Workplace Restoration: An Interest-Focused Approach for Work Units or Teams

Conflict that arises in organizations is complex and often driven by a multitude of factors unique to each situation. If ignored, the conflict generally does not get better with time. Unresolved workplace conflict can destroy relationships, create feelings of uncertainty or distrust, erode morale, and negatively impact productivity.

Most organizations are well-equipped with processes to respond to conflict that has been escalated to a complaint or grievance. A formal process may entitle an employee to a fact-finding investigation, hearing, or arbitration before a third-party neutral factfinder, a hearing officer, or an arbitrator. These “rights-focused” approaches to conflict resolution centre on the legal rights of the parties and can be adversarial and competitive.

Many organizations have implemented informal conflict management processes that focus on problem-solving at an early stage, in an open manner and as close to the source of the problem as possible.

Mediation is frequently employed in organizations as an informal conflict management process to resolve differences between individuals. As we have found, workplace mediation can allow those experiencing conflict to engage in a facilitated dialogue that helps them identify shared interests and mutually agree on the next steps to rebuild, or build, a respectful working relationship. As such, it is an “interest-focused” approach to conflict resolution where the employees involved ideally create a “win-win” solution that they are more likely to sustain because it meets their interests.

What is the appropriate informal conflict management process for work teams/units, departments, or perhaps even whole organizations? Workplace Restoration is an “interest-focused” process that is forward-looking and can create win-win solutions to assist larger groups of employees develop and maintain healthy and positive work environments.

While the process is implemented on a greater scale and uses different tools than mediation, Workplace Restoration similarly actively engages employees. In doing so, the process gives employees a voice as they identify what they value in their workplace, their concerns and fears, and any suggestions for resolving commonly identified issues.

Is a Workplace Restoration Right for Your Organization?

Things to consider:

  • There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to Workplace Restoration
  • Meaningful involvement from employees, unions, and management creates buy-in to the process and ownership over the outcome of improving the workplace culture.
  • The needs of each situation must be evaluated through a Workplace Assessment phase followed by the development and implementation of a custom-designed Restoration Plan.
  • Solutions and strategies should be based on the information gathered and varied according to the unique circumstances of each workplace.
  • Restoring the workplace is typically not a quick or easy fix, and regular check-ins on progress will assist the workplace in adjusting initiatives, as necessary.
  • Don’t let lack of follow-through destroy the momentum gained.

Not surprisingly, Workplace Restoration processes are most successfully employed when implemented proactively, guarding against a deteriorating work environment, the inundation of leadership with numerous complaints and grievances, or challenges like employee turnover. Leaders who pay attention to the signs will have a gut feeling that something needs to be done to improve the health of the workplace culture.

Signs that a workplace culture is at risk and may need restoration:   

  • Negative narratives
  • Informal complaints
  • Persistent damaging rumours
  • Increased instances of incivility or disrespect
  • Low morale or apathy
  • Poorly performing team
  • Limited or poor communication
  • Prolonged interpersonal conflict, cliques and/or gossip
  • Negative references to the workplace as “toxic”, “poisoned” or “dysfunctional”

Terms such as “toxic” and “poisoned” are becoming commonly used and may, or may not, include harassing behaviours as legally defined. What they do signify, at the very least, is a negative perception of the workplace environment. Should that perception be prevalent it may become a seedling for behaviours and a culture consistent with that belief.

Workplace Restoration is particularly challenging following the conclusion of a Workplace Investigation, which has all the benefits and disadvantages of the rights-focused process it is.

Workplace Investigations

Investigations are:

  • A necessary part of the system to protect employee entitlements in the workplace
  • Most often commenced by a formal complaint about an incident or event that occurred in the past
  • Confidential and formal to provide for a fair and full investigation
  • The investigator, as an independent third party, gathers evidence and makes a finding as to whether each allegation is substantiated by the evidence
  • Focuses on rights and does not address all the underlying issues that brought the complainant to make a complaint, the future workplace environment, or relationships
  • Can be lengthy and disruptive

Consequently, restoring the damaged relationship between the complainant and respondent after an investigation can be complicated and challenging. In this win/lose scenario, if the allegations are unfounded, the respondent often feels completely exonerated, while the complainant feels the process is flawed and loses faith in the complaint process. If the allegations are founded, the respondent may feel the process is defective which makes their successful reintegration, if appropriate, difficult.

Workplace Restoration Post-Investigation

A Workplace Restoration post-investigation should include a comprehensive and individualized assessment to identify the parties’ broad range of interests and needs. This includes what each would need to be in place for them to participate and what will allow them to move forward. Based on these insights, the restoration plan might include coaching, training, mediation, and operational or structural changes.

The unintended and widespread negative impact the investigation process may have had on the work unit is overlooked after a workplace investigation. For example:

  • Colleagues who may have been directly involved as witnesses will have some sense of the people and incidents under investigation but lack knowledge of the outcome which can create uncertainty and skepticism.
  • If the larger group becomes aware of the situation, confidentiality requirements may leave them in an information vacuum which can create confusion and, possibly, erode trust in each other, leadership, or the complaint and investigation process.
  • The work unit may experience anxiety and fear, decreased morale, and a loss of productivity.
  • Other working relationships may be damaged if gossip or alliances occur.
  • Disruption may be the result of changes to personnel, roles, processes, and workload during, or after, the investigation.

