Responding to Violence

Having processes in place after crime greatly aids employee recovery

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Bob VandePol

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- No retailer wants to think about crime at his or her stores, especially acts of violence. But experts say being prepared and responding quickly can have both economic and emotional benefits.

In a CSP CyberConference on responding to violent crime in the workplace, Bob VandePol, president of Crisis Care Network, Grand Rapids, Mich., stressed the importance of companies acting in planned, caring ways on the "worst day of their employee's lives." Such measures will go a long way toward helping people cope, increasing retention after the incident and reducing monetary claims against the company.

[To view an OnDemand replay of the The True Cost of Crime CSPNetwork CyberConference sponsored by Crisis Care Network, please click here. The program is free for retailers and wholesalers; others, $99.]

David Smith, vice president of risk management for Family Dollar, Charlotte, N.C., said his company learned the hard way, enduring a $3.2 million case against the company where there was no loss of life. He said psychological trauma and long-term medication can be costly.

Back in 2003, the 7,700-store, discount-merchandise retailer developed an aggressive response plan, imbedding it in phases within the organization. Today's process begins with an immediate outreach via phone to counsel individuals, followed up 10 days later with a reach back.

For more serious events, they do on-site counseling and even group counseling when the situations are especially traumatic. The chain focuses on training for claims adjustors, uses nurses to manage cases and aggressively monitors pharmaceuticals to control potential abuse.

Finally, it exercises ongoing and immediate management communication to make sure everyone understands each situation.

By 2008, the company increased its retention rate to 86% from as low as 50%. Of those incidences, only 6% became claims and on the whole, cost 15% less. The company has since gone further, improving its response regarding the mental health of its employees as well as its other follow-up processes. Today, post-trauma retention continues to be 90%, with related claim costs dropping 10% since 2008 and 25% since 2003.

Part of the success of the program is the continual training and reinforcement of its policies, which unfortunately in a chain as vast as Family Dollar are tested with real-time cases on an ongoing basis, Smith said.

But the side benefits are twofold. First, the company now has processes in place for natural disasters, be they as prominent as last year's Hurricane Sandy or lesser publicized storms or local flooding.

The company's planned reactions also send a message to the community, with media often picking up on the caring, immediate response given to victims of crime or natural disaster.

For retailers currently without such procedures, VandePol gave a warning: no company is immune.

The Palm Springs, Calif.-based Workplace Violence Research Institute said that every day, more than 16,000 threats are made in the workplace. More than 44,000 are harassed and almost 700 workers are attacked, he said.

Employers can become liable for medical and psychiatric care, workers' comp, higher insurance rates, lower morale and productivity, potential liability suits and higher turnover rates, all in addition to bad press.

"When tragedy strikes, all eyes are on the company's leaders," VandePol said. "Everyone is looking to take their cue on how you respond. Does my leadership care? Do they know what they're doing? It's also a peek into how [my employer] …values me."

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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