Are You in a Communication Rut? Shift the Pattern, Get Different Results

Imagine that you are in a conversation when you suddenly realize that you have had this exact same disagreement with a co-worker, or a family member, many times before. In the moment, you can predict what you will say and do and what the other person will too. You feel compelled to act in a certain way, even when you know that what you will say or do next is unwise or unproductive. You cannot seem to help yourself. Or the other person! After the conversation has gone from bad to worse, you may find yourself attributing it to the other person’s incompetence, character flaws, or bad motive. You end up feeling frustrated and angry about how you and the other person did it again. Furthermore, you may be oblivious to how your behavior contributed to the undesirable behavior of the other person. You’ve just had an URP moment.

It can feel embarrassing to admit that despite our best intentions, our communications with others do not go the way we intended and that we could make better choices in the moment. Leaders and managers can learn to address some of these unwanted, repetitive, and intractable dynamics and shift the pattern to what they want instead.

Download PDF: Are You in a Communication Rut? Shift the Pattern, Get Different Results

Breaking Bad News About Organizational Change

Getting the news out about an upcoming restructuring, merger or acquisition, layoff, or other major organizational change can be a challenge. No one wants to experience having their name ‘pop up’ in a new organization chart that is widely distributed online before receiving any direct personal communication from their boss. Imagine if you showed up at the office and discovered that the reason why you cannot access your email is not because of a glitch with the IT department but because you have been dismissed, and no one had the courage to tell you. Organizations and managers have a responsibility to share such news in direct and supportive ways that enable employees to understand what is changing and how they will be affected.

Why is it so hard to deliver bad news to others? Perhaps you like to be the ‘nice guy’ and find it difficult to say no, or disappoint others. You may fear that you will become the target of anger and retaliation. Being the bearer of bad news can be emotionally upsetting, challenge our self-image, and disrupt relationships. Sometimes we face situations where our own beliefs and feelings, values and principles are in conflict. Caught in the middle, we might feel a bit ambivalent, or defensive, about the decisions made by the executive team, and yet we are the ones asked to deliver the message to employees.

Bad news is defined as information that has an adverse effect on how a person views the future, and impacts how people think, feel, and behave (Bies, 2012; Buckman, 2005). How we deliver bad news affects how people interpret information, and how they cope. It not only impacts the relationship between managers and employees, but may negatively impact the company’s reputation.

Some of us have not had much experience delivering bad news. Many of us have received little or no training on how to deliver bad news to our employees. If managers are typically inexperienced and unprepared to deliver bad news, what might we learn from other professionals like doctors, nurses, and law enforcement officials that might help us with this difficult task? Using a structured approach can help you deliver bad news to individual employees in a way that will result in less anger and blame, provide a greater sense of fairness, engender greater respect for you as a manager, and help people deal with change (Bies, 2012). Consider a process with three stages: prepare, deliver, and follow-up that can help you be successful in handling these situations.


  1. Practice. Rehearsing before delivering such news can help you appear more credible to your audience. Rehearsal can take the form of mental rehearsal, or actual practice. Try practicing at home in front of the mirror to gauge your own verbal and nonverbal behavior. According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, our body language affects how others see us, and when we are being inauthentic, our nonverbal and verbal cues are misaligned.
  2. Manage the setting. Arrange to have the discussion in a quiet and private location. Minimize interruptions. Turn off the cellphone, computer, telephone. Consider meeting with the employee in his or her office, rather than calling them into your office. Take your time.
  3. Manage your own reactions. Delivering bad news can be emotionally upsetting for managers who may feel guilty, conflicted, and focused on avoiding the situation. You need to be aware of, and manage, your own emotional reactions before sitting down with an employee. How can you keep calm, professional, and genuine?

Deliver the Message, Build the Relationship

Communication takes place on two levels: the message content and the relationship. Breaking bad news is an opportunity for you to communicate the facts of the situation and provide the rationale for decisions that have been made. It is also an important opportunity for you to pay attention to the relationship. How you maintain the respect and dignity of the employee in the conversation and convey trust may have a significant impact on your credibility, employee morale and motivation, and your relationship with employees that may continue into the future.

  1. Provide some advance warning. Just like good drivers who signal their intentions to other drivers as they prepare to make a left turn, managers need to prepare people to hear bad news. Providing advance warning of bad news provides some predictability that can help offset the shock of bad news. You can start the conversation by saying, “I have some difficult news I need to share with you.” Easing into the topic gives people a chance to prepare themselves psychologically for what comes next.
  2. Be sincere. Face-to-face delivery of bad news matters. When bad news is delivered verbally, in person, or over the phone, people will perceive you as more sincere. Face-to-face communication encourages more immediate feedback that can help you clarify the message, reduce misunderstanding, and convey trust.
  3. Deliver with clarity. Give information in small chunks. Be clear. Repeat the message. You don’t want the information you are attempting to convey to be misinterpreted. Beware of corporate ‘doublespeak’ that may confuse the message in an attempt to make the situation seem less terrible. Saying one thing, while meaning another is a sure way to undermine your credibility. Test for understanding. Summarize the information you have presented.
  4. Tell the truth. Employees expect managers to tell the truth, and truth is essential to building trust (Bies, 2012). Lying creates intense feelings of distrust and outrage. Be direct. Give people the facts. Don’t sugarcoat the message. Help people understand the situation. Identify the mitigating circumstances. Explain the rationale for decisions that have been made.
  5. Provide an adequate account. People expect a clear, valid and reasonable explanation or justification for managerial decisions and actions. Doing this well can make it less likely that employees will blame you as the manager. Inadequate accounts, on the other hand, can be demotivating, resulting in less cooperation on the part of employees, lowered productivity, and potentially increasing the risk of retaliation.
  6. Explore, empathize, validate. Encourage employees to vent. Remember, emotional reactions are normal. Validate the person’s experience in a genuine manner. You could say, “This is not what you wanted to hear” and “I can understand how you feel that way”. Acknowledging feelings helps people feel validated. Avoid getting into a debate about the merits of a decision that has already been made. Listen. Invite feedback.

Follow Up

Communicating bad news may be the first in a series of events that need to happen to ensure a smooth transition to a new reality. Your role as a manager is to continue to provide the support and direction needed to help people manage this transition. In the shock of the moment, people may not process or remember all of the details. Follow up with employees by inviting feedback and questions, being available, and focusing on next steps.

  1. Invite questions. Invite feedback. Ask, what questions do you have? Gently probe to explore feelings if people have not expressed them.
  2. Focus on the next steps. What can you do to help employees to focus on the future? How do you provide a sense of hope for the future? What is going to happen, when, and how? Adapting to stressful events is somewhat easier if they are predictable or controllable.
  3. Be available. Invite employees to come back to you another time with more questions and concerns.

