Insurers long ago developed tools to perform risk modeling for natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. But Aon Corp. has launched a different kind of venture to help its clients reduce workplace violence.Realizing the great amount of pressure on its corporate clients to understand the dynamics that contribute to workplace aggression, Aon in July aligned itself with the Center for Aggression Management (CAM), a Winter Park, Fla.-based organization dedicated to identifying, measuring and preventing risks related to workplace aggression and violence.

Human aggression in the workplace is similar to natural disasters: Both are volatile events that can strike without warning, and are powerful enough to cause long recovery periods for innocent bystanders.

Workplace violence can have significant effects on a business and its personnel. Research indicates that hidden hard costs attributed to aggression in the workplace are substantial, in some cases totalling 4.8 days of lost productivity per employee per year, as a result of absenteeism caused by aggressive co-workers.

Additionally, employee aggression can result in high turnover, presenteeism (employees who are on the job but significantly distracted), passive- aggressive behavior, decreased employee and customer satisfaction and loss of morale and motivation.

Building awareness

As part of the Aon/CAM alliance, Aon plans to license the center's aggression management program to help clients develop policies and procedures to identify and mitigate these kind of risks. Aon, which is based in Chicago, also plans to provide clients with diagnostic techniques to measure hard costs associated with aggression in the workplace.

Aon also hired Dr. John Byrnes, the center's founder and director, as a full-time consultant. Byrnes, who launched CAM in 1993, has conducted seminars and workshops for clients such as the United States Postal Service, NASA, Disney Development Co. and the U.S. Army Center for Civilian Human Resource Management.

Now, Byrnes is preparing to engage Aon's clients who wish to implement a higher level of vigilance within the day-to-day workplace environment, where pressure on workers to perform seems to mount more each year.

Offering training at Aon clients' facilities, Byrnes also hopes to eventually offer an e-learning application for the program. Both Aon and CAM are using their corporate Web sites, located at www.aon.com and www.aggressionmanagement.com, to build awareness of the program.

"This program is an important addition to our already diverse range of crisis management services," says Bill Harrison, managing director of Aon's crisis management practice. "In our continuing effort to help clients identify, prevent and manage crisis-related risks within our crisis management practice, we believe that the center will be an invaluable asset to our family of consulting services."

Lacking the internal competencies to understand the dynamics of workplace aggression, Aon's venture with CAM is seen as a logical fit, according to industry officials.

"Insurers have decades of experience cultivating in-house risk management practices, mainly through their underwriting units," says P. J. Crowley, vice president for the New York-based Insurance Information Institute. "They've been able to assess multiple factors of a natural disaster-such as how a particular structure can withstand wind loads during a hurricane or tornado. It's all essential to risk mitigation, and it's critical because the scope of risk determines cost of coverage."

Sifting for specialists

Indeed, insurers such as Aon-rather than assessing and managing risk using only traditional means-are thinking outside the box and aligning with organizations that have specialized expertise in niche risk management areas.

"Over the past two years, counter-terrorism has been a prime example of insurers looking externally to manage risk, such as (global insurance broker) Marsh's risk modeling program for terrorism," Crowley says.

Aon has a counter-terrorism program in its disaster management portfolio as well, and is always seeking to add programs to the portfolio. Incidents of workplace violence occur everyday-with some of the incidents, such as the workplace shootings that recently occurred in Chicago and Meridien, Miss., receiving national attention.

However, a high number of incidents never receive this attention, but yet still have the same damaging implications on a business.

In 2001, Aon's Harrison had a chance to experience Byrnes' corporate training program on aggression management, and came away a believer. From that point, Harrison viewed the center as a perfect candidate to join Aon's growing disaster management portfolio, which includes business continuity, counter-terrorism, corporate security, environmental security, product tampering, kidnapping and evacuation planning.

In July, Aon struck a deal with Byrnes to license the center. Byrnes will now leverage Aon's resources-both its internal staffing and its clients-to build a coalition of users. Aon, in turn, will have another tool in its arsenal to sell to corporate clients. "This alliance is a perfect fit for us," says Harrison. "We intend to bring this to as many clients as possible."

One selling point of the program is that unlike a disaster management program that can only mitigate losses after the fact, CAM provides a methodology to prevent workplace aggression in the first place. And, if a workplace incident does occur, CAM can then provide a loss control plan of action.

"Aggression management is one step ahead of conflict resolution, which occurs after the fact," explains Byrnes. "I have designed a set of diagnostics that enable corporate supervisors to measure and monitor aggression levels prior to a conflict taking place. It builds on the way that law enforcement officials measure body language to gauge aggression in individuals."

Byrnes' training program is built on what he calls "human technology" rather than software tools. The training is typically offered over a half-day, full-day, or several-day period.

When training commences, it's often driven by a significant level of role playing and mental gymnastics. "This is not a reactionary program. Supervisors come away from training with the ability to foresee a conflict coming. It becomes embedded into their intuition," he says.

Although the program emphasizes human interaction, technology will have a role in Aon's initiative. The two groups will use each other's Web site's to generate interest and provide pertinent details for clients considering enlisting in the program. Aon's Web site offers a hyperlink directly to the CAM site for its clients to view.

The nature of corporate training does not often lend itself to flexibility. From a logistics standpoint, it's not particularly convenient or cost-effective to bring corporate supervisors together in one centralized location. Offering training programs electronically via e-learning or through a CD-ROM have been viewed as excellent alternatives to on-site training.

New York-based Citigate Global Intelligence & Security (CGIS), a provider of corporate security and workplace violence avoidance and response solutions, last spring launched a CD ROM-based training program titled, "Avoiding Violence in Our Workplace," which teaches frontline workers how to identify, mitigate and report potential violence in the workplace.

A CD-ROM format has the ability to cost-effectively educate frontline workers to spot and report a potential incident before it occurs, says Paul Viollis, leader of CGIS' Security Services Practice, who moderates the CD-ROM program.

"In the past, violence-prevention training was typically available only to managers because gathering numerous frontline personnel into a classroom was too expensive," Viollis says.

"The CD-ROM format enables organizations to cost-effectively educate a large number of workers across all levels, which, in turn, reduces the risk of violence and eliminates costs associated with post-incident response and litigation."

Busy schedules

The hour-long course is divided into three 20-minute training segments, which is ideal for employees with busy schedules who ordinarily might skip live training.

While Aon and CAM do not offer their program via CD-ROM, the partners do offer videocassette tapes that are industry-specific. And, in the near future, the group plans to offer training remotely via e-learning.

CAM, which is partnering with a Birmingham, Ala.-based KMS to provide training remotely, has to iron out some technical issues before it can proceed with the plan.

"The e-learning program will be ideal for a company such as a convenience store chain, which has managers scattered all over the country," says Byrnes.

Whichever format clients use, Aon expects the training to have an effect on reducing workplace violence. Already, Aon has received some positive feedback from clients following training, Harrison says.

Aon will begin marketing the program to existing clients and deploy it as part of sales presentations. Aon has corporate clients in industries sich as pharmaceutical, consumer goods, environmental and entertainment. And each has its own unique set of workplace circumstances.

One positive element of the CAM program: It's modular so it can be adapted to any corporation or industry.

"I think that we're much more than an insurance brokerage provider that matches a client's risk with an appropriate insurance product," Harrison explains. "We try to find solutions that can mitigate risk in the first place. Aligning with the center is an example of that."

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