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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Conflict management

An article out this week by Bianca Healy discusses toxic workplaces with as many as 9 out of 10 people indicating that they have had experience with either ‘toxic’ individuals or cultures. Certainly when conducting organisational investigations it is a term commonly used by all the stakeholders and it generates a great deal of emotion and strong opinions of what is and what isn’t ‘toxic’ behaviour.

Healey says, based on the research conducted by those surveyed that ”everything rises and falls on leadership.” Certainly leaders can ”set a tone” either through their own behaviours where they reinforce aggressive and manipulative conduct.

Or leaders can perpetuate toxic cultures by ignoring behaviours and failing to hold to account those team members who undermine workplace harmony and respectful attitudes. This unfortunately validates individual negative behaviours and leads to an entrenched culture which can be very damaging but also resistant to later efforts to improve workplace conduct and attitudes.

A real test of leadership is where you inherit a toxic workplace. Why can some leaders turn this around? I would love to hear your experiences of how this was done. What worked? What didn’t?

Click below for the Healey article:
HRM Debate: What are the best ways to fight toxic workplace culture?

ACIM Solutions offers a range of programs and services to manage and investigative ‘toxic’ workplace cultures.  Please get in touch if you would like more information on investigating workplace bullying or short courses to upskill staff on emotional intelligence, resilience and leadership.

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My previous blog post discussed the inherent differences in out multi-generational workforces. Following on from that, here are some practical suggestions to assist people managers to manage the expectations of everyone in the team.

1.  People all of all generations want to be respected.  

Everyone has different strengths to bring to the table, whether it’s years of real-world experience and accumulated corporate knowledge, a fresh young mind and novel approach to problem-solving or an amazing proficiency with the next big thing in social media.  

Promote a culture of active listening and discourage employees from generation-bashing eg: ‘I see Dad’s Army are manning the security desk again this morning!’ or ‘Have you seen the new intern in the accounts department? A flock of seagulls could be nesting in those dreadlocks!’

2. Be clear about expectations and career advancement opportunities within your organisation right from the start. 

Realistic information at recruitment fairs and job interviews, as well as ‘onboarding’ and induction programs can help to manage the high expectations of young people when they join the workforce. Remember they are often highly qualified and recognise that there can be blockages at the top as older generations remain in the workforce and this tension may need to be managed. The fact that globally this generation is highly qualified and it is a very competitive recruitment market means that young people need to distinguish themselves in the job market through experience. Exposing them to different experiences or projects (not necessarily promotion) can be a way to manage everyone’s expectations in the workplace.

3.  Emphasise shared goals but be flexible about the best way to reach them.  

Nobody likes being micro-managed and different generations may approach their work in a variety of ways. Gen Y are often exceptional multi-taskers, Gen X may prefer to work autonomously and some Boomers may be more comfortable working collaboratively. However, there are many roads to a shared destination. Be flexible. Encourage staff to communicate openly and to celebrate their creativity and diversity.

4.  Encourage inter-generational mentoring

Not everyone will feel at ease sitting in a classroom (particularly a computer training room) but everybody likes to learn new skills and feel valued by their employer. Consider offering a ‘skills exchange’ program where, for example, Boomers pair up with Gen Y to swap advice about leadership skills for help using new technologies.

5.  Leaders need to be authentic, trustworthy and motivating.  

Different generations may have different expectations about leadership but everyone wants to be able to trust and respect the ‘commander-in- chief’. The best leaders have a broad range of leadership styles and have the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and different audiences.

6.  Encourage a healthy work-life balance for all age groups.

To retain valuable staff of all age groups for longer, ask people what they need in terms of a reasonable balance and as long as it doesn’t interfere with organisational goals or performance, try to accommodate it wherever possible.

7.  Change is hard on everyone.  

There is a widespread perception that older people are more resistant to change and that young people embrace it. However, research shows that the acceptance or rejection of change has far more to do with the perceived costs and benefits of that change than the age demographics of employees.

8.  Give constructive feedback and encourage life-long learning. 

Everybody likes to know how well they’re performing and feel that they have the skills to do their job well.  Research conducted by the Hay Group found that all generations cited ‘exciting and challenging work’ as the main reason for staying with their current employer. Give staff opportunities to keep growing and developing their skill sets and knowledge base, whatever their age.