Managers play an important role in setting the stage around the need for change in organizational life. Not all change is life-altering. Taking adequate time to plan and prepare before delivering bad news can increase your confidence and your skill in having these conversations. Paying attention to the content and delivery of the message helps employees understand the rationale for change, maintains trust, and reduces anger and blame. If you act with integrity, people may not like the message, but they might respect the messenger. And that might mean they are more willing to work with you to make the changes that are necessary to create new possibilities for the future.


About the Author

Kate Sikerbol

Kate Sikerbol, PhD (Candidate) is a facilitator with Queens IRC and an organizational consultant and coach with extensive experience in business, healthcare, government and higher education. Kate has designed and delivered change management programs, leadership development programs, facilitated team building using strengths-based and appreciative approaches, and provided leadership assessment and coaching to managers and executives. She is passionate about creating capability for change in teams, organizations, and communities. Kate is the lead facilitator for Queen’s IRC Change Management program.


Selected References

Bies, R. J. (2012). The delivery of bad news in organizations: A framework for analysis. Journal of Management, Vol 26, 1-18.

Buckman, R. (2005). Breaking bad news: The S-P-I-K-E-S strategy. Community Oncology, 2, 138-142.

Cuddy, A. (2012). Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Retrieved April 8, 2016, from

Gallo, A. (2015). How to deliver bad news to your employees. Harvard Business Review, March 30, 2015.

There is No Cookie Cutter Approach to Labour Relations

As an HR professional or senior leader, you spend years mastering the labour relations fundamentals. Not the textbook fundamentals, but the behaviours, the actions, communication styles–the way you handle sensitive situations. You log numerous failures, like the time you told the union that the grievance was invalid because they used red ink, the time you were new and mistook a seasoned union employee for a manager and accidentally told them your grievance strategy, and the time(s) you said “sure, we can do that” at the Labour/Management table when you really should have said “let me look into that.” 

You learn. Your teachers are your HR superiors, your management teams and your unions. Yes. Let the unions teach you too. And be open to their wisdom. Because when it comes to positive labour relations there is no cookie cutter approach.

Let’s let “HR Novice” show us how his style grew with his experience…

In a grievance discussion at a manufacturing plant, the union executive speak in loud accusatory tones toward management. Management frequently does not follow through on the tabled issues and communication is very disjointed. The social norm for front line management is to avoid union discussions and rule with a heavy hand. There is very little collaboration. The largely uneducated and non-English-speaking employees do as they are told, fearful of reprisals. Modelling his behaviour from upper management, the HR Novice acts in a similar fashion and soon is regarded as aloof and “just another white hat.” The business of the day, however, is booming and upper management use this as the only success indicator. The union executive predominantly ignore HR Novice and instead form their own hierarchy and culture to deal with issues in the workplace.  When HR Novice does seek to assert himself, often in the form of shouting, he is met with dissonance and soft laughter. Unknowingly and still with the backing of the senior managers, HR Novice thinks he is a successful communicator with the union and inwardly, is proud of his accomplishments.

Two years later, HR Novice moves on in his career to another unionized manufacturing plant with the majority of employees holding high school education. This assembly plant is cleaner, has solid practices in place and is piloting the lead hand model. Having found such success with his labour relations style, HR Novice presents himself as a strong force with little flexibility.  Management is initially pleased with the support but start to feel the ripples of union discontent. Employees quickly realize their opinion is neither solicited nor valued. The lead hands who essentially bridge management and front line staff begin to step down from their roles. After about a year, HR Novice receives some great coaching from a mentoring manager.  In time HR Novice co-facilitates, with his mentor, a new strategy of transparency and informed messaging. The intent behind the strategy is to seek to inform the union of the reasons behind management’s decisions. The practice of shouting at employees thankfully diminishes. Unfortunately, very little consultation or collaboration is sought of employees, but advance notice and statistics act as commercials for future changes. The management misinterpret the union’s woe as lack of information. Missing its mark, union relations improve only modestly by the time HR Novice moves on in 3 years’ time.

HR Novice (well, let’s call him “HR Intermediate” now) chooses a unionized chain of hotels as his next career jump. The staff are educated, multilingual and service driven. There are very few issues with respect to labour-management. The autonomous staff give leaders the luxury to spend the bulk of their time on special projects instead of day-to-day supervision.

HR Intermediate is new to the industry and seeks to learn from the management team. He brings with him his toolkit of HR knowledge which now has his collaborative style as well as his authoritarian style.  He sways between the two styles and second-guesses a lot of his decisions, at times feeling overwhelmed. One day, while waiting in the hallway for a meeting to start he overhears some union stewards discussing a recent decision he made. They ponder aloud HR Intermediate’s reasoning and chalk up the poor decision to his inexperience with the hospitality industry.  A remark is made, “I wonder why he never shadowed us or asked us about our job functions before restructuring the scheduling program. It doesn’t work for us.” The unintended feedback resonates with HR Intermediate and he seeks to add yet another tool to his kit. The tool of “all of your training doesn’t have to come from management.”

You are not weak if you ask employees to show you their duties, and learn their trade. Not unlike any professional, union personnel take great pride in their work and often bring years of savvy seniority to the business – something that HR Intermediate had previously overlooked. He continues to seek first to understand, before making decisions or informing senior management tables.  HR Intermediate continues his learning path for the next 5 years, coaching the leaders on his newfound style.

HR Intermediate now joins the world of retail. A chain of houseware stores claims his attention for the next 6 years. His array of HR skills is growing. He now understands that you don’t need to pick a style and stick with it. He knows that the style is specific to the situation or the strategy at play, and that even more than one strategy can be used at once. He finds Zen by being collaborative to an extent and then on other occasions, just informs and implements, sometimes without consultation, if the situation warrants.

More importantly, HR Intermediate understands that there aren’t two sides in opposition to each other in the workplace. And there is no winner when it comes to employee relations. Employees all expect respect, a diplomatic approach and informed decision-making. No singular style fits every workplace or is fulsome enough to span a whole career. Workplaces are not cookies cut from the same gingerbread mold.  The industry, the organization’s mission and the people that work there are the key to making HR successful.

Remember who our teachers are.  We don’t get “this HR thing” right for years, just ask HR Novice.


