Violence and stress

Workplace Violence in Services Sectors

In services sectors, downsizing, freezes or cuts in salaries, increasing workloads and performance targets, longer hours, and more subcontracting and temporary work are potential stressors that can foster a climate of tension leading to work stress and workplace violence. Negative effects on the performance and efficiency of organizations include increased sick leave, absenteeism and turnover, lower quality of service, productivity and motivation, and professional dissatisfaction. Measures to be taken include preventive action on violence and stress, legal and medical assistance to staff who are victims of violence; legislation and practical measures to sanction violent acts; and community or national campaigns to spotlight and reduce sources of violence in services.

A Meeting of Experts organized by, the ILO’s Sectoral Policies Programme from 8 to 15 October 2003, adopted a Code of Practice on Workplace Violence in Services Sectors and Measures to Combat this Phenomenon.



Stress affecting education workers has multiple causes, such as the intense interpersonal relations which characterize educational work; deep-seated changes in the content and modes of delivery of educational services; lack of autonomy, and demands for accountability about academic performance from students, parents and political leaders. In addition, the individual fears and anxieties affect to the level of stress experienced. Workplace stress in education affects mainly teachers and school administrators.

The effects of violence are felt essentially in the teaching and learning environment, which may become poisoned, with reduced educational outcomes. Fear and apprehension affect students and teachers alike. Staff targeted by violent acts tend to have higher rates of absenteeism, may be obliged to stop work, and make claims on educational employers for medical treatment and social assistance. All of these issues have a direct impact on operating costs. The staff targeted by violent acts may also request reclassification or early retirement, thereby provoking loss of skilled professional labour, with negative implications for student learning.

Preventing, reducing and coping with violence and/or stress in education depend on the nature of the problem, but generally imply involvement of a range of actors and response levels. Special measures to prevent violence include developing safe schools policies and programmes; redesigning school access; establishing crisis management teams, redesigning duties; providing a safer physical environment; and training students and staff to prevent interpersonal violence.

  1. Violence and stress in education workplaces

Hotel; catering; tourism

Phenomena related to violence and stress at work are cross-cutting for all sectors. They are, however, especially common in customer-receiving services sectors, like the Hotels, restaurants and tourism sector. Unexpected situations at the customer interface, including violence and harassment, as well as sector specific issues, such as irregular working hours. Workers or employers in restaurants and hotels are not always well prepared to cope with these kinds of situations, and studies point towards improving the capacity to cope with uncertainty as a key component of reducing stress and violence. The ILO works together with its constituents to improve knowledge on stress-producing elements and ways to reduce them.

  1. Violence at work in hotels, catering and tourism
Public emergency services

Violence and stress (verbal abuse, physical violence, bullying and mobbing, racial and sexual harassment) at the workplace can have grave psychological and physical consequences on one hand for the workers themselves and on the other hand for the people who are relying on them, especially when it concerns the public emergency services (ambulance staff, public medical emergency service, fire fighting, and police). These issues were addressed in the Joint Meeting on Public Emergency Services: Social Dialogue in a Changing Environment, which adopted the Guidelines on Social Dialogue in Public Emergency Services in a Changing Environment in 2003.

Stress management and counselling are key issues for emergency services workers, many of whom are seriously affected psychologically by critical incidents specifically related to their jobs, such as death, serious injuries, and life-threatening situations. For those who have dealt directly with or survived such incidents, there is often a period of denial, followed by critical incident stress (CIS) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may include symptoms such as anger, recurrent recollections or dreams of the event, hyper-vigilance, diminished interest in activities, estrangement from other persons, difficulty concentrating and recollecting facts. Emergency services workers have high rates of PTSD, especially after their rescue efforts fail to save lives. To address this, many services now provide critical incident stress debriefing as part of organizational stress management programmes. In these programmes, affected workers discuss the event and their feelings, usually in the presence of a trained mental health worker.

  1. Guidelines on Social Dialogue in Public Emergency Services in a Changing Environment