Workplace Restoration Q&A with Anne Grant

Workplace Restoration Q&A with Anne GrantQueen’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.

What kind of problems do organizations have that would require a workplace restoration?

A workplace restoration might be needed after a polarizing event like a big investigation. It might be a merger or a strike. It might be difficulties with management. It might be a group of rogue employees causing problems. Often after a strike or lockout, a few rogues, union or management, can keep the conflict alive.

One of the things that I’ve really seen over the last ten to fifteen years is a need to address the conduct in the workplace. In general, it’s because people are getting into bad habits and engaging in behaviours that are not acceptable in this day and age, as we’re seeing in the media right now. People get sloppy, they engage in a lot of things that they shouldn’t, and people put up with it for a long time.

I heard of a workplace that was becoming increasingly dysfunctional and toxic, and so they decided to cancel the Christmas party. I thought, you can’t do that. You can’t just wait until November and say, “By the way, we’re not having a Christmas party.” At another place, they used to let the staff go a little earlier on the last Friday before Christmas. The new manager said, “No, that’s ridiculous. You have to stay until 4:30.” These were the kinds of things that were the last straw, completely breaking down the morale in these workplaces.

How do you restore a workplace after a polarizing event?

It’s about looking for commonality, and that’s what I tend to focus on. What is your ideal working relationship? What is your ideal work environment? What are the components of an ideal workplace for you? And then, how do we implement that? Nine times out of 10 everybody has, pretty much, the same idea of the type of workplace they want.

Let me give you an example of a school board. They had a huge strike that went on for months. I was asked to come in and do a restoration between the union and management – it was a multi-stage process. It started with the school board and the executive of the teachers’ union, and then it went to a larger forum with all of the grievance officers, the managers, the principals and so on of the school board.

What was really interesting with the school board was something that I did not see coming at all. It was a Catholic school board. I met with the union, and they told me all sorts of horrible things about management. Then I met with management, and they told me all sorts of horrible things about the union. The next day I was supposed to meet with them jointly to talk about what my assessment was and what the plan was to go forward. Before the joint session the head union guy said to me, “Are you going to do the prayer, do you want me to do it, or would you prefer the superintendent to do it?” My jaw was on the ground going, “What?” These adversaries open and close with a prayer, and I thought … okay, let’s back up here. If you guys can open and close with a prayer, we can find a way forward together in a pleasant way. We had to find and recognize that commonality before we could move forward.

What makes a workplace toxic?

In my view, a toxic or poisoned workplace is one where the dysfunction of the people within the work group negatively affects interpersonal interaction and productivity.  One of the things that Peter Edwards talks about in his book[1] is how there are different types of people in a workplace. There are the positive leaders – they come in and they’re keen, and they want to do extra stuff. Sometimes you want to slap them because they’re so perky! Then you have the rogues, the negative leaders, who are perpetually negative and stirring the pot. In the average workplace, there are 5% on either side, book ending, positive and negative. You have the 70% in the middle, who are neutral and essentially just come to work and do their job. Then some that fill in the gaps.

In a toxic workplace, what happens is more and more of the neutrals start to go over to the dark side, because there’s no enforcement of the rules. They engage in excessive chitchat, including malicious gossip, sometimes because they aren’t getting information in a proper manner and they don’t know what’s going on. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty so they start cutting corners. They stop doing any extra. They stop caring.

Our positive leaders and positive followers don’t usually go over to the dark side, but they become apathetic. They start to leave. Sometimes there can be a mass exodus. Suddenly everybody retires; they can’t get new people to come in because the reputation of the department or organization is terrible.

In a healthcare organization I worked with, the leadership was perceived to be playing favourites, but a big part of what was going on there was that it was a very highly regulated industry. They implemented a very vigorous risk management protocol so that if there was an error, there were reams of paperwork that had to be completed. A lot of individuals saw that as punitive, but in fact, people weren’t being punished or disciplined. The problem was that the organization wasn’t being clear and wasn’t communicating the reasons behind the protocols. This lack of communication enabled a larger than normal group of negative leaders or rogues.  When the managers didn’t handle the rogues, they ended up with a very unhappy group of employees overall.

What is the most surprising part of the workplace restoration process for you?