About the Author

Leanne Gray

Leanne Gray, CHRL, is currently the Director of People Services for the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) where she leads the Human Resources department in performing their front-line functions to support community health care.  Prior to that, Leanne worked in intensely unionized local government in both small and large municipal sectors for 11+ years. Leanne has been trained and certified in Advanced Dispute Resolution and is a qualified mediator. Leanne’s career has allowed her to participate regularly in grievance hearings, mediations, arbitrations and act as the Management Chair for collective bargaining. Her experience has included union certification drives, decertification of a union, strikes, lockouts and interest arbitrations.

Managing People and Labour Relations in Municipal Government

Although there has been a lot of research on the links between human resource management and workplace performance, much of the work is focused on the private sector. Moreover, there is less research addressing labour relations practices in municipal government. In discussions with government officials and in presentations to individuals employed in government there has been a particularly strong interest in the management of human resources and labour relations. Among the questions that frequently arise are: (1) what are other municipal government workplaces doing to manage human resources? and (2) what is happening in terms of labour relations in local government workplaces? The current article is aimed at addressing these questions from a practitioner perspective.

The results of this study are based on questionnaire responses from more than 250 municipal government workplaces across Canada. The survey was conducted in 2009. Respondents varied somewhat in size; 45% of the workplaces had 25 or fewer employees, 33% had 26 to 100 employees, and 22% had more than 100 employees. About 57% of the workplaces were unionized and 58% reported that their overhead costs were lower when compared to similar municipalities.

Download PDF: Managing People and Labour Relations in Municipal Government

Young Workers and the Union Movement in Canada

Many young workers don’t feel connected to the labour movement. They see it as a relic from previous generations, something that may have helped their parents but isn’t helping them, and something that might even be preventing them from obtaining good jobs.  So what can unions do to win over young workers?

This question was discussed at a recent roundtable discussion on the future of unions in the private sector hosted by the Canadian HR Reporter, and sponsored by Queen’s IRC.

Todd Humber, the Canadian HR Reporter’s managing editor, moderated the roundtable discussion. He asked panelists how unions are perceived by the youth, and what unions will need to do to win over the hearts and minds of young workers.

Anna Goldfinch, the national executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, represents 300,000 students in the province of Ontario.  She said that what they are seeing is a job market that’s leaving young people behind.

“The youth unemployment rate is double that of the adult unemployment rate here in the province and we’re seeing a rise in precarious work and underemployment for youth.”

“We’re drowning in debt, because we can’t find jobs, and the jobs that we can find are non-unionized.”

Elaine Newman, an arbitrator and mediator, and instructor for Queen’s IRC, acknowledges the issue of youth underemployment. “They are out of school, with student debt, with nothing but energy and ambition, and they are shut out.”

“As unions reinvent themselves and re-examine the fundamental guiding historic principles like seniority, occasionally someone gets up the nerve to say, is seniority working now that we have this valuable resource that we can’t employ?”

Newman said the value of seniority as a guiding principle is eroded when the young people who can’t get into the system are the sons and daughters of a union’s most senior members.  “All of the sudden the conversation changes and shifts a little bit.  There’s much less conversation about selling out the older people in favor of the younger people, when it’s actually their own children who they’re anxious to see employed.”

Bill Murnighan, the director of Unifor’s research department, says that there’s all sorts of issues in front of the labour market and Canadian workers, including job creation and seniority.

“Seniority and other systems work wonderfully when you have a growing economy.  It’s very simple for people at the bottom to feel that they’re on a ladder that’s moving up.  You have decent pensions, people retire, they go out, and the machinery works.”

However, when you have a stalled or weak economy, these things become more problematic, Murnighan said. But that hasn’t stopped Unifor from trying to recruit more young people.

“We say, let’s keep a decent pension so that people can retire, so there’s actual job creation.  We also try to create employment by getting investment in our facilities.”

Unifor, which represents about 300,000 employees across 20 sectors, is also targeting workplaces with precarious jobs. “One other thing we see is a growing trend around precarious workers and two-tier work,” said Murnighan. “We will not embrace that – the idea that, you can work for $27 dollars an hour and the person beside you will work for $12, and that will be forever more.”

Murnighan said while Unifor wants to create opportunities for youth, they won’t do it by selling out with two-tier work.

What can unions do to attract young workers?

Young workers don’t see themselves fitting into union culture because it doesn’t reflect the lifestyle and the work that they participate in, Goldfinch commented.

“Messaging that comes from unions like ‘the folks that brought you the weekend’ is incredibly effective for those who have weekends. Increasingly, young people don’t actually have weekends – their weekends might be a Monday and every second Thursday,” said Goldfinch.

“They see unions as organizations that represented people like their parents, people who were in Monday to Friday 9 to 5 type of employment, and that’s not for them.

“I think if unions are going to make themselves relevant to youth and to students, they need to start communicating that they are applicable in any work force. The benefits that our parents enjoyed when they were working in a unionized environment are available to young people.”  She said that unions will reflect the priorities of young people as more youth start to participate in them.

Goldfinch said that this very educated, but indebted generation, is in trouble. “I think we need to widen in the conversation to, why are youth and students in precarious jobs? Why aren’t they starting businesses more? Why aren’t they finding jobs in their field or at least good entry-level jobs that have on-the-job training where companies are investing in them as employees? We don’t see that happening.”

Ted Mallett, Vice-President and Chief Economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a better future for young workers will come from being entrepreneurial and self-reliant.

He said they see lots of students starting businesses and hitting the ground running. “That’s a positive thing. The Youth Business Foundation is strong and vibrant. It’s creating this kind of mentorship in the universities that has been very positive. The idea that young people are only starting their own firms because they can’t find a job for a big unionized company, that’s not true at all.”

“The rule of thumb is that for every one person that starts a business because they find no other options, there were two or three others who started businesses because they have the confidence to do something,” said Mallett.

“Even with the decline in private sector unions we’ve seen an increase in the standard of living. There have been bumps and scrapes along the way because of the business cycle, but on balance we’re seeing a much stronger self-reliant economy than we’ve ever seen before in Canada.”

Jamie Knight, a partner at labour and employment law firm Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti in Toronto, said we need to work towards a cooperative workforce. He said there’s a need to discuss and reexamine the defined benefit pensions, which are the cornerstone of the trade union movement.  And, he suggested that there’s alternatives to the two-tier system, which impact young workers the most.

“There’s graduated wage systems where there’s an expanded wage grid, where it may take you many, many years to catch up, but there’s eventually a catch up.  That’s quite different from, as Bill described it, a forever two-tier system.”

The outlook for young workers

Anna Goldfinch paints a grim picture of life for young workers. “Tuition fees have rapidly outpaced everything including inflation, food, rent, transportation. Debt is skyrocketing – we’ve hit 19 billion dollars of just federal student loans in this country.”

