Employees without choices will stay silent

The one-size-fits all template for harassment investigations no longer aligns with the growing respect of and desire for self-determination.  Employees would rather stay silent than come forward to be part of an investigation process and the fallout, as we have seen recently at the CBC and in the Houses of Parliament, can be acute.

In both of these highly publicized cases, complainants had few choices. Like many employees, they lack a safe environment and have few choices when it comes to reporting harassment. Is this typical? What resources are employers providing to their staff to help them work through their options when they are feeling victimized? How do current conflict management systems support respondents? Do they have the before, during and after support they need to go back to work if the investigation is unfounded?

10 Best Practices in the Workplace Restoration Process

A workplace harassment investigation can be a traumatic event which affects not only those directly involved, but often causes extensive collateral damage.  A healing process which helps staff feel heard and acknowledged is a very important step for re-establishing or rebuilding workplace norms.

Restoring norms following a harassment investigation is an important step.

Restoring norms following an harassment investigation is an important step.

Following a discussion about the role the of the investigation and the purpose and goals of the Workplace Restoration, participants at a recent Workplace Fairness lunch identified 10 best practices.  Whether an investigation is founded or unfounded these are important steps:

  1. Facilitate, when appropriate, a confidential written agreement between the complainant and the respondent that is separate from performance measures.
  2. Provide regular and ongoing feedback to all staff.
  3. Ensure leadership is visible and committed to “say” and “do” accountability.
  4. Support leadership to share and acknowledge ownership of contributing factors.
  5. Follow up with the team and others affected to develop a plan and strategy with common goals and processes for the group.
  6. Facilitate a safe dialogue to re-establish the norms of respect and dignity by asking questions, creating a common language, and ensure the experience is normalized for all affected.
  7. Provide skill-building support for supervisors and those involved through training and 1-on-1 coaching, focusing on listening skills and “I language”.
  8. Maintain a forward-looking aspect to the restoration process.
  9. Appoint a new neutral facilitator who was not involved in the investigation and ensure impartiality in all follow-up dialogue.
  10. Ensure a restorative and healing process which allows all to be acknowledged for their experiences.

We would love your comments! Do you have anything to add? join the discussion below.

The Amygdala Hijack is bad for business

We are all susceptible to the amygdala hijack. It happened to me the other day when my husband accused me of being overly sensitive.   I have heard that before.  As a child I was overly sensitive, and then I became sensitive about being sensitive.  It wasn’t helpful behaviour for building self-confidence.

I learned the other day from Dr. Donald Mihaloew, a speaker at the ADR conference in Red Deer, that memory (in my case, all those childhood insecurities) is stored in your hippocampus.  Your amygdale (there are 2 of them, one for each side of the brain) decide what to do with the signals that arrive, after some short consultation with the hippocampus. It might look like this:

In conflict it helps to learn to divert your thinking to more positive and future focused ideas.

Your emotions can run away with you.


If there is poor information in your hippocampus, you might receive some poor feedback, and do something impulsive you regret.

But you can do something about it.

        • Suspend your judgment.
        • Normalize the amygdale hijiack – yes, this happens to everyone.
        • Focus on the future and the positive.  Interrupt your train of thought, and change the direction.

I am working on it.

A unique learning event — Strategies for responding to difficult behaviour, and ceramics!

I am very excited to be partnering with Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat to be offering a unique and engaging day of professional development along with Connie Pike.

Are you red-faced at the water cooler? Wondering how to deal with that difficult client? Do you want to throw your phone at the wall after that frustrating call? Redirect your energies, refresh your mind, and gain some skills for dealing with difficult behaviour in a morning workshop at the Diamond Willow Retreat south of Calgary. After lunch, you can learn to make a pot instead of throwing your phone.

This is a unique opportunity to foster your creative spirit and enhance skills which will benefit your work. This full day session is one of a series being offered which also includes Appreciative Inquiry and Emotional Intelligence.

View this May2014DWCR or Diamond Willow to learn more.  To reserve your spot in May call 403 933-5755.


Above and Beyond Undercover Boss

Recently Calgary Transit Director Doug Morgan appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss Canada with a goal of giving Calgarians a behind-the-scenes look at the work of employees who make his organization tick and, according to Ruth Myles of the Calgary Herald, a chance to hear an uncensored take on the workplace from employees.

Working Statues

All too often in the workplace there is disconnect between the corner office and frontline workers, reinforced by everyday barriers including assistants’ desks, dress codes, and separate floors and buildings. Doug Morgan had to take a pretty extreme measure to vault the barriers at Calgary Transit, donning an uncomfortable dark wig and in his own words “crazy shoes”, but he relished the opportunity to connect on a new level with his staff and is now looking for ways to continue and reinforce that “connection back into the organization.”

