Critical incidents in the workplace can happen quickly or escalate over a long period of time before they erupt. These incidents can stem from violence, abuse, harassment, bullying or protracted negative conflict. Alberta’s revised Occupational Health and Safety Act indicates that employers are required to help prevent workplace harassment and violence and address incidents when they do occur. Employers are required to investigate incidents of violence and harassment and take corrective action. This is a strong step for creating psychological safety in Alberta workplaces, but often support for employees during this time is forgotten. Consider the following situation:
A manager was accused of bullying and harassment by an employee. Matters were complicated because the employee was a visible minority. A formal complaint was eventually filed, and an investigation undertaken by the Human Resources Department. 40% of the team members were listed as witnesses and interviewed during the investigation. The manager, employee and team members were expected to undertake work as usual during the complicated investigation, which took a few months. Although advised not to, team members began talking about the situation in hopes of supporting their colleague and/or the manager during this difficult time. Sides were taken and strong feelings escalated. There were outbursts in meetings and avoidance in the hallways. Some tried to stay out of it and others talked behind closed doors or in whispers.
The investigation proved to be unfounded and results were shared with the complainant and respondent. Training was arranged for the manager but needed to be kept confidential, so the complainant and other team members were not aware of the consequences. The complainant and supporters did not feel the outcome was fair and lost trust with their Human Resources team. They continued to vent their frustration in the workplace by skipping meetings and ignoring the manager’s priorities. Those supporting the manager wanted to focus on their work and get back to normal and were perceived to not care about the unfairness. Feelings continued to escalate between the two groups and the manager was at a loss.
This is a common situation where employees need support in the aftermath of a critical incident to work through complicated issues. Workplaces struggle with similar incidents frequently. We hear about it in the news every week; no organization is immune. Now is the time for organizations to develop additional and appropriate support to manage these situations effectively.
A Workplace Restoration process provides support for employees to come together to reestablish working relationships and a psychologically safe environment. A structured process provides a safe space for participants to be heard, understood and acknowledged which will help them move through change and difficult situations such as the example above more effectively. This can be undertaken by trusted individuals within the organization or when trust with the organization is damaged involving an independent third party is a strong option.
Workplace Fairness brings a five-stage model that begins with involving all areas of the organization; HR, Union, Leadership and impacted employees. Assessments or individual confidential interviews allow for effective reporting and recommendations to determine appropriate next steps. Treatment can include facilitated group meetings, conflict coaching, mediation, circle work, restorative justice techniques and training. Facilitators with strong skill sets in all the above are crucial. The most important outcome of this process is surfacing implicit potentially destructive information in a constructive way and providing the tools and confidence for participants to engage in safe, productive conversations. Monitoring the situation for an appropriate period of time will ensure that participants have maintained defined outcomes and instilled measures for on-going success.
Focusing on creating a strong Workplace Restoration plan now can ensure that your organization will reduce risk and costs associated with the aftermath of critical incidents.