She said it’s taking longer for students to get jobs, and even longer to get good jobs. “Everything in our lives is being prolonged. It’s harder to get the first job, it’s harder to then get the second job, and it’s harder to start a career. You’re getting your house and your mortgage and starting your family later. We’re seeing lives prolonged, lives put on pause because we haven’t figured out how to invest in youth like we used to. We haven’t figured out how to include them, whether it be by providing them with education, investing in their skills and training, both in the public sector and the private sector.”

But Peter Edwards, Vice-President of human resources and labour relations for Canadian Pacific, and a speaker with Queen’s IRC, disagrees.  He said that the issues that today’s youth are facing are very similar to the youth of previous generations.

“When I graduated, it was hard to get a job, and the first job is the hardest.  And then I disappeared into a vacuum for about five years, and then employers everywhere discovered us and wanted us.”

“Were there hard times before for youth unemployment? Yes. And there will be again.”

He reassured the youth that the delayed onset of getting to those stages of having a home, a mortgage, and a family – they will all come.

“We’re going to have all these challenges and all these problems, and the path forward will always be unclear. I think that everybody’s got a little bit of the solution, but there is no monolithic solution or problem.”

Edwards said it’s all about how we adapt, and speed with which we adapt to the changes. “I think society now asks us to adapt faster, whether or not we want that, we’re not given that choice anymore.”

Watch the Canadian HR Reporter’s full 16-minute video on Youth and the union movement in Canada:

Read our first article from the Canadian HR Reporter Roundtable on the future of unions in the private sector:
The Future of Unions in Canada’s Private Sector: How Can Unions Overcome their PR Problem?

The Six Levels of Workplace Health

The theory of “workplace health” can be best described by comparing a workplace to a human being. As humans, our health is often affected by the choices we make regarding diet, exercise, stress and generally the way we choose to live our lives. Poor diet, excessive stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and destructive behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse can often lead to poor health.

The same can be said of a workplace’s health. Often workplaces exhibit behaviours which are indicative of poor conflict management, leading to unfair decisions, a high turnover rate, and unproductive workplaces.

In this article, we consider the concept of “workplace health” and the consequences of poor workplace health upon the success of the organization.

Figure 1 is a model called the “WFI Workplace Health Theory: Six Levels of Workplace Health”. It describes both constructive and destructive workplace behaviours as well as reactive and proactive responses to conflict. By comparing these two elements we have identified six levels of workplace conflict health.

Figure 1 – WFI Workplace Health Theory: Six Levels of Workplace Health

 Six Levels of Workplace Health

While most workplaces may show signs of each of these workplace health levels, more productive, engaging and positive workplace environments focus upon the top three levels of workplace health. These levels are purposefully prioritized to symbolize their desirability. In other words, the most healthy workplaces are those that concentrate on “holistic constructive” approaches while the least healthy workplaces exhibit “active destructive” behaviours. The goal of any workplace should be to move toward holistic, constructive approaches and away from active destructive behaviours.

Conflict Behaviours

Organizations, like human beings, are complex organisms. Humans may get up in the morning, have a balanced nutritious breakfast, go for a jog, then smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all day, and consume alcohol for much of the evening. In other words, humans have destructive and constructive behaviours. Some humans have more or less of each, but it is fair to say that most humans practice both types of behaviours.

The same can be said about organizations and “conflict behaviours”. An organization may invest considerable resources and effort into a peer mediation program, and then allow abusive behaviours from their management team because it produces short term results.

Typical Destructive Behaviours

Many workplaces engage in some types of destructive behaviours. Some of the most observable destructive behaviours are:

  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Favouritism
  • Lawlessness
  • Unfair decisions
  • Excessive bottom line focus
  • Excessive “victory” focus
  • Lack of concern for individuals
  • Harsh and unfair punishments

While there are some workplaces that exhibit these behaviours directly and in abundance, many other workplaces have more subtle and nuanced versions of these destructive behaviours. For example, the employee who might be a little different or is not someone’s best friend is not selected for the promotion. The employee is not considered a “team player”.

A good example of institutionalized destructive behaviour was Enron’s performance management policy. They had what is commonly referred to as the “rank and yank” method of succession planning. They would annually rank their employees from 1 to 100. Then they would draw a line at a certain percentile and fire employees who did not meet reach that percentile.

This encouraged all the destructive behaviours mentioned above. In a rush to the top, workplace participants would do anything necessary to make themselves look good and make others look bad. The excessive bottom line focus drove employees to lie to survive and this created a culture of extreme unfairness. Needless to say, this was one of the reasons for the massive implosion of the company. It is a good example of a Level 1 — Active Destructive corporate health culture.

Many organizations wallow in the destructive side of workplace health. They always suffer — sometimes in very severe ways. As estimated in the Corporate Leavers Survey conducted for the Level Playing Field Institute in 2007, two million professionals leave their jobs every year in the United States solely because of a perception that the organization will not treat them fairly.

And this just one of five responses to a culture of unfairness in the workplace; most of which are negative and damaging to the workplace culture and those within it. These responses include (see Figure 2 below):

  • External Exit (i.e. leave the organization)
  • Internal Exit (i.e. absenteeism, presenteeism)
  • Assimilate (i.e. become abusive)
  • Challenge (i.e. try to combat the unfairness)
  • Head Down (i.e. come into work and keep your head down — don’t work any harder than you have to, to keep your job)

There is only one of those responses that can produce positive results for the organization — the “challenge” response. This response is usually made by employees with a high level of loyalty to the organization and a strong self-confidence in their employment options. This employee seeks to move the culture away from destructive behaviours and towards constructive behaviours. Three of the other four responses — “external exit”, “internal exit” and “head down” — allow an organization to entrench its destructive behaviour through lack of direct challenge. The fifth response, “assimilation”, actively supports and encourages destructive behaviours. These people “assimilate” into the culture of unfairness and become active participants, thinking that this is the way to get along and get ahead in this organization.

Figure 2: The Head-Down Theory: Zones of Engagement

 Zones of Engagement

Active, Passive and Reactive Destructive Behaviours

As noted in the Six Levels of Workplace Health model (Figure 1), we have identified three types of destructive behaviours. Active Destructive behaviours are the most obvious and damaging to workplace health. These include bullying, discrimination, violence and harassment. They can also include institutionalized unfairness like the “rank and yank” model of performance management and succession planning. We would call this “Level One Behaviour” as it is considered the most damaging to the organization’s health.