9.  All generations have similar core values but they may express them differently.  

While people of different age groups may at times seem worlds apart in terms of interests and capabilities, when it comes to what really matters most, all generations put family at the top of their list. Other top values shared across the generational divide include: achievement, competence, happiness integrity, love, self-respect, responsibility and wisdom.

10.  Loyalty is about the context, not the age of your employees.  

There has been a lot written in recent times about younger generations being less loyal employees than older ones. However, research has found that number of hours worked by employees related more to the level of seniority within an organisation rather than age demographics, ie the greater the level of responsibility, the more hours worked.

If you would like to know more about human resource management, conflict resolution or leadership training opportunities for your organisation, please contact us.

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Some workplace roles involve managing potentially or actual heightened or volatile situations on a regular basis. 

Circumstances can arise when behaviours extend past ‘difficult’ and into challenging conduct which requires more sophisticated skill sets in order to positively respond and manage. Unfortunately, managing situations that involve elevated emotions and potential physical harm in workplaces is increasing.

Challenging behaviour can be described as ‘those behaviours that threaten the quality of life and/or physical safety of an individual or others’.* It sometimes exists on a continuum and may include one or more of the following:

  • open or passive aggression
  • physical or emotional harassment (e.g. verbal abuse or threats, bullying, racism, stalking)
  • refusing to co-operate with authority figures
  • refusing to comply with organisational codes of conduct, policies and procedures
  • theft or property damage.
  • self-harm, including alcohol or drug abuse

* Source

So how do you cope with these types of behaviours, reduce potential harm and restore calm in the workplace?

The key is in developing the skills to respond rather than react.

This is much harder than you might think because like all animals, humans are hard-wired to react in either a ‘fight or flight’ mode in threatening situations. Overriding our instinctive reactions takes skill, practice and commitment. 

Here are our top ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ for de-escalating heightened situations in the workplace:

1.  DO stay calm so you can think rationally and use your professional judgement to assess the risks.

2.  DO focus on your communication skills. Use a calm, neutral tone of voice and be very conscious of your language so as not to inflame the situation.

3.  DO listen respectfully to the person. Ask open-ended questions to identify the issues and reply using ‘reflective listening’ skills to show that you are paying attention. Allow the person ‘vent’ and don’t interrupt them.

4.  DO be clear, concise and unemotional about what you are seeking from them. Using simple language, outline the impact of their behaviour(s) on others and the workplace as a whole.  Calmly explain the boundaries for behaviour and the consequences of non-compliance in terms of simple choices.

5.  DON’T be afraid of silences in the conversation. They may feel long and awkward to you but they are giving the other person breathing space and time to think about what you’ve said, reflect on their current situation and make decisions about what they do next.

6.  DO focus on your non-verbal communication skills. These are the most critical skills in a heightened situation – be very conscious of the signals you may be (inadvertently) sending.  In particular, using some eye contact (if culturally appropriate) to communicate during heated situations is vital.

7.  DON’T ever turn your back on someone behaving erratically or aggressively. If possible, try to put some kind of physical barrier (e.g. a desk or chair) between you and the other person.

8.  DO stand at a slight angle away from the other person, rather than facing them head-on which could be construed as confrontational.  

9.  DON’T respond to challenging questions or personal provocations. If the person questions your authority, redirect the conversation to the issue at hand.  

10.  DO respond immediately if you feel physically threatened. Use an open-handed pushback with your hand out at shoulder level in front of you.  Include clear verbal instructions, e.g. ‘Stop! Get back!’

11.  DON’T be a hero and physically intervene unless it is completely unavoidable.

12.  DO de-brief with others involved after the event. It may help you to deal with the stress of what happened, get a better understanding of how the situation unfolded and plan more effectively for the future.

For more information on options to develop skills in managing challenging behaviours for yourself or your teams, please contact us.

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As professional mediators, the PSW HR Solutions team are often asked by clients for advice about how to handle difficult conversations in the workplace.  

It is a predictable part of working life that we will need to have difficult conversations with clients, staff and stakeholders at some point. Many managers rely on their position to ‘manage’ people rather than developing the skills to lead through engagement and the ability to influence. 

