Frontline workers experiencing higher levels of aggression, abuse

Increased workplace conflict placing huge strain on employees

Frontline workers experiencing higher levels of aggression, abuse

When it comes to worker wellbeing, there is an intrinsic link between physical safety and mental health. Violence, aggression, discrimination or harassment at work have a huge impact, and fall squarely within the remit of occupational health and safety.

“Safety is the first level of wellbeing – if you can’t have that, you can’t have wellbeing no matter what kind of programs or benefits you have,” says Paula Allen, Global Leader, Research and Total Wellbeing at employee support consultancy LifeWorks.

She says that this is relative to not only physical, but also mental or psychological safety. And that point of aggression actually crosses over both.

“There’s definitely a point of feeling unsafe from a psychological point of view, but there is a risk when there is abusive behaviour, there’s a greater risk of physical harm as well,” says Allen.

The pandemic placed a lot of strain across the board, and now the current economic situation is exacerbating this. “When a population is under a lot of strain, you see certain things happen. One of the things that happens is that people become much more sensitive to stress and a little bit more on edge – and you do see more conflict.”

With the pandemic, those working in customer or client facing roles such as health care workers, grocery store workers or airline workers have been experiencing higher levels of aggression and even violence from the public.

“This is quite concerning, because […] this leads to a pretty vulnerable place. You do not go to work to be intimidated, you do not go to work to be scared or belittled. So this is definitely impacting people’s mental health,” says Allen.

She also points on that is their research, the company found that women were more likely to experience increased conflict or aggression while working with the public – and that’s reflective of our society, people sometimes are more aggressive to those where they think they can get away with it.

“So I think that training and support is necessary across the board, but if you’re an employer who has more female employees, your situation is probably more acute.”

According to recent results from LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index, the mental wellbeing of working Canadians is still under a fair bit of strain. Between the pandemic and the lack of financial stability over the last two years, the risk of mental health issues is high. “We are finding that this is definitely impacting people’s mental health, there’s a high level of concern about a quarter of working Canadians who are concerned about meeting even basic [wellbeing] needs.”

This is again why it is so important for employers to provide training to employees, such as de-escalation training, but also training workers on the right steps for self-care so they’re not impacting their own mental wellbeing.

Though this kind of training is important, the majority of organizations in Canada don’t provide it – despite the fact that in client or customer facing roles, “it’s a skill that’s necessary because it’s required to do your job effectively, and to do your job safely.”