I work as a conflict resolution practitioner and “workplace conflict capacity-builder”. I am a strong advocate of workplace community building and I consider myself and to be a multi-partial (rather than impartial) support to all members of my institution. I am also a leader in a department of gifted and diverse human beings. I know that when tough issues arise, a foundation of community will support sustainable resolutions and lasting collaborations. In our current political and pandemic culture, I have been thinking about how our workplace communities can be compromised because of distance and differences.
Workplace investigators and human resource professionals should be cautious of relying on the body language of a witness to evaluate their credibility during an investigation. Fact-finding investigations, especially in cases of harassment, at times turn into an evaluation of one person’s version of events versus another’s, or as some call it, the “he said, she said” dilemma. In these cases, assessing the credibility of the two parties may be the easiest way the investigator can come to any defensible determination relative to credibility.
There are many unanswered questions about Canadian workplaces as we look toward reopening offices. The well-established principles and guidelines that employers, unions and employees have followed for many years will certainly help navigate this process. That said, this pandemic takes us into new and uniquely uncharted waters that may well shift some or all of these principles as we move forward. This article will look at the frameworks in place today, as well as best practices for boldly going where few workplaces have gone before.
During one of our Strategies for Workplace Conflicts programs, a participant commented that she told her staff that she didn’t “DO emotion!” I really appreciated her forthright statement which led to a valuable discussion about the place of emotion in the workplace. How do we handle the expression of emotion? Are emotions welcome or not? How do we handle an emotional outburst in a meeting or deal with strong negative emotions between two co-workers in conflict? How do we deal with our own emotions?
It is normal for participants in a workplace investigation to feel some anxiety, but too much worrying can create barriers to obtaining critical information, which is a challenge for investigators looking to build complete and thorough reports. Ensuring participants fully understand the process and their role in it can help alleviate unnecessary anxiety during the investigation. With a greater understanding of the process, participants can feel empowered to speak confidently in the interview and provide the investigator with the necessary information.
Workplace investigations have become commonplace across Canada. Many Canadian jurisdictions require that employers implement workplace harassment and discrimination policies, which often include mandatory investigation provisions. Whether or not investigations are legally mandated, it is sound practice for an employer to conduct an investigation when there may be potential workplace harassment, human rights violations, breach of company policy, criminal activity, security breaches, legal action, or media scrutiny.
Conflict is tough for most of us. According to many physiologists, we tend to tap into several simple strategies when faced with conflict: fight, flight, or freeze. As a result, we likely aren't reducing unnecessary conflicts, and effectively dealing with necessary conflicts in productive ways. So many opportunities are lost because we aren’t engaging well. Being effective at conflict, both in a proactive and reactive way, demands that we work at it as an ongoing and everyday activity. In essence, it is a lifestyle choice in how we talk, problem solve, inquire with others, and arrange our processes and teams.
Building relationships in the workplace is hard – and it takes work. It’s even more difficult when you work in a unionized organization which has traditionally adversarial relationships. But these days, organizations like the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) are stepping away from the attitude that, as a union, you have to be in ‘fight mode’ all the time. They are working towards accomplishing more for their members by trying to have better relationships with management. This is where the Queen’s IRC Relationship Management in a Union Environment program comes in.
Just as leadership styles and organizational work have evolved, so have perspectives on performance evaluation. Traditional performance evaluation is hierarchical, control-oriented, and focused on individual ranking and grading. Present-day performance evaluation is relational, facilitative, and focused on development and problem-solving (Leadership, R. Lussier, et al). In Ontario, teacher performance appraisal requirements and processes are legislated. While the legislation is founded on a more traditional “three strikes you are out” mandate, the philosophy and practices are more contemporary.
It is common for employees to seek help from their manager if they are experiencing conflict or relationship challenges in the workplace. What are your options as a manager to respond in a way that provides benefits to the employee, to the workplace as a whole and to you? Consider this scenario: You are Karen’s manager.
Termination for ‘just cause’ (and without notice) is often described as the capital punishment of employment law. Consequently, employers face a significant burden when trying to prove just cause at law. Arguing just cause for dismissal may be difficult, but not impossible, especially in circumstances involving dishonesty or lack of trust. Nevertheless, employers should always exercise caution when making just cause allegations, because a legally unsubstantiated just cause termination can be costly. If an arbitrator overturns an employer’s termination decision in a unionized environment, this can result in a decision that reinstates that grievor and provides him or her with significant back pay.
