Take Responsible Action
All kinds of factors create workplace conflict: different personal communication styles and personalities, competing values and priorities, lack of time, difficulties in our personal life, disagreements and different ideas about what's important and how work should be done.
Whatever the situation, whether you're having a disagreement with a co-worker or supervisor or are affected as a bystander, you have a responsibility to act respectfully and in good faith to resolve the situation. Here's an overview:
- Guiding Principles
- Assess Your Work Environment
- It's OK to Speak Out
- Approach and Test the Issue
- Initiate Conversations to Resolve Workplace Issues
A healthy and respectful workplace enables all employees to do their best work and concentrate on delivering service and results.
Healthy and respectful workplaces are supported by the
- Corporate values of the BC Public Service, with practices that build a positive work culture
- Standards of Conduct, which support core policy objectives
- Oath of Employment, which requires all BC Public Service employees to honour and faithfully abide by the Standards of Conduct.
If you're on the receiving end of questionable behaviour or have noticed troubling activity in the workplace, you need to determine whether that behaviour is acceptable and know when to act if needed. A respectful work environment is characterized by
- Clearly communicated expectations about behavior
- Available resources and training to support healthy, productive workplaces and processes to resolve disputes
- Commitment to learning and continuous improvement
If you're not sure your workplace meets these standards, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there low morale in your office?
- Do co-workers gossip about each other?
- Are there high levels of absenteeism?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to assess your work environment.
If you do not take action to address inappropriate workplace behaviour, it is unlikely to stop; employees are responsible for raising concerns about inappropriate workplace behaviour.
Identifying a workplace problem and reporting it to your supervisor is the first step. Taking responsibility for addressing the situation, and taking action through the appropriate channels are the most effective ways to solve the problem. Employees will not be subject to discipline or reprisal for bringing forward, in good faith, allegations of wrongdoing.
If you feel that you are on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour, here are some points to keep in mind:
- Are you viewing the situation objectively, and truly looking for a practical solution?
- Consider the issue carefully and try to understand the issue. Review any earlier communications such as emails, and thinking about a desired outcome
- Think about the matter from the other person’s perspective. Have you tried to talk to the individual?
- Keep notes of instances when you thought that you observed or experienced workplace issues
Morneau Shepell offers resources to help address workplace issues including short-term counselling and work-life resiliency coaching. To access call: 1 800 655-5004.
In addition, the Agency offers conflict coaching services.
Supervisors are responsible for listening to and following up on issues brought to their attention about inappropriate workplace behaviour.
Supervisors need to remember that employees who have brought issues to their supervisor’s attention will continue to be upset if their supervisors don’t communicate with them and the employee doesn’t know how their supervisor is responding to their concerns.
Employees who feel unsupported in their work environment may lose confidence in the process when they feel the issue they raised
- Was subsequently ignored
- Was met with disbelief, indifference, anger or confrontation
- Was negatively impacted
To determine whether an employee's concern was addressed in a reasonable manner, it is helpful for a supervisor to consider these points:
- Did you listen intently and openly to the employee's concerns, obtaining a full sense of the issue that they brought forward?
- Have you followed the policies and procedures for addressing respectful workplace issues? If you're not sure, have you contacted AskMyHR for assistance?
- Have you followed up with the employee to share with them how you responded to the issue?
- Did the employee talk to anyone about their concern or alleged behaviour?
- Are there other issues that may impact the employee's perception of whether the issues have been addressed?
Learn more about the Manager Advice Line.
When confronted with an issue, different people have different approaches. Before trying to manage and resolve an issue, here are some suggestions.
Analyse the issues
- Before jumping in to fix a problem, pause and make every effort to understand the issue. Look below the surface and think about others' points of view
Plan your approach
- Plan how to approach the person. Be thoughtful and respectful, and to take time to consider other peoples' values, communication and conflict management styles and preferences. Think about what a satisfying resolution would look like for both of you
If you are uncertain about someone's workplace behaviour, use the "reasonable person" test: Would most people consider the action unacceptable? A reasonable person is understood to act within current social and organizational standards. Applying the reasonable person test does not require extraordinary intelligence or training, just common sense and good judgement.
You can use the P-E-V-I test to determine whether "grey" situations need action, which can be useful when having a difficult conversation, and whether the behaviour conflicts with
- Policy and law
- Established norms
Policy & law
- Assess if the behaviour is specifically addressed in law or policy, the Standards of Conduct, Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace, and in the applicable collective agreement may be relevant. If you are unsure or need further information about policy and law, contact AskMyHR
- Assess if the behavior has an effect on the established norms of the workplace. Consider the corporate values, how the standards of conduct for BC Public Service employees applies and what actions may need to be taken to address inappropriate workplace behaviour
- Assess if the behavior supports the corporate values of the BC Public Service
- Assess if the person knew or should have known the impact of the behaviour. If they did know, then the behaviour may be inappropriate and action is needed. If they didn’t know, then the behaviour is likely appropriate but you may still want to have a conversation
Trying to resolve a workplace issue informally through conversation is always the best option. Using informal approaches encourages early action rather than waiting until it is so serious that a formal complaint is necessary. It also provides an opportunity for the behaviour to be corrected. Most important is that the people impacted by the issue also take responsibility for their own behaviour.
