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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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.

A Workplace Restoration is an important step

A Workplace Restoration can help improve employee engagement and productivity following a significant negative workplace event, such as a harassment investigation.

Lately Michelle and I have been thinking about Workplace Restorations. If you live in Calgary, the first thing that may leap in your mind with the word restoration could be flood damage. I am sure there are many households in Southern Alberta watching the waterways and the precipitation forecasts this spring. The word restoration implies that things can be put back the way they were found. If you lost a basement of goods last summer, I am sure you have a visceral knowledge that you can’t put things back the way they were, even once the mud has been cleared.

Following a significant negative event in a workplace it becomes crucial in the workplace to redefine a plan for the future which integrates and restores. Like the damage following a flood, an event in the workplace can leave emotional scars. People need not only acknowledgement for past wrongs and experiences, they also benefit from being part of redefining a plan for the future. Too often following a harassment investigation, for example, remedies that address collateral damage of bystanders is missed.

A Workplace Restoration following a harassment investigation is a critical step in returning to a productive workplace.

A Workplace Restoration can be a significant help addressing collateral damage after a harassment investigation.

A Workplace Restoration is a process which provides a safe comfortable environment for all to express and explore their beliefs, concerns and hopes for a positive workplace future. Through a process with an impartial 3rd-party facilitator, they define their criteria for a positive working environment, and a detailed plan with specific actionable items. A Workplace Restoration can involve individual coaching in addition to large and small group facilitation. Training may be an important desired outcome from a restoration, and will be most effective if staff contribute to the training plan in the restoration process.

To read more about what you can do as a manager towards restoring the workplace, visit these resources from the Government of Canada.

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?

A cultural shift at ATB Financial creates new language

The shift to Workplace 2.0 at ATB Financial began with a conversation around culture and a vision board exercise with executives.  Magazines and artwork were used to create pictures to represent their vision of the office in 2020.  From this the ATB Workplace 2.0 team picked out themes and began facilitating conversations with others in the organization. They developed working teams made up of employees in different areas to meet and discuss a new office environment. The outcome of these conversations was a list of concerns, hopes and beliefs that employees brought forward.  How could they ever meet these differing and often opposing needs?

Positive workplace culture and flexibility lie hand in hand.

A visioning exercise with senior executives at ATB Financial has lead to a cultural shift and Workplace 2.0.

ATB partnered with Better Workplaces and Workshift – Calgary Economic Development to see how they could build a flexible workplace.  ATB employees now work from home, work remotely in branch’s boardroom space or ‘Now” spaces, fit their 40 hour work week into slices they require and rely on ‘benching’ spaces to collaborate with colleagues.   All employees were issued a laptop, had the option of keeping their office at work or having an office at home or using ATB buildings in different throughout the city for meeting clients or collaborating.

This significant shift in culture and work environment has created a new language within ATB.  When the team noticed that there was negative water-cooler talk around who was not in the office or who was working on weekends they brought awareness to the issue with the term ‘sludging’.  An awareness campaign developed at reducing ‘sludging’ was undertaken.  ‘Benching’ was another new word developed to signify the most popular new office arrangement of a long empty bench top table with chairs all around.  Employees loved this new work area and gathered around with their laptops and other colleagues to collaborate and hold meetings.

After a year or so, the U of C came into the picture to undertake a study to assess the outcome of the new office initiative.  They worked with managers who assessed the performance of their teams before and after.  They found an increase in productivity along with an increase in employee engagement, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.  Other outcomes from Workplace 2.

  •  Retention has increased
  •  Real Estate (office) costs have decreased by 51%
  •  Recruiting has become easier
  •  Commuting time was reduced substantially
  •  On-going Changes in compensation to reflect new working reality

The Workplace 2.0 initiative was successful due to the support of the ATB president and other top executives.  Their goal is to continue to be fluid and flexible to meet their employee needs into the future.

Thanks to Michelle Phaneuf for this guest post.

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.

Generational Diversity

Today we welcomed Amy Lister and Linda Lathrop to discuss Workplace Fairness and generational diversity. It was really nice to meet some new participants, including a healthy representation from the younger generation.

As we neared the end of the discussion, I had a revelation. I, in my late forties, can see in two directions: to my father who in his early 70s is returning to work as a consultant at his former employer, and to my daughter embarking on her first summer away from home working full time. Oddly too, my father is on the west coast, my daughter is on the east coast, and I am in the middle perhaps, in the prairie. Generational diversity binds us.

I asked Linda and Amy about the stories (complaints, perhaps?) we hear often of young workers “multi-tasking” with the music in one ear, the texting and the simultaneous work. I certainly see this in my own household, and I hear about it in the workplace. Our luncheon facilitators cautioned us about stereotypes and reminded us of the gifts. Linda and Amy, themselves representing generational diversity, are enthusiastic champions of the value of interactions and working with differing generations.

We can use our mediator skills: be open, be curious, and listen for understanding. Hold people capable, and the rewards are multiple. You will gain a fresh perspective and perhaps as Amy and Linda did, a friend for life.