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.


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.

A Conflict Experiment

For Conflict Resolution Day, we conducted a Conflict Experiment in the halls of the +15 downtown Calgary! Participants commented that they had a lot of fun answering our 5 questions about conflict in the workplace. Now, I wouldn’t say it was particularly scientific, b

When workplace conflict in the workplace remains unresolved where do employees turn?

Employees turn to co-workers even when their conflict remains unresolved.

ut see for yourself the answers!

Workplace Conflict resolution benefits from training.

Workers admit they could benefit from training in skills for managing conflict.

When there is conflict at work, productivity goes down when workers take days off.

Workers do use their vacation and sick days to avoid the stress of conflict at work.

There are many different styles for managing conflict.

When it comes to conflict, how we manage it is all over the map.

Time spent on conflict impacts the work atmosphere and productivity.

Time spent on conflict impacts the work atmosphere and productivity.

The HR Department and the Business Communications Department have a lot to learn from each other

Glenna Cross is a Master Communicator and Communication and Search Consultant.  Her dream is to see the HR department and the Communication Department work together as strategic partners.  Both departments have a focus on employee engagement and are champions for employees within an organization.  While most of their functions are separate, many overlap, particularly in the area of change management, leadership support and connecting with employees. This can be a cause for misunderstanding and sometimes even conflict.
Sometimes the Communications department may be viewed as taking direction from HR to “get the message out”, “make it pretty” or otherwise execute specific communications tactics, as well as addressing risk management by ensuring issues do not explode in the media.  However, the best relationships see HR engaging with Communications as strategic business and thought partners who can provide insight, advice and counsel and sound strategy (in addition to the execution of that strategy) to move the needle on employee communications and employee engagement.
At Glenna’s presentation for the Workplace Fairness group, she asked
How can organizations develop a functional, successful partnership between HR and Communications’?
Some thoughts from the group;
  • HR/Communications should report into the same line of command within the organizational structure.
  • Each department should have a leader at a similar level. Both departments need to work at building relationships with each other. Mutual respect is key.
  • Develop a common goal and understanding – practice common goal setting .
  • Develop a RACI chart to ensure roles and responsibilities of each department are clear.
  • Examine the physical location of the departments – how far apart are they in the building?
Building strong working relationships is a focus of our work at the Workplace Fairness Institute.  Teams who take extra effort and maintain an on-going commitment to collaborate generate innovative and creative results.

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.

Workplace Culture – Creating Intentional Shifts

On our Friday, May 25th Workplace Fairness Luncheon, Jenn Lofgren with Incito Consulting led us in a conversation focused on shifting Workplace Culture. 

Jenn shared with us a case study of an organization that Incito Consulting worked with to shift culture to improve safety, communication and accountability.  This was a two pronged approach as Jenn embarked on supporting the leadership  and Marjorie and Michelle’s efforts concentrated on the employee group.   Leadership coaching, leadership skills training, employee interviews, a discovery report and a focus group meeting were utilized to bring awareness to the issues, gain acknowledgement and build understanding.  The discovery report revealed employees struggled with feeling safe and comfortable in their work environment and showed concern about the perceived lack of communication from leadership while leadership was seeking accountability and engagement from their employees and a focus on client satisfaction.   Acknowledgement of these issues and a commitment from leadership to address them was the first step in creating a shift.

With Jenn’s guidance the leadership group worked to address behaviours that were affecting communication, accountability and a return to a comfortable work environment.  The focus group was made up of employee sanctioned representatives from all areas of the organization.  A full day facilitated session with Marjorie and Michelle enabled the group to build understanding, move forward and brainstorm ideas to improve efficiency and client satisfaction.

A few curve balls were encountered along the way including a change in HR management, a change in leadership structure, new leaders and the late addition of a sister company.  Commitment began to slip and people began falling into old patterns when situations became challenging.  Looking back, opportunities for difficult conversations were overlooked and would have enabled a smoother transition forward.

The results of the culture shift were extremely tangible for this organization.  Profits were increased substantially, stress was reduced amoung leaders and accountability was improved.  Better-quality customer and employee relationships increased engagement and customer satisfaction and improved the reputation of this organization within the industry.

What is harassment?

What is harassment?

Dr. Kelly Williams-Whitt, U Lethbridge professor of labour relations and human resources management, expert in disability management in the workplace, arbitrator, mediator, president of the Canadians Industrial Relations Association, asked us from the head of the table at a Workplace Fairness lunch.  20 blank faces looked back.  This was a well-informed and experienced group, taken aback at first by a speaker who threw the conversation right at them.

The hesitation was only momentary; the audience caught the ball and was rewarded with another question:

Can harassment exist without intention?

Well, now you want to know the answers, don’t you?

Before making decisions the ancients would go to Delphi to consult the oracle. Who is your oracle when it comes to harassment in the workplace?

Dr. Williams-Whitt wrote a case study (from the fictional Fort McMurray U) which was used in a mock arbitration performed in front of a live audience.  One arbitrator ruled yes, there was harassment in the fictional case; one ruled no.  Our audience, reading the same case study, threw back some questions of their own: Where is the line between what lawyers like to call inappropriate behaviour, and harassment?  It is the age old answer: it depends.  It may depend on

a. The context in which it occurred and the culture of the workplace
b. The nature and severity of the harassing behavior
c. Persistence in the face of the knowledge that that the behavior is unacceptable/unwelcome
d. The relationship between the parties, etc.

