The ILO’s Sectoral Activities Department has organized a Meeting of experts to be held from 8 to 15 October 2003 in Geneva, to consider and review a draft and to adopt a Code of practice on Violence and stress at work in services: A threat to productivity and decent work. In services sectors, downsizing, freezes or cuts in salaries, increasing workloads and performance targets, longer hours, and more subcontracting and temporary work are among the potential stressors that can foster a climate of tension driven by uncertainty, exasperation and vulnerability. Work stress and workplace violence negatively affect the performance and efficiency of organizations, mainly through increased sick leave, absenteeism and turnover, lower quality of service, productivity and motivation, and professional dissatisfaction. In addition to preventive action on violence and stress, legal and medical assistance can be offered to staff who are victims of violence; legislation and practical measures can be adopted to sanction violent acts; and community or national campaigns can be organized to spotlight and reduce sources of violence in services.
The ILO Sectoral Fact Sheets provide several short studies on specific services sectors or subsectors, but make no attempt to be exhaustive or cover all relevant sectors. In addition, Sectoral Working papers have been or are being prepared on a number of sectors and subsectors, in relation to violence and stress.
While no occupation is immune from violence, some are at greater risk (Chappelle and Di Martino 2000), such as those in the service sectors. Five factors tend to define the greater risk in the service sectors: handling money and valuables; providing care; advice or training; carrying out inspection or enforcement duties; working with mentally disturbed, drunk, or potentially violent people; and working alone.
As an example, in a 1994 study of workplace violence in Sweden, Nordin (1995, p. 3) found that nearly 24 per cent of all workplace violence occurs in the service sectors. In the United States, Jenkins (1996, p. 4) found that retail trades, services, and transportation industries accounted for 64 per cent of all workplace homicides. In addition, of all “high risk” occupations, taxi drivers had the highest homicide rates per 100,000 workers.
Factors causing stress are all in some way or another related to work in the education sector. For example, role ambiguity is a big stressor in the education sector, especially in recent times when educational systems are undergoing monumental reforms. Role competency may also cause stress because feelings of incompetence are not only driven by change but by such simple facts that some educators are teaching out of their content areas of expertise.
In the workplace violence literature, we saw that working with the mentally ill and/or with violent individuals tended to increase service workers’ risk of work place violence or crime. Educators are also likely to work with or interact with individuals with these profiles, whether they are students, parents, colleagues, or strangers. The probability of educators coming into contact with these individuals is clearly lower than for other service workers such as police officers or mental health workers, but the likelihood exists and is therefore listed.