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1 in 4 Canadian workers who deal with the public face increased aggression, conflict: survey

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Employees who deal with the public have seen an increase in aggression and conflict, according to a recent survey, and some experts say it’s important for employees to be trained to manage those situations.

The May 2022 Mental Health Index found 20 per cent of Canadians have experienced increased conflict and/or aggression at work.

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Paula Allen, LifeWorks global leader, research and total wellbeing, said the working population has had their mental health impacted since the pandemic and are now also dealing with the effects of the war in Ukraine and inflation.

“As a result of all the strain that we’ve been under, our population is definitely on edge,” Allen said.

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For those who deal directly with the public, LifeWorks found one in four are seeing an increase in conflict.

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Allen says workplaces need to provide their employees with training on how to de-escalate tense situations and move forward with their well-being.

Some employers may be required to have policies that prevent people from being harassed, but Allen said it shouldn’t stop there, and that’s where training comes in.

“We have to anticipate that the policy alone doesn’t protect you enough when you’re actually in the moment,” Allen said.

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Hugh Pelmore, president of Arete Safety and Protection Inc., said if employees have the proper training, they are less stressed out in the workplace.

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“Personal stress levels will drop, their confidence levels will increase, and they’ll be able to manage those volatile and challenging customer situations.”

Pelmore said companies that participate in the training will also see improvements in employee retention and productivity levels.

With increasingly volatile environments for retail employees, Pelmore said staff are not keen to face some of the potential challenges without the right tools.

“If you give them the skill set, then they are far more comfortable and you might be able to keep them,” Pelmore said.

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Arete Safety and Protection Inc. customizes their courses to suit the workplace they are working with.

“We look at the top three to five interactions that can lead to customers going through the continuum from being a little upset, agitated, frustrated — and that’s over things like lineups, delays, returns, product concerns (and) service issues.”

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From there, the trainers build those into role-play scenarios that go over customers or clients who may have a low level of anger, all the way up to those who are verbally abusive or threatening violence.

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Pelmore said Arete trains employees in almost every industry from utilities, banking, retail, convenience stores, security guards and social workers.

Locally, they’ve trained staff from SGI and Saskatoon Tribal Council.

Arete offers in-person training, customized live webinars and an e-learning product.

Pelmore said while their programs range in cost, it’s about $140 to $175 per person for training.

For companies interested in the training but may be deterred due to turnover, Pelmore said the e-learning product allows for remote training in a short period of time.

Pelmore likened de-escalation training to learning first aid and CPR — those who take the training and practice it will be able to manage a situation rather than freezing.

“If you’re not prepared and things do happen, then there’s way more potential for trauma so it’s just such an important thing,” Pelmore said.

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