People are often shocked when I do my assessments, because I start by asking people what they like about their workplace. Most of the time I get a vast majority of responses, if not 100%, that have really positive things to say about the workplace and really positive things to say about their colleagues.

I remember working with a group a few years ago in a fairly intense work environment, a 24/7 operation. Word on the street was the manager was crap. The manager was not doing their job. The manager was terrible. In that particular case, I was jointly retained by union and management. One of the things that I’ve learned along the way is that you really need to check in with the actual troops on the ground. I interviewed 50 staff, and 48 of them had no issues with the manager.  However, two staff absolutely hated the manager’s guts. These two were absolutely vitriolic about the manager. These employees were very skilled and respected members of the team, but for whatever reason, they did not get along with their manager.

As part of the restoration process, I met with two groups of 25 employees to reveal the findings of the interviews. I told the group, “You’re going to note in my slides that there are no management issues, and that is because 96% of you stated you had no issues with the management of this team.” Suddenly, the whole room is looking around going, “Wow. That’s interesting.” The group recognized there were a couple of loud mouths, who are very powerful and persuasive leaders, stirring things up, but they didn’t know how to handle them. There were other issues in this organization, but there was a complete disconnect about what the actual source of the problem was. A huge part of restoring that workplace was acknowledging and jointly working on solutions for the real problems, as well as shutting down the malicious gossip about the manager.

What do you think the most important step in a workplace restoration is?

If I was going to choose the most important part, I think it’s developing and communicating clearly the terms of reference for the process right up front, because you’re going to keep falling back on that when you do the plan, when you do the implementation, and when you do the evaluation. People have to know what you are going to do because typically they have lost the ability to trust.

Why is Queen’s IRC introducing a Workplace Restoration training program?

Queen’s IRC offers a course called Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation, and we heard the feedback that people need to know what to do after the investigation is over, to help repair the damage done by a strike or merger or investigation. Additionally, IRC participants were asking detailed questions about how to restore and rebuild workplace relationships where there has been a history of bullying or sub-standard behaviour.  So in addition to adding a module to the Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program on this topic, Queen’s IRC decided to introduce a 3-day Workplace Restoration course to delve more deeply into this process.

There’s lots of courses out there that just give you the assessment part. That’s a component, but it’s not the whole thing. This course will teach people the whole process – from the assessment, to making and implementing a plan, to the evaluation. (Read more about the 4 Steps to Fix a Toxic Workplace.)

What will people learn in the Queen’s IRC Workplace Restoration program?

They will feel prepared to recognize and define some symptoms of a toxic workplace. They will be equipped to conduct an assessment to understand more clearly what the real problems are in the workplace. They will have tools and techniques to plan and implement the restoration plan, and they will also have some guidance as to how to go about evaluating it after the fact.

I’m a total believer in the Queen’s IRC approach, which is: teach it, do it, teach it, do it, teach it, do it. Participants will create terms of reference in a simulation based on current workplace problems. They’ll conduct some interviews. Then they’ll get a series of surveys, and, in groups, they all assess a workplace based on the information they got from me in the simulation.  Program participants will create a plan, write a report and compile recommendations to address the issues in the simulation.  Finally, they will learn how to go back and evaluate the process to ensure on-going mutual respect in the workplace.

Who should attend the Workplace Restoration program? How will it be useful to different people?

The ideal audience for this program includes anyone who has a leadership role in the workplace – that could be formal leadership roles, HR professionals, union executives, stewards, and so on, but it also could be technical leaders, clinical leaders or organizational development professionals.

Workplace restoration is about partnering with your union and collaboration between managers and employees to create the workplace that everyone really needs.

Different groups are going to have different levels of issues. This program is going to give them the awareness of the things they should be looking for so they’re finding the symptoms up front. How do we recognize this ripple before it becomes a tidal wave? I think part of it is people don’t know where to start.

A section of this course is going to be talking about what kind of questions to ask and how to do an assessment, but a big part of it is, what do we do with the information? How do we reengage the staff? How do we bring them back to a joint vision of what the workplace should be?

They will learn how to do an assessment, including some ideas around different kinds of terms of reference for these processes, whether they retain somebody, or whether they do it in house. They will learn how to tailor it to their context, to their workplace, and how to customize this approach to their specific issue. They will learn not only how to gather the information, but how to analyze it. It may be that they already have a lot of this information. So what are we going to do with it?

