Score your workplace health

You can see through the mask to your workplace health by using our Workplace Health Score Card.

A workplace is like an organism. 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.

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You can see through the mask to your workplace health by using our Workplace Health Score Card.

At the top end, the Holistic Constructive organization is proactive in the management of workplace conflict. Structural measures, such as an ombuds office, are in place to provide a breadth of options for employees seeking to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Also, all staff are empowered through training and support to help address concerns.

At the bottom end, Active Destructive, behaviours actively discourage constructive and proactive conflict management. Even structures within an organization can prevent employees from seeking support when it is most needed.

Take a moment to complete the scorecard, and let us know what you think!

To learn more about Workplace Health, you may wish to read this article published by the HRIA on the Six Levels of Workplace Health.

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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.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace starts with the conversation. #workplaceMH

Learn about workplace mediation and how it is used to address workplace mental health issues. Space is limited. Register now!

When: Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014
Time: 7:30 am to 10:30 am (breakfast included)
Where: Kahanoff Centre (2nd floor, 105 – 12th Avenue SE), Room 201

Join Michelle Phaneuf (Reaching Enduring Agreements), Marjorie Munroe (Pulse Institute) and Morgan Craig-Broadwith (Workplace Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region) at a simulated mediation breakfast for Calgary employers and employees.

Mediation is a very private endeavour, only including those directly involved with the issue. Therefor, it is no surprise many employers and employees do not understand the mediation process.

Follow the conversation #workplaceMH

Due to the success and demand of last year’s event, the 2014 Mediation Breakfast we have increased the time of the event to allow for a more in depth question and answer period following the simulated mediation.

Participants will leave with an improved understanding of workplace mediation and how it can be utilized to address a workplace mental health issue.

Space is limited. Register now!

Your conflict style contributes to workplace stress

Many of us associate increased stress with work/life balance and a heavy workload. Did you know that the way you manage conflict may also contribute to increased stress?

Since the seventies, conflict resolution theorists have considered styles of conflict management. The most popular assessment tool, the Thomas Kilman Instrument (TKI) breaks it into five styles: Competing, Accommodating, Collaborating, Compromising and Avoiding. There are many other tools on the market which use slightly different language, but they do share the common basis that your conflict style depends on your focus on self, versus other, and your focus on task, versus relationship.

Your Conflict Style affects stress

The Competitor is more directive and dominating, and more focused on self and task. The benefit of dealing with a competitor is that you know what you are dealing with – there is no beating about the bush here. On the other hand, the Competitor is not often a good listener. In the workplace where supervisors have a highly competitive conflict management style, staff are less likely to want to listen to them and work with them. Relationship stress increases with the competition for scarce resources, and productivity goes down. Trust also erodes.

The Avoider withdraws from relationships and from task in conflict. It could be that they withdraw because they are fearful of escalating conflict, and wish to ensure harmony. Possibly they withdraw to manage their own emotions and maintain professionalism. Or, the Avoider may withdraw to take time to process and think. There is a stress contradiction here: the Avoider experiences less stress because they are not in the conflict, but relationship stress increases because of the perception that the Avoider doesn’t care, or is weak. Task stress increases as work is not getting done or decisions are not made, and trust erodes.

Accommodators are focused on supporting the needs of others, and often in conflict stress increases when they work hard to put the needs of others in front of their own needs. Task stress increases with the perception that the work or getting the job done lacks priority.

When relationship conflict escalates, when conflict gets personal, stress and anxiety increase. As stress goes up, people paradoxically begin to depersonalize the conflict. Often when I arrive to help, people are not even able to use each other’s names. People become known by their job description and their actions, not by their names or their personalities.

A collaborative conflict management style contributes to decreased stress and anxiety. Collaborators have the patience and the skills to facilitate the dialogue required to identify and meet the needs of all stakeholders. The Collaborator has a highly integrative style.

Often when people complete these conflict styles instruments in the comfort of a secure classroom, or at home, they score high in their investment in task and relationship, and in self and other. Yes, when we have blood in the brain, and we are professional and deliberate with our speaking and listening skills, we can all be collaborative. But what happens when our buttons are being pushed? When the personal stakes are high and we are under threat? I know what happens to me, I head to the corner of avoidance, and my stress and anxiety go up.

Standards for a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

Last week I spent a very worthwhile day at the Bottom Line Conference.   The Canadian Mental Health Association, Calgary Region, has announced the launch of its Workplace Mental Health Program.  And, the conference also celebrated the launch of a new standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace.

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Do you work in a workplace with a positive approach to psychological health and safety?  One that is better able to recruit and retain talent, has improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity, is more creative and innovative, and has higher profit levels?  The new voluntary standard provides a road-map to get there, with implementation scenarios for small and large enterprises.  You can download it for free here.

