People to People Communication – Preventing and Resolving Harassment for a Healthy Work Environment
Note to reader:
These tools supporting the former harassment and conflict resolution process will be archived by . They will still be available for old cases filed prior to .
On this page
Do the following words describe what you find in your workplace?
- Respect for people
- Honest feedback
- Acceptance of different working styles
- Openness to change
Here’s an opportunity to explore the subject of harassment prevention and resolution in the workplace and to build on what you already know.
Harassment is a complex matter. What one person considers as proper behaviour, another may perceive to be harassment. In many cases, the lines are not sharply defined. Education, conversations, reflection and awareness of basic human values are the beginning. The test is in how we treat one another in our daily interactions. Often, what is needed is simple, basic decency.
This course has been designed for employees of all levels working within the Public Service. It includes several components that are relevant to all employees and others that are more specific to issues managers might face. Directions within the course will guide you to the appropriate content depending on your role.
After taking this course, you should be able to:
- Increase your awareness of your capacity to contribute to a healthy workplace;
- Identify acceptable and unacceptable conduct in the workplace;
- Increase your familiarity with key areas of the Treasury Board Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process (e.g., definition of harassment, emphasis on prevention to reduce potential for harassment or perceptions of harassment, the use of informal resolution processes and steps in the complaint process);
- Learn a few key communication skills to prevent and/or resolve conflict in the workplace;
- Understand the basic elements of mediation as one example of an informal resolution process;
- Take appropriate action in a managerial role when circumstances arise that may present conflict.
Using the Course
In this course, you will find various learning activities, including scenarios and brief situations based on real life stories, and a self-assessment. We have focused on practical information that you can use immediately to contribute to a