Where restoration of a larger group is required post-investigation, a Workplace Assessment is needed to not only diagnose the root causes of underlying issues but also to identify what is working well. This information-gathering phase should be future-focused and inclusive. As it is not limited to investigating a specific complaint or grievance, customized restoration strategies may include:

  • Mediation between pairs or multi-party mediation
  • Team building exercises
  • Trust building interventions
  • Resetting community norms and expectations
  • Training around conflict management
  • Facilitated opportunities for people to heal
  • Improved communication processes
  • Clarifying policies and supports
  • Operational or structural changes

Workplace Restoration in Practice

The following is a summary of a workplace that experienced disruption and harm during two interconnected investigations that took place over one-and-a-half years. The investigations were significantly delayed by an illness experienced by the investigator. The organization was located in a small town; there were five local managers, 20 full-time permanent staff, some contract employees, and many more seasonal employees; the next level of management and Human Resources were not located at the site. The first investigation consisted of allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by a manager, which were substantiated by the evidence. In the second investigation, the respondent made allegations against nine of his colleagues. The majority of these allegations were not substantiated, and some were found to be in bad faith. The manager, who lived in the small community, was immediately removed from his position at the time of the complaint and was allowed to resign once both investigations were completed.

During the assessment for the Workplace Restoration, managers and permanent employees expressed a high degree of remorse as the manager’s conduct had been an “open secret” that had been tolerated for years as “that’s just what he is like”. The team described themselves as a “family” and had a number of interconnected relationships. Due to the instruction to maintain confidentiality, they felt unable to seek support from individuals they normally would engage with during stressful times. The work unit felt abandoned by management as the senior local manager, a respondent in the second investigation, had to rely on upper management and Human Resources (these personnel were not consistent during the time period of the investigations) to coordinate the investigation and communicate information to the organization.

The Workplace Assessment consisted of confidential interviews with the complainant, all local management, each respondent in the second investigation, others whom management identified as impacted by the investigations, and any others who expressed an interest in being included. Based on the input from these individuals, the following interventions took place, with consideration given to sequencing and timing:

  • Executive leadership and HR attended on-site to provide acknowledgement and make a renewed commitment to ensure a respectful workplace and effective resolution of complaints. They described key learnings from this experience on managing and supporting work teams during an investigation.
  • In-person training for all local management on their prevention and resolution responsibilities under the Respectful Workplace Policy.
  • In-person training for employees on appropriate conduct under the Policy, communication and conflict management skills, and a stepped approach to issue resolution.
  • General information provided on the investigation process.
  • A facilitated peer circle to create a safe and inclusive space for individuals and the workplace community to heal.

Several other issues were identified by the interviewees that were not related to the investigations. Interventions to address these issues included:

  • Overcoming resistance to change by refreshing the strategic plan and multi-year business plan through consultation with employees and providing ongoing communication of changes.
  • Aligning the organizational structure to support strategic objectives.
  • Providing local management with executive leadership and HR support to hold employees accountable for performance.
  • Offering mediation to address negative interpersonal working relationships between two different pairs of employees.
  • Demonstrating procedural fairness in resource management (fair hiring practices).
  • Convening team building workshop(s) with objectives such as gathering feedback on the restoration action plan, providing training, and creating a Team Charter.

Workplace Restoration is an important tool to have in your toolkit when seeking to improve the work environment for teams/units, departments, or a whole organization. As an informal and interest-focused process, it can be best employed proactively when signs of an unhealthy culture emerge.

An inclusive assessment and customized restoration strategy can avoid the unnecessary escalation to formal and rights-focused processes that can cause disruption and damage relationships. Workplace Restoration is also an effective remediation tool to engage a work unit in building a healthy and productive work environment after an investigation.

About the Author

Heather Swartz, M.S.W., C. Med, Acc. FM Emeritus, has been a conflict management professional since 1999. She has delivered a broad range of dispute resolution services across Canada including mediation for workplace, family and civil disputes;  coaching;  fact-finding investigations into workplace discrimination and harassment complaints;  workplace assessment, and workplace restoration. Heather has provided group facilitation services for numerous construction partnering workshops, strategic planning, and consultation forums. She offers customized training in various topics: communication skills and handling difficult conversations, mediation, organizational conflict management, managing employee relationships, and workplace restoration. She has been an instructor for the University of Waterloo in the Certificate in Conflict Management Program at Conrad Grebel University College, McMaster University, the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto, and Trent University. Heather is a Chartered Mediator (C.Med.), a past President of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (ADRIO) and the 2017 recipient of the ADR Institute of Canada (ADRIC) Lionel J. McGowan Regional Award of Excellence.

Heather is a facilitator for Queen’s IRC custom programs, including Workplace Restoration.

Winning Hearts and Minds: Navigating Change in Turbulent Times

We are navigating an era marked by profound transformation. The ramifications of climate change, rising living costs, and global conflicts touch every facet of our lives, reshaping markets, supply chains, and organizational directions while impacting the lives of employees. In the past few years, the pace of change has not only intensified but shows no signs of slowing down. Organizations that previously struggled to drive change are now asking themselves, ‘How will we build a platform for continual adaptation?’

Change is universally difficult, and for many organizations, transformation is essential. Whether the transformation pertains to technology, performance, or diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, deep culture change is imperative to survive. At the same time, organizations face a variety of barriers, from entrenched cultures and rigid structures to varying degrees of leadership commitment. However, one of the most significant and often overlooked obstacles is the human element. Unlike project management, which is structured and predictable, change management is predominantly about people — unpredictable, complex, and often resistant.

