Introduction Queues are inherent to service encounters, as it is not always possible to provide service to all clients at the exact moment they request service. Queues involve waiting for a service in a specific place that might also be crowded, they obstruct the client’s’ goal of receiving service, and at times lead clients to mistreat service providers and in extreme cases even attack them violently. We show, in a hospital setting, that perceived predicted future wait and load can buffer the causes of violence towards service staff. Methods We combine objective data on crowdedness, reports of violence, and durations of time people waited, with psychological measures of perceived load and perceived future wait, collected from 226 people in the Emergency Department (ED) of a large hospital. Visitors to the ED were recruited as they waited for service. They indicated their perceived load in the ED and their perceived remaining wait for service. This data was then triangulated with objective operational data regarding the actual number of people waiting for service (i.e., crowdedness) and objective data regarding staff calls to security to stop violent accounts. Results We find that with increased crowdedness, there are more calls to security reporting violence. However, this relationship is moderated by two factors: when people perceive the future wait to be short and when they perceive the load on the system to be high. Moreover, a three-way interaction shows that crowdedness is associated with more incidents of violence, however high perceived load and low perceived future wait are associated with fewer violent incidents. Conclusions This paper demonstrates the relationship between crowded queues and violence towards service staff, and suggests two psychological mechanisms for buffering such violence: reducing perceived future wait and elevating perceived load.
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