Strategies to Overcoming Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias is hitting the news. From Bay Street to Main Street to Starbucks the impact of unspoken bias is real and harmful to the workplace. Bias stands in the way of making correct decisions in hiring and promoting. It also has a vital impact on your staff and the workplace in general. Let’s explore how we can become aware of our own bias and stop it in the workplace?

 

First, let’s define it. “Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education) 

 

We all have a bias. The question is, do we identify it and then what do we do about it? In addressing one of the most crucial training issues facing the workplace today, unconscious bias, employers can assist in creating an inclusive, civil and respectful workplace. 

 

Research indicates that unconscious biases are prejudices we have, yet are uninformed of. They are “mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes.” (Guynn, 2015). Biases can be based on skin colour, gender, age, height, weight, introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, disability status (for example, the use of a wheelchair or a cane), foreign accents, where someone went to college, and more (Wilkie, 2014). If you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it.

 

Hence if we think we are unbiased, we may have unconscious adverse thoughts about people who are outside our own group. If we spend more time with people from other groups, we are less likely to feel prejudice against them.

 

This universal tendency toward unconscious bias exists because bias is rooted in our brain. Research shows that our brain has evolved to mentally put things together to make sense to us. The brain sorts all the information it is blasted with and labels that information with universal descriptions that it may rapidly access. When we categorize these labels as either good or bad, we tend to apply the rationale to the whole group. Many of the conclusions are taken from previous experiences and learnings.  

In an article, “The Real Effects of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace”, a few of the known unconscious biases that directly impact the workplace include:

  • Affinity bias is the tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.
  • Halo effect is the tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.
  • Perception bias which is the inclination to form stereotypes and assumptions about specific groups that make it awkward to make an objective judgement about members of those groups. 
  • Confirmation bias is the openness for us to pursue evidence that sanctions our pre-existing beliefs or experiences. 
  • Group think is a bias which occurs when people attempt to fit into a specific crowd by mirroring others or holding back opinions and views. This results in individuals losing part of their characteristics and causes workplaces to miss out on originality and creativity.

Horace McCormick’s research found more than 150 identified unconscious biases, making the task of rooting them out and addressing them daunting. For many organizations, however, identifying as many as possible and eliminating them has become a high priority.  

 

You can address discrimination issues by increasing your awareness of your unconscious biases, and by developing strategies that make the most of the talents and abilities of your team members. 

Unconscious behaviour is not just individual; it influences organizational culture as well. This explains why so often our best attempts at creating corporate culture change with diversity efforts seem to fall frustratingly short; to not deliver on the promise they intended.

 

What you can do: 

  • Be aware consciously of your bias 
  • Focus more on the people, on their strengths
  • Increase Exposure to Biases
  • Make small changes 
  • Be pragmatic 
  • Challenge stereotypes and counter-stereotypical information 
  • Use context to explain a situation 
  • Change your perception and relationship with out-group members 
  • Be an active bystander 
  • Improve processes, policies & procedures  

Also, managers can play a crucial role in unearthing these hidden biases by declaring their intentions to be non-biased. They can also provide transparent performance appraisals that emphasis on the employee’s exceptional abilities and skills, and grow a stronger mindfulness of their own unconscious principles.

 

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Downloadable Return on Investment Calculator

Recently, I have been chatting with business owners about their software needs. The consensus seems to be that technology is rapidly advancing and becoming more efficient. Moreover, businesses and organizations are looking into how to most effectively and economically invest in custom software. The needs of today’s businesses are very unique and robust and that is why many of them are investing in custom software.

The challenge is that not many people know the standard ROI (Return on Investment) for software development or how long it will take to make your money back. Because of these conversations I have been having, I have developed this easy to use Free Downloadable Software Development ROI Calculator. This tool is a great starting point for businesses and managers who are looking for a ballpark when it comes to custom software ROI.

Download Software Development Return on Investment Calculator.

Again, this tool is a great starting point, but if you have any more questions or want a free personal software needs analysis for your business, be sure to reach out to CoreSolutions via our Contact Page.

