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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Diversity is not new. What is new is inclusion.

Dr. Valerie Pruegger
Workplace Fairness Thought Community Luncheon, January 20, 2012

Dr. Pruegger began her talk on Friday with a provocative statement: “Diversity is not new. What’s new is inclusion.”  Organizations are reacting to the pressure for inclusion in a variety of ways, which Pruegger described with ‘D’s: Deny, Derail, Divert, Delay, Diminish, Dire Predictions, Dismiss.  Where do you believe your organization falls?  What perceived, or actual, barriers do you face?  Some of these barriers are hidden. Do you have hidden barriers?

If you are facing barriers to inclusion, Pruegger offered some very practical strategies for upping your game:

Be subversive. In my own line of work, I am realizing that we need to couch our message for change with an agenda and language which meet the needs of our client, even if it is not our first choice. Once the door opens with their language, we can begin to introduce our own message.

Be aware of the political, economic, and social situation. Timing is critical.

Every effort counts. It is easy to become discouraged. It helps to be reminded that the small steps are often as important as the large ones.

Focus on structural change. You can change behaviour but not attitude. Once you have established change with behaviour, attitude often follows.

Recognize that all people are leaders, and ensure you have at least one influential leader on board.

Find the hook. People are motivated by self-interest.

Safety is key.

Take risks.

These tactics are universally applicable. Attendees of our lunch appreciated Valerie Pruegger’s practical, applicable takeaways.

Join the dialogue today at our Workplace Fairness Alberta Discussion group.  http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Workplace-Fairness-Alberta-3717361?goback=%2Egmp_3717361%2Egsm_3717361_1_*2_*2_*2_lna_MANAGER_*2

What systems have you successfully implemented within your organization to encourage inclusion? What barriers have you faced? How did you break them down?

Stay tuned for news on future Workplace Fairness Thought Community luncheons. We will meet on the following dates:

Tuesday February 21
Friday March 23
Friday April 27
Tuesday May 22
Tuesday June 26

For further information about Workplace Fairness Alberta, you are welcome to contact:

Michelle Phaneuf (phaneuf@workplacefairness.ca) or Marjorie Munroe (munroe@workplacefairness.ca), Co-Directors, Workplace Fairness Alberta.

Visit http://www.interculturalinteractions.com to learn more about Dr. Valerie Pruegger and leveraging the competitive advantage through diversity.

Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the leading questions from my class this week was: how do you stay calm? And how do you not get emotionally involved in conflict? I usually respond that this is a journey for many of us. It certainly has been for me. I know that when I perceive a threat I run, or freeze in the moment and am never quite sure what to say. I find it very difficult to engage when emotions are running high. The key is full body listening, and a desire to change, or to at least engage in conversation.

I will never forget my first conflict resolution class. It was quite a revelation to discover that conflict could be good. I still remember that sense of disbelief and awe that anyone could feel that way.

My initial light-bulb moment led to a journey in confidence and skill-building. It has been valuable to me to intellectualize it. I was relieved to learn about the hard-wired physiology of fight and flight. Once I could describe my reactions biologically and normalize them, I was free to get practical.

I offer my students the analogy of a stake in the sand. I remember planting that stake as a child and measuring the creeping or receding tide. Our path to better communication in conflict is like that. We have to take small manageable steps and measure them against a marker. It is a skill-building journey that, like that of the tide, creeps further up the beach as we practice, and then gently recedes again when emotions are running or we are not deliberately working at it.

The practical skills that are most important to me now prepare me to listen without being defensive. I have moved that stake in the sand a long way up the beach. And preparing myself to listen means that I also have the skills to keep calm and carry on.

I set a time for important conversations, and do not let myself get dragged in on the spot.

I walk to clear my mind, and enter a room in advance so I can sit at the blank table and lay my hands palm down in a meditative posture, allowing my busy thoughts to run away through my hands into the table.

I know and remind myself constantly that listening is a job. It is a job you can only do well when you do not have anything else to do.

I write a list of things that are important to me, or that I have to learn, decide on, or do, before the conversation begins. Setting them aside gives me the freedom to listen to another side and ideas while knowing my own thoughts are safe.

I convince myself to be open new stories. Once I have written my thoughts down, I have to remind myself that I may change my mind or alter my thinking. I have a judging hat which I can remove only with difficulty. When I feel judgmental, I deliberately tell myself to be curious. What motivates this person to act or behave this way? Why am I reacting so strongly to it?

Listening acutely and with full body attention is an act of suspension for me, because the act of allowing myself to fully take in what I am hearing and empathize with the speaker, forces my own thoughts into suspension. I think it helps to visualize full detachment from your thinking. Maybe thoughts are tidied into a tethered hot air balloon which is allowed to float up into the sky. You can retrieve them easily, but they are out of reach.