In closing, what do you like about the workplace restoration process?

I really, really like doing this work. This work is very satisfying, because what I have found is the vast majority of people want to do the right thing. I think that our job, as Labour Relations professionals, is to make it easy for them to do the right thing. Studies have shown that people want to come to work. They want it to be a bit friendly. They want it to be a bit relaxed. They want to do a good job.  This applies to senior staff and millennials and everyone in between.  They want to feel like they’re really contributing something. I think that’s what this process is tapping into.


About Anne Grant

Anne GrantAnne Grant has practised as a full time mediator and conflict resolution professional since 1994.  Anne’s dispute resolution practice includes extensive mediation of labour and civil disputes. She specializes in the assessment and restoration of poisoned work environments as well as conducting a range of workplace investigations. Currently she is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Labour Relations Foundations, Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation, and Workplace Restoration programs, and Past President of the ADR Institute of Ontario. Anne has far-reaching experience handling toxic workplaces in the public and private sector. She provides strategies to address dysfunction at the individual, team and departmental level. Her experience includes extensive mediation of civil and labour disputes, as well as facilitation, poisoned work environment interventions and human rights investigations.


[1] Johnson, J., Dakens, L., Edwards, P., & Morse, N. (2008). Switchpoints: Culture Change on the Fast Track to Business Success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Getting Ahead of the Shift: Summit Inspires Thoughtful Conversations About the Changing World of Work

Summit Chair Brenda Barker ScottWith an impressive line-up of guest speakers and facilitators, the Queen’s IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit brought together over 100 leaders in HR, OD and LR from across the country to engage in conversations about the workplace of the future, and the trends that are driving new models for organizational planning.

The Summit, held on April 16, 2015 in Toronto, featured a number of themes, including:

  • Talent: How do we engage, retain and motivate a new generation of workers?
  • Transformation:  How can organizations transform without trauma?
  • Making the shift: What do organizations need to do to shift to new models?
  • Managing overload: How do we keep up with evolving technology and trends?

What Matters in Today’s Workplace?

Summit Chair Brenda Barker Scott shared the characteristics of the new employee and introduced Courtney Jolliffe from Free the Children and James Prince from Me to We to talk about millennials at work. “Passion trumps choosing a location. We’re following what we’re passionate about,” said Jolliffe.  Jolliffe and Prince discussed what makes their jobs attractive, how they want to work, career expectations, and where in the world they want to work. They joked that, in true millennial fashion, they surveyed their teams to get input before their presentation – they prefer to work collaboratively and learn by interacting with their peer group.

Visual Art at the Queen's IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit - Free the Children, Me to We, Shopify“We don’t want our career to be limited by our job,” said Prince. He noted millennials have a flexible and fluid work-life balance and are seeking variation in their jobs.  Technology gives them the mobility to work anywhere in the world.

Brittany Forsyth, Vice President of Human Relations at Shopify, talked about the importance of culture in her organization.

“When we interview, we look at potential. Are they going to push their boundaries? Are they going to challenge other people? Are they ok with being challenged?” They want employees to fit their culture of innovation and resourcefulness.

The highlight of Forsyth’s presentation was the concept of Hack Days.  Every three months, Shopify employees are given two days to work on a special project that will improve the Shopify platform. They stop their day-to-day work and do something outside of their regular role. “It’s about creating the right environment for people to grow, learn, experiment and innovate,” Forsyth said. Many of the products and features created at Hack Days actually make it to market.

Visual Art at Queen's IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit, including OpenTextHugh Ritchie from OpenText shared how technology is changing the world of work. “It has never been so disruptive,” he said. He discussed the impact of big data, the cloud, mobile, security, digital and the internet of things. He shared a number of facts and statistics:

  • There are generations that have ONLY known life with the internet.
  • Today more information is created every 2 days, than from 0 AD to 2003
  • 90% of world’s data was generated over the last 2 years
  • Mobile data traffic will grow 13X by 2017
  • 15 of 17 U.S. sectors have more data per company than the Library of Congress

A Deep Dive into HR, OD and LR

Visual Art at the Queen's IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit - Deep dives into Human Resources, Organizational Development and Labour RelationsThe afternoon featured break-out sessions with OD Leader Françoise Morissette, HR Leader Diane Locke, and LR Leader Anne Grant. Participants were able to choose two of the three sessions to attend, and then all attendees returned to the plenary for a large-group debrief.