Please enjoy our new ROI Calculator!

Cheers,

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The Cost of a Wrong Hire and how to do it Right

The Cost of a Wrong Hire and how to do it Right

 

Are you ready to lose hundreds of productive hours and thousands of dollars? I thought not. Unfortunately, hiring the wrong person is estimated to cost at least 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“When you add up missed sales opportunities, strained client and employee relations, potential legal issues, and resources to hire and train candidates, the cost can be considerable,” says CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson.

As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch, and this couldn’t be truer than in the workplace. Company culture can quickly be poisoned by negative attitudes or even just disengagement. Both tend to spread quickly. Although some employees stay strong and seem immune, they can become frustrated or burned out trying to make up for the poor performance of others. As a result, some key employees may decide their talents are better spent elsewhere.

While there may be no sure-fire way to guarantee a successful hire, there are some best practices which will up your odds of hiring the right person for the job.

  • Provide a detailed job description – If the candidate isn’t aware of the full responsibilities of the job, they may end up in a position that’s out of their comfort zone, let alone their skill set. This could lead to frustration and poor performance.
  • Research the candidate before the interview – Have a look at their LinkedIn page (that’s what it’s there for) to see if they have the necessary experience. Where have they worked in the past? Find out about that company. What titles have they held? Do they have connections to other professionals in the industry?
  • Ask the right questions – Be sure to ask open-ended questions which allow for the candidate to showcase past situations where they’ve put their skills to use and how they relate to the position. There’s a great list of questions to ask on thebalance.www.thebalance.com to get you started.
  • Think about company culture – Culture is defined as the values, practices, and beliefs shared by the members of a group. Will this candidate be a good fit? Feeling like a part of the group is the first step to success.

  • Check references – Make the person offering the reference was in a position of authority over the candidate. A co-worker or team member may have a very different perspective than a supervisor and most likely won’t be able to answer all of your questions. Checking references should go beyond the typical questions like “What was the candidate’s greatest strength?”. Try questions like: How did s/he support co-workers? What was their biggest accomplishment while working for your company? What do you think the candidate needs to really continue his or her career development and professional growth?

 

With due diligence (and a little luck) you’ll be able to offer the position to the right candidate, add an amazing person to your team and avoid those costly hiring mistakes.

 

muniSERV is Canada’s leading online solution for helping municipalities and professionals connect.  We help municipalities save time and money searching for the consultants & CAOs they need, while offering professionals the opportunity to showcase their profile and services to get found and grow their business.

 

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Dealing with Escalated Situations in Your Workplace

Resolving workplace conflict is an expected part of the job managers and Human Resource Practitioners. Whether you work in education, healthcare, human services, business, or any field, you might deal with angry, hostile, or noncompliant behaviour every day. Your response to the defensive reaction is often the key to avoiding a physical confrontation with someone who has lost control of their behaviour.

These ten De-Escalation Tips will help you respond to challenging behaviour in the safest, most efficient way possible.

  1. Be empathetic and non-judgmental
  2. Respect personal space
  3. Use non-threatening nonverbal communication
  4. Avoid overacting
  5. Focus on feelings
  6. Ignore challenging questions
  7. Set limits
  8. Choose wisely what you insist upon
  9. Allow silence for reflection
  10. Allow time for decisions

 

 To help you towards more efficient conflict de-escalation and resolution, the following basic steps can be followed:

