The impacts of workplace bullying run deep and wide

We had a great conversation last week at our Workplace Fairness Lunch facilitated by Wendy Giuffre and Marilynn Balfour of Wendy Ellen Inc. We had many different participant perspectives on the subject or workplace bullying coming from the organizational viewpoint, the HR viewpoint, and an Ombuds veiwpoint.   Experience as the witness and the target also provided valuable insight.

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Workplace bullying impacts the entire organization.

In Canada, harassment is very well defined as a violation of human rights, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Workplace bullying is less clearly defined, and is addressed under occupational health and safety. In 2009, the Ontario government introduced Bill 168, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which places clear obligations on employers to keep workplaces free of bullying.  The Government of Alberta provides resources and services to address workplace bullying though has stopped short of enshrining employer obligations in legislation.

Bullying is psychological harassment affecting an individual’s dignity, psychological or physical well-being.  The test for workplace bullying usually include 2 measures: if the acts are repeated over a period of time, and if the acts are targeted. Acts of bullying can include spreading rumours, intimidation, social isolation, offensive jokes, belittling or inappropriately changing of work rules or tasks.  Some of the acts are obvious, and some are more covert. 1 in 6 people have reported being bullied at work and many of the perpetrators, up to 80%, are bosses with good connections in the halls of power. Targets themselves are shown in research to be confident and intelligent individuals with a strong ethic, but who also are vulnerable.

There are certainly psychological as well as physical impacts to those being bullied. Pat Ferris, a Calgary psychologist who has worked extensively with workplace bullying targets, observes that targets use language similar to those who have experienced domestic abuse to describe the impact. Impact can include shock, anger, panic and anxiety, sleeplessness as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and loss of appetite. One participant at our recent lunch asked a great question about this – What are the psychological and physiological impacts for the bully? We have many assumptions about the intents, actions and motivations of a bully. It is difficult to be sympathetic.

Many questions surfaced from our luncheon participants: How can parties build self-awareness and help bullies understand the impact on others and themselves? How do you help a leader understand the negative impact of their behaviour and motivate them to change their behaviour? Coaching has been used to build awareness. One recommended strategy is to ask questions of the leader around their impacted sphere of influence. Research demonstrates that a great stressor for bullies is a perceived lack of control and lack of self-confidence.

There is a high financial cost for an organization – in turnover, productivity and absenteeism. (You can explore this further with the cost-of-conflict tool on our website.) Even faced with the numbers from the calculator, organizations may be skeptical about the high financial impact. At the organizational level there is often a gap in the culture as perceived by management and by employees. With best intentions, an organization may set out to establish values of collaboration and transparency. However, if that same organization has a structure strongly rooted in hierarchies it may create a disconnect between what employees are experiencing and what the organization is hoping to create. This can become a stressor for employees. The contradictions and uncertainty of such an environment create a perfect petri dish for inappropriate workplace behaviour, including bullying.

Wendy and Marilynn had some good suggestions for addressing bullying in the workplace.

What the corporations can do:

  • Create policies and respectful practices
  • Increase awareness through education
  • Educate leaders to identify signs
  • Provide resources for targets, including counseling
  • Investigate complaints in a timely and impartial manner
  • Improve leadership capability and competence

What individuals can do:

  • Be courageous – intervene if a witness
  • Understand what bullying is
  • Understand why people are targets and the impact
  • Listen to the targets
  • Petition for an anti-bullying policy in your workplace

If you are a target:

  • Keep a diary, recording specifics of date, time and events
  • Continue to do your job to the best of your ability
  • Seek support from your Employee Assistance Provider, your manager, or your union.

Though we ran out of time, Wendy and Marilynn provided some links to news articles about bullying cases in Canada and the US. They illustrate the very real impact, and the risks employers take if they do not treat bullying seriously.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/workplace-bullying-a-major-concern-in-canada-says-woman-who-sued-wal-mart-1.2673109

https://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/articles/texas-employment-labor-law/texas-employment-labor-law-lawsuits-9-20146.html

https://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/articles/texas-employment-labor-law/interview-texas-employment-labor-law-2-20034.html

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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.

