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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Effective Case Management for Abilities Builds Workplace Fairness

Effective Case Management builds Workplace Fairness

The case manager invests in relationships to build trust.

Joanne McCusker shared stories and experiences with us about her work as an occupational health nurse with CalFrac Well Services with our Workplace Fairness lunch group.  I loved her opening theme – that she is all about prevention and appropriate protocol. Yes! That goes to Workplace Fairness.

Joanne shared the timeline and the tasks and protocols for medical leaves and the return to work. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Determine the appropriate route early in the process.  We discussed two examples – one is the leave request which stems from an interpersonal problem.  The interpersonal problem can be a real barrier to a return to health if it is not addressed through the appropriate channels.   Another example is the concurrence of disciplinary issues.  There must be two distinct streams to handle discipline and health.
  2. Invest in relationships with the staff member and the employer to build trust.  This means also that the case manager must really be on it, having the conversations with the doctors as required and open honest conversations and regular follow ups with the staff and the manager.
  3. Doctor’s notes are particularly important for longer term leaves, say after 3 or 4 days, and should address fitness to work.  The doctor’s note which addresses functional limitations will enable the caregiver to assess the treatment and help the negotiation with the return to work in practical, meaningful way.
  4. A good return-to-work meeting will address:
  • A clear plan with goals and timelines
  • A schedule o f updates for recovery and re-integration
  • Confidentiality and a communications plan for co-workers and others
  • Potential interpersonal conflicts
  • Human Rights issues

Listening Hygiene and Rituals

My job is to listen. When I am working it is probably the single most important part of my job.  People talk to me, and it is my job to hear them, and then to provide evidence that I hear them. This can be very freeing because people do not always want solutions or advice.  Active listening, often, is enough to help people gain clarity for good decisions.

Connected by Conversation

One day in June I was rushing to get out of the house to travel to Edmonton.  Tripping back and forth between car and office in a mad attempt to get organized, I was pulled up short when the phone rang. Ignore? Answer?  I chose to look more closely at the call display and noted positive sign of my offspring.  “Hello?” “Mom? I need to talk.”

First response (internal): Not now.  I have a long drive in front of me, and I am sure already that I will be late for that dinner, and I know I have forgotten something, but I haven’t quite figured out what it is…

The Second and more appropriate response required relying on my listening hygiene.

I have been testing a new theory recently. I have noticed a parallel between good sleep hygiene and what I will call listening hygiene.  For me sleep hygiene is about managing or executing on a daily basis a few key things at bed time:

  • external stimulation
  • internal stimulation
  • ritual

Listening hygiene is similar.  Listening Hygiene is developing and practicing routines and rituals which you can count on for self-managing internal and external stimulation, and for preparing yourself to listen.

Upon hearing my daughter’s voice, I slowly sat down in a chair and placed a free palm on my desk, carefully regulating my breathing as I did so. “What’s up?” As I focussed on my palm channeling thoughts into my desk, my voice became calm and moderated, and I began to set aside my proverbial shopping list. It is akin to counting to 10 when you are angry, exercising your brain’s cerebral cortex and allowing yourself to channel rational thoughts rather than emotional ones.

Effective listening hygiene, like sleep hygiene, requires self-awareness and practice. When you are listening effectively, it is all you are doing; it requires suspension of your agenda and total trust that the speaker is doing the best they can with what they know.

You need a routine and a ritual you can rely on even in times of stress.  As I heard my daughter say that she does not plan to return to school in September, it was only practice and awareness that saved me from jumping to judgement and unwarranted conclusions.  Good listening hygiene will work for you when you most need it, and your relationships will benefit.

 

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.