he U.S. Postal Service has the most advanced, comprehensive and widely disseminated workplace violence prevention program in government. That stands to reason, considering postal murders added the term "going postal" to the workplace violence lexicon. But postal officials hope the troubles are behind them now as a result of moves to alter the agency's admittedly authoritarian management style and put in place a new violence awareness program.
The anti-violence policy includes zero tolerance for workplace threats; a crisis management plan; violent incident drills; and threat assessment teams to identify workplace risks (including employee remarks and actions) and recommend abatement plans. A video in production, "Separation Without Violence: A Peaceful Parting," teaches humane ways of firing employees. By Sept. 30, 61,120 postmasters, managers, supervisors and local union leaders had attended eight-hour violence awareness training sessions. But another type of training may be doing just as much to stave off postal violence.
"When I began in 1977, the workforce was predominately male. The conversation allowed would be less than appropriate today. Conflicts would arise from allowing things like profanity, off-the-cuff jokes," says Arlington, Va., Postmaster Leonard Naper. He credits beefed up management training for helping create a new, safer environment in postal facilities. "The biggest change took place through the required [management] training." Naper's comments confirm what a number of experts say about workplace violence: Basic management training is every bit as important as specialized anti-violence courses. "As a manager, I'm developing the environment. We teach [people] how to listen to the other person and how disagreements can be resolved," Naper says.
Naper also has learned to rely on the employee assistance program [EAP], something some managers are reluctant to do. "There might be a change in an employee's behavior. You have to approach that and you have to ask about it. The solution might be beyond the scope of my experience so I refer the person to the EAP." Each of the 85 postal districts has an EAP coordinator and employees and their family members get 12 free counseling sessions each year, according to Bradley Johnson, postal service employee relations specialist.