Proactively managing difficult conversations can be a litmus test for many people in the workplace.  Unfortunately, many people find the process intimidating and go to great lengths to avoid a personal conversation.  Alternatively, a clumsy response can inflame the potential conflict which makes the situation even more uncomfortable for everyone!

When handled well, difficult conversations can be a good thing.  

They create opportunities for people to find common ground, confirm expectations around behaviour and performance and create improved understanding. Open and personal communication allows ongoing organisational problems/ festering issues that often affect others in the workplace to be positively managed. Confident management of challenging conversations can be the catalyst for new or improved workplace practices and processes being implemented. They may even create the space for new perspectives to be considered and/or result in a change in management direction or thinking.

So how do you get from the ‘Houston, we have a problem’ stage to sustainable positive outcomes? 

A great place to start is with your preparation and planning skills. Here are our top tips to improve your confidence in managing even the hardest workplace conversations:

1.  Prepare before the discussion. Consider time, date and place. Your goal is to progress the situation positively, not make it worse. Reflect on what the key points of the discussion need to be so you can stay focused and don’t get side-tracked or forget important things you need to mention.  The location can be critical in platforming positive outcomes – where is the best location to raise contentious issues?

2.  Do your research to ensure the information you intend to provide is accurate. Distinguish between opinions, hearsay and facts. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s motives or intentions – and don’t assume that they will be able to see things from your point of view.

3.  Be clear in your own mind about what you want to achieve from the conversation.  Are you just trying to raise the other person’s awareness of a difficult issue or aiming for a change in work performance, personal attitude or behaviour?  Try to summarise your goal/s in two or three short sentences. What outcome from the discussion would you consider to be a satisfactory result? Can it be measured. If so, how?

4.  What will your opening statement be? This could set the tone for the entire conversation so think about it carefully. Mentally rehearse what you want to say in your mind. Picture yourself calmly outlining what the issues and impacts are for the individual concerned, the team, and the workplace as a whole. Can you think of a way to start and finish on a positive and supporting note? 

5.  How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the information that you will provide? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you feel fear, embarrassment, anger or shame?  Anticipate and prepare for the person to ‘vent’ or become emotional.  Anticipate the range of reactions and plan for those responses.

5.  Focus on your communication skills – verbal, non verbal and active listening skills. Keep the language around the discussion as objective and unemotional as possible. Your capacity to communicate assertively and confidently will be a key factor in your ability to manage difficult conversations positively. 

6.  Consider what your role may have been in the situation. Don’t just rely on your own judgement.  Ask a trusted colleague for their perspective. You may not be fully aware how your own actions or words have influenced the behaviour, attitude or decisions of others.  If, on reflection, you feel you may be at fault in some way, be prepared to be honest and open about your part in the matter.

7.  Show respect for the other person. Don’t ambush them with an unexpected meeting or tip-toe around the subject in fear of an imminent explosion. Be courageous and clearly articulate the reason for needing to have the conversation, i.e. be specific about the issue/s you want to talk about.  Book an agreed date and time to have the discussion. Most people appreciate a direct approach and authenticity far more than side-steps and false camaraderie.

8.  Be prepared to allow the other person to help come up with a solution or next steps forward.  This will show that you are listening, being open and flexible.  It may also mean the other party is more likely to respect and abide by whatever actions are agreed upon as a result of the discussion.

If you would like to speak to the PSW HR Solutions team about working with your management and leadership teams on how to handle the difficult conversations, please get in touch.

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How well would the stakeholders in your organisation rate your performance management program?

Do your teams find it motivating and engaging?

Does the program have credibility with team members or managers?

All organisations aim for a performance management process that adds value to a business, encourages positive performance and provides an effective framework to deal with performance gaps.

The previous blog focused on the first three parts of an effective performance management framework:

  1. Ensuring integration of HR Policies that directly impact on performance
  2. The use of position descriptions in building accountability
  3. Goal and performance indicator setting

The Performance Management Process

The next part of the program relates to the way the performance management process is conducted.