There are also Passive Destructive behaviours, like lawlessness, and what we call the “bottom-line fetish” (i.e. sacrificing the conflict health of the organization in the interests of immediate economic performance), and generally a lack of concern for individuals in the workplace. These passive behaviours promote active destructive behaviours. In a lawless organization, for example, active destructive behaviours tend to take hold as people fight for their own survival and advancement without regard to fair rules and fair decision-making. We call this “Level Two Behaviour” because it indirectly promotes Level One behaviours.

The third level of workplace health is called Reactive Destructive. These behaviours are more commonly associated with excessive command and control, or top-down cultures. They are typified by harsh and unfair punishments, excessive concern for legal liability and an undue focus on employee obedience rather than employee contribution. While organizations that are typified by such behaviour may discourage bullying and discrimination, and they certainly will have rules, they tend to be too heavy-handed and patriarchal — thus leaving employees with a sense of fear throughout their working lives. We refer to these as “Level Three Behaviours”.

Constructive Behaviours and Responses

The top three levels of Workplace Health consider constructive behaviours and constructive responses to conflict. In ascending order we call these three levels “Reactive Constructive”, “Preventative Constructive” and “Holistic Constructive”, the highest level.

The Fourth Level of Workplace Health is dominated by Reactive Constructive behaviours and responses to conflict. Examples of Reactive Constructive approaches might be: fair and balanced dispute resolution decision-making, mediation, fair investigation processes. These approaches focus upon dealing with conflict as it arises. While we consider these approaches constructive, they are also mostly reactive in nature. They do not arise until the conflict has already happened. Additionally, they are mostly focused on dealing with the conflict at hand. These approaches can be helpful in dealing with the symptoms of an unhealthy organization — but they are not always useful at addressing the underlying causes.

To better understand the limitations of Reactive Constructive approaches to dealing with workplace issues, it is helpful to consider the Conflict Transformations theory advanced by Rubin, Pruitt and Kim in their book Social Conflict. In charting the course of conflict in large scale international disputes, the authors concluded that conflict takes on five transformations:

  • The first transformation involves the efforts that people use to get their way in a conflict. They start out as light tactics to influence the other side and steadily progress to heavier often threatening tactics.
  • The second transformation concerns the issues involved in the conflict. The issue might start out as small and singular in nature, but they proliferate as the conflict continues.
  • The third transformation involves the attribution theory. The parties start with a focus upon the issues themselves, but the conflict then transforms to conflict about the personalities and dispositions of the other side.
  • The fourth transformation involves the goals of the parties in conflict. The parties might begin with a goal of doing well in the conflict or getting the matter dealt with quickly and efficiently. As the conflict continues unabated, the goals of the parties start to transform at first from doing well to winning and finally to hurting the other side.
  • The fifth transformation relates to who the conflict affects. At the start, the conflict might only be between two parties, but as it continues other parties must get involved. At its extreme (like the Arab-Israeli conflict) the world is drawn in on this conflict.

Whether the conflict is on the international stage or in the workplace, the transformations take on the same character. What seems an insignificant matter between two parties is morphed into an uncontrollable conflict that affects many people and can have dire consequences for all involved. It is for this reason that Reactive Constructive measures are considered to result in a lower level of workplace health than more proactive measures. By the time the reactive measure is invoked, there has already been considerable conflict transformation and the health of the workplace has already suffered — sometimes irreparably. This is why progressive workplaces are considering more proactive measures.

The Fifth Level of Workplace Health — Preventative Constructive — is indicative of generally proactive measures for dealing with workplace conflict. Workplaces which are predominately at this level of workplace health tend to concern themselves with forward thinking as it relates to conflict and unfairness. In such workplaces, strategies will be developed to forecast and account for potential sources, and they will devise strategies to minimize the likelihood of conflict taking place. Preventative Constructive measures can include training and development of staff, managers, and human resources professionals, on how best to deal with conflict and make fair and consistent decisions. There will also be thoughtful, balanced and well researched policies in place that guide workplace participants through conflict situations, and policies that inform workplace participants how to avoid unnecessary conflict. Conflict coaching, when used thoughtfully, can be a Preventative Constructive measure. Where workplace individuals are identified as “in need of coaching”, and where the conflict coach is called well in advance of major conflict to help those in need, this has a preventative quality for future conflict.

The advantage of a Preventative Constructive approach is that much conflict and unfairness is forecasted and managed up front before it occurs. Workplaces that devote resources to training, good policy making, and thoughtful processes tend to moderate the transformations of conflict we discussed earlier. These workplaces are more fair, healthy and conflict-free than those that rely upon reactive approaches.

The sixth and highest level of workplace health is called Holistic Constructive. Like the previous level, the Holistic Constructive level focuses on proactive approaches for managing workplace health. What distinguishes the Holistic Constructive level from the Preventative Constructive level, is that Holistic Constructive workplaces seek to integrate conflict management and fairness into the very business of the workplace. Such workplaces are keen on organizational analysis, considering the impact of all processes, policies, procedures and decisions upon the health of the workplace.

The consistent view of Holistic Constructive workplaces is that healthy workplaces are wealthy workplaces. A clear line is drawn between health and success for such organizations. Typically, such organizations rely upon constant feedback from participants and are committed to continuous improvement in the way they deal with human issues. The goal is to engage workplace participants to play a positive role in engendering workplace health as well as wealth. Thus, while generally the responsibility falls upon “management” to ensure workplace health at the lower levels, at the Holistic Constructive Level this responsibility is openly and eagerly shared with each workplace participant through feedback forums, training and development, appreciative enquiry and thoughtful planning.


This model should be used as a diagnostic tool to help assess the overall level of workplace conflict health. Organizations that encourage constructive behaviours and discourage destructive behaviours are generally more productive an innovative. Employees are generally more engaged in their work and tend to be more interested in the success of the organization. This tool should be used to help identify negative and positive behaviours and to encourage proactive approaches to managing the workplace.

About the Author

Blaine Donais

Blaine Donais (B.A., LL.B., LL.M., RPDR, C. Med.) is President and Founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute. Blaine is a labour lawyer and an expert in labour/management facilitations, mediation, and investigation. He teaches human resources professionals, labour leaders and others in areas such as human rights, labour and employment law, human resources, collective bargaining and conflict resolution.

Blaine is author of Workplaces That Work: A Guide to Conflict Management in Union and Non-Union Work Environments (Carswell, 2006), and of Engaging Unionized Employees (Carswell, 2010) and Workplace Mediation (Carswell, upcoming 2014). Blaine is an Adjunct Professor of Workplace Conflict Management, and Advanced Mediation Academic Director at York University. He also teaches at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto and at Royal Roads University.