  • Obtain the name of the person with whom you are speaking: People respond favourably to their own name. It also makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the person’s name early in the piece and use it throughout the discussion.
  • Use Active Listening: Clarifying, paraphrasing and using open-ended questions ensure that the individual you are speaking with knows you are aware of their situation and frustrations. Resaying a person’s own words back to them demonstrates that you have understood entirely what they were trying to say.       
  • Show support and suspend judgement: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations. Respecting the other person’s point of view even if you do not agree entirely will be the first step to resolving the conflict. 
  • Get them to agree and say yes: Having the person agree with you on general factual points leads the conversation towards a more favourable outcome. If you can show that you have understood their point of view by making clarifying statements you generate a state where the other person must reply with an affirmative response. The sooner you can get the person to say yes then sooner the conflict will de-escalate. It always works.
  • Avoid clichés: The worst of these being “Calm Down”. Did you ever notice how people who tell you to calm down are the ones who got you mad in the first place? Saying those words during a verbal conflict usually gets the classic retort “I AM CALM” very loudly usually with an animated hand gestures as well.       
  • Show empathy: You need to show compassion and understanding and give the conflict your full attention. Do not make impulsive decisions. Take the time to work through the problem.
  • Consistency in Courtesy: The person you are dealing with first thing in the morning deserves the same level of respect, civility and patience as the individual you are dealing with at 2 in the afternoon. They warrant the same high level of service and professionalism as the first person you spoke to. You need to maintain that position of positive brand ambassador and an excellent professional service.

There are many physical aspects of being mindful of in conflict situations. It is important always to be aware of features of conflict such as your body language, your emotions, your judgement, and your initial thoughts. Keeping these in mind is essential when trying to de-escalate a problematic situation.

Monika B. Jensen is the principal of the Aviary Group, consulting company that address workplace discord.  For more information, visit www.aviarygroup.ca

 

 

 

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A Quick Tip for Finding Municipal Statistical Data

A Quick Tip for Finding Municipal Statistical Data

As municipal consultants we constantly have the need to research municipal operations and data. But have you ever had difficulty finding it all in one location?

My method of choice to research and collect such information for Ontario municipalities is to use the Ministry of Municipal Affairs Financial Information Return (FIR) site. There is a wealth of information available on this site: https://efis.fma.csc.gov.on.ca/fir/Welcome.htm  

Here is what the site looks like.

Municipalities in Ontario are mandated to report their annual operations to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs by annually submitting a Financial Information Return (FIR).

You can search for information in a variety of ways – By Schedule, by Municipality, Provincial Summaries or Multi-Year Reports. I most frequently search Schedule 40 – Consolidated Statement of Operations – Expenses,  of the municipalities I am needing to compare, because it contains their expenditures which are categorized into the nine (9) main municipal operations.

Others I typically frequently use are – the Municipal Data, Schedule 10 – Revenues, Schedule 20 – Taxation Information and Schedule 80 – Statistical Data, which includes staffing numbers. There are however, a number of other Schedules you can search to find the specific information you may need.

The one caveat I must mention though, is that although municipal operations can be similarly categorized, there is no way to ensure that a municipality is consistently reporting their information in the same category as another municipality. So, if you are comparing municipalities and a number seems too high or too low in comparison, you should always seek clarification from the municipality to be certain you’re comparing apples to apples.

I can only speak to what I’m familiar with here in Ontario, but I suspect a similar reporting requirement exists between all Canadian municipalities and their respective provinces.

If you’re a consultant or other professional in another province, does your province have a similar municipal database?  I would be interested in learning about it so I can share it with our professional members.

Or if you use other methods to find municipal data, I’d love to hear about them too.  We all need data – so why not help each other find it!

Susan Shannon – sshannon@muniserv.ca Susan’s experiences as both a municipal Chief Administrative Officer, and now as a consultant, led to the development of muniSERV.ca .  Her experiences have provided her with the insight she needs to help municipalities and professionals connect.

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Timesheet Fraud – How well is your business protected?

As a business if you are still relying on spreadsheets and paper timesheets to manage your employees’ time, activities, skills and costs, you could be leaving yourself open to inefficiencies, inaccuracies, non-compliance with working time legislation and in some cases even employee fraud. Inaccurate employee time tracking and timesheet fraud is a common problem in organisations that use manual processes. Some of this is due to conscious intent and some due to a lack of management controls.

In this blog I will detail some of the most common types of timesheet fraud along with ways that you can increase management controls, ensure legal compliance and protect your business from deliberate fraud.