Mediation can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues

Crucial Conversations. Difficult Conversations. Dreaded Conversations. Whatever we call them, there comes a time in the workplace when emotions run high and the going gets tough, and despite all the training and all the practice, conversations break down before they get to where they need to go. In the workplace, when it comes to issues around diversity, around mental health, illness and bereavement for example, emotions, fear of doing more harm, or fear of invading privacy and fear of lack of skills in dealing with the outcome may prevent the conversation from even beginning. Unfortunately, often in these situations, a crisis will ensue before a productive action step is taken.

My colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I collaborated with Morgan Craig-Broadwith of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary Chapter) to demonstrate in front of a live audience a workplace mediation around a mental health issue.  In our simulated workplace environment, a Vice President has offered the opportunity to two vital workplace players to settle their differences with the help of a mediator. Performance has suffered, communication has broken down, rumours are circulating — in short the entire workplace is impacted by the behaviour of two key people.

Mount Royal University Continuing Studies videotaped the session, and we will post that when it is edited and polished.

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A mediator can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues, empowering people to reach a resolution before a crisis.

The audience asked some good questions.

When is it appropriate to call a mediator? In the workplace, it can be particularly helpful to call a mediator when poor or no communication between two people in an interdependent working relationship has an impact on others around them and work productivity.

How often is a mediation successful?  The earlier the intervention, the  more likely the success.  Mediation is most successful when the process is voluntary; when the participants have the skills and wherewithal to speak and advocate for themselves; and are well informed about their rights. Mediation can be  mandated by an employer, and still a mediator can invite people to participate.  In fact, when mandated into a room, people have an opportunity to save face with colleagues.

What role does the mediator have to hold people to account who choose not to participate? The mediator’s role is only to facilitate the process, and to ask the difficult questions, not to provide or suggest solutions. A combination of conflict coaching and mediation ensures that participants have the opportunity to explore all their options both inside and outside the mediation process.

What information from the mediation does the mediator share with their client? At a minimum, the mediator will share information about the process and the timing.  The mediator will discuss information to be shared with the participants, and together they will agree on wording and who, if anyone, will receive the information.

What is the benefit of having two mediators? Two mediators have a greater opportunity to work together to hear all concerns. It is particularly helpful to hire two facilitators when dealing with a group larger than two.

The Ombudsman is

November is Workplace Fairness Ombuds-month.  Most of you are now aware that Michelle and I have been celebrating the ombudsman through several events and by circulating articles on the topic.

On November 15 we were pleased to be joined at our luncheon by two highly experienced Conflict Resolution professionalsDeborah Sword and Josie Stiles.  Both come with a slightly different perspective and a lively conversation ensued.  Deborah is the former Western conflict manager for the Centre for Values and Ethics at Parks Canada Agency, reporting to and supporting the Parks Canada Ombudsman, and Josie is the recently appointed Ombudsman with Baker Hughes Canada.  Questions came fast and furious.  Here are a few highlights.

Mosaico de Ventanas II - México 2008

The role of the ombudman office reflects the values, ethics and culture of the organization it serves.

What distinguishes the role of the ombudsman?  Both our presenters agreed that one aspect that distinguishes the Ombudsman role from others is that of oversight.  The Ombuds role offers the opportunity to converse with every person within an organization without exception.  Deborah referred to the oversight role as one which entails listening for patterns.  It is important in the Ombuds role to have the authority and the means to take a global snapshot of an organization, track and record trends, and draw conclusions from those trends.

A clearly defined mandate for the Ombudsman is crucial. Neutrality is a foundational principle of all Ombuds practices. This neutrality is reflected in being an advocate for fair process and not taking sides.

In classical Ombuds roles, where the function also includes investigating complaints, Ombuds will draw conclusions and make recommendations. There is a debate in Ombuds’ circles around the appropriateness of the Ombuds office doing investigations, as some people suggest the role slips into ‘taking a stand /side” and defending one’s recommendations, or positions and this may be seen as advocating.

Could you have an ombudsman on a project?  The reference was to multifaceted projects which may be stretched across multiple organizations and through multiple roles.  Certainly there was agreement that having a third party neutral to turn to for the project team could be very valuable. Could this person also serve the role to seek out patterns in the organization?  At Parks Canada in fact, almost all work is on a project basis.  This may not be possible for cross-organizational projects. 

How do you market the ombudsman office? You need to find a balance. There is a role and a place for the ombudsman to attend group gatherings and meetings to introduce the office and its resources. There can also be a mail-out, but it is crucial that direct communication about the ombudsman office needs to come from the top down, from the CEO or equivalent. Only then is there a chance to build trust with employees that the organization is on board to address concerns they raise.

