South Africa is a violent society. We see evidence of this daily via the popular media, with incidents being broadcast worldwide. It is evidenced in the public space such as the highly publicised case of Andries Tatane (city press [sa]), who protesting against poor service delivery was killed by police in an incident that was broadcast all over the world, and the privacy of homes, such as the internationally publicised Oscar Pistorius trial, a SA sporting icon who shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp (news24 [sa]).The workplace is but a microcosm of this violent society. Despite the violent nature of our society, workplace violence as a phenomenon is perhaps not well understood and further academic and scientific scrutiny is required, in particular in relation to programmes and interventions addressing this scourge. Internationally, scholars and academics have completed a number of research studies highlighting the plight of the bullied worker. This has escalated awareness of the issues, mainly in the developed world. In developing countries, such as South Africa, the phenomenon has received some attention, judging by the research over the last few years but incidents are still mostly unrecorded and interventions require evaluation, in order to assess true impact.
The one sector in which workplace violence has received some attention is the healthcare sector. There are many reasons for this, such as the fact that the healthcare sector is female-dominated. Service users are sometimes mentally disturbed, and locations are often in dangerous, crime-ridden areas. The sector is thus vulnerable to workplace violence.
The literature study revealed significant levels of workplace violence across the world, with Hinchberger (2009:37) noting that the epidemic of violence against nurses globally is of growing concern. Health care workers generally are exposed to a number of factors that increase their risk for physical and verbal violence notes Gillespie, Gates, Faan, Miller & Howard (2010:177) such as working with the public, age, gender, working hours and working with psychiatric patients.
The Gauteng Department of Health decided to tackle this phenomenon of workplace violence and, in 2006, introduced a programme for managing workplace violence. This programme was positioned in the Employee Wellness programme of the department, and included a component on training. The aim of this research study was thus to evaluate the impact of this Management of Workplace Violence training programme. The research problem, therefore, was the fact that the lack of evaluative knowledge on the management of workplace violence programmes results in uncertainty as to the effectiveness of interventions. The study made use of both quantitative and qualitative research approaches.
The overall findings of the study revealed that the Management of Violence in the Workplace training programme and factors relating to it contributed to a positive shift in knowledge on aspects like policy being a driver of reporting, costs associated with workplace violence, and knowledge of the potential role-players responsible for managing workplace violence. The training was less effective in increasing knowledge on other issues, such as measures for mitigating workplace violence.
The training programme was also effective in positively shifting attitudes relating to workplace violence, especially on issues of whether workplace violence is a serious phenomenon, whether verbal abuse constitutes workplace violence, whether the health sector is a vulnerable sector and whether training is an effective measure for mitigating workplace violence. It was, however, less effective when it came to changing the attitudes and beliefs relating to insight into the participants’ own behaviour as far as workplace violence is concerned. In addition, it also appeared to be less effective in persuading participants that they could have a significant influence on the mitigation of workplace violence through a number of key interventions and changing some basic behaviour that was within the realm of their daily functioning.
The training programme had a lesser impact on skills development in that, after the training, participants did not believe that it had equipped them with skills for actively managing workplace violence.
It is thus strongly recommended that training should form but one component of a comprehensive workplace strategy. The latter would include a multi-level focus on policy, procedures, leadership, organisational culture, awareness, security measures and reporting and recording. The EAP, under the leadership of HR, could be a reporting structure for such an initiative.