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”

– Woodrow Wilson[1]

True transformation necessitates both behavioural and attitudinal shifts. If individuals are unwilling, the path can be laden with mines and punitive measures may only deplete your workforce. The true challenge lies in winning the hearts and minds of the people you wish to influence.  As with everything that pertains to the human condition, that begins with empathy.

“Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through the losses people face.”

– William Bridges[2]

As we walk through the strategy planning process leveraging all the change management tools available, we can also look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand and potentially anticipate resistance. For instance, we can start by asking ourselves, ‘Will this change affect someone’s job security, their ability to provide for their families or their social connections at work? Will it foster fears of demotion or hinder personal career aspirations?’ Often, the answer might be ‘yes’ to a few of these questions; so, how will you create buy-in?

  • Be real: Addressing these concerns head-on is crucial. Leaders must articulate the ‘why’ behind the change. Why is it necessary? What risks do we face by remaining static? What opportunities might we miss if we resist change? What benefits does the change hold for everyone involved? Clear answers to these questions help clarify the personal stakes for each employee.
  • Share the vision: It is essential to paint a compelling vision of the future. Leaders are not just implementing a change; they are selling a vision and capturing people’s hearts and minds in a way that makes them eager to join in shaping this new future. This vision should be informed by the rationale behind the change and detail what success looks like. How will it improve the lives of employees, customers, and the community?
  • Engage, consult, and empower: Effective change management involves more than just announcements via email or at town hall meetings. It requires active engagement with employees, inviting them to co-create the vision and participate in the transformation. This approach not only reinforces buy-in but integrates the change into the organization’s culture through continuous dialogue and feedback. Questions such as, “How do we define inclusivity here?” or “What do I need to successfully implement this change?” are vital in keeping the conversation relevant and focused on personal and organizational growth.
  • Dig in: Change is a long game. Many transformation agendas falter due to fading momentum and lack of widespread adoption. Ongoing measurement, course correction, and consistent engagement are essential. As Winston Churchill famously encouraged, “Never give in.” This mantra should inspire persistence and resilience in the face of the challenges posed by organizational change.

In summary, the key to effective change management lies not just in strategic planning or project execution but in genuinely engaging with and winning the hearts and minds of those involved. It is about understanding the human aspect of change and addressing it with empathy, clarity, and vision.

“Never give in.”

– Winston Churchill[3]


About the Author

Carol Kotacka

Carol Kotacka is a results-oriented strategist, specializing in transformational change and strategy execution in local, national and international markets. Holding senior leadership positions in industry, healthcare and NGOs, her background reflects a deep understanding of the nuanced approach diverse cultures and stakeholder groups require, with proven results driving change time and again through work in North America, Europe, the Middle East and, most recently, South America.  During her career, Carol has had the privilege of co-creating strategic vision and system wide transformation with organizations, residents, employees, government entities as well as first responders. Carol’s undergraduate studies include Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Post graduate work includes Strategic Business Leadership from the Rotman School of Management and an EMBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Carol is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program.





3 Tips for Driving Engagement Through Inclusion in the Workplace

We have all likely encountered the term “engagement” in the workplace, and most organizations emphasize the value of having engaged individuals or an engaged workforce. This knowledge often drives the need to measure or assess engagement through various means such as surveys, pulse checks, and listening sessions, among others. In my professional career, the significance of engagement has been ingrained in me through academic study, knowledge, and practical experience. It is widely acknowledged that strong engagement feeds a positive psychological contract (the quid pro quo representing the informal obligations between an employee and their employer) which is germane to discretionary effort. Some benefits of discretionary effort include higher productivity, reduced sickness absence and turnover, and lower presenteeism.

I believe the intersection between inclusion-driven engagement is a sweet spot, as I have experienced inclusion or a sense of belonging as being a key contributor to engagement in the workplace. Here, I am sharing 3 quick tips for driving engagement through inclusion:

1. Promote Belonging

It is no surprise that we all thrive better in environments where we feel safe to be our authentic selves or bring our whole selves to work. The more we can bring our whole selves to the workplace, the deeper the sense of belonging that is created and the greater the level of engagement. Implementing a strategic approach to inclusion and belonging is essential. This involves garnering senior leadership commitment, defining what belonging means to your organization, and establishing mechanisms for driving a sustainable belonging agenda such as through working groups or committees. Develop initiatives that demonstrate strong alliance, promote awareness and learning, and advance a richer understanding of your organization’s demographics and those of its customers or service users. Explore opportunities to address systemic barriers to belonging that may be enshrined in practices, policies, and practices. Every opportunity should be seized to role model and energize belonging.

2. Mental Health and Well-being

The last few years have taught us many things. New words quickly became part of our daily vocabulary such as – physical distancing, pandemic, vaccinations, essential workers, surveillance testing, rapid antigen tests, masks, hand sanitizers, isolation, and endemic. These words hold different meanings to us depending on our individual experiences over the past couple of years. However, one thing has emerged very strongly – the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Equally important is the realization that the mundane offerings of traditional EAPs (employee assistance programs) are no longer sufficient. My fond term for a renewed focus on mental health and wellbeing is “check up from the neck up”. It is imperative to craft and co-design bespoke strategies to address burnout and improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Begin by identifying what causes stress in your workplace. Develop ways in which you deliver your own suite of “check up from the neck up” plans, which could range from lunchtime yoga sessions, strategically located massage chairs, wellness spaces, kindness trolleys, self-care tips, duvet days, and mental health check-ins. The ultimate goal should be to de-stigmatize discussions around mental health and wellbeing, disassociate them from resilience, and create an environment where it is acceptable for someone to say, “I am not okay”.

