Are Healthcare Professionals Optimistic About Workplace Violence?

John Chapin, PhD; Cora Dietrich Koller, JD


Online J Issues Nurs. 2022;27(3) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Healthcare workers are at an elevated risk of workplace violence. Optimistic bias is the misperception that bad things happen to other people. This article discusses the study methods that included a convenience sample (n = 488) of healthcare professionals in multiple hospitals in one region. A survey of these professionals to explore potential bias related to workplace violence found that participants exhibited realistic (or pessimistic) risk perception about the likelihood of experiencing workplace violence. Front-line workers (e.g., nurses and interns) exhibited pessimistic bias, believing they were more likely than professionals in other fields to experience physical violence at work. Risk perception was related to age with young professionals being more optimistic. The discussion section offers implications for practice to incorporate safety measures that can mitigate risk of workplace violence.


Workplace violence (WPV) is the intentional use of power, threatened or actual, against another person or a group, in work-related circumstances that may result in injury, death, or psychological harm (Cooper & Swanson, 2002). It includes any act or threat of physical violence; harassment (including racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual harassment); intimidation; or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. WPV threatens the victim's health, safety, or well-being and can have mild, moderate, or severe effects on physical and mental health, morale, and productivity. In healthcare or social services settings, workplace violence affects and involves employees, clients, patients, customers, consumers, and visitors.

Workplace violence costs the United States $151 billion per year, with an average of $250,000 per incident. These figures do not capture hidden costs of WPV-related incidents, such as emotional pain, depression, isolation and anxiety (United States [U.S.] Department of Labor, 2022).

Seventy five percent of the nearly 25, 000 workplace assaults reported annually occurred in healthcare and social services settings (Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA], 2016). Healthcare workers are 20% more likely than other workers to experience violence by other employees (The Joint Commission, 2018). They are four times more likely to take time off work for workplace violence-related injuries than for other injuries. Eighty-five percent of non-fatal workplace violence-related incidents occur in healthcare or social service-related industries (McPhaul & Lipscomb, 2004).