You don’t need to get on Undercover Boss Canada and don a crazy uncomfortable disguise to connect with your employees says Michelle Phaneuf, Alberta Co-Director of the Workplace Fairness Institute. Michelle says “owners may be aware that there are issues in the workplace, but employees are often missing that safe environment to provide direct feedback.”

Michelle and her fellow Workplace Fairness co-director, Marjorie Munroe, have developed a process to engage employees for that all important feedback. The Discovery Interview process is the first step in supporting organizations to instill fairness in the workplace. Using skills gained in their extensive mediation experience, Marjorie and Michelle establish a safe environment and gather anonymous and frank data around issues that impact employees. This data is compiled and presented in a report that highlights concerns, often revolving around trust, respect, leadership and transparency. Marjorie Munroe acknowledges that management often has a good idea of what is going on within the organization but adds “nonetheless Discovery Interviews serve two very important purposes: they provide a forum for employees to feel heard an acknowledged, and they send a firm and transparent message that management is concerned about learning the truth.”

Discovery Interviews are only the first step. The second step is often a group conversation facilitated by Michelle and Marjorie to ask: How can the employees work with management to find solutions to enhance their organizational culture? Together, staff and management work on a specific plan to address concerns. Through careful professional facilitation, staff are empowered to contribute to a solution which will meet needs in the workplace they have defined. Because both staff and management define the terms for success, success becomes achievable.

The Workplace Fairness Institute is a Canadian company focused on enhancing organizational culture through collaboration, communication and proactivity in managing conflict.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office is a new initiative of the Workplace Fairness Institute which offers ombuds services to small and mid-sized organizations. Trained as ombudsman through the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman and the Osgoode Hall Law School and with backgrounds as Chartered Mediators , Marjorie and Michelle bring abundant experience and ample expertise to the Ombudsman office. The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will support individuals by working with them to understand and consider options regarding their concerns, answering questions, facilitating communication, and providing information and referral.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will provide a service which emphasizes independence, impartiality, fairness and accountability. Additionally the service will help organizations recognize and address systemic issues early.

FYI Here is your code of conduct

This was the title of an email sent out recently to a surprised worker whose job involves Diversity and Inclusion. It was a story told during a discussion of the 3 tenets of Workplace Fairness: Proactivity, Communication and Collaboration.


An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

When we are busy, it is easy to take shortcuts in consultation with potentially dire results. We invented the word proactivity to describe the ongoing, preventative, and proactive process which engages employees within all levels and departments of an organization to consult. The Code of Conduct is a great example; let’s take two scenarios.

Manager A, cognizant of the pressures on her staff’s time and resources, takes on the grunt work of developing the code of conduct. Her thinking is that since most of it is common sense, people will be relieved because everyone is pushed for time. She does recognize that participation is the key to engagement. So, once she has done most of the legwork, she asks volunteers to review, discuss and fine-tune the final document. She is happy to note that there are very few changes proposed to the original document, and she emails it out “FYI” to the full group and staples it to the bulletin board of the lunchroom.

Manager B is not particularly fond of policy and conduct discussions, but recognizes their importance. So, partly out of a desire to offload the task, and partly out of a desire to engage people in the process, he allocates the first 10 minutes of every staff meeting to a Code of Conduct discussion. It takes a few months, but eventually they finalize a document and ceremoniously hang it in the lunchroom during their monthly potluck.

People take ownership of language. Manager A’s language may be clear and sensical, but it is not her staff’s language. When there are bumps in the road, she will be held to a high standard for owning, acting and leading with her code of conduct. Conflict seeks somewhere to lay blame. Manager A and her code of conduct become easy targets.

Manager B involves everyone from the beginning, and as a group, they stand a better chance of holding each other to account for their Code of Conduct. Though he risks Code-of-Conduct-saturation and boredom by drawing it out, there are high rewards for keeping the discussion front and centre, and ensuring there is group buy-in.

Consultation and collaboration require being open to new information and a commitment through all stages of a discussion, not just the final review.

Trico Homes Models Workplace Fairness and Fosters Engagement

Employees of Trico Homes are engaged, recognized, committed, and passionate about the work they do.  

Organizations can learn a lot from the way Trico manages fairness and employee relationships.  Michelle Phaneuf and I sat down recently with Maaike Ezinga to learn more specifically about what Trico does to foster working relationships and employee retention.  We were curious to know how the principles of Workplace Fairness were cultivated at an award-winning organization.

Employees are engaged at Trico Homes

Trico has won “Canada’s Best Workplaces” for five consecutive years.

Workplace Fairness is focused on seven desired organization culture outcomes, including such things as productive working relationships, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement and organizational reputation.  Trico is a leader in fostering Workplace Fairness, with tangible strategies which promote these outcomes. Here are some examples from our recent conversation with Ezinga.

