For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind. ~ Eleanor Everet
When I first started working on this piece there was the very real instinct not to bring it to you. Not for any awful reason but in a magical thinking kind of way, hoping that in not discussing the topic of safety we’d all be safe. Magical thinking at its best. Then there was the mass shooting in Paris, then the one in San Bernardino, CA at the Christmas party and then much closer to where I work, a colleague was attacked in her home office by a client. Time to talk about this important, if not heartwarming, reality.
Violence happens in the work place. The San Bernardino shooting has been ruled an act of terrorism but that does not change the fact that one of the shooters was a co-worker of those who were murdered and injured. A quick google search will reveal that there are no professions which haven’t experienced someone – a client, a random person, a co-worker – becoming violent.
It doesn’t take much to think your safety through so here are some suggestions for you when thinking about what it takes to be secure:
Listen to your gut – if a client or situation gives you that feeling that something’s not right LISTEN TO IT! Read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker for further confirmation of this point.
Make sure you have an ‘out’ – out of the office, out of the situation. Do not block your door or make it hard to get out of where you are. On the flip side don’t try to restrict your client from leaving.
Screen and schedule new or unpredictable clients for times when your office is most busy or populated. Anyone has the capacity to become unpredictable but some people are more volatile than others. Screening isn’t a guarantee of anything and it is best not to rely on it but it does start you off.
Carry a phone with you. In the age of small cell phones you have no excuse not to.
Let others know where you are or expect to be.
Lock the door after hours or before others have arrived in the office so that you can’t be surprised. I am not suggesting locking yourself inside, only that no one without a key can’t get in.
Give your colleagues permission to knock or linger outside your door if they hear the volume go up inside and do the same for them.
Feel free to lie. Yep, you heard me. If a client is making you feel uncomfortable say whatever you need to say to get out of there.
For those whose work requires home visits the suggestions are very much the same with one exception; bring as little into a home as possible. Leave at home or in your car, if it’s safe, the majority of your wallet or anything else of value. Make sure your office or someone else knows where you’re going to be and for how long. Above all, listen to your instincts. A professional I know was once told by the family that the barking, scary looking dog was really, “fine” and not to worry. She worried and indeed the dog was not friendly.
Be mindful of potential weapons in your office/around you. Heavy objects that we think of as nice decorations can be used against us. While you’re at it, make sure that the pictures you have up aren’t of your family or would give your clients clues about where you live or what you drive. Sound paranoid? Not until a client starts to make inappropriate comments about what they’re looking at.
Remember that our clients can be curious about us personally so it is wise to keep an eye out for those less than harmless clients who may wish to follow us home. Yes, this does happen.
Wellness means taking care of ourselves as whole human beings. I don’t wish to scare anyone or to leave you thinking, “she’s lost it now…” but I do want you to at least acknowledge the risks we choose to tolerate and how to best take care of ourselves in the face of those risks.
If this concerns you or you wish to speak more your personal options please don’t hesitate to contact me; I’m not a personal safety expert but I am a good listener and have given this area a great deal of thought. Perhaps together we can formulate a plan which works well for you or find someone who can help you do that.