Creating a Strategy for Workplace Investigations

Workplace investigations – where to begin? Like many organizations DynaLIFEDx conducts internal investigations for a variety of different reasons.

In 2011, new to the world of Human Resources and Employee Relations, I was challenged to evaluate our internal processes for workplace investigations, identify risks and opportunities, and make recommendations on a move forward strategy. What clearly became evident was a strong desire to do the right thing, but a lack of consistency and clarity in how workplace investigations were handled. This lack of consistency and clarity did have the potential to lead to inaccurate findings and create at times, a lack of confidence in the process.

Where to start? Past experience with Queen’s University IRC led me straight to their door. In the fall of 2011 they held a Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation course. As with other training programs I had attended at Queen’s IRC, they put you to work – creating an environment of learning that includes robust discussions, role-playing, knowledgeable and engaging facilitators, and numerous resources to provide guidance.

Led by Anne Grant, an experienced mediator and conflict resolution professional, I began the journey of learning key principles, stages, legal framework, key procedural aspects, principles of fairness and effectively using organizational policy in formal fact-finding investigations – and that was just the beginning. When I left at the end of the week, my mind was filled with potential infrastructure for our organization, and my hands were filled with templates, guides and best practices.

Personal learning aside, my mandate was to bring to the organization a consistent and fair framework for managing complaints and concerns moving forward. Fast forward two years, through trial and error, and our organization has successfully incorporated the numerous learning’s from the Queen’s IRC program, into a process that has become widely respected and trusted, not only by leaders but by employees as well.

Key infrastructure that has been built includes:

  1. Pre Screening Complaints: Options, when to investigate and when not to, understanding your mandate.
  2. Preparing a Plan: Notification processes for complainants, respondents, union and witnesses; planning the investigation.
  3. Gathering and Documenting Evidence: Rules of evidence, sifting through the evidence, accurate documentation.
  4. Interviewing: Planning the Interview, documentation, skill building in interviewing, and roles of all parties.
  5. Reporting Findings: Robust reporting of findings that includes clearly outlined mandates, relevant facts, facts in dispute and facts not in dispute.
  6. Post Investigation Components: Notification of parties, and storage of material from investigations. Included in this was the deliberate removal of the fact-finder from post-investigation follow up, such as recommending and issuing discipline, something that had been practice in the past.

With the support of Queen’s IRC, finding an infrastructure that works within our organization has been vastly successful while at the same time creating a culture where best practice investigation continues to be a mandate.

About the Author

Cathy Rendek is the Manager of Human Resources at DynaLIFEDx, a private medical laboratory with more than 1,200 employees, serving over 1.4 million patients a year. In 2012, Cathy earned both the Labour Relations Certificate and Organizational Development Foundations Certificate from Queen’s IRC.

Implementing an Interest-Focused Collective Bargaining Strategy

I was a professional Fire Fighter in the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), for many years before I got directly involved as a member of our Local’s negotiating team. Although I was always interested in our Association’s activities, and I regularly attended meetings, I never considered myself “involved enough” to run for any committee or executive position for those first 15 years of my career.

I’m not certain that there was any particular event that piqued my interest in becoming a member of our Local’s negotiating team, but I was frustrated over the regular cycle of failed negotiations and expensive interest arbitrations. It seemed to me, from the outside looking in, that history kept finding a way of repeating itself and that perhaps I could bring about some change to the process of negotiations.

As a newly elected member of our Local’s negotiating team in the mid 90’s, I eagerly approached every opportunity to learn about the issues and process as we approached a fresh round of negotiations. I was immediately taken aback with how often the question of “why are we doing that” or “why are we asking for that” was answered with “because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” It made no sense to me. The way we had always done it typically led to an impasse and, with strikes and/or lock-outs prohibited, we were then on to interest arbitrations. The inability to negotiate our own deal came at a great cost for our Local and municipality from both a financial and relationship perspective.

Public sector negotiations in Ontario were particularly contentious during these times, as the social contract years were coming to a close. The ruling provincial NDP government had frozen public sector wages in 1993 and labour organizations at both the provincial and municipal levels were anxious to make up for lost time. After suffering through several years of a wage freeze, the experienced members of our negotiations team were ready for a tough fight and the battle lines were drawn. Both sides took a hard-lined, principled approach to bargaining. I was puzzled by the lack of real communications and found the experience to be extremely frustrating.

After two rounds of negotiations on the Association’s side of the bargaining table, and before I could affect any change, I was promoted into a Senior Officer’s position and soon found myself on the other side of the table, as a member of the City’s bargaining team. Much to my dismay, I quickly discovered that I was right in my assumptions and that my new team utilized the same tactics and functioned under a similar philosophy to the Association’s. Both sides were stuck in their old ways, unwilling to change regardless of the cost. Intelligent, well-intentioned people were unable to change, in spite of the fact their battle-tested ways were not producing positive results, and had not in a very long time.

  • Both sides were submitting a long list of demands, afraid that if they didn’t have as many as the other side, they wouldn’t have as many “traders” and their losses would outnumber their gains.
  • Both sides stuck to unreasonable positions, afraid that they would be the first to “give in” and would appear weak.
  • The mood at the table was generally miserable. You couldn’t be “pleasant” or the other side may misinterpret that for “happy” and use that to state that you really don’t need what you’re asking for.
  • You didn’t dare share any more information than absolutely necessary; always holding all of your cards close to your chest.
  • The reason why you wanted or needed an item wasn’t important. Why was never shared and the why question was never asked. If an item was in your long list of demands, it was deemed important, whether you needed it or not.
  • Costs associated with any proposal were guarded like State secrets, without exception, and by both sides.
  • It was all or nothing, and winning was everything!

Yet who was really winning? Each side had wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, only to have their collective agreement re-written by a board of arbitration. Decisions on business operations and the good and welfare of the employees were being made by a third party. Neither side was determining their own destiny, nor were they seeing their real interests met. No one was truly winning.

Benjamin Franklin has been credited with first coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It was an insane notion to believe that repeating our same mistakes year after year would yield a freely negotiated collective agreement when it had so rarely done so in the past. While I’m pointing the finger at my teammates, it’s important to note as well that I wasn’t blameless. Over the years, with time spent on both sides of the table, I had picked up bad habits that were inhibiting me from effectively negotiating. Therefore, I took it upon myself to start the change by first altering my own bad habits.

I began by participating in seminars on successful bargaining skills. I read books and articles and finally had an opportunity to attend the Negotiation Skills program at Queen’s IRC. I came away from the program convinced that an interest-focused approach to bargaining was the ticket to successful negotiations and the key to breaking the bad habits back home.