Types of Timesheet Fraud

Entering and/or approving incorrect data is one of the most common abuses of attendance information. When done accidently it can expose employee carelessness, flawed processes and a lack of management control, however when done deliberately, in simple terms it is fraud. Employees are responsible for entering their correct attendance data and supervisors are responsible for certifying that this information is indeed correct. While we all hope that the majority of employees are both diligent are honest, unfortunately experience shows that this is not always the case. Set out below are some of the most common ways employees can commit timesheet fraud.

  1. Inflating work hours – With paper-based timesheets it’s very easy for employees to enter incorrect times of arriving and leaving work and overstate or round their hours up to the nearest hour. Overpayment then occurs as the employee is paid based on falsified hours or rates.
  2. False data entry – If employee attendance data has to be retyped from timesheets or time cards into a payroll system, it is very easy for a dishonest employee to change the numbers. As well as being open to fraud, this type of process is susceptible to typos and mistakes. The less you have to rekey your time and attendance information, the more accurate your data and in turn the more accurate your payroll.
  3.  Nepotism – This type of fraud occurs when a manager favours a co-worker, relative or friend by scheduling them for a specific task rather than scheduling a different employee, who is also available to work, and may be a more cost effective choice. For example, if a job comes in for a service engineer, who also happens to be the schedulers buddy and is assigned to this job despite the fact they are already in overtime, your business is at risk of paying unnecessary time and a half rates to get that job done.
  4.  Errors due to delays in completing timesheets – Although not technically fraud there are often inaccuracies when employees fill in timesheets weeks or months after they have worked these hours. Supervisors then sign off on these timesheets when realistically it is unlikely anyone can actually 100% guarantee that these hours were worked particularly for supervisors who are responsible for large teams.

How to prevent Payroll Fraud

While it may not be possible to eradicate payroll and timesheet fraud, there are ways to catch it and catch it early. The key to catching it and minimising the risks is to ensure you have safe processes, policies and systems in place that can’t be easily manipulated.

  • Use of electronic Timesheets – One of the easiest and most unobtrusive ways to accurately track employee time and activities is via electronic timesheets. Electronic Timesheets replace the need for paper timesheets and gather information on hours worked by employees. They interface with Payroll and Human Resources Systems. Electronic timesheets were designed to allow employees to easily enter their daily hours worked or assume their standard contract hours, as well as paid time off via their PC, laptop, tablet, phone etc. They were developed to reduce administration and manual tasks, increase payroll accuracy, ensure compliance with working time legislation and protect organisations against payroll fraud. Once timesheets are completed and approved, the system can then calculate payroll, based on the hours entered thereby avoiding the need for any manual calculations. With electronic timesheets, supervisors don’t need to sign off on “paper” timesheets which can be open to errors; instead they approve employees’ electronic timesheets online directly from their email or via their phone App. This ensures that timesheets cannot be changed later as once approved they go directly to payroll rather than back to the employee. With electronic timesheets you can allow employees to view and edit their time, enter absences, submit requests for leave and review their schedules reducing time spent looking for this information from others.
  • Entering and approving timesheet information regularly – The most common type of payroll fraud is the padding of timesheets by employees and the best control over this is ensuring that timesheets are completed and signed off regularly and in a timely fashion. With an automated system like Softworks, there is no need for administration staff to re-enter this information into the system. This allows you to completely eliminate the middle steps which could leave your business open to human error or fraud. The quicker that timesheet information is processed the more exact it will be. By leaving a time lapse between work done and approval you leave your business open to mistakes and deliberate fraud.
  • Make timesheet approval quick, easy & hassle free – If tracking time and attendance becomes too much hassle for employees and supervisors, timesheet accuracy goes down. The easier it is for employees to fill in timesheets and supervisors to approve them, the more accurate this information will be and the faster errors or attempted fraud will be spotted. Line managers don’t want to waste time chasing their team for timesheets and HR & Finance departments don’t want to waste time chasing line managers. Good electronic timesheet systems have built in functionality such as email alerts and SMS messaging reminding employees and managers about timesheet submission and approval. At the end of the day the process should be quick and easy and provide no disincentive to doing it. By enabling supervisors to easily and quickly edit, authorise and analyse, time, attendance, holidays, absences and additional time from one screen you will increase timesheet accuracy and alert supervisors quickly to any discrepancies. A good electronic timesheet system should offer all of this. With Softworks, employees and supervisors receive automatic email notifications when timesheets are due and they can approve or edit timesheets directly from their email or via their phone App.
  • Keep track of employees centrally – Managing variable working hours, times and days and tracking large numbers of employees and/or contract workers dispersed at multiple locations in real time can be quite a challenge. With electronic timesheets you can allow employees and/or contractors to check in from off-site locations. Electronic timesheets are 100% web enabled so both employees and supervisors can log in anytime and anywhere via their PC, Laptop, Tablet, Phone etc. making it easy to record employees’ working hours, times and days and track large numbers of employees at a central source no matter where office premises or employees/ contractors are located. This is turn makes it easier to track any discrepancies or unusual time and attendance which leads us into management reporting.
  • Management Reporting – In order to keep a close eye on timesheets, managers and supervisors should be able to generate and view reports easily. This will help them to analyse employee costs, overtime usage, time off and easily and accurately track hours spent on projects or tasks. Furthermore having a system that generates good reports will prevent employees from booking time to projects that don’t exist or are completed, or favouring employees on projects, without taking into consideration the cost implications
  • Legal Compliance – Most countries today have working time legislation for health and safety reasons. As a business, it is your responsibility to accurately record your employee’s working hours, overtime, annual leave and start and finish times. If you don’t, you could be at risk of prosecution for non-compliance or even face a lawsuit from employees. There is a growing body of case law involving class action lawsuits for unpaid overtime. Already lawsuits have been filed against many high profile organisations in the US including; Best Buy, McDonalds, Urban Outfitters, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, CVS and Wells Fargo among others, alleging employers misclassified employees as exempt from overtime or failed to pay overtime to employees regardless of their classification.

