Another Hurdle to RTO; Another Reason to Resign?

Published June 9, 2022

Gun violence erupting this week killed nearly 20 people and left more than 60 others injured just weeks after the deadly attacks in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa, according to tallies from various news organizations. These mass murders at previously-thought “safe spaces” – churches, hospitals, schools – are also workplaces for thousands of Americans nationwide. No doubt American workers are assessing this prominent risk, as employers grapple with increasing quits and return-to-office plans, according to one workplace authority.

“Over two years into a pandemic, workers and employers alike want to resume some sense of normalcy, but the serious and tragic gun violence across the nation will certainly contribute to a hesitancy toward that end,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“The overwhelming feeling right now is that a mass shooting could happen anywhere at any time to anyone,” he added.

Workplace shootings came to national prominence in 1986, when a mail carrier in Edmond, OK killed 14 co-workers and wounded 7 others using .45 caliber hand guns. In 2008, 421 workers died from shootings in the workplace, with 30 multiple-fatality incidents. On average, there were 2 victims per incident, according to a report published in 2010 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS stopped providing data on shooting deaths in the workplace in 2010, when 405 shooting fatalities were recorded. (Download more BLS Workplace Fatality data here).

More recent data suggests a real crisis. In 2021, there were 692 mass shootings and over 45,000 deaths from gun violence, according to Gun Violence Archive. That’s up from 417 mass shooting events and over 39,000 deaths in 2019. So far this year, the organization has recorded 247 mass shooting events.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2020, 45,222 died from gun-related violence, the most on record, and up 14% from the 39,707 recorded in 2019. The five states with the highest rates of gun deaths per 100,000 people were Louisiana (26.3%), Wyoming (25.9%), Missouri (23.9%), Alabama (23.6%), and Alaska (23.5%). The states with the lowest rates were Hawaii (3.4%), Massachusetts (3.7%), New Jersey (5.0%), Rhode Island (5.1%), New York (5.3%), and Connecticut (6.0%).

Members of Congress from both parties have spoken publicly about serious negotiations to pass gun restrictions in the wake of recent, deadly shootings. If this happens quickly, it will be a positive for both workers and employers.

U.S. Employers Must Contend with Excessive Gun Violence 

“Americans are worried for their safety. Many workers are already pushing back on their employers’ return-to-office plans, for their mental health, for flexibility, to alleviate burnout. Others are leaving their jobs entirely,” said Challenger.

In light of the Uvalde shooting echoing Sandy Hook and Parkland attacks, parents may be even more cautious about coming into the office after years of trying to protect their children from the pandemic. According to a Challenger survey conducted in July 2021 of 172 employers, 45% reported they were facing pushback from women, mothers, and parents, specifically. Though at the time, this was due to safety concerns over COVID and childcare issues, gun violence at schools can create similar concerns.

Meanwhile, a recent survey from Goodhire of 3,500 managers and published in April found just over half of managers think their workers want to return full-time in the office. Another survey from ADP found 64% of workers would consider quitting if asked to return to the office full-time.

“This is very much a mental health and burnout issue. We know workers want some sort of flexible work environment. The added stressor of gun violence could absolutely disrupt any companies’ plans to return to in-person work, create significant pushback, and/or cause increased resignations,” said Challenger.

Due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, employers renewed their focus on mental health concerns. According to a Challenger survey conducted in February, 92% of 150 employers were concerned about their employees’ mental health.

“Focusing on mental health and providing support is crucial right now. This may mean allowing workers to remain remote, offering mental health benefits, or even hosting some sort of group counseling for your teams on this issue,” said Challenger.

“In the past, employers addressed this issue by hiring consultants to run active shooter drills and shore up building security. While very important tools, leaders may want to really connect with teams to ensure they feel safe,” said Challenger.

“Empathy in leadership, so important over the last two years, is still warranted if employers want to keep their talent. Unless gun violence is meaningfully addressed, it could lead to a deepening talent drain within any organization,” he added.

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