Having sat through an interest-based bargaining seminar that was poorly received, while a member of the Fire Fighter’s Association Executive just a few years before, I knew that I could not walk in and change things overnight. I also felt that I could not announce a change in strategy. Instead of labeling the change as a shift to an interest-focused approach, I choose to subtlety introduce the changes, first in the preparation of our proposals and then at the bargaining table.

  • It’s not always necessary to label your new bargaining philosophy. Often a series of gentle nudges will work more effectively than pushing people in a direction they may not know they need to move in.
  • Know the people that you are dealing with. A thorough knowledge of their habits, wants, needs, desires and idiosyncrasies will help you to break those habits and tool your approach to getting them to buy into an interest-focused strategy.
  • It started with our management mandate. Gone were the “traders” that weighed down our proposals and wasted so much time. All items in our proposal package represented legitimate interests, and were truly needed. It wasn’t an easy sell to our team but it quickly sent a clear message to the other side.
  • As chief spokesperson on the management bargaining team, I started to ask the “why question” and listened to the answers, interpreting the interests of the Association in an effort to satisfy them while taking care of our own.
  • I took the time to explain our interests, whether or not the Association spokesperson asked for an explanation. It soon became clear that there were no traders or fillers. Our proposals all represented real needs.
  • I made every effort to be “nice” when possible, fully aware of the fact that the relationship both sides share outlasts our time across from each other at the bargaining table. That doesn’t mean we took the exercise any less seriously than in years gone by; we just didn’t sit stone-faced for the sole purpose of being miserable.
  • I shared costing data, including the cost of benefits.
  • Bargaining became a year-round activity. A thorough discussion of issues prior to formal negotiations meant we were not starting from scratch at the table, and that was a great time-saver.
  • A considerable amount of effort was put into identifying common interests and synergies, again, without labeling it as an interest-focused exercise.
  • We met as a team, post-negotiations, to identify what worked and why. Eventually, after some success, we did so with the other side as well.

I am not going to pretend that the transformation was easy or that we found instant success. However, we did successfully freely negotiate a collective agreement, on our own and without third-party intervention, during our first round of negotiations. As hard as old habits are hard to break, we proved it is not impossible. Our negotiating styles on both sides of the table have gone through a subtle transformation and we have successfully negotiated 12 consecutive years of collective agreements.

I have also witnessed a positive change in the day-to-day relationship between our senior management/HR team and the Association executive. A thorough review of the issues discussed at our regular labour/management meetings is a great way to prepare for an upcoming round of collective bargaining.

What was broken; appears to have been fixed!

About the Author

Andy MacDonald

Andy MacDonald holds Queen’s IRC Certificates in Labour Relations, Advanced Labour Relations, and Organization Development Fundamentals, and he participated in the program on negotiations at the Harvard Law School. Andy holds a Bachelor of Science degree and has also studied at York University and the Ontario Fire College.Andy MacDonald was a member of the executive of the Brampton Professional Fire Fighters Association (BPFFA), IAFF Local 1068, for many years before joining the management ranks. He is currently the Fire Chief with the City of Brampton, Ontario. While a member of the BPFFA executive, Andy participated in collective agreement negotiations and gained the union’s perspective. As a member of the negotiating team on the other side of the table, Andy now plays a key role as a chief spokesperson of the Corporation’s bargaining team. Andy’s insight into negotiations from both sides of the negotiation table gives him an interesting perspective into the dynamics of collective bargaining.

He spends much of his free time aiding in many charitable causes and was the driving force behind the construction of his dream, the world’s first Fire/Life Safety Education Centre in Brampton. Andy’s other charitable exploits include rappelling off the CN Tower in 1985 to raise money for a Toronto burn unit, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.

Handling Labour Relations Disasters

A female employee was involved in a romantic relationship with a male member of the team. He was married. She had enough. The romance ended. He was unable to accept the end of the relationship. He called her repeatedly, at home and at work. He openly harassed her. He distributed photos of her. The woman, her co-workers, and supervisors all saw what was happening, but no one quite knew how to help. Some didn’t know if it was their business to intervene. Some thought this was a “private matter.” Eventually, the mentally unstable man came to the workplace. He stabbed the woman, causing her death. He then left the workplace, and killed himself.

This is a true story.

Consider the tragic human elements involved; the impact for the families of both people involved. Consider the implications for the human resource professionals, for the union, and for every individual working in this organization:

  • There is widespread shock among employees, some of whom witnessed the episode
  • There is guilt among supervisory staff, who were aware of the harassment
  • There is a sense of danger that permeates the workplace, and has impact on morale
  • Numerous grievances are filed, asserting failure to provide a safe workplace
  • Numerous complaints of harassment are lodged
  • Absenteeism rises dramatically
  • Performance is affected, but supervisors are reluctant to counsel or impose discipline
  • Gossip is rampant
  • There appears to be no exit strategy from the disaster.

Not all workplaces, thankfully, experience harassment that leads to such an extreme result. But this episode has been taken, in the province of Ontario, and across the country, as a lesson in how to heed the warning signs of workplace violence. The warning signs are critical because criminologists tell us that most violent acts are precipitated by warnings—sometimes clear cries for help.

We have all learned the importance of addressing harassment complaints in a vigorous and thoughtful manner, knowing that our activities in this field have potential to save a life, to protect our employees from hurt and from fear, and to save our organizations the institutional pain of workplace disaster.

We have learned how to approach grievance handling, for example, from a “strategic” perspective—one that addresses the causes of grievance backlog, the root of piled-up grievances that deal with the same area of discontent, and lead to a clear path from the catastrophic potential of workplace conflict to a safer environment with more effective practices for identifying and preventing an escalation of hostility. Let’s consider the lessons that have been taken from the factual situation described above.

Best Practices in Dealing with Harassment Complaints

With statutory changes across the country, issues of workplace violence and harassment have become occupational health and safety issues. It becomes mandatory for employers, employees, supervisors, and unions to address complaints of harassment with a deliberate and serious approach.

Harassment complaints are serious. They should be addressed quickly—even if the usual pace for addressing complaints or grievances would provide for longer timelines.

Employees have to feel that making a complaint is easy. In some workplaces, written complaints are appropriate, but in others, it may be that employees will be more comfortable meeting privately with the appropriate individual to orally report their experiences.

Employees who have harassment complaints should be given the opportunity to tell their story—fully and in their own way. The listener is advised to listen actively, without judging the story. Listen first and investigate later.

Complaints should be received and heard by the appropriate person in the appropriate position. These are serious complaints, and the organization’s practices should reflect that fact. If the employee needs to complain about the person who would otherwise hear their complaint, such as their own supervisor, then an easily accessible alternate route should be available, and should be made known.