3. Listening into Action

Listening into action is a concept I learned when I worked in the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Originally tailored for the NHS, it is a proven tool to help galvanize people by energizing, approaching issues with a solutions-based tactic, and giving people ‘permission to act’ on their good ideas. An approach of listening into action suggests the acquiring of feedback and the generation of ideas for easy change. Organizations can adopt this approach by establishing regular mechanisms to gauge the sentiments of their employees, but with the added dimension of extending inquiries to questions like “what would good look like” or “what could be done to change the status quo”. This solutions-based approach of seeking feedback promotes a deeper sense of ownership and, consequently, promotes a shared sense of responsibility for the resolution. Embracing transparency, open communication, sharing good news stories, and celebrating successes are integral components of the listening into action approach.

By practicing and implementing these easy tips, engagement through inclusion in the workplace can be driven, cultivated, and maintained. Remember though that sustained change is a slow burn, persistence and a PDSA (plan-do-study-act) approach would also contribute to success even more so with the dynamic and agile nature of today’s environments.


About the Author

Lola Obomighie

Lola Obomighie is an accomplished people leader. Enthusiastic and results driven, she has over 15 years experience gained from an impressive career in England, and Ontario, Canada. Lola is an insatiable learner, and she keenly maintains her continuous professional development. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics and Statistics, and an MSc. Human Resources Management. Lola has her CHRL with the HRPA and CAPM with the PMI. Additionally, Lola remains a Chartered Member (MCIPD) of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) England. She is also currently pursing her Certified Health Executive (CHE) program with the Canadian College of Health Leaders (CCHL). When Lola isn’t at work you would find her enjoying family time, watching a good show, travelling or being in church. Lola is dedicated to community service and is currently a member of the Board of Governors in an independent private school in the Northumberland County.

The Ever-Increasing Digital World of Work

With the acceleration of all things digital over the past five years, especially through the pandemic, training strategy and governance have become a priority for better practice human resources (HR) strategy and management across most industry sectors. It has also become a critical instrument for delivering and meeting customer/client/patient needs and expectations. Against this imperative, however, is the stark reality that many organizations do not recognize this reality, and the risks of not investing in and effectively managing this training and development priority.

With this “all things digital” context in mind, this article is focused on providing three key human resources strategy perspectives to elevate one’s approach to training strategy today, which include:

  1. a proactive approach on how to think about to considering (and categorizing) digital work applications and practices; and
  2. the heightened importance of related training strategy development, including segmented needs analysis and how it needs to be managed and governed; and
  3. how to bring the approach and management of enabling digital training to life.

This article will also highlight select applied insights from the Canadian healthcare and professional services sectors. These examples of challenges, priorities, and better practices are generally applicable to most organizations across the broader private and public sector spectrum, and for both unionized and non-unionized employers.

Download PDF: The Ever-Increasing Digital World of Work: Critical Implications for Training Strategy and Governance

7 Steps for a Sustainable Labour Relations Strategy

Having worked as a Labour Relations Expert for the past 30 years, I feel it is important to understand the critical steps in maintaining a sustainable labour relations strategy with corresponding metrics to ensure ongoing success.  Creating a positive and collaborative work environment while ensuring fairness and productivity requires a strategic approach.  Listed below are seven essential steps that I have used and shared with others to achieve a sustainable labour relations strategy.

1. Comprehensive Assessment

The initial step involves conducting a thorough review of the current labour landscape, both internally and externally. This includes evaluating existing policies, employee engagement levels, union relations, and current challenges such a workforce labour shortages. Utilize metrics to benchmark employee engagement against your previous records or other organizations to determine the best course of action. Another valuable tool is the Net Promoter Score (NPS): a single-question gauge of staff engagement that asks, “On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?” The response to this question may help guide your improvement plan.

2. Collaboration and Communication

Establishing open channels of communication is a significant undertaking, yet crucial for success. In my experience, I have leveraged communication experts and engaged the entire senior leadership and management team to develop strategies that enhance engagement with employees, labour groups, and stakeholders. A consistent organizational approach helps ensure a better understanding of everyone’s needs, concerns, and desires. Creating an inclusive environment makes staff and labour groups feel heard and valued. Communication effectiveness can be gauged through metrics such as the percentage of employee participation in town hall meetings, responses to surveys, and the number of participants in feedback sessions.

3. Policy Development and Adaptation

Crafting or adapting policies that align with legal standards, industry best practices, and employee expectations assists significantly to sustain a positive labour environment. By supporting a fair and equitable organization, these policies are transparent, fair, and inclusive, fostering a sense of security and trust among the workforce. I have used numerous strategies with the implementation of new policies, including the use of focus groups, requesting input from labour groups and monitoring compliance. Monitoring policy adherence through quantifiable metrics helps ensure the policies are being used appropriately and are making a difference. Some examples of measuring of policies include measuring compliance rates, frequency of updates, and tracking any fluctuations in employee morale or performance against policy changes.