In addition to providing a road-map for small and large business alike, the new voluntary standard talks to diversity, change management, leadership, data collection,  and education.  It is a valuable resource.

So how do you know if you work in a psychologically healthy workplace?  What evidence would you see, or do you see now? I would love to hear from you.  Please respond below.

Is the decision maker in the rooom?

Someone came to me today with a conflict and I think as we talked about it, I learned as much or possibly more than she did.  I learned about the importance of the decision–maker.

It seemed straightforward at first. This is the kind of conflict which you hear about often in the workplace.  “I am concerned about the tone and the language in the emails I am receiving from this person and I am honestly wondering if she is deliberately trying to undermine me.”  That sense of paranoia about the motivations of another, the suspicion about language and tone, these are very familiar concerns in conflict world.

Here's lookin' at YOU, sweet-stuff!

In this classic scenario, I normally advocate a direct conversation with the individual involved to start with. After all, that individual is the one who has the ultimate authority to change their own behaviour.  It is usually best to approach the most direct source you have access to for all kind of reasons – it will prevent the situation from escalating; it will eliminate the sense of possible blind-siding or circumventing which will harm the relationship further; and very importantly, it provides a critical opportunity to learn more about the other side of the story and gain a deeper understanding that will help build a stronger relationship.

But a more important point came up as we began to debrief and explore the situation.  I began with some questions:

  • What is the ultimate and ideal change you would like to see?
  • What evidence will you have when it has occurred?

Well, these questions broadened the scope significantly.  In fact, the concern was not about the emails at all, but about the changing nature of the relationship between the two organizations each of these people work for.

More questions followed:

  • Who has the authority to influence these changes that you have identified?
  • How do you believe your previous relationship with this person has influenced your perspective of this situation?

This is always a tightrope walk. It is almost never a bad idea in a gentle, honest, open and specific way to address your concerns directly with an individual.  But it is a very good idea to examine what the nature is of you relationship with that person, and the bigger picture.

In this case, because of the previous history of the two involved, because of their roles, and the nature of the relationship of the two organizations they work for, it became clear through questioning and exploring that the best move would be to turn concerns over to another who has the authority to address the bigger picture. The dialogue would not be about the behaviour of one individual, but rather about the changing roles of the two organizations in their working relationship.

Take the time to prepare before entering into a difficult conversation. Examine your own assumptions, and critically look at your role and your authority. Ensure that the decision-maker who has the authority to induce change is in the room from the beginning.

Did you know that up to 78% of Short Term Disability claims are related to mental health concerns? Working in the conflict business, I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues in the workplace.  So last fall, I signed up for Mental Health Works, a 2 day program put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary region) targeted at managers and HR Professionals dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

I walked away impressed with their simple yet effective strategy for managers to enter into the accommodation or performance management conversation in a meaningful way.  It is based on 3 simple steps:  I notice; I’m concerned; Let’s focus on solutions at work.

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It struck me immediately that it looks very similar to the structure we use in a mediated conversation, and that it is aimed at being preventative.   Mediation too, or a structured conversation with an impartial facilitator, can be preventative and will provide the safe space many need for full disclosure.

So my colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I approached Morgan Craig-Broadwith, the Manager of Workplace Wellness for the CMHA, Calgary Region, and we decided to put on a learning breakfast with a simulated mediation based on a mental health issue.  There were two purposes to the event:

  • To demonstrate a mediation with a simulated scenario.
  • To open a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

We conducted the role play live and unscripted in front of an audience of about 30 people, mostly from the HR community in Calgary.

As the role players became safer and more trustful the employee, played by Morgan, disclosed that she was dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Her manager’s reaction was shock, and fear: a genuine reaction born from surprise.  Similarly, the employee experienced the accusations and mistrust from her manager that many people in the workplace face.

While the parties did get up and over Conflict Mountain and began searching for options, we had to cut the mediation short before writing up a full agreement to allow time for questions.  I think if we do this again we need to allow at least ½ day for the entire event.

  • We got some excellent questions from the audience:
  • What should be considered when writing up an accommodations plan?
  • What do you do when one party does not seem to hear the apology of the other and they appear to be spiraling around the same issues?
  • What is important about the written agreement and how do you make sure it is specific enough and hold the parties accountable to it?
  • What do you do when participants get frustrated and are uncooperative?

As you can see by the questions, this made for a rich discussion, and each question merits a blog of its own. I have fodder for months, as you can’t do justice in a few sentences for any one of these questions.

ImageYesterday’s presentation and role play was absolutely excellent, likely one of the most beneficial ones I’ve been to in a long time. (Joellen Short, CHRP Candidate, Long View)

Thanks to everyone who participated. We would love to hear more of your feedback. If you were a participant at this event, I am very interested to know if it has influenced your perspective on using a neutral facilitator for those preventative facilitated dialogues.

A Simulated Mediation – mental health issues in the workplace