We were delighted to be panellists on The Outstanding Security Performance Awards (OSPAs) Thought Leadership Webinar on violence risks, held on Tuesday. For those of you who were unable to attend, this article features some of the areas discussed in the webinar, which can be viewed in full via this link:
Conflict is increasing as a result of COVID
Violence is not new to us and has been a growing problem in recent years for a number of sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has created fear and introduced a further set of flashpoints for conflict and aggression.
Anxiety and ambiguity fuel frustrations
Much of the anger and aggression our colleagues deal with on the front line is emotionally driven and right now, emotions are, understandably, running high amongst colleagues and those they interact with.
Add to this confusion, uncertainty, practical hurdles and communication difficulties (masks etc) and we have the fuel for frustration and conflict that can escalate in a blink, especially if not handled sensitively.
We now have to negotiate with each other in terms of distancing. We can’t rely on people’s common sense – or the common sense of others. Opinions are divided on social distancing and face coverings and it can get deeply personal. COVID has turned the heat up on all of us.
Recognising COVID flashpoints
COVID flashpoints we are experiencing are typically around restrictions. Retail and transport settings are examples of two sectors on the frontline that have experienced conflict over restrictions to goods and services, we all remember panic buying! Now conflict over face coverings and social distancing have led to clashes between customers, employees and also between employees and customers. It has also been a challenging time for hospital-based teams and those in secure services, where people have added anxieties and restrictions on access and movement can lead to highly emotionally charged interactions.
Customers and colleagues have been looking to managers and security personnel to address non-compliance and resolve disputes that occur – which is a tough ask. Additionally, after the shocking death of George Floyd, our actions are under intense scrutiny and often on camera.
In the extremes of behaviour, our colleagues have experienced the weaponising of COVID, such as through spitting, just like we’ve seen before with HIV and hepatitis. Face masks are another area of contention, with some people seeing this as a breach of their human rights. Masks can also provide anonymity, reducing the wearer’s inhibitions, accountability and traceability.
In sectors such as transport and retail, there has also been a shift from detection and enforcement to a softer ‘front of house’ customer engagement and communications role. This requires proactive and confident communicators that can be part of a wider team, build rapport, negotiate and mediate conflict – whilst sometimes being under the added pressure of being filmed.
This needs to be reflected in staff training and recruitment, which currently is hard to undertake. However, we are delivering much more training online, including a blend of learning approaches using eLearning, virtual classroom and coaching to help refresh and build skills. This training is vital for security and enforcement operatives who have not completed refresher training in conflict management since their initial training and Licence linked qualifications i.e. it may be way out of date.
Being positive and proactive
We need to make sure that we are making things as clear as possible for ourselves, our staff and customers, patients and service users, as ambiguity and conflict often go hand in hand.
Positive communication and customer service put people at ease and our colleagues need to be proactive, positively engaging with customers and visitors at the earliest opportunity to deliver key messages and requests over service and safety.
It is important to refresh and develop the soft skills of our colleagues in situation assessment and positive and respectful communication and de-escalation.
Responding to the weaponisation of COVID
In the extremes of behaviour, colleagues have experienced the weaponising of COVID through spitting. Organisations need to be clear on where they stand in relation to this behaviour, how they will respond and support staff.
It should go without saying that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) be accessible to help protect our colleagues from infection when we call on them to respond to conflict situations. Body-worn video can be valuable in recording and inhibiting aggressive behaviour and it is important training covers how to operate as a team and communicate when using body cams.
Fostering a supportive staff culture
As we enter into the new ‘normal’, employee to employee conflict could arise, particularly in relation to sharing space. As we go through the transition of bringing people back into the workplace, we also need to look at the wellbeing of the team and individuals.
This requires us to make sure we are supporting and keeping in touch with teams, as well as looking at our organisation’s culture and considering whether it allows people to express concerns, ask questions and provide feedback.
Investment in the training of supervisors and team leaders is critical in this and ensuring frontline colleagues are supported and also operating professionally. This includes monitoring any use of force and ensuring colleagues show respect for the people they interact with, even when they disapprove of their behaviour and need to be firm.
Panellists on the webinar included:
Bill Fox - Chairman at Maybo Limited (UK)
Sandy Cowie - Retired Director of Global Security (US)
Dr Claire Lawrence - Director at Lawrence PsychAdvisory (UK)
Joe McDonald - Manager at Wilson-McDonald LLC (US)
View the webinar again here: Dealing with violence in a COVID-19 environment what are the implications for security?