Human Resources

Diane Locke talking about Talent Management at the 2015 Workplace in Motion SummitFacilitator Diane Locke led a discussion around HR practices in a new work model, and introduced guest speakers from Telus and Samsung to share their best practices for attracting, developing, engaging and retaining talent.

Bryan Acker, Culture Change Ambassador with TELUS, discussed their Work Styles® program, which gives employees the flexibility to work when and where they are most effective, so they can focus on supporting an exceptional customer experience. He said this supports work-life balance, improves employee retention and delivers consistent productivity.  According to their new hire survey, work-life flexibility is shown to consistently be a talent attractor for TELUS.

Christine Greco, Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs at Samsung Canada, shared her company’s philosophy to have highly engaged, innovative “brand ambassadors” breaking boundaries in order to achieve long term success. Samsung’s work environment includes collaboration spaces, creativity rooms and a lounge/café. Their recognition program offers unique employee perks, and they are heavily involved within their communities.

Strategies and themes from the HR deep dive:

  • Creating organizations that are employee-centric
  • Encouraging collaborative connections
  • Mapping out varied career paths
  • Taking advantage of millennial strengths
  • Releasing collective leadership capacity

Organizational Development

Francoise MorissetteFrançoise Morissette opened the OD Session by talking about how the world is changing and organizations have to transform in order to remain relevant, sustainable, effective and successful. She introduced John Wilson, Corporate Culture Strategist with the City of Edmonton, to share how the City is strategically building a better city and changing their corporate culture.

The City of Edmonton’s long-term strategic plan, called The Way Ahead, establishes six 10-year strategic goals to achieve the City’s vision for Edmonton in 2040 and to direct long-term planning. Wilson shared the Citizen Dashboard, which provides performance information to the public about municipal services that support the City’s strategic plan.

Strategies and themes from the OD deep dive:

  • Culture shift needs leadership
  • Engage employees and clients to create solutions
  • Goals must be regularly measured, evaluated and adjusted
  • Build engagement and involvement through transparency and accountability
  • Find a vision, commit to the vision, and stay with the vision

Labour Relations

Anne GrantIn the Labour Relations session, Anne Grant noted that, by 2031, it’s expected that one in three Canadian workers will be born in a different country, and that there will be roughly three people in the labour force for each retiree. Grant shared stories of unions cultivating strategic allies and partnerships, rather than adversarial rivalries in order to succeed in the global world.

Crystal Scott, past-president of CUPE Local 3521, told the group about turning around a fairly inactive local by increasing engagement, providing training to members (who hadn’t had training in almost 20 years), and working with management to create better processes and policies for her members. The session revealed that unions and employers deal with many of the same kinds of issues.

Strategies and themes from the LR deep dive:

  • We must develop partnerships and increase communication between unions across Canada, North America and internationally
  • Social technologies can increase membership and engagement
  • Bargain for more than monetary benefits
  • Honour seniority but embrace new talents and contributions
  • Form partnerships with employers to forge more collaborative, less adversarial relationships

What’s your one thing?

Visual Art at Queen's IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion SummitAt the end of the day, participants were asked what “one thing” they would take action on when they returned to the workplace. The most common theme was a determination to increase collaboration – between colleagues, across teams, in change, in long-term strategies, and with senior leaders.

Other action items included:

  • Have the courage to search and advocate for best practices not just accept the status quo
  • Look for solutions not problems
  • Help to foster an environment where new ideas, innovation, improved processes, creativity and fun are all encouraged
  • Share at least 1 positive/optimistic thought with coworkers everyday
  • Think about what’s next and not get caught up in what’s right now
  • Invite and create more opportunities to hear other perspectives outside of my immediate team
  • Look to find commonalities across groups of employees, rather than focus on our differences (ie: age, gender, department)
  • Update outdated key messaging on job descriptions and ensure that we are selecting the appropriate staff to fit our culture
  • Integrate the considerations for millennial workforce into the senior leadership HR and OD strategies
  • Promote client and leader reflection with thought-provoking questions
  • Build strategies to engage youth in organized labour

Smartphone capturing visual art at 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit

Pictures from the Summit are available on Facebook

Infographics from the Summit are available on Facebook

Summit Proceedings can be found here

Labour Relations and the Rise of the Millennial

Get ahead of the shift with the 2015 Queen's IRC Workplace in Motion SummitYour union membership is getting younger.