Employee Engagement at Trico Homes.  It is easy to talk about engagement, but as we all know, talk and action are often separated by a chasm, and we don’t always know specifically what steps to take, even when we recognize a problem.  Ask the leadership of Trico Homes – they know how to engage and retain employees, and they have a well-earned shelf of rewards in the lobby recognizing their successes.  Knowing the boss on a personal level and understanding what he cares about goes a long way to serving workers’ sense of purpose and engagement.  When people understand that the boss cares, they care.

Ezinga, the current HR Director at Trico Homes has been there less than a year, but already she speaks passionately about what drives her commitment to this privately owned Calgary business. “Wayne and Eleanor Chiu have a personal investment.  For them, their relationship with employees is personal, and it is demonstrated with everything they do.”  Work gets done because the staff know the Chius care about them, and this is demonstrated in myriad ways through flexibility and openness.

The Trico Group was established in 1989 from humble beginnings by Wayne Chiu, a mechanical engineer educated in Winnipeg and Hong Kong.  Eleanor Chiu has been the Chief Financial Officer since 1998. In 2008 the Trico Charitable Foundation emerged to support the Chiu’s vision to create an impactful legacy within the non-profit sector. This is a natural outgrowth of the Trico Group’s long history of corporate social responsibility, which involves extensive financial and organizational commitment to numerous charitable and community causes.

Fostering organizational reputation.  In addition to chairing the Trico Foundation, Wayne Chiu is a director for the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, a national non-profit which supports young entrepreneurs with mentoring and business resources.  Eleanor Chiu has served on the board of Bow Valley College, and Trico has generously supported this organization financially.  Their influence in the community runs deep and wide, with a presence which attracts long-term employees and talented newcomers with a shared sense of values.

The Charitable Foundation builds and supports another pillar of positive culture outcomes in Workplace Fairness: Positive Organizational Reputation.

The value of diversity and inclusion.  The Trico community is a vibrant one in its diversity.  Ezinga herself is Dutch, and understands the challenges of working and living in a second language.  As she described her work environment, and how comfortable it feels to be able to say – “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you” I realized she was talking about safety.  There is willingness and an acceptance here to participate in the difficult conversations without judgment.  This may start with the advantage of having a boss from Hong Kong who understands what it means to work in an adopted culture, but it doesn’t stop there because of the openness that has developed.  The Trico environment is a clear example of the positive cultural outcome of Diversity and Inclusion.  Positive diversity fosters a safe environment, benefits all workers and is a tenet of Workplace Fairness.

Productive working relationships.  At Trico resources are directed and allocated to celebrate events which are meaningful to all workers and to the business.  The very active social committee, composed of both frontline and management employees, is supported financially by the company and organizes regular, inclusive events.  Appreciation events are held in new show homes and employees are presented with the opportunity to share pride in the work they do and be recognized on the team for their contribution.  Communication and collaboration are strengthened on an ongoing basis as teams are brought together in celebration.  We know from Dan Pink and others that people are more engaged when they understand how their work contributes to the whole and are acknowledged for making a contribution.

Productive working relationships are also built through the mentoring and job-shadowing program which is inter-departmental.  The strong culture of working together benefits the succession plan as well as contributes to Workplace Fairness.

Our conversation with Ezinga also touched on the silos that inevitably develop between differing working groups.  Collaboration does not just happen between different groups.  As she said it, “people need to be forced together.”  Social events are one way of doing that, but it is not enough.  The social events will help build personal relationships and deliberate business processes can help as well.  It takes commitment on all sides, and it is critical to ensuring long-term productive working relationships throughout an organization.

So from recruiting to succession planning, from good conversation through bad, the folks at Trico Homes have fostered a culture of flexibility, trust, responsiveness, safety and recognition which attracts and retains quality employees.  And the mere fact that we are sitting in the office of the HR Director of a firm with 120 full-time employees tells me something as well – all too often, the budget for the HR director is way down the list of priorities.  It speaks to a commitment to the people.

About Trico. Trico Homes is a Calgary based builder of both single and multi-family homes and was established in 1993 by Wayne Chiu, a mechanical engineer educated in Winnipeg and Hong Kong.  Currently ranked as one of Calgary’s top residential builders, Trico has built an enviable reputation for integrity, innovative design, quality workmanship and customer service.  Trico has won Canada’s Best Workplacesfor five consecutive years.  

About Workplace Fairness. The Workplace Fairness Institute www.workplacefairness.ca is a Canadian organization founded in Toronto by Blaine Donais, a labour lawyer and expert in both the practice and theory of assisted labour/management negotiation, mediation, arbitration and facilitation. Marjorie and Michelle have brought the concept of Workplace Fairness to Alberta to support leaders and champions to develop workplaces which treat employees with equality of concern and respect through collaboration, communication and a proactive approach.   Workplace Fairness focuses on seven main culture outcomes to enable businesses to create an organizational culture that ensures success; Employee Engagement, Diversity & Inclusion, Health & Wellness, Productive Working Relationships, Managing Change, Efficiency & Innovation & Organizational Reputation.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about increasing Employee Engagement in your organization.