    This is not just an issue in the US, this is a global issue. In Canada, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice gave the green light to a class-action lawsuit against part of Bank of Montreal’s wealth management group that alleged the bank owed unpaid overtime to hundreds of current and former investment advisers. The lawsuit alleged BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. did not keep a proper record of the time employees worked and did not appropriately compensate employees when they worked overtime. The case followed other lawsuits over unpaid overtime brought against Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Nova Scotia by bank tellers and other employees who said they were unfairly denied overtime pay. The banks were hit with combined claims of $950 Million.

    In the UK John Lewis had to spend £40m to compensate staff who were accidentally underpaid for working Sundays and Bank Holidays over a seven year period. . No matter where in the world you are based, if you employ staff, ensuring legislative compliance and managing, recording and tracking working hours has never been more important. A good Time & Attendance Solution can automate this process for you and ensure that your organization is always 100% compliant.

Summary

Timesheet fraud is upsetting not just because of the money that companies lose, but also because of the breaches of trust that occur. While it may not be possible to completely eradicate payroll fraud, there are certainly ways you can minimise the abuse. You should have clear policies in place on what the consequences are for such criminal activity. You should also consider electronic timesheets as they have been developed and designed to minimise human error and deliberate fraud. The potential for timesheet fraud is significant and the consequences are far reaching and an expensive process. As a business you need to be diligent with your internal controls and management reporting so that issues such as; payroll anomalies, excessive labour costs, extreme hours worked, high cost projects are discovered at the earliest possible time and dealt with quickly.

If you would like to see Softworks Electronic Timesheets in action, contact us for a live demo and you can decide if Softworks could make a positive difference to your business processes and in turn bottom line.

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Many Businesses could learn from the Justice Canada Scheduling & Payroll Fiasco

CBC investigation recently reported  about a payroll screw-up at Justice Canada that credited several thousand government lawyers with as much as $50 million worth of time off that they didn’t deserve due to a multi-year administrative problem dating back to 2007.