4. Training and Development Programs

Invest in continuous learning and skill development initiatives to provide employees and management with the tools necessary to navigate evolving labour dynamics, fostering adaptability, and preventing potential conflicts. Customized education for leaders, both management and labour leaders, not only aligns practices but also serves as a team-building opportunity, enhancing understanding of differences. Drawing on my experience as a Coach at Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre, and from feedback from participants, I can affirm the cost/benefit of bringing your team together in a controlled, consistent learning environment far outweighs training individuals with different tools and programs. The ROI of such programs can be measured through increased productivity, linked to various mechanisms such as new skill development, reduced absenteeism, and improved collaboration among teams.

5. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

Implement robust conflict resolution mechanisms by establishing procedures for addressing disputes quickly and fairly, with the goal of finding solutions that benefit all parties involved. Timely intervention can prevent escalations. Additionally, establish mechanisms for enhancing relationships with labour groups and frontline employees. Programs, such as joint labor-management meetings and focus groups to gather employee opinions, along with tracking the time taken to resolve conflicts or disputes, help monitor the labour relations climate. Setting targets for resolution and measuring against these targets ensures swift and efficient conflict resolution, contributing to the building of trust within the workplace—a key component of sustainable labour relations.

6. Regular Evaluation and Adaptation

Regularly assess the effectiveness of implemented strategies to ensure that they continue to work for the organization. Solicit feedback through surveys or focus groups, analyze outcomes, and be ready to adapt approaches based on the feedback received. Regularly analyze and compare metrics against predefined goals allowing for strategy adaptation based on the data obtained. This may involve revising policies, enhancing training programs, or refining conflict resolution processes as needed.

7. Embrace Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Integrate sustainability practices into labour relations initiatives, by building trust and implementing programs that ensure fairness and equity within the organization. Showcase a commitment to social responsibility, fair labour practices, and community engagement by implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion program where racialized and oppressed groups are seen and treated as equal partners. This not only enhances the organizational brand but also fosters a positive work culture. Quantify the impact of social responsibility initiatives by measuring community engagement, employee volunteer hours, or carbon footprint reduction attributed to sustainability practices.

By implementing these steps, a sustainable labour relations strategy can be developed and maintained. Remember, continual refinement, measurement and adaptation are key to navigating the ever-evolving landscape of labour relations.

About the Author

Elizabeth Vosburgh’s passion for strengthening labour relations and human resources practices is informed by her experiences working in both managerial and c-suite roles, as well coaching for Queen’s IRC since 2019. She has been involved in all aspects of labour relations, from the internal grievance process to arbitration. She has led complicated negotiations, restructuring, professional practice, complex return to work, accommodation, occupational health and safety, as well as workplace restoration. She is a sought-after advisor to senior leadership teams. As a Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE) with the HRPA, a Registered Nurse with the College of Nurses of Ontario, and a Certified Health Executive, Elizabeth applies both her practical experience along with theory to help individuals and organizations build culturally sound labour relations and human resources programs.


Talent Mobility: Reducing Self-imposed Barriers to Increase Mobility in Your Organization

Organizations need the right talent to succeed, and they need it now.

Simply stated: I don’t think there is a CEO alive who would not agree they need the right talent, at the right time, to achieve organizational commitments. And if they don’t have the right talent they need, their organizational goals are therefore in jeopardy. A recent article by Gartner HR indicated that CEOs rank talent shortages as the most damaging risk on the outlook for their business.[1]

To make matters worse, the world is changing at lightning speed (think Industrial Revolution 4.0) and emerging technologies and innovations require vastly different skill sets than were needed in the past. According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next 5 years and 6 in 10 employees will require training before 2027.[2]  While the lack of skills is a challenge today, the emergence of new skill requirements will be an even bigger challenge tomorrow.

Although there are many factors contributing to this ‘talent crisis’, including skill shortages, impending retirements, demographic shifts/ changes, etc., some of the main hurdles are those created and perpetuated by the organizations themselves. It will require awareness and a firm commitment to the eventual eradication of these barriers to make any inroads moving forward. Think of it this way: it is easier to battle external factors on the outside than it is having to also battle self-imposed challenges on the inside. Control what is controllable (i.e., internal challenges) and figure out the rest.

Download PDF: Talent Mobility: Reducing Self-imposed Barriers to Increase Mobility in Your Organization



[1] 2024 leadership vision for 2024: Top 3 strategic priorities for chief HR officers. Gartner. (2023). Retrieved January 18, 2024, from

[2] Future of jobs report 2023 – World Economic Forum. (2023, May). Retrieved January 18, 2024, from

Using a Facilitator for Negotiations

Is a facilitator a useful investment in labour negotiations? Can a facilitator assist with relationship building during bargaining? What is the difference in the role of a facilitator versus using a mediator?

Facilitation is defined simply as “the act of helping other people to deal with process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process, discussion, etc. yourself”.[1] Therefore, “a facilitator is someone that supports and makes it easier for a group of people to work together towards a common goal”.[2] Facilitators assist people to communicate more effectively and reach consensus. They also ensure only one person speaks at a time, everyone who wants to speak is heard and the parties remain focused on the issue to be resolved.[3]

I have had the opportunity to experience facilitated negotiations both as a negotiator and as a facilitator. When Interest-Based Negotiations (IBB) were popular, facilitators were used from the beginning to first educate the parties and then facilitate bargaining. The facilitator was the key to keeping the parties moving forward, staying constructive, and focusing on not resorting to traditional positional bargaining. For several reasons, not for this discussion, labour negotiations rarely rely on IBB anymore; however, the role of a facilitator has continued particularly where the parties have a difficult relationship.

