Communicating and Listening Non-Judgmentally: Tools for Dealing with Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

I am finding as I train, coach and mediate that the issues in the workplace are becoming more complex. In recent events, some high profile individuals have come to the attention of the media as a result of their actions. We are finding mental health issues are more of a concern and the means to address them is less easy. In this article, I am attempting to share some tools you may want to engage in when speaking with your colleagues or employees.

Communication is not just saying words; it is creating correct understanding. Active listening is an essential skill in the communication process. Dr Marius Pickering from the University of Maine identifies four characteristics of empathetic listening.

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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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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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When it’s Hot, Be Flexible

Some people enjoy working when it’s hot. Some don’t. But with the summer temperatures soaring in Ireland this week, who wouldn’t love to have the option to start and finish work early. In the winter we complain about struggling to get out of bed in the morning and we feel like we do nothing but work and sleep, as it is too dark and cold to do much else. Here at Softworks, we have flexitime so in the winter I arrive to work closer to 10am as the mornings are so dark and cold. However, when it comes to the summer, I love my 8am starts as I can head off early and make the most of the sunny evenings.

Today is set to be the hottest day of the year so far. Seeing as we are not used to this weather in Ireland, everyone wants to embrace the heat and we don’t blame them. What better way to do this then with flexible working?

  • Start work early and make the most of being up and about in the heat
  • If you are lucky enough to start work between 8am and 10am, park your car further from work or get off the Luas/Dart a stop early and enjoy a morning stroll in the sun
  • Enjoy a longer break and work on your tan 🙂
  • Finish before 5pm and take advantage of the sun making an appearance (It might not be around for long)
  • Spend extra time with family and friends after work – loads more to do when the sun is out
  • Get more vitamin D – One of the easiest, and not to mention free, ways to be on your way to your daily dose is to just get out in the sun!

Benefits of Flexible Working:

  • Improved job satisfaction, morale, and productivity
  • Increased customer loyalty and customer satisfaction due to lower staff turnover
  • Higher productivity
  • Happier employees
  • Reduced level of absenteeism
  • Remove or reduce overtime
  • Lower staff turnover
  • Automate holiday requests
  • Improved balance of work and family life

So, if you are lucky enough to have flexible working in your organisation, make use of it, especially today. Remember, there are a lot of people who would love to make the most of the sunshine and unfortunately, they don’t have the opportunity!

If you do not currently offer your employees flexitimecontact us today for a free demo, you’d be amazed at the differences it could make to your employees work, mood and lives.

Keep up to date with Softworks by following us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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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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Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) for Municipal Recreation Facilities

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Our recreation centres are places that our communities, visitors and prospective residents visit and partake in: sports, leisure and wellness activities, social events, cultural festivals, plus many other municipal brand showcasing programs. These programs reach every age group and demographic and are an essential element in creating positive impressions of both the venue and the municipality.

Regrettably, recreation centres are also places that attract unwanted behaviours, namely because legitimate program users can be victimized as there is often opportunity for crime and other illicit acts.  

One of the most common victimizations comes from the act of theft. At recreation centres there is frequently theft of personal property from lockers, gym bags, vehicles, lobby’s and waiting areas. So instead of installing and relying solely on high capital integrated security systems and deploying a security labour force, a reasonable mitigation measure is to employ proven CPTED practices.

CPTED has been successful in combatting incidents of trespassing, drug and alcohol activity, predatory behaviour, violence and harassment and robbery.

CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring loss event behaviour and combatting organizational loss through environmental design and other mitigation strategies.

The practices of CPTED have evolved from its inception in the late 1960’s and early 70’s and include the principles of: natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, access control and active maintenance.  To best deploy CPTED disciplines that are effective and cost justified, the strategy should be supported by policy, procedure and staff training.

CPTED is a powerful tool that empowers community users to take pride and ownership in their recreation centres and draws unwanted attention to people who don’t want to be noticed.

Write Right Risk will be continuing our muniSERV education series with a free half hour lunch and learn webinar about CPTED in Recreation Centres on Thursday February 25th at 12 noon.

To find out more information about the webinar or to register, please contact us at secure@writerightrisk.com

Patrick Ogilvie is the owner of Write Right Risk Inc. He is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP), Physical Security Professional (PSP) and a CPTED Level 2 auditor and trainer.

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