According to CBC, the problem arose due the fact that Justice Department lawyers were responsible for entering leave into two different scheduling systems.  When a lawyer entered time off into the first program, they didn’t always update the second one, which was the one that linked to payroll.  In more than 3,700 cases, the payroll software showed the lawyers had unused leave, even though they had already taken it. The situation has set off an administrative and labour-relations nightmare for the Canadian ministry.

Since first reported by CBC, Justice Canada have issued a statement and stressed that the current value of the leave entries still to be reconciled is estimated to be no more than $3.5M for the period between 2007 and 2013. The reconciliation exercise is still being finalized and no “financial liability” to the Government has been established to date.

Whatever the final figure turns out to be, it’s pretty clear that it’s a situation that no business wants to find themselves embroiled in.  The administrative mess has tied the department in knots, threatening current negotiations for a new labour contract, prompting union grievances and forcing a massive payroll clean up that has taken more than two years.

This has been a hard lesson for Justice Canada but I think many companies can learn from their experience and it’s worth reviewing the systems that you use to manage your employees Time & AttendanceScheduling andAbsence Management.   At Softworks we are sometimes amazed that there are so many companies out there that still rely on spread sheets, clipboards, notice boards, and from time to time a bit of sweet talking and arm twisting to schedule their employees!

While the majority of medium to large businesses have already automated their core HR functions, many are missing a trick by not automating the areas of Time & Attendance, Scheduling and Absence Management. If this is true in your situation, it’s most definitely an area that you and your organization can benefit from exploring further. The greatest financial cost for any organization is their workforce costs and you need to be all over this.  A fully integrated workforce management solution that includes time & attendance, scheduling, absence management and workforce analytics, can for starters, shave anywhere between 5% and 20% off your organizations payroll costs. Just make sure all your systems are fully integrated so you don’t end up in the same situation as Justice Canada.

Modern workforce management systems can help your organisation not only to cut payroll costs but also to improve performance, while addressing the ultimate goal of contributing to profitability. World class companies today are using WFM solutions to optimise labour planning, scheduling & modelling, respond to union and legislation requirements, track and cost projects and manage planned/unplanned absences and even to implement employee and family friendly initiatives, such as flexible working options.

If you are thinking of researching this further you might find our free to download and impartial guide useful –Selecting a Workforce Management System – Advice and Tips before you buy.

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7 Top Common Bidder Issues – #2 – Who to Contact?

Who to Contact?

Simply put, “who to contact”, really depends on the size of the municipality and at what stage of the procurement process you’re wanting to contact someone.

While procurement itself is governed by statutes, municipalities have the authority to put the processes and people in place to administer and manage the purchasing of goods and services on behalf of their taxpayers. Therefore, the responsibility for municipal procurement varies with each municipality.

All municipalities are required to have procurement policies and/or purchasing by-laws. Larger municipalities have more formal centralized procurement processes. This means their procurement by-law will be much more detailed and it will usually set out the roles of municipal staff in the procurement process. Larger municipalities usually will have a procurement department with a head of procurement – most likely a Chief Procurement Officer.

Other municipal staff (CAO, Finance, Legal, IT, etc.) and Councils all play roles in the process. Generally once Council has passed the budget approving the procuring of the goods or services for the year, it then becomes the responsibility of staff to administer the procurement process in accordance with the statues and their own purchasing by-law.

The purchasing of goods and ensuring adherence to the awarded contracts will be the responsibility of the purchasing department with oversight by the CAO, Finance, Legal and Department Heads. Generally, if you need to contact someone in a large municipality about procurement you would contact the Purchasing Department.

Smaller municipalities practice more of a de-centralized procurement model. This means there is generally no dedicated purchasing department and therefore no one person in the municipality who is responsible for administering the municipality’s procurement for all departments. Generally, the CAO will have oversight of all procurement but there are still many municipalities who have a Clerk, not a CAO so the Treasurer may take on the procurement role. In certain cases, Council itself may have a further role even after the budget has been approved.

In the de-centralized procurement model typically found in smaller municipalities, each department head develops their budget and once approved by Council, they are then each responsible for the procurement of the approved goods or services outlined in their budgets. While this works in theory the difficulty is that procurement is complex and individual department heads may not have thorough knowledge of the municipality’s procurement policies, so compliance with them may be jeopardized, which can place the municipality at risk of legal challenges from unsuccessful bidders.