Employees should understand that if their complaint is to be taken seriously, it must be investigated, and cannot be kept confidential. The alleged harasser has rights. He or she is entitled to know what the complaint is, who made it, and what the particulars of the complaint are.

It is often appropriate to take immediate steps to separate the individuals involved, until investigation can take place. Sometimes, the facts warrant suspension of one person pending investigation.

If the complaint involves an allegation of a criminal act, such as threatening, assault or sexual assault, police should be called.

Numerous Related Grievances

It is common, when several grievances are filed addressing the same area of concern, for the union to file a policy grievance that will enable systemic consideration of the identified problem. If the organization becomes aware of numerous complaints that raise issues of harassment, the situation may be considered serious. Each of these complaints presents its own significant human drama, with potential to affect the lives of each person involved. Each involves issues of fear, insult, trust, uncertainty, vulnerability, and ultimately, aggressive adversarial conflict. When harassment grievances are significant in number, the strain on the organization (not to mention the strain on human resources professionals and union executive) can prove costly and disruptive.

In a workplace that does not take a “strategic” approach to grievance management, both union and management officials may be inundated with a high volume of time-consuming grievance work. Morale will be impaired. Conflict among co-workers may escalate. There may be a toxic individual, or a combustible relationship on the making. This is not healthy.

Best practices include meeting with union officials immediately and listening carefully to the complaint. Given the potential that an early harassment complaint may be a cry for help, or a warning of potential physical violence, consider interim preventative measures, such as the separation of individuals that were referred to earlier, while investigation takes place. Particularly in cases of multiple harassment complaints naming the same alleged wrongdoer, strategic management may include stepping away from the usual grievance procedure, and quickly moving to explore the issues and allegations. This is a situation in which it makes good sense to err on the side of greater caution.

Cases of Union Conflict

Harassment complaints often involve co-workers. Both the complainant and alleged wrongdoer may be members of the same bargaining unit. The union finds itself in a tough position, because it has an obligation to represent both individuals.

In cases where more than one complaint is made against the same individual, it is likely that there is a high degree of animosity among bargaining unit members, many of whom would prefer a safe workplace without the alleged harasser present. The union and local executive will be under considerable pressure.

The union’s conflict will have to be carefully considered, and a solution found. Generally speaking, it makes good sense for the union to represent one of the individuals, or the group with the same interest, and assume the responsibility of securing and paying for independent legal counsel for the other.

Making the Most of Grievance Meetings

Grievance procedures are often overlooked as useful and potentially effective dispute resolution mechanisms. This is a costly error in strategic grievance management, whether one is working from the union or management perspective.

Grievance meetings are required to take place early in the grievance procedure. With the appropriate people in the room, focussing on the problem, armed with the facts that are available at this stage, a thoughtfully conducted grievance meeting can provide excellent opportunity to manage a potentially violent situation.

Strategic management of grievance meetings requires consideration of who should attend. To the greatest extent possible, facts should be gathered in preparation for that discussion. In cases of serious harassment allegations, or multiple harassment allegations, consider sharing data in a fulsome way at this early stage. Share early investigation results. Prepare the grievance committee or management team to listen carefully, to convey uniform information, and to be consistent in the goal of the meeting. Particularly in addressing a serious harassment complaint, the grievance meeting is no place for inter-team conflict or individual political agendas.

Controlling the Grievance Process

If the matter does not resolve at the grievance meeting, consider the next important steps in handling the harassment grievance. There is a critical decision to be made about proceeding to arbitration or mediation. Consider which process is right for this case. What are the pros and cons of each process? Do you need a legal precedent in the case? Do you need an award that is public, rather than a settlement that may be confidential? Can the grievor withstand the arbitration process? Should he or she be exposed to cross-examination, and the formalities and stresses of arbitration?

Consider whether arbitration or mediation will be the most desirable process for the labour relations between the parties. The harassment grievance puts a strain on everyone in the workplace, but the relationship is a long one, and will continue after this dispute is resolved. Which process will, in the circumstances, best serve the long term goals?

The strategic practitioner is in control of every aspect of the grievance process. He or she is a professional who knows where the case is going, how it will look when it gets there, and why it is at this stage. The strategic practitioner is not always ready to face workplace disaster. None of us are. But when it strikes, the strategic practitioner will be position to go to the rule book, to evaluate the options, and to fearlessly control the process as it matures. The strategic practitioner is one who brings this expertise to the job, and with it, their passion and commitment to the role of problem solver.

About the Author

Elaine Newman - Handling Labour Relations Disasters

Elaine Newman, Ba, LL.B., LL.M., called to the bar in Ontario in 1979. Elaine is a very experienced full-time arbitrator and mediator, specializing in labour relations, employment, and human rights matters. She is a teacher, an author, and frequent speaker on labour, employment and human rights issues. Elaine served as Associate Director of the LLM program in Labour Relations and Employment Law at Osgoode Hall Law School 2002 to 2008. She was lead instructor for the Advanced Dispute Resolution Course at Atkinson Faculty, York University for ten years, where she taught the Ethics of Mediation course, and the Advanced Practicum course. She is a frequent guest speaker at the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (IRC), and is lead instructor of the IRC’s Strategic Grievance Handling program. Elaine is the author of the online course, “Practical Ethics for Working Mediators”, offered by the ADR Institute of Ontario.  Her textbook, Preventing Violence in the Workplace, is published by Lancaster House, Toronto.

Child Care: Who Should Provide?

With the increase in two earner and single parent families, the availability of good child care services has become a political, economic and social issue. Several elements are important when examining the provisions of child care: the provision of spaces, financing, quality, and responsibility for day-to-day operation. This article explores the four models of child care: the government model, the employer model, the mixed model, and the parent model.

Under the first model, the government is the total provider, responsible for all elements of child care. Under the employer model, the provision of spaces and financing are the employer’s responsibility while quality is that of the provincial government and day-to-day operation is that of a private organization. Under the mixed model, the quality is again the responsibility of the government and the operation that of a private organization; the parent, however, is responsible for finding spaces while financing is shared in some way by the three actors — government, employer, parent. The final model — the parent model — most closely resembles the current system under which the parent is responsible for finding spaces and for financing with assistance through tax credits, the government is responsible for quality, and most of the day-to-day running of facilities is done privately. Although there are many benefits to the employer model — reduced absenteeism and tardiness, parental access to good quality child care, convenient location, feelings of security — the costs are prohibitive for many employers. In the final analysis, the government model provides the most benefits to the most people.

Download PDF: Child Care: Who Should Provide?

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