To assess how well you are travelling, please consider the following questions:

  • How regularly do you review performance in a structured way? 
  • Does your existing process encourage engagement from both the employee and the manager?
  • Are you acknowledging your teams in a meaningful way?
  • Do you seek genuine two-way feedback?
  • Does the (resource intensive) process motivate or disengage the stakeholders?
  • Do you gather useful information for the team member to reflect on their performance, but also to provide the organisation information to undertake more strategic HR analysis (for example, L&D, succession planning)?
  • Are the scoring systems transparent and accountable to build confidence and integrity in the system by the stakeholders?

Organisations need to regularly seek feedback on the way performance is ‘managed’. 

 In light of that feedback, review your process and ensure that your program includes: 

  • Adequate timeframes so that both manager and team member can reflect and prepare for the discussion
  • Provision to address past performance and focus on future goals
  • The integration of relevant data
  • Sufficient opportunity for both manager and team members to contribute and make comment
  • An acknowledgement of high performance and achievement of goals
  • A mutually agreed plan for addressing opportunities for improvement
  • Development goals for the future
  • A format that is streamlined and maximises data capture for both the team member and the wider organisation

Skills in the performance management conversation

The last, and most important part of the framework, is ensuring managers and supervisors are equipped to make the most of the opportunity to engage people around performance management. 

This can be a very difficult conversation for many to have and unfortunately I see that lack of confidence manifest in ways such as delaying or avoiding performance conversations for extended periods. This usually creates further problems for the workplace as both good and poor performance is not appropriately addressed.

Fortunately many of the skills can be taught! If you would like to know more about how to maximise performance management in your organisation, please contact us.

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In the previous blog post we discussed the importance of undertaking a professional and timely workplace investigation and the first steps to start the process.

Once the need for an investigation has been established, the following are our suggested steps when conducting an investigation.

Conducting the investigation

Step one when conducting a workplace investigation is to determine if your organisation is able to conduct the investigation internally or whether it would be more appropriate to use an external investigator.

The answer to this question will depend upon a number of factors including, the seriousness of the allegation and whether there is anyone in your organisation with sufficient skill, and independence from the parties, to be able to carry out the investigation with credibility.

A consideration of these factors will enable you to determine if the investigation should and can be undertaken “in-house’ or whether it should be outsourced to experts who have experience in conducting workplace investigations. 

Don’t forget, depending on the outcome, the conduct of the investigation process may come under as much scrutiny as the original allegation!

The investigation should cover not only whether the alleged act or behaviour actually occurred, but also whether the employee accused or complained about was actually involved, and whether there are any mitigating circumstances.

You should only approach witnesses or other parties that you are definitely aware can help you and you must instruct them to treat the matter as confidential.

When speaking with witnesses ensure you collect facts around the specific allegation. A workplace investigation is not the appropriate process for 'fishing expeditions'. Poor investigative practices such as these can undermine the entire investigation, jeopardise the investigation and potentially embarrass the organisation.

As part of the investigative process adhere to the principles of procedural fairness. For an employee to defend him or herself against allegations or complaints, you must provide them with sufficient details of the allegations or complaint to do so. The employee is entitled to seek assistance from an appropriate person, such as a union delegate, to defend him or herself.

After the investigation

If an investigation finds that an employee's complaint is substantiated, inform the employee in another interview and advise him or her about what action you intend to take to resolve the matter.

Inform the employee (in the presence of a witness if he or she prefers) of your findings and advise what action you intend to take.

If the complaint is not substantiated, you must still inform the employee, providing some details of the nature of your investigation and the basis for your decision. Be careful not to take sides in this process, just provide the facts.

Ensure you update the complainant on the outcome of the investigation.

Keep a record of the complaint, your investigation findings and the final interview, in case the employee or complainant decides to pursue the matter through other avenues, such as legal proceedings.

If you would like assistance in conducting or managing investigative processes in your organisation, please contact us.

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Managing workplace complaints can be challenging. The impact on the workplace during and post the investigation can be negative and long lasting and can affect not only those involved but also team members on the periphery. 

Poor investigation processes can result in disengaged staff, low morale, lost productivity, poor performance and workplace relationship breakdown that can take years to rebuild. 

