How to prevent aggression in the workplace

One in 6 workers experiences aggression and violence in the workplace. As an employer, you are responsible for a safe working environment. Find out what measures you can use to prevent aggression among colleagues and managers.

Inappropriate behaviour, such as aggression, violence, threats, and bullying, leads to health problems (in Dutch) such as anxiety, mental health issues, and sleep disorders. “This is unpleasant for your staff and costs you money as an employer. For example, because of higher absenteeism and lower labour productivity”, says Sheila Peeters, staff company social worker and confidential advisor at ArboNed. With an anti-aggression policy, you can prevent conflicts in the workplace. We explain how to create such a policy.

Identify risks

Aggression, violence, threats, and bullying in the workplace are referred to as psychosocial strain in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Arbowet). This includes both physical aggression, such as kicking and hitting, and verbal aggression, such as threatening, discriminating against, or cursing at someone. Protect your workers and create workplace safety policies. This is mandatory under the Arbowet (in Dutch) if you employ staff. You identify the risks with a risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E). This will help you understand the nature and main triggers of aggression, such as an excessive workload.

Action plan

The next step of your RI&E is an action plan (in Dutch) for social safety in the workplace. The plan sets out measures you use to prevent aggression and violence. For example, you agree that employees must treat each other respectfully and that aggression is never allowed. And you note down what has been agreed regarding penalties for breaking these rules. You compile all of these rules in a single document, the code of conduct. This handbook (in Dutch) from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment will help you draw up a code of conduct for your business.

Testing safety in the workplace

You then have the inventory and action plan reviewed (in Dutch) by an occupational health and safety expert. This test is mandatory only if you have more than 25 employees.


Finally, you implement your action plan. In doing so, note the points below.


Make sure your employees are aware of your company’s code of conduct. Discuss it at work meetings and during performance appraisals (in Dutch). Include the code of conduct in the employee handbook. This is a record of all agreements with your employees, covering such topics as working hours, leave, and sick leave. Make it clear that breaking rules will result in sanctions such as suspension, an official warning or, in serious cases, dismissal.

Show exemplary behaviour

Create an open culture in which employees hold each other accountable for inappropriate behaviour. Managers (in Dutch) have an important role here. “Managers need to show exemplary behaviour. They must also establish clear frameworks and intervene in incidents where someone threatens someone else or curses at them”, Peeters explains.

Signal in time

Spot tensions between your employees in time and prevent them from getting out of hand. According to Peeters, tensions in the workplace often arise from excessive work pressure. “As a result, employees become stressed, and that leads quite quickly to conflicts, especially if someone has a short fuse. So discuss the workload regularly with your staff. See how things can be done better, and resolve the bottlenecks. This makes for less stress and greater job satisfaction.”

Prevent or solve conflicts

Conflicts in the workplace also arise because employees become dissatisfied. For example, because an employee does not feel taken seriously. Peeters recounts an argument at a garage: “A mechanic was supposed to put a quality tick on the work he had done. His foreman told him to also tick off the work done by his colleague, who had forgotten. The mechanic did not want to tick off that work, because he did not have time to check the work himself. He had been criticised several times by the same foreman for work he had not done himself. The foreman called him out on his performance because he was not willing to tick off work his colleagues had done. The mechanic had a problem both with this issue itself and with the way the foreman communicated. The way he sees it, the foreman bosses him about and does not listen to him. The mechanic feels he is not taken seriously, comes into conflict with the foreman, and calls in sick.”

Go for mediation

The argument between the mechanic and his supervisor has since been resolved, Peeters says: “The company manager, the foreman, and the mechanic started talking with each other. Because the mechanic feels heard and because both he and the foreman are involved in the solutions, the tension between them has been resolved.”

There are 6 steps you can take in mediating conflicts:

1. Take action

Do not assume that tensions between or among your employees will disappear on their own. An unresolved conflict will fester until it all bursts out in the open one day.

2. Let parties to a conflict tell their stories

Take each of the parties in a conflict to one side and speak with them behind closed doors. This creates calm and prevents the other colleagues from interfering.

3. Be objective

Listen and state clearly that you are not taking sides. Make it clear that you want to resolve the conflict.

4. Gather the facts

Ask questions so you can find out what is behind the conflict. Name the main problems and say how they are impacting performance at work. Examples may include lower productivity or poor customer service. Make sure the nature of the conflict is clear to everyone. Only then can you start looking for a solution.

5. Discuss possible solutions

Ask both sides to come up with possible solutions. Focus on those that both sides can live with.

6. Make a decision

Choose a solution that will work best all around. Put it in writing and make sure both parties agree to it in writing. Monitor compliance with what has been agreed.

Appoint a confidential adviser

A confidential adviser can be contacted by employees who have reports or complaints about inappropriate behaviour. Among other things, they can provide early assistance to employees who have been harassed, and will look at ways of resolving the problem. They can also refer them, for instance, to a counselling agency such as a mediation specialist. You can appoint one of your own employees as a confidential adviser, or opt for an outside counsellor (in Dutch), for example through your health and safety service provider or trade association.

Record aggression

Record all complaints of workplace aggression and violence. This will give insights into the extent and severity of aggression and violence within your company. Analysing incidents is part of the RI&E. This allows you to see whether your policies are working, or whether they need adjusting.