It’s no secret that millennials are increasingly becoming a major demographic in the workforce. But the way they work, the tools they use and how they engage with others is completely different from earlier generations. Are you ready for them?

Anne Grant, an expert in labour relations and mediation, will be exploring the evolution of the workforce and the impact on union-management relations at the Queen’s IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit on April 16 in Toronto. “Successful organizations and unions need to understand what millennials expect from management, labour relations and union representation,” she says. “They place great value on a collaborative culture and the ability to communicate freely. We need to change the way we think about union-management partnerships and how we engage millennials in those discussions.”

Along with the rise of the millennial, The Workplace in Motion Summit will examine key trends in workplace evolution – technology, globalization and the knowledge era, with key sessions that explore how these trends will affect the labour relations climate – for example:

Successful unions are using social media, big data and other tools to connect with members. What will the union meeting of the future look like?

In order to remain competitive, organizations need to work with their unions to develop strategic practices that stand up on the international stage. What needs to change in your workplace to enable that collaboration?

We need to understand and nurture talented teams, particularly as the pace of knowledge accelerates and work becomes more specialized. How will your labour relations strategies enable you to access and develop this talent?

Be part of the conversation
The Workplace in Motion Summit is a new way of strategizing for a changing world at work. You’ll have the opportunity to learn from successful organizations, brainstorm with colleagues and gain insights into the next generation and what they need to contribute to your success.

Get ahead of the shift – register today for this game-changing event.

Investigative Tips for Labour Relations Practitioners: Reporting the Evidence – DOs and DON’Ts

Investigative Tips for Labour Relations Practitioners: Reporting the Evidence - DOs and DON'TsA key component of fact-finding is the gathering and reporting of evidence. The fact-finding report is intended to be a reliable resource for labour relations practitioners. Thus, the following DOs and DON’Ts should be considered when preparing the evidence section of the fact-finding report:

  • DO be concise. Often the position of one of the parties, or the evidence of a witness, can be summarized briefly, while remaining complete. Avoid presenting the argument or information in a certain order, or at a given level of detail, simply because the witness did so.
  • DO present only evidence that is relevant. Often one piece of information that seems relevant at one point in the investigation is ultimately found irrelevant.
  • DO indicate the full extent of a witness’ knowledge of an event. Did the witness actually see or hear the event? Did she/he hear about it second-hand? Or, is she/he speculating on what might have happened?
  • DO try to see the evidence and the report from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the events; try to anticipate and answer the questions of the reader.
  • DO use direct quotes where the exact words are important. Also, ensure that you present a witness’ evidence with use of attributive phrases such as “the witness stated that…”, so that it is clear that the material represents the witness’ evidence, and not your own opinions or observations.
  • DON’T exclude evidence simply because you don’t think that it is credible. Include the evidence and discuss the witness’ credibility, if necessary, in the analysis section of the report so the reader can make his/her own decision.
  • DON’T include, in the evidence section, analytical material or commentary such as, “This statement by the respondent is inconsistent with his previous statement that…”. The inconsistency should be apparent to your reader if the report is well-written—if you need to point it out explicitly, you can do so in the analysis section.

Compiling an accurate fact-finding report is integral to a good investigative outcome; make sure you present the facts with purpose and objectivity.

Developing a Competency Framework for Labour Relations Professionals

The purpose of this Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) research initiative was to identify and categorize competencies required by a successful Labour Relations Professional (LRP). A review of the literature and an analysis of the IRC’s labour relations programming, led to the development of a survey for experienced labour relations practitioners. The IRC conducted the LRP survey in June 2009. Aggregated data revealed subtle shifts in competencies required for LRPs. Drawing on the 154 survey responses collected, a LRP Competency Framework is proposed. The resulting framework informs the IRC’s program planning and delivery, and is intended to be a practical tool for LRPs to plan their professional development activities.

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