Facilitating a professional investigation in a timely manner using investigative processes consistent with best practice and compliant with legislative frameworks can offer a valuable opportunity to minimise the additional human resource risks to your workplace.

There are several underlying principles to positively managing workplace investigations. They are:

  • Developing and implementing consistent policies and processes around workplace investigations
  • developing strong communication practices with all those involved,
  • ensuring confidentiality,
  • recording your actions and
  • documenting decision making processes. 

When are workplace investigations required?

The need to conduct an investigation into an employee's behaviour in the workplace or otherwise in relation to his or her employment may arise in the following circumstances:

  • Where an employee lodges a complaint about the behaviour of another employee, for example sexual harassment, bullying, micro-management or various other issues.
  • Where management becomes aware of conduct by an employee that, if substantiated, may justify disciplinary action or even dismissal.

Investigative first steps

The first action to undertake is to discuss and record the information accurately from the complainant or source.

Ensure that the allegation is clearly articulated and all information to substantiate an allegation is collected. You should then advise the complainant of your proposed action to speak to the team member.  Confirm that you will keep them updated as the investigation progresses.

Following this, and in a timely manner, inform the team member of the allegation and allow them an opportunity to respond and explain any mitigating circumstances that may exist.

If the employee denies the allegations or claims mitigating circumstances, inform him or her that you intend to investigate the matter, and that your investigation will include contacting other people, including other employees and, where relevant, external parties.

You should now commence your investigation without undue delay. Any investigation of an employee's behaviour should be conducted as soon as practicable. Delays may suggest that management does not regard the matter as serious, or even condones it.

Further, some tribunal and court cases have found that a significant delay was unfair to the employee, in that it made it harder for the employee and witnesses to recall accurately what really happened. There is also a strong argument that the unreasonable delay in investigating allegations can exacerbate the stress for those involved which can increase any subsequent workers compensation claims.

Despite the need for a timely response, the investigation still needs to be thorough. As part of this process you need to communicate the process and the timeframes you envisage to both the complainant and the team member. Be sure to highlight that any delay does not imply that the employer condones the conduct either alleged or complained about.

The next step is to conduct the investigation, which will be detailed in the next blog. In the meantime if you would like to know more about investigating complaints, please contact us.

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What are the implications for the new bullying legislation for my business?

There has been a great deal of discussion in the media with employer groups and employee advocates concerning the introduction, on 1 January 2014, of new legislation around allegations of bullying in the workplace and the involvement of the Fair Work Commission.

Bullying is about health and safety and is directly related to the obligation of employers to provide a safe work environment. 

Regulators, such as Workcover NSW, have the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting bullying complaints as part of a breach of health and safety legislation.

What is new however, is that starting this year, an eligible employee who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work may now, for a $65.50 fee, apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the workplace bullying. 

Most workplace relations commentators, and in fact the President of the Fair Work Commission Iain Ross,  are envisaging a significant number of  bullying complaints to be lodged as a result of the new provisions.  The potential for flow on costs to organisations is enormous.

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety


What do you need to do?

The first thing to do is to ensure you have effective policies in place around bullying behavior.  Review and confirm that they clearly identify expectations in the workplace and also the process for staff to follow in the event of bullying conduct.

However, having good policies is only part of the solution in preventing these types of costly allegations and complaints for your organisation.

Equally as critical is  

  • Ensuring the policies are implemented effectively
  • educating your teams and
  • developing your teams to identify indicators of bullying, investigate and then manage complaints

Quality training around key policies is critical at the induction phase and supported by regular follow up programs in the following areas:

  • The organisational bullying policy and related documents
  • Developing skills to respond quickly and appropriately when a complaint is lodged or bullying behavior is identified
  • Investigation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Management skills during an investigation and post incident.

Training and developing your teams will build resilience and a positive culture in your organisation.

If you would like assistance in developing an appropriate bullying policy or to discuss training and development for  your staff from a team that has experience managing  this issue, please contact us.

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Conflict is inevitable in the workplace, and when managed effectively, can be a healthy and integral part of your organisational culture.

However in my experience as a HR manager and nationally accredited mediator, I have seen firsthand how damaging workplace conflict can be for many organisations.

Unfortunately the reality is that many managers and leaders are not confident in positively managing conflict. 

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