Reviews
Edited by Ronald J Burke and Cary L Cooper, Routledge, £92 hardback (£35.99 eBook) *

Violence and Abuse in and around Organisations

It’s a sad fact that almost anyone who deals with the public is at risk of verbal abuse and physical violence. It is impossible to work as a teacher, police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse or care worker without facing this hazard. It’s also no coincidence that these occupations report some of the highest rates of sickness absence due to stress. 

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Rating:

 

 

Burke and Cooper’s addition to Routledge’s stable of writing on the psychological and behavioural aspects of risk deals with a vital and topical issue. It’s a collection of papers by more than 50 contributors, mostly psychologists and sociologists – but also lawyers and healthcare professionals. Although the contributions come from around the world, US, Canadian and Australian organisations are particularly well-represented.

After a scene-setting foreword, the book is organised in six parts. The first considers evidence on the incidence of violence in healthcare, suicide in the workplace and how supervisors’ actions can help to minimise patient aggression. Next, it looks at different types of violence and abuse, aspects of workplace relationships, and exploitation (modern slavery and “precarious” employment in the gig economy and zero-hours contracts). There is a short section on accidents and health and safety. Then five papers evaluate different interventions to reduce violence and abuse.

The terms of reference are broad: they include workplace attack and abuse but also terrorism, military settings and violence to, and by, the police. There is a lot on low-level abuse, often referred to here, rather quaintly, as “workplace incivility”.

As a collection of papers, it offers a solid review of a key topic. For an academic book it is also surprisingly readable. But I became very impatient with the lack of clear direction on how to resolve some of these problems in the workplace. Most of the papers contain extensive literature reviews but little by the way of conclusion or practical recommendation.

For example, the paper on the sources, prevalence and consequences of workplace bullying offers 16 pages of discussion and 11 pages of references but there’s just one paragraph on the practical implications. The same is true of the “causes of workplace accidents” chapter. When clear conclusions are reached, they are often obvious ones: for example, “(modern) slavery is an important issue” or (I paraphrase) “what supervisors do is really important in defining acceptable workplace behaviour”.

The book’s most frequently repeated plea is for “more research”: how unsurprising – and self-serving – in a book written by those who make their living doing just that.

Routledge | (www.routledge.com)

* All prices correct at the time of review

 

Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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