What distinguishes the organizational (corporate) ombudsman from the classical ombuds? Our conversation highlighted the difference between Deborah’s role at Parks Canada and Josie’s at Baker Hughes. As an organizational ombudsman, Josie is bound by these four values: independence, neutrality, informality and confidentiality.  At Parks Canada, Deborah was bound by the values of respect, impartiality, engagement and excellence.  Informality and confidentiality distinguish these two roles.  The Parks Canada Ombuds also is the Sr. Integrity Officer with a mandate to make findings of wrongdoing after thorough investigation of any allegations.

So, where does accountability lie in the organizational context?  Josie described her roles as a complement to health and safety and HR functions which are more compliance oriented and need to be kept distinct. The complementary role may include tasks such as coaching, which empowers staff to take on their own behaviour, and own their own accountability. The informality and confidentiality are crucial for establishing effective and trusting coaching relationships. One goal of coaching is to help staff take accountability for their actions.

Is the ombudsman there to add value to an organization?  Is it possible to assess the ombudsman office using traditional cost-effectiveness metrics?  Deborah provided several examples of tasks she does which are not traditional conflict management tasks; the PCA Ombuds’ role includes functional leadership.  In fact, this gives the Parks’ Ombuds a unique perspective between the role of the Ombudsman and the conflict manager because the two roles exist in the same office and can hand files off to each other in a seamless transition as the situation requires. Does this increase the value of this role?

Some might argue that the Ombudsman, no matter how independent or impartial, is still a pawn of management, and as such a pawn is there to ensure cost-effectiveness.

If the Ombudsman works within an organization to enhance employee retention and engagement, and in so doing mitigates staff turnover, and fosters a more engaged workplace where people are more productive and more innovative then yes, I would say an Ombudsman adds value.

What do you think?

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.

November is Workplace Fairness Ombuds-month

In November we will celebrate the organizational ombudsman.

You are probably familiar with the ombuds function of municipalities, governments and large organizations, but do you wonder about the benefit and value for a small organization?

If you are you a business owner/manager or Human Resource Professional of a small to mid-sized firm curious to explore ways to attract and engage employees and mitigate risk, we would like to invite you to a reception on November 6 to explore how it can help you.

Wednesday, November 6th

4:30-7:00 pm

Ranchmen’s Club

710 13 Ave SW
 
Refreshments provided

Join like-minded professionals as Marjorie Munroe and Michelle Phaneuf with Workplace Fairness Alberta facilitate a discussion about the foundational principles of the ombuds office: fairness, impartiality, independence, accountability.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • gain insight into how an ombuds function could benefit your organization
  • network with like-minded professionals
  • explore fairness, impartiality, independence and accountability and how your organization currently fosters these values

To RSVP (required) and learn more:

http://www.evite.com/l/M9dwaQsUmE/v?utm_content=title

See you there!

Diversity & Inclusion Community of Practice

At the debut CIDI-ICDI (Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion) Community of Practice Event in Calgary.I had a wonderful take-away within the first 5 minutes of discussion. Leader Michael Bach posed the question – What are the challenges? and a participant from the Calgary Airport Authority raised that all-pervasive objection – “But if we put in programs to promote and hire them what will happen to me?”

It is the classic positional bargaining, I Win, You Lose illusion. Your benefit is my loss. Overcoming this kind of illusion requires a paradigm shift. Once that shift from I Win, You Lose to We Both Win happens, there are tremendous wins for an organization. The talent pool expands and the sum becomes greater than the parts.

Unfortunately the win/lose illusion does not look like an illusion from up close. It looks threatening. There is a very real perception of threat which can only be overcome through dialogue and education. Policies are not enough.

So how can an organization address that objection in a meaningful way and facilitate the paradigm shift? Such a shift has the potential to have a tremendous impact on organizational culture and it begins with dialogue. It is important to acknowledge and understand the perception of threat. Only once people feel heard, understood and acknowledged will they be ready for acceptance.

Are you measuring Diversity in your organization? Where are you on the journey to paradigm shift?
Check out the CIDI report What Gets Measured Gets Done. You can download it here. http://www.cidi-icdi.ca/reports/what-gets-measured-gets-done.pdf.