When I facilitate, I am guided by the lessons learned in IBB and as a facilitative mediator, where the facilitator must always remain neutral and have union-management/negotiation experience. To be effective, facilitators “need to demonstrate independence and integrity so that a relationship of trust can be developed”.[4]

Through the negotiation process, facilitators ensure:

  • All relevant information is shared in a manner that is both understandable and can be validated.
  • The parties define their own objectives and make their own informed decisions and choices.
  • The parties feel ownership for their decisions and find their decisions satisfying and meeting their needs.[5]

Facilitators guide the process in consultation with the parties involved. I always begin with the parties developing their own ground rules for behaviours during bargaining, including separating the person from the problem. As a facilitator, I can rely on these ground rules when bargaining gets difficult and use them to guide the parties through those difficult discussions and decisions.

It is essential for the facilitator to understand the parties’ history – in bargaining and in their relationship that could impact negotiations i.e., key grievances, litigation, ongoing communications, etc. If I am new to their relationship, I request an opportunity to meet with each party separately to hear their history, expectations, and needs for the current negotiations, meet the key individuals, and build a working relationship. I also ask the parties to start thinking about their settlement zone and BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) early in the process.

Based on my learnings, I then work with parties to design their bargaining process. The process could include:

  • Establishing bargaining dates
  • Providing opening statements
  • Developing ground rules
  • Developing communication protocol to their parties and/or press during bargaining
  • Exchanging proposals and information sharing/disclosure
  • Direct bargaining and timing
  • Bargaining conclusion
  • Next steps if no agreement
  • Ratification
  • Post-bargaining reflections

Depending on the parties, I have found some of these stages are set out in my contract or agreement to facilitate.

Can a facilitator assist with relationship building during bargaining? Is a facilitator a useful investment in labour negotiations?

My answer to both questions is absolutely yes.

I have never been contracted to facilitate negotiations between parties with great relationships. Negotiations are typically adversarial in goals and can be complicated even when the parties have good working relationships. Where parties have little trust and a poor relationship, there will be reluctance to share information and collaborate during bargaining to obtain mutually satisfactory outcomes. Investing in a facilitator can be the first step in the parties changing their relationship.

While a facilitator is a guide, they can also provide the parties with education and other assistance during negotiations. Facilitators listen carefully to what the parties are saying and watch body language. This can be extremely useful when the parties are discussing contentious issues and may not be actively listening or watching the other parties. What I hear and see can be useful as I assist the parties. As a neutral, I can see and hear settlement opportunities because I am not emotionally vested in the outcome.

Where the parties are discussing issues constructively and effectively, I do not intervene. These are the building blocks for the parties’ relationship moving forward. However, when discussions become heated and unproductive, I will intervene. When I intervene, I will use my skills to de-escalate the situation by reframing the conversation or asking a question. If this is not effective, I will suggest the parties’ caucus. The time in caucus provides an opportunity for the parties to vent independently and for the facilitator to assist them. In caucus, I may ask questions to understand the dispute better or provide information that I heard/saw to help them understand a shared interest or option that was lost in the heat of the moment. The options come from the parties, not the facilitator.

As the parties move through negotiations and become more difficult, the parties need to keep communicating and discussing possible options for settlement. The key for the facilitator is to maintain engagement to ensure the parties are open to settlement. I find this is the point in facilitation that is often the most difficult but important time for the facilitator, as it is the time when the facilitator’s subject matter expertise can be the most important. This expertise can be used to ask probing questions to the parties’ individually or together to assist them with problem-solving (i.e., what has their research demonstrated is the normative wage increase, what other collective agreement language exists in the sector that addresses their needs, etc.).

What is the difference in the role of a facilitator versus a mediator? 

While the role of a facilitator is set out above, a mediator’s principles are the same, but instead of facilitating, a labour mediator will evaluate the situation and push the parties to settle. This is done by suggesting options and opinions, and advising based on their subject matter expertise and possibilities based on normative settlements.

A labour mediator will exert control over the process, as the parties rarely meet in full, face-to-face negotiations but rather in small groups or alone using shuttle diplomacy. The mediator will be vocal with the parties about their offers and positions. The mediator will often provide the parties with an opinion regarding the likelihood of success of their BATNA and the risks of not settling but in the end, the parties still control whether to settle or not.[6]

It is important to note it is possible to have to facilitator change roles and become a mediator. If this is the desire of the parties, they should consider this option before selecting a facilitator to ensure they are willing to become a mediator. The advantage of this dual role is it can save time and money in bargaining because the facilitator is aware of the background, proposals, items in agreement, and outstanding issues versus bringing in a mediator who would need a briefing on the situation and progress to-date.

In conclusion, in a complex labour relations environment, using facilitators to assist the parties in relationship building, including negotiations and day-to-day labour relations, can offer the parties an opportunity to save costs. Facilitators can help the parties to collaborate and find their own settlements and time-effective solutions to a wide range of issues such as a backlog of potentially expensive grievance arbitrations, turnover issues, and negotiations.