Hot-air-balloon

Image via Wikipedia

Full body listening is hard work. It can be exhausting. But once someone feels heard, understood and acknowledged, they will be ready to hear your side, and you can bring that tethered hot air balloon of thoughts back to earth, and sort through the pieces that are most relevant and appropriate to share. You have won yourself a hearing.

Why do a Workplace Fairness Assessment?

Why do a Workplace Fairness Assessment?

One day, manager Dean invites new worker Melinda into his office to discuss comments he has received about her from her co-worker. He opens is conversation warmly: “Hi. I have been really happy about your work – it is timely and accurate, and I think you are a real asset to this team Melinda. ”And follows with “but I would like to talk with you about your relationship with the others on the team. Some things have come up.” Melinda is taken aback “What? What sort of things? What’s this about?” Dean is forced to continue, defensively. “Well, I’d like to be very honest with you. Each person’s contribution to the team is important. Some people think that you are interfering with their work and publically coming down on them about their performance.”

Where did this conversation go wrong? How can a Workplace Fairness Assessment help both Dean and Melinda understand their situation better, and learn to assess and improve the tools they have to address workplace conflicts?

The Workplace Fairness Assessment is a series of questions asked and interpreted of key stakeholders by a trained Workplace Fairness Analyst. Categorized by workplace culture, workplace conflict, and conflict management, the analyst asks a series of questions designed to paint a picture of the effectiveness of existing conflict management systems within an organization.

The data is analyzed and evaluated through 4 measures: justice, efficiency, engagement, and resources. Like four legs of a stool, healthy systems score well on all four measures.

Once the data is tabulated, organizations have comparative data with others in like industry sector and size. Melinda can seek information about standards, and be reassured that she is working for an organization that has the systems in place to address her concerns in a fair, economical, and effective way.

Dean will have clear insight into how to best use limited resources to change workplace conflict systems if he has concerns that Melinda and her colleagues do not have access to the help they need to address workplace conflicts.

Duty to Accommodate and Gentle, Honest, Open, Specific Talk

An engaged employee is held capable and trusts that you will consistently treat them with integrity, impartiality, and respect. Gentle, honest, open, specific, talk with your staff will set the ground work for a relationship that will pay dividends when the tide turns and it comes time to ask the difficult questions.

As a supervisor you have a duty to accommodate, and you have a right to know. We may feel backed into situations where we hesitate to ask the difficult questions, or we confuse a person’s right to privacy with our own right, and indeed duty, to foster an open, constructive and productive working environment.

Let’s take the example of a suspected addiction. You notice increasingly erratic behaviour with a particular employee, and their sick days are on the rise. How do you balance your need to know with their right to privacy? How do you identify when your duty to accommodate kicks in? Under Alberta Human Rights legislation addiction is considered a disability and the duty to accommodate may apply. If this is the case, you need a doctor’s note, even as you cannot inquire about a staff member’s complete medical history. How do you verify your hunch? What if, based on past experience with the employee, you are wondering if the poor behaviour is simply workplace foolishness? How can you be sure? It is also not unusual for biases to get in the way of sound decision-making. Our own view of, or experience with, addictions may be getting in the way of our approach.

In this procedural and legal minefield it is imperative to discuss your proposed actions with your HR department and/or a senior manager. Once that has been done, and you have decided on a procedural plan, the relationship you have built with your staff member will stand you in good stead. If you have consistently conducted your conversations with a gentle, honest, open, specific protocol, and if you consistently hold your staff member capable and trust that they are doing the best they can with what they know, then you have the foundation in place to conduct a conversation to learn what you need to know to move forward. You will be able to discuss a medical condition frankly, and in a safe space, and determine if it is indeed a condition which limits the staff’s ability to perform their duties.

The gentle, honest, open specific, talk (or GHOST) protocol is a protocol for speaking and listening:

  • Gentle: to say what needs to be said in a manner that does not raise defenses in the other party;
  • Honest: to be true to what is on your mind, and your emotional reaction to the situation;
  • Open: to be open to new information, and to allow it to influence your thinking;
  • Specific: to illustrate what you have to say with clarifying examples and to avoid generalizations;
  • Talk: to take the opportunity of a confidential, safe space to say what you are thinking when it is important. Thinking not Talking is TNT – dangerous!

Modeling GHOST, describing GHOST, and inviting others to use it will set the foundation for improved communication and better information. With each conversation you will build your foundation for establishing and maintaining employee engagement and a productive working environment.

The GHOST protocol is a foundation of the PULSE Conversation. To learn more about PULSE Conversations for Change, discovered and developed by Dr. Nancy Love, please visit www.pulseinstitute.com.