Who to contact in a smaller municipality is sometimes more difficult to determine. If you want information on the municipality’s procurement process it may be best to acquire a copy of their purchasing by-law off their website which should identify who is responsible for procurement. Alternatively, you could contact the department head in charge of procuring the goods or service for their department, or the Treasurer.

With respect to “who to contact” about a particular bid opportunity, regardless of whether it’s a large or smaller municipality, there will be a designated person on the bid documents and you should always address questions to the individual named within the period of time specified.

Susan Shannon, Principal

muniSERV.ca

sshannon@muniserv.ca

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What does Bill 132 (Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act) mean to you and your workplace?

One in four women and one in ten men say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Of the reported cases of workplace sexual harassment, 55% were committed by co-workers; 39% of which involved a supervisor or manager. 8% of those who are sexually harassed at work report the harassment.

Recently there have been some changes made to Bill 168 – Violence in the Workplace, which gives employers’ statutory obligations. Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, which received royal assent on March 8, 2016, requires all employers to have policies and programs including an investigation procedure. The essential changes brought by Bill 132 include: an employer is required to create a workplace harassment program; the program must include reporting and investigating tools for incidents of workplace harassment and violence; the employers must ensure that all complaints are investigated, and investigations are completed in a timely fashion and a new power to the Ministry of Labour (MOL) to order an independent workplace harassment investigation at the employer’s expense.

September 8, 2016, now looms for companies as the date for compliance with Bill 132. The amendments stand to change dramatically how workplace harassment is addressed in Ontario. The new OHSA obligations and expectations have been set and are accompanied by expanded government oversight. Harassment in the workplace is already a challenging issue that could engage multiple forums, with complaints possibly being advanced through a grievance, civil claim, complaint under the Human Rights Code, and, depending on the severity of the conduct, the criminal justice system.

Also, and particularly, the Bill amends the OHSA to require an employer to conduct an investigation of a workplace harassment complaint that is “appropriate in the circumstances.” The phrase “appropriate in the circumstances” is not defined. Further, the Ministry of Labour has not published any guidance material to communicate what factors will be considered by inspectors when determining whether an investigation meets this standard. Assuming that the inspectors could be evaluating investigations against expected best practices which would include such things as an impartial investigator, a collection of all relevant information, and procedural fairness to the alleged harasser could create challenges for employers as the appropriateness of an investigation may be evaluated in hindsight.

Consequences of flawed investigations would impair or prejudice the employer’s ability to establish just cause for termination or discipline. There would also be an issue of due diligence under the OHSA and Human Rights Code. Consequences would include aggravated, punitive or Code damages; penalties from the Ministry of Labour under the OHSA and reinstatement in unionized workplaces. Some of the critical mistakes some employers are making include: failing to act at all; taking the complaint seriously; failure to train investigators; inability to plan, improper or inadequate files; and retention of evidence.

Many situations happening in the workplace may prompt the necessity for an investigation, such as allegations of discrimination or harassment, workplace bullying, inappropriate use of the internet or social media, policy breaches, or statutory violations. Often, employers attempt to resolve minor issues informally through discussions with the employees involved. When the allegations are more serious, employers may depend on managers to conduct internal investigations. However, in many situations, having an organization deal directly with the problem is not necessarily the best approach – informal discussions may rapidly collapse, and basic investigative steps may be overlooked by inexperienced managers, making matters worse. A vital skill for any employer is identifying when a formal investigation by an external investigator is appropriate.

Note: meeting the requirements of Bill 132 could lead to mistakes that can be costly to your organization.

Be prepared. Be proactive.

Contact Monika Jensen, Principal Aviary Group at mjensen@aviarygroup.ca  or (905) 683-9953 if you need a complaint investigated or mediated.

