Are toilet rolls being thrown around at work? Possible pandemic of workplace conflict and how to keep your workplace out of trouble!
Many things don’t make sense right now. Seemingly overnight, our lives have changed globally. Fights in supermarkets over toilet paper show the emotional state people are reaching and while toilet paper hoarding is confusing for most of us, it serves as a signal that during this highly uncertain times, people’s stress tolerance level has varying breaking points and can lead to behaviour that is out of character.
In our workplaces, many of us still have questions about what it all exactly means for us today, what will change tomorrow and what impact will this have for us long term. The gravity of these unanswerable questions leads to the inevitable of our tolerance breaking and people behaving in ways that are out of step with their “normal” state.
Adding to impact is the shift to isolated working. For most managers, this is completely foreign territory and creating new problems and conflicts.
Traditional change management isn’t going to fly, because we haven’t got time before a disaster could inadvertently appear in your organisation or team.
What are we seeing?
interMEDIATE Dispute Management is a business who deals with workplace issues and provides training to prevent them. I have had managers calling me seeking advice on a range of issues relating to coronavirus that could have been avoided. For example:
- Disagreements about aspects of the coronavirus itself, one of them ending with a barrage of one yelling at their colleague, knocking everything off their desk and storming off (they are friends).
- Numerous reports of discussions and judgement getting out of hand about the level of panic and blaming others for being too cautious or not enough.
- Insensitive comments, jokes or social media clips and pictures being sent around via email or being shown on video link meetings. One explanation was that the employee felt more casual in their home environment and it lead to more a loose conversation.
- People feeling bullied (perhaps unintentionally) by not being invited to meetings or having the information they need to do their job
- Reports of managers who are micro-managing remote workers because they don’t trust that people are necessarily doing what they say they are doing.
When I asked them about what they had done, it was obvious that because they hadn’t prepared for this, their organisation had legitimately been dealing with bigger issues (like keeping the company operational) and had no specific strategy for it. Continuing without a plan will lead to big problems such as:
- bullying and harassment claims
- serious conflicts (violent and non violent)
- terminations due to breaches of code of conduct
- unexplainable resignations, which can turn into costly litigation claims down the track
I then told them the good news, that if your business got serious about this now, you can be as prepared as possible to prevent, identify and manage bullying and harassment and unhealthy conflict. Here are some practical tips on how to avoid sitting at the mediation table in 6-12 months time over something that was easily avoided.
Reminder to all employees of the company’s policies against bullying and harassment
At minimum, an announcement emailed to all staff by the CEO or HR Leader with a link to the relevant company policies and code of conduct.
Educate workers on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, what it is and isn’t, how to prevent and manage it.
Deliver an online course that all staff must complete. This provides assurance that everyone knows how to prevent, identify and manage bullying and harassment. (Incidentally, we have partners with Workplace Mental Health Institute to bring you a modern online course on Anti bullying, which you can access HERE).
Train your Managers
If you manage managers, provide them with training on how to lead and manage remote workers. It is important that they balance keeping people accountable for their agreement frames with micro-management and possible harassing behaviours. If you can, find them a coach that helps them develop their Emotional intelligence so they become aware of behaviour they display that could come across as bullying. Kylie Mamouney, leadership facilitator says “People are feeling disconnected at a time where they need their leader to make them feel secure.” We agree.
Establish new team rules
Managers to hold a special meeting and facilitate the team to establish a new set of ground rules to follow. These ground rules should be around 6-10 statements of how the team will behave and be displayed during every meeting. In the online environment, each person should have a printed copy “in-shot” on their wall/background. Do this with each group you meet with regularly.
Significantly increase your 1 on 1 Coaching and adopt a NEVER cancel culture
Leaders need to noticeably increase connectedness with their people and have them feel that through more frequent effective coaching. Effectiveness comes by using a framework that connects with emotion and logic.
While there are many other things you can implement, for some of us, this can act as plan number one. I wonder what shifts are happening in your workplace and am interested to hear your stories.
Jean Marcel Malliate
Principal Mediator, Investigator, Founder & CEO, InterMEDIATE Dispute Management