kerry White is a Consultant in the Manchester office and luckily doesn’t drink Lucozade.

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