Would a reasonable person, confronted with the behaviour in question, feel uncomfortable or intimidated?  The law will always take it back to the reasonable person standard.  I also remind myself when confronted with a harassment allegation that this is the complainant’s truth, and both sides of the complaint deserve respect, consideration and fair process.

If a complaint is filed, what are the available avenues for resolution?

Dr. Williams-Whitt pointed to 3, and a half:

1 – Human Rights.  The purpose of the code of human rights is preventing discrimination whether intentional or not, and based on 13 protected grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group (for example race, colour, physical/mental disability, sex, creed or religion, to name a few).   A claim must be related to one of these grounds to be filed in this venue.

Here is a link to a long list of practical resources from the Federal Treasury Board.  And to learn more about the Alberta Human Rights commission, visit here.

2— Collective Agreement.  In a unionized environment, a harassment complaint will be evaluated against language in the collective agreement and will go to resolution through channels defined by the collective agreement, usually culminating in arbitration.

3 – Occupational Health & Safety.  Now interestingly, as Dr. Williams-Whitt pointed out, there are not many investigations or cases under OHS legislation that deal with psychological safety.  Although, OHS legislation in Alberta (and other provinces) requires that employers provide a workplace that is both physically and psychologically safe.  OHS has historically dealt most frequently with workplace accidents or violence, and they have their hands full there.

Here is information about bullying as defined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.  To read more about the voluntary Standards of Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace, go here.

And a half – court.  Not many employees will pursue their claim in court.

What can you do to be proactive in the workplace and minimize your risks?

Based on the conversation Friday, I have created a checklist for the organization.  Each item on this list deserves due attention.

  • Policies and procedures (comprehensive? current?)
  • Training (Adequate? Available? With follow-up?)
  • Risk assessment (What the psychological risk factors in your organization?)
  • Reporting systems (Maintaining privacy? Safe? With proper records? Accessible? Fair?)
  • Conflict resolution channels (Accessible? Fair? Cost effective? Just?)
  • Investigation expertise (Proper systems in place? Training?)

We wrapped up with a few comments about the role of investigation and the investigator.  I will summarize a few key points here:

  • The investigator’s role is to collect the data, not to make decisions
  • The investigator’s role is to distinguish fact from opinion
  • There are levels of investigation – it may be more appropriate at times to do an informal inquiry before escalating to a full investigation.
  • Privacy of those involved in the investigation is important, but confidentiality cannot be assured. Information from the investigation will be shared, but only with those who need to know about it to address the situation appropriately.

Did you know that the Workplace Fairness Assessment can help you to evaluate your conflict management system? It will address in detail the items from the checklist above.

AND further, if you are wondering if you have appropriate safe channels for employees to bring forward concerns, and have them addressed before they escalate, maybe it’s time to think about the Workplace Fairness Ombuds office?

SCARF it up for workplace productivity and engagement

Social Neuroscience and the SCARF Model indicates Fairness is Important in the Workplace.

Thanks to Erika Deines for sharing the SCARF model with our Workplace Fairness Luncheon group. David Rock is a leading neuroscience practitioner.  The SCARF model builds on the understanding that the brain is focused on increasing or sustaining reward and avoiding negative experiences (threats). This focus on reward and threats drives behaviors in the workplace. Negativity, irrational behavior and conflict isn’t just something that makes our jobs uncomfortable, it is a real cost to business in the emotional toll it takes in our working environment. It translates to lost time due to a lack of engagement leading to lower productivity, increased time spent by human resources and others who end up dealing with these issues.

Here are the five areas of social response that each of us need in the workplace to ensure we are not feeling threatened:


Status – are we comfortable with our relative importance to others?
Our sense of worth. Our sense of where we fit into the hierarchy at work both socially and organizationally

David Rock, SCARF

Every workplace benefits from status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness

Certainty –are we able to predict the future?
Clarity around tasks, clarity around people and how people communicate is more important than we realize. When we are asked to complete tasks or be involved in situations where we don’t have certainty about process or what the persons expects from us, it increases our stress levels dramatically and impairs our ability to be able to make effective balanced decisions.

Autonomy – do we have a sense of control over events?
Our need to feel safe in our abilities to get our job done competently without overt interference enhances our productivity, our engagement, our effectiveness and our accuracy. Lack of autonomy can be processed as a threat situation and hence will promote stress and its negative implications in the brain.

Relatedness – do we feel a sense of safety with others?
The social wiring in our brains means that we form social groups and build relationships. These groups build mutual trust and form a barrier against the unknown. These feelings and the interpersonal bonding promote the production of oxytocin, the trust and bonding hormone, which increases the positive feeling of trust and stabilizes these relationships.

Fairness – do we see our exchanges between others as fair?
Unfairness stimulates a strong emotional reaction in the brain, an automatic defense mechanism. This feeling of unfairness can unintentionally be promoted in organizations through unclear and in-transparent communication. When we experience a strong unfairness threat we can quite often respond in a way that either exacerbates the situation or attempts to avoid the threat.

Knowing about the drivers that can activate a reward response enables people to motivate others more effectively by tapping into internal rewards and reducing reliance on external rewards such as money. SCARF points to more creative ways to reward others that are stronger and more sustainable. It also assists us to become more self-aware of what our negative experiences (threats) are and aid in our ability to self-manage.