Harassment is now identified as a workplace hazard according to Alberta’s updated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. Employers have a duty to help prevent workplace harassment and address incidents when they occur.
Workplace harassment is defined in the OHS Act as a single or repeated incident of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group.
Bullying and harassment are a serious issue and can create an unhealthy work environment resulting in psychological harm to employees. Differences of opinion or minor disagreements between coworkers are not generally considered to be workplace harassment if steps are taken to resolve the conflict. Except, the organization may not be aware of the conflict while it festers and escalates.
Workplace incidents often start with a conflict, any type of conflict. It can happen between coworkers or between managers and employees. It can start from a small disagreement. No matter how hard an individual may try to resolve the issue, it does not get resolved. When the issue does not go away it escalates, and anger and frustration multiply the possibility of unpleasant behaviors.
What might have been resolved with some added support and the appropriate mechanisms in place, now becomes a contest between who is right and who is wrong. The fall out of accusations and demeaning attacks may be guided by a scapegoat mentality, the need for personal power over others, by personal values trampled on, by fears or insecurities. Other team members may be pulled in as group-psychology and a complex array of social-organizational dynamics begin to play their part. Psychological injuries are incurred, harm becomes evident and employees require a leave to restore health. The leading cause of short-term and long-term disability in 2005 was mental health issues, including stress.1
The organization begins to incur a cost as soon as a conflict escalates and is not resolved. Employee engagement and productivity is impacted because those involved are taking time and focus away from their work. Stress and absenteeism increase along with presenteeism. Team member, manager and Human Resource time is consumed. The risk of legal action increases, and the reputation of the organization is impacted when employees leave and share stories about their negative experience. Are you aware of these unproductive conflicts in your organization?
Productive conflicts are a normal part of all workplaces and provide an opportunity to share differing ideas initiating creativity and innovative solutions. Beneficial, timely dialogue allows participants to bring forward their concerns, dig deeper into issues, build understanding and agree upon positive next steps.
Unproductive, unresolved conflict can escalate and lead to harassment incidents and psychological harm. Dismissing the risk of unresolved conflict can be detrimental. Employers can avert workplace incidents through the creation of strong options that enable employees to resolve conflict early and successfully. Robust conflict resolution policies, training, facilitation, mediation and an Organizational Ombudsman can aid in this endeavor. Minimize your risk by undertaking an assessment of your conflict management system to determine gaps and obtain recommendations. Can you afford the cost of doing nothing?
- Human Resources and Skills Development Canada – Occupational Injuries and Diseases in Canada, 1996-2008: Injury Rates and Cost to the Economy
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” Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ― Dennis Waitley