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Embracing Civility for a More Satisfying WorkPlace

Complaints of harassment, discrimination, bullying and now violence and disrespectful workplaces have become a standard concern for managers and Human Resources specialist. As we cope with the many arising situations, I have found the word incivility is becoming frequently used. So what does incivility mean? To define it, let’s look at how the Institute of Civility describes it. Civility is about more than merely being polite. Civility requires a profound self-awareness being characterized by true respect for others. Civility involves the tremendous hard work of remaining present even with those with whom we have inherent and perhaps fierce differences. It is about continuously being open to hearing, to learning, to teaching and to changing. It pursues mutual ground as a start point for discussions when differences may occur, while at the same time be aware that differences are heartening. It is persistence, grace, and strength of character.

Recently research has expanded our practical understanding of incivility by identifying behaviours which employees have deemed disrespectful. The most frequently occurring forms include: neglecting to turn off cell phones; talking behind someone’s back; doubting someone’s judgement, using demeaning or disparaging language, gestures or behaviours; communicating with the intent to belittle or degrade, eye rolling, giving the silent treatment and using sarcasm; gossip and slander; paying no attention or ignoring someone; taking credit for someone else’s work or ideas; intimidation by intentionally using fear to manipulate others. It may also include yelling, invading personal space, throwing things, slamming things and losing one’s temper; and sabotaging by setting someone up to fail or intentionally creating a situation to make another person look foolish or incompetent. Also may include hate-ism by deliberately pointing at a victim based on age, gender, race or sexual orientation are instances of profiling because of an “ism.”

Many examples include blaming others rather than accepting responsibility; checking email or texting during a meeting; using email to send a difficult message to avoid facing the person, which may be misunderstood and misinterpreted; not saying “please” or “thank you”; not listening and talking over or down to someone.
The cost of incivility is high. It is not only about money! There is research to support impacts on performance through lost time and absenteeism, lack of creativity, less helpfulness and less likely to assist another employee. The impact of teams is on the level of energy, emotional engagement, and performance. The conduct reaches into our physical health; impacts our customers and commitment to the organization and willingness of employees to stay with their companies. All affecting the bottom line of productivity.
So how do we address these issues? I would like to explore some recommendations for your consideration. It starts with us as individuals. Managing ourselves. How? If you throw a ball at the wall…it comes back. It works with people too. If you are, mean…it comes back! People will be mean to you.

How can you be kind and patient all the time when life is so stressful—and just plain hard? You do it by embracing civility! Civility requires self-awareness.

With self-awareness you can:
 Control your attitude
 Manage your moods
 Choose behaviours that do not negatively impact your life or disrupt those around you

Can you…
 Feel and express annoyance, irritation or frustration without hurting others— and then let it go?
 Accept and even appreciate that other people have needs and opinions which are different from your own?
 Encourage and enjoy the successes of others?
 Recognize when someone else feels irritated, upset or frustrated and keep yourself from reacting impulsively in response?

As leaders, we need to model. The Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” Employees look to leaders for guidance and someone to aspire too. What are they seeing? Watch your language and put away your smartphones when engaging with your staff. Be mindful of the perils of emails and other electronic communication. Pick up the phone or set up a face to face meeting instead. Take immediate and corrective action when warranted. Rude and disrespectful behaviours emerge quickly and sometimes without warning. As the leader, you need to respond at the moment. By delaying a reaction or action, it sends out mixed messages to the offender as well as the entire team. Take all complaints seriously, realizing that coming forward by the individual is difficult, and they need to know they are supported.

We attend seminars and workshop on harassment prevention, Creating Respectful Workplace and Violence in the Workplace. I have put together a workshop on “How Embracing Civility can Create More Satisfying Work Environments”. The agenda is:
• Why Civility Matters
• It Starts with You!
• Do What You Say and Say What You Mean
• Good Fences Make Great Neighbours
• Working in the Salad Bowl
• Eliminate Gossip and Bullying
• You Can’t Always Get What You Want
• Taking It to the Extreme
• Paving the Path to Civility

Contact Monika Jensen, Principal, Aviary Group, at mjensen@aviarygroup.ca  if you are interested.

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