A workplace investigation will not repair dysfunctional workplace relationships. A workplace investigation neither builds bridges, nor resolves interpersonal conflict. In fact, an investigation may make a difficult work environment even more difficult. So how do we put Humpty Dumpty back together again, if all the King’s horses and all the King’s people could not?
In the Queen’s IRC Strategies for Workplace Conflicts course, we start by asking participants what they would particularly like help with in their workplace. A common response is “difficult / high conflict people”. However you define it, this is a huge challenge in today’s workplace and, unless it is handled well, it takes significant time, energy and expertise away from the work to be done. Most people have heard about Serena Williams’ public outburst at the U.S. Open this fall. Her behaviour and words were shocking and unexpected.
Many books have been written about negotiation strategy and the different approaches to negotiation, from interest-based to traditional bargaining to win-win to principled, and many more. Much less, however, has been written about the detailed mechanics of successful negotiation and problem solving, about the face-to-face tools and language skills we must master to be more effective negotiators. In particular, one of the most important skills is the “art of the question”.
A habit can be defined as a “usual manner of behavior.” But what I know about conflict is that there is often nothing “usual” about it. What happens to those of us who support others in conflict is that we tend to reach for the same set of tools each time, although we often are trying to solve very different problems. Even with the best of intentions, these habits can result in frustration, shallow or even bad resolutions, and won’t meet the needs of the people in conflict.
Queen’s IRC sat down with Anne Grant, the facilitator for our new Workplace Restoration program, to find out more about the topic and the program. In the interview, Anne shares her experience in workplace restorations, including the surprises she’s had along the way. She gives some insight into what makes workplaces toxic and how this program will help organizations that are experiencing disruptions like prolonged conflicts, increased harassment or grievance claims, leadership issues, strikes, investigations or significant organizational changes.
The #metoo movement has empowered many women who were the victims of unjust behaviour to come forward, although the movement has its own inequities by persecuting and often impacting the livelihood of the accused without due process, or any process whatsoever. This article will explore the complex considerations regarding sexual harassment in Canadian workplaces, consider the roles and obligations of all parties involved, and review the importance of investigations and due process in relation to workplace sexual harassment complaints.
How do you fix a hostile workplace after a strike, merger or other polarizing event? How do you create a healthy workplace after a harassment or grievance investigation? It can be difficult to rebuild the trust that has been lost between members of a team or in leadership, or both. But, according to Anne Grant, you have to bring people back to a joint vision of what the workplace should be.
It may seem like an oxymoron to have the words “benefit” and “conflict” in the same sentence. Our workplaces today often involve varying levels of interpersonal and institutional conflict and so much energy is devoted to prevention and management it is understandably difficult to understand how conflict could possibly have a positive side!
As the Canadian population ages, so does our workforce. Mandatory retirement programs have generally been outlawed (with few exemptions), and many Canadians now choose to work into their 60s and 70s for various reasons including: fulfillment, financial gains, longer life spans, lack of savings and failed pension plans.
For the vast majority of unionized and non-unionized workers, it is the day–to-day interactions that determine whether the workplace is a productive, engaged environment, or one that preoccupies everyone with conflict, grievances and problems. Where each workplace falls on that spectrum will largely determine productivity, quality, absenteeism, as well as retention and recruitment.
We have entered a challenging and difficult time for collective bargaining for both employers and unions. Shortly following the great recession in 2008, both management and unions reached deals relatively quickly, everyone recognizing the dramatic economic issues the parties faced at the time. From 2008 well into 2012, there was little change. Employers tried to deal with the reality of the recession, and unions waited for the anticipated rebound, assuming it would resemble almost all recessions of the past.
“Leading from behind” is a natural approach in the outdoors. It is natural in organizations too. It may sound like a passive or ineffective way to approach the challenge of being an effective leader, but I found, both in the outdoors and in organizational leadership positions, that this is the most powerful way to guide a group.
Fact-finding is an essential skill set for anybody who is in an HR, labour relations or employee relations role. If you stay in this role, at some point you will end up doing investigations, and having this skill set is going to make you much more efficient as a practitioner. Jerry Christensen, who recently retired from the City of Calgary, managed and coordinated the City’s respectful workplace program and dealt with all of their human rights issues.
Labour unions are at a critical time in history. Unions are working to engage the current membership and exploring new innovative communication strategies that are needed to reach the younger generation in a meaningful way. Gone are the days of the bulletin board as the primary sources of union news and updates.