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  • Jim Willis

Are your employees ready for the coming pushback?


Despite recent positive attention given to line crews, field employees, and other essential workers, the fact remains that employee-focused violence is on the rise. However, to coin an old saying, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The problem: Right now, the coronavirus pandemic has people everywhere are under tremendous stress. National leaders are at odds over what to do. Governments are taking draconian steps in the name of curbing the pandemic. And, the press is pumping out 24/7 sensationalized coverage that fans the flames of fear and trepidation. Little thought is given to the mental fatigue and emotional oppression all of this is creating. With fear, loneliness, and frustration growing, people are starting to lash out.


People are trying to cope with exasperating, multilayered anxiety with little access to traditional emotional support. This anxiety starts with the fear of the virus itself. It’s an unseen adversary that everyone keeps hearing about, but so far, few have experienced. Still, it keeps people locked in their homes waiting. Waiting with a sense of foreboding; like something sinister lurking in the dark.


This anxiety is worsened by the apprehension of sudden economic insecurity and the stress of facing a catastrophic financial situation with no one offering real answers or solutions. These feelings of fear and doubt are intensified by the separation-anxiety of being isolated from friends and loved ones, and familiar routines and places.


Next, add agitators to this volatile mix of emotions. Shortages, real and rumored, of essential goods that have people fighting over everyday objects. Political leaders jockeying for power, position, and attention. And relentless media coverage that won't let people forget their situation long enough to catch a breath - the around the clock sensationalized news, the steady stream of TV ads filled with “reassuring” platitudes, and the droves of contradictory talking heads that just will not shut up.


Finally, remove access to traditional emotional support systems: a church, a social setting, a family gathering, or a trusted counselor, and force people to cope in seclusion. Now you have an unstable, emotionally unbalanced environment, pressurized by unrelenting stress.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone is “ok”; they’re not. For every person that is coping well, another person is falling deeper into depression, another’s fears are worsening, while another becomes more and more frustrated, and another grows angrier by the day. There’s a pushback coming, and it's coming hard. Every day more and more people become virtual walking powder kegs that can be set off with the slightest provocation.


The impact: So, what does this have to do with field employees? This mounting anxiety has added another dimension of threat to an already hostile environment. And it’s a threat with triggers hidden in everyday activities. And like the PTSD that veterans often endure, the effects of this anxiety will linger long after the initial crisis is over.


Field crews are in a unique situation in this environment. Before the COVID-19 situation, utility workers and other field employees were already facing increased cynicism. Now, with even fewer constructive community contact opportunities, and fear growing by leaps and bounds, a field crew in the yard or even in front of the house, is likely to be met with hostility.


It’s important to realize that when people are under sustained duress, the smallest things can become monumental issues. Simply walking around a person’s house can cause suspicion. Parking in a driveway can lead to intense aggression. An unexpected knock on the door can incite fear and provoke an irrational response.


This new threat isn’t so much an artillery barrage as it is a minefield. A landscape littered with hidden dangers that field workers must traverse. To safely navigate this new terrain, your employees need to hone three specific skills. They need solid self-protection practices to fend off the virus itself. Improved awareness to notice subtle signs of hostility and situational deterioration. And enhanced de-escalation techniques to help check mounting aggression. The first is straight forward. There are known safety procedures that help ward off the virus. But situational awareness and de-escalation are approached-based skills that require a different type of training. And, as tough as things may be for your organization, now isn’t the time to skimp on training.


The challenge: Finding the right training program can be challenging. Your search will turn up “security trainers” everywhere, especially in law enforcement, military, and martial arts communities. Many are excellent trainers, but there are also charlatans in the mix. When it comes to the program itself, frankly there’s a lot of cut-and-paste crap out there. And many good programs will focus on tactics and technique instead of fluid-response. Tactics are great if you’re a SWAT officer, but not that useful for field crews.


Civilian security training isn’t the same as law enforcement, military, or martial arts. It isn’t combatives, and it isn’t all theory, formula, or technique. To be effective, civilian training needs to be topic-centric, approach-based, and industry/sector-specific.


Look for training that addresses the problems faced by your employees and find a trainer that understands the unique needs of the profession. Employees are your most valued resource. Security training is an investment into that resource, so choose wisely.


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