The options you choose reflect your own particular circumstance and needs. There is always an option to take no action. While this must be respected, it is important to realize that if you choose not to take action, the problematic behaviour is not likely to stop.
If you are in a conflict
- Take a step back. Do what you need to take care of yourself and reflect objectively on recent events. Can you put yourself in the other person's place? How might your actions or words have been perceived by the other person? Is there a misunderstanding that needs to be clarified?
- Seek advice, counselling or performance coaching. Advice and coaching are important steps to take before initiating a formal workplace complaint process
- Plan to approach the person. Email may not be the best option. Communicate for Success gives tips on preparing for the conversation. Confronting the person about the behaviour may be possible early in the process, although it is very difficult when the problem has been ongoing on for some time. If the person has never been challenged about their behaviour, they may not be open to this type of approach
- Keep notes of any attempts you take to raise the issue
- Although raising the issue may be the most difficult step to take, recognize that this is the most effective approach—you're giving the person the opportunity to respond and try and address the issue. This keeps information about the situation contained to as few people as possible
- If approaching the person is out of the question, you should immediately speak to your supervisor about your concerns
Conflict with your supervisor
If talking to your supervisor doesn't help resolve the problem, ask the next level of trusted manager, such as your supervisor's supervisor, for help. If you ask for another manager’s help, be prepared to list the actions you have taken to resolve the issue, including the details of meetings you had with your supervisor and any responses they provided. Your purpose is to pursue a resolution in good faith. Keep your conversation professional and on task.
In some cases, you may still not be satisfied with the response you receive. If this happens, and if you still feel that you have a legitimate dispute, Launch a Formal Complaint provides you with some options and helps you understand the formal complaint processes that are available.
Working where a conflict is in progress
Speak to your supervisor about how the conflict is making you feel. If workplace conflict impacts your physical and/or emotional health, there are support services such a short-term counselling offered by Morneau Shepell. To access these services, call 1 800 655-5004.
Address Workplace Conflict for Supervisors
Employees may approach you for help with an issue they are having with a colleague or their supervisor. This employee may report to a manager under your supervision, or they may have no reporting relationship to you.
Respond to workplace issues raised by employees
If an employee under your supervision requests a meeting to discuss an issue or dispute, provide the opportunity to have a conversation as soon as possible. If you delay the meeting, they may become anxious or feel that you do not take his or her concerns seriously.
To prepare for the conversation, find a private location for the meeting so you can both speak fully to the issue and maintain confidentiality.
If you feel unprepared or anxious about the meeting, seek advice from AskMyHR or your colleagues, call your performance coach if you have one or call the Manager Advice Line for Sensitive Workplace Issues for strategies. Your employee is probably more nervous than you are. Morneau-Shepell also has advice for having difficult conversations with an employee.
Dos and Don'ts for conversations:
At the start of the meeting
- Thank your employee for raising their concern with you
- Assure them you will take time to consider their complaint
During the meeting
- Ask them some open-ended questions. What happened from your perspective? What do you want me to do to assist you? Take notes. This ensures you can fully reflect on what was said in the meeting, and that all information provided by the employee is taken into consideration
- Invite the employee to explain his or her understanding of the behavior or action that has caused the issue to be brought forward. Listen without interrupting. When the employee is finished speaking, repeat what you have heard in order to be sure that you understand their perspective
- Confirm that your understanding is correct, or clarify any misunderstanding that you may have. It is crucial to reach an agreement on the issue in question before you can discuss whether the decision or action was justified and how the issue can be resolved
- Allow the employee to explain their reasons for bringing the behavior or action to your attention, and the outcome or solution they would like to see from raising the complaint
- Be clear with the employee that the process is informal and not a formal complaint under their collective agreement or HR policies. An employee does not have to use a formal process, they often just want an undesirable behavior to stop
At the end of the meeting
- Affirm that you will consider what they have said and you will get back to them as quickly as possible
- If the employee is using a formal process, you must follow the provisions regarding verbal or written response and timelines. Regardless, getting back to an employee as soon as you possibly can is recommended
Responding to the issue
- Make an assessment of the nature and seriousness of the issue
- Health Issues: If you suspect your employee's behaviour is being affected by personal problems and/or health issues, contact AskMyHR and ask to speak with an occupational health nurse to determine if it is appropriate to refer them to specialized support services
- Formal Complaint Issues: If your employee has a significant dispute that includes allegations of workplace bullying, discrimination, harassment, misuse of managerial/supervisory authority or a human rights violation, refer to Launch a Formal Complaint to learn about your responsibilities during this process
- Other Types of Conflicts: There are many other types of workplace issues that you will be faced with and you need to take action and respond. Contact AskMyHR to speak to a human resources adviser if you need help to determine the best course of action
Contact AskMyHR if you want to talk to someone about available resources for handling a workplace situation such as a conflict or a dispute. We'll connect you with a human resources adviser who can review information, tools and resources with you.
Get assistance from a counsellor through Morneau Shepell: 1 800 655-5004.
Consider performance coaching if you're looking for advice on how to develop your management skills and handle difficult workplace situations. For more information, visit Coaching Services to fill out a request form.
The Learning Centre offers courses for supervisors and employees to build and maintain respectful workplaces in the BC Public Service.