About the Author

Beverly Mathers

Beverly Mathers is a mediator/facilitator/workplace investigator who specializes in employment, workplace and labour matters. She conducts mediations for grievances or disputes, labour negotiations, interest arbitration, employment matters, health and safety, pay equity, and pensions and benefits including disability benefits. Beverly began her career as a Registered Nurse, becoming a health care labour leader and then Chief Executive Officer at the Ontario Nurses’ Association.  She holds a diploma in Registered Nursing from Seneca College; a Bachelor of Arts in Labour Studies from McMaster University; a mediation certificate from University of Guelph; a Master of Arts from Royal Roads University in Organizational Conflict and Management; a certificate in Leadership Excellence from Queen’s University IRC; and Workplace Investigations Training and Certificate Program from the HRPA. She provides mediation using an evaluative or facilitative style depending on the situation and the desire of the parties, and neutral facilitation for workplace conflict management, dispute resolution, negotiation and relationship building.


[1] Facilitation | English meaning – Cambridge dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2024, from

[2] Nauheimer, R. (2022, August 3). What is facilitation?: Facilitator school. Retrieved January 19, 2024, from

[3] Stitt, A. (1998).  Alternative dispute resolution for organizations: How to design a system for effective conflict resolution. John Wiley & Sons Canada Limited, Etobicoke, Ontario.

[4] Barrett, J. T., & O’Dowd, J. (2005). Interest-based bargaining: A users guide. Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, Canada. (p. 91).

[5] Barrett, J. T., & O’Dowd, J. (2005). Interest-based bargaining: A users guide. Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, Canada. (p. 92).

[6] Holland, E. (2020, August 31). Understanding the top 3 styles of Mediation with ADR Times. ADR Times. Retrieved January 19, 2024, from

The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Approach to Workplace Investigations

Human Resources and Labour Relations professionals are typically not clinicians, physicians, or social workers. So why has the vast and complicated area of “trauma”, more commonly relevant for those in medical or emergency services, become so crucial for us to understand? And more than that, what does being “trauma-informed” mean and how does it relate to workplace investigations?

To answer these questions, we must first begin with our raison d’être as a workplace investigator – that of being a fact-finder.  Employing procedural fairness, our job is to piece together a workplace incident based on multiple perspectives and determine if wrongdoing has transpired. By interviewing all parties involved, we seek detailed information and assess credibility. We use our people skills to build rapport, we practice active listening and we avoid making assumptions about the outcome. How we conduct ourselves with all parties to an investigation has a direct impact on the quality of the information received (i.e., finding all the facts). This, in turn, affects the accuracy of the investigation’s outcome and the suitability of follow-up recommendations. Moreover, a well (or poorly) conducted investigation can have an impact on organizational trust (i.e., the employees’ trust in supervisors and the organization), which can lead to favourable (or detrimental) influence on overall organizational performance.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) defines trauma as “…the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event.” One such context that is an exception to this rule is generational trauma, whereby a group of people with shared characteristics experiences trauma from systemic abuse, discrimination/racism, war, etc., and subsequent generations experience indirect suffering from those events.

CAMH continues to state that “Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness and intense fear.” From this, we surmise that trauma can have long-lasting and wide-ranging adverse impacts on the individual beyond the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident. It would then be fair to expect that such trauma is not left at home when employees come to the workplace.

Further, trauma need not only occur in employees’ personal lives but can also arise in the workplace itself, e.g. sexual assault, workplace violence or bullying, or even major organizational decisions such as job cuts or reassignments that may significantly impact employees’ lives. We must also be cognizant that in todays, and likely future, paradigm of remote work, this means an employee could experience a workplace trauma even from their home office.

Returning to trauma’s relevance vis-à-vis workplace investigations and our pursuit of the truth, we must recognize that one of our brain’s primary functions is to protect us from danger. In the aftermath of a traumatic event, neurological changes can occur in the brain (the housing unit for information) that impact how one remembers the traumatic event. These events can impact our authority over memory (i.e., the capacity to recall a trauma experience as a cohesive narrative), perception, and the ability to recount details of events.

By asking questions, we effectively ask – can you please enter your conventional memory storage unit and retrieve this piece of information? We know though for some, the impact of trauma may have altered the location of the memory housing unit and thus, the conventional (i.e., chronological) line of questioning may not be the best path to seek answers. Asking “what else happened?” may be better than “what happened next?”

Additionally, traumatic impact may cause a range of emotions that can influence the information sought, as emotional experiences/distresses can have significant impact on an individual’s response (or lack thereof) in the context of investigations. For example, an interviewee’s fear, shame, or anger may lead to outbursts which can derail an interview, curtail the individual’s cooperation, and prevent obtaining all the necessary and pertinent facts.

Because individuals respond differently to trauma, an investigator must be equipped to handle the process accordingly. However, the training, knowledge base, and skill set required to be trauma-informed does not mean we are now taking on the role of a psychologist (or the like) in carrying out a workplace investigation. A trauma-informed approach is an enhanced version of the skills and techniques we already employ as an investigator, and can be applied to widely-accepted successful interviewing approaches such as the PEACE method. It means first recognizing trauma, then understanding how, what, where, and when to ask questions, and then employing techniques and strategies that support a process for mitigating or reducing the possibility of re-traumatization.