Employee Retention and Workplace Fairness

The Conference Board of Canada predicts a labour shortage of nearly one million employees by the year 2020. Though not all agree whether there is a serious impending labour shortage in Alberta, many companies are increasingly concerned about how they will continue to attract and retain employees as the bulge of Baby Boomers enter their retiring years. How your organization handles conflict could be a major factor in your quest to seek out and retain quality new hires.  There are tools available which can help you assess the cost of conflict within your organization, and ensure you make good decisions about how to improve your conflict resolution systems.

The American Institute of Stress cites reports that occupational pressures and fears are “far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades.” http://www.stress.org/occupational-stress-part-1/ .  The cost to organizations and individuals adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.  And the number one cause of stress in the workplace? Poor interpersonal interactions are a major contributor, and the resulting indirect damages are hard to measure.

Assessing the cost of conflict must be considered from several different angles, reviewing both the indirect costs and the direct costs.  Direct costs may include such measurable items as:

  • Litigation
  • Sick and stress leaves
  • Sabotage, theft and damage
  • Hiring as employees leave
  • Restructuring

Indirect costs may reflect on your company’s reputation. Do you have hidden hiring costs because prospective employees are turning down opportunities based on a poor reputation? In his book Workplaces that Work, Blaine Donais describes indirect costs to conflict, and provides a tool for measuring all costs. The indirect costs include:

  • Manager time
  • HR time
  • Employee time
  • Productivity costs
  • Reputation costs

Presenteeism may be difficult to measure and may not even be apparent.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario), http://wmhp.cmhaontario.ca/workplace-mental-health-core-concepts-issues/issues-in-the-workplace-that-affect-employee-mental-health/presenteeism  presenteeism may cost employers up to 7.5 times greater than absenteeism in productivity loss. Formally presenteeism is described as the phenomena when employees go to work with ill health, experience lack of concentration or focus, and suffer from productivity loss. Their presence in the workplace may lead to interpersonal conflict and increased stress which affects others’ productivity as well.

These underground or indirect impacts on productivity may have a huge cost that is directly measurable against your bottom line. Costs are evident when managers spend increasing time resolving conflict with their employees; an employee shows a measurable drop in productivity; there is an increasing number of sick days or the water fountain gossip time becomes longer and longer. The hidden cost is to your reputation: your reputation as conflict-incompetent may affect your ability to attract and retain new hires.

How conflict-competent are you?  The battle cry of the disgruntled employee centres on the concept of fairness.

“It is unfair, why does he get more overtime hours than I do?”
“It’s unfair, she is always late, and you’re not doing anything about it.“

The perception of fairness is a measure of conflict competence within an organization.  And yes, fairness can be measured.  Blaine Donais (www.workplacefairness.ca) has developed a Fairness Cost Analysis tool which can be used to put a price tag on conflict. This tool is one way you can put a price on low employee engagement and build a sound business case for taking steps to improve.

Consider the systems you have in place for addressing conflict within your organization. For example: are employees free to approach managers outside the chain of command through a formalized open door policy? If so, do managers receive adequate training in resolving disputes? Do employees know about the policy? Were employees involved with the development of the policy, and are they included in ongoing evaluations?

Another example of an aspect of your conflict resolution system is managerial decision making. Do you have firm and transparent policies in place for addressing such common concerns as tardiness, and sick days? Are these policies administered consistently through all departments and at all levels of your organization?

Your conflict resolution system may include conflict coaching, training, peer mediation and an ombuds office as well.

With your options for resolving conflict in mind (your “conflict management system”) how would you rank your organization on the following questions on a scale of 1-5:

  • How accessible is the system to every employee in the workplace?
  • How well does the system protect the legal rights of the participants?
  • Has there been appropriate stakeholder consultation throughout development, implementation, and monitoring of the system?
  • How cost effective is it?
  • How well does the system encourage individuals to resolve their own conflicts?
  • Do you have adequate facilities and services to support it?
  • How well does the system improve itself through self-evaluation and system change?

Likely these questions will provoke some thought for you about your current approaches to conflicts and how effective they are.  Now take things one step further and imagine ranking your organization against those in a comparable market sector and industry.  How do you rank?

Imagine the possibilities. Your fairness ranking becomes a topic for discussion in the most compelling job interviews, and you are able to attract and retain employees because you know, and you can prove, that you treat them fairly, and have the systems in place to address conflict when it comes up. You can make a sound business case for investing in effective conflict management practices.

Marjorie Munroe, C.Med., W.F.A. is a consultant, mediator and trainer with the PULSE Institute and the Co-Director of the Alberta branch of the Workplace Fairness Institute.