Trauma-informed training offers skills and tools to help interviewees feel present, grounded, refocused, and safe. For example, it can help investigators de-escalate a flashback reaction, or keep an open mind when interpreting what some will find to be difficult behaviours like depression, anxiety, irritability, impatience, agitation, or anger. Even a panic attack can be misinterpreted, and possibly interpreted as a manifestation of guilt. It is important to recognize that an individual’s mastery of trauma-induced symptoms do not necessarily reflect a lack of credibility, such as a lack of eye contact, slumping posture, and/or reddening of the face and neck – all traditionally associated with shame and guilt.

If a trauma-informed approach is not employed correctly or at all, detrimental effects could include re-traumatizing the interviewee, which may result in an already distressed party going off on (longer) medical leave, or a lengthier investigation. Consequences could also include incomplete information and possibly insufficiently supported (or worse, erroneous) investigation outcomes. Further, if the investigation is perceived by employees as having been improperly conducted, there could be broader implications as organizational trust and reputation may suffer, and indirectly, so too could organizational performance.

However, by correctly employing a trauma-informed approach such that the interviewee feels safe in the interview, including exercising empathy, establishing rapport, and building trust, as well as giving the interviewee a sense of control (e.g. choice of returning to unanswered or difficult questions later in the interview), it should be expected that the interviewee will likely be more forthcoming with information and even willing to participate in a follow-up interview if necessary. Having obtained all pertinent information due to the “informed” approach, yielding the correct investigational outcome results in employees’ being more trusting of the investigation process, contributing towards organizational trust.  With improved organizational trust, a culture of underreporting incidents might be positively shifted as employees gain faith that procedural fairness will consistently transpire and justice will be done.

To summarize, workplace investigators don’t need to be experts in neuro-psychology, they just have to have a basic level of trauma-informed training. This will help them create an environment of safety, remain neutral, and validate the psychological struggles interviewees may experience during an interview.  As the saying goes, “one does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.”

Tips for Trauma-Informed Interviews

  • Ensure the interview is conducted in a safe, private place and in an unhurried manner
  • Exercise empathy, but do not say “I understand” or “I know how you feel”; use neutral language
  • Plan your questions but be flexible – do not lead with the hardest questions first
  • Maintain open-ended and non-suggestive questions
  • Afford interviewees a sense of control by potentially returning to unanswered questions later, or seeking their permission before showing graphical evidence
  • Minimize interruptions
  • Permit a support person in the interview (though set guidelines as to the degree of their involvement)

Benefits of a Trauma-Informed Approach

  • Avoid re-traumatization
  • Higher yield of information
  • More accurate investigation findings
  • Indirect enhancement of organizational trust
  • Reduce potential underreporting of incidents

About the Author

Tova Bar-Dayan

Tova Bar-Dayan, MIR, CHRL, WFA, is an independent HR/LR consultant and workplace investigator with progressive roles in both public and private sectors, in unionized and non-unionized environments. She takes great pride in conducting workplace investigations, assessments and restorations that are thorough, impartial, trauma-informed and, above all else, put people first. During her time in corporate roles as well as with her consulting firm, Tova has investigated claims of harassment, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, racism/anti-black racism, theft, improper conduct, and more, including those which could have resulted in significant litigation and/or reputational risk. This experience is bolstered by her status as a licensed private investigator (Ontario).


Download a PDF of the full article above: The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Approach to Workplace Investigations

Queen’s IRC has a new website and participant portal!

As Queen’s IRC’s Director of Professional Programs, I am delighted to share we have launched a new website, complete with a registration and participant portal!

We are confident you will enjoy the new functionalities, which include:

  • Programs: The ability to search for programs by category stream, location, format, and date.
  • Registration: A registration and participant portal where you can register and pay for programs, track your certificate credits, access program materials, and attend the virtual classroom. We have listened to our clients’ feedback to enhance your experience with us!
  • Thought Leadership: The ability to browse through our articles and papers, filter by subject or author, search for key words, or use the sort function to organize by date or alphabet.

To access the registration and participant portal, you will first need to create an account (instructions below). Please look out for an email from us with the email address we have on file, or contact us at so we can confirm your email before you create an account in the new system.

Once you have confirmed your email address, visit the portal login page and click on “Create Account”. This link will direct you to submit an online form, prompting an email with instructions on setting a password. Once a password is set, you will be brought directly to the portal homepage.

Queen's IRC Portal Screenshot 1

Queen's IRC Portal Screenshot 3

We hope you enjoy the website and participant portal. The IRC team looks forward to welcoming you to our Fall programs!

Do Employees Have the Right to Work from Home?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, global workforces experienced a sudden and forced shift into remote work. That experience dramatically shifted expectations and realities for office jobs around the world. Over the last few years, workers have often expressed a preference for working remotely, and in many cases successfully continued to negotiate work from home arrangements as labour market shortages gave employees negotiating power. However, more recent shifts in the economy have resulted in less labour shortages in certain industries, and employers are now increasingly requesting that workers return into the office, at least on part-time basis. This shift was recently highlighted in August 2023 when numerous media outlets reported that even Zoom Videoconferencing requested some of its workers attend the office at least two times per week.[1] This article will explore the rights of both employers and employees when it comes to remote work.

Download PDF: Do Employees Have the Right to Work From Home



[1] Goldberg, Emma. “Even Zoom is Making People Return to the Office.” The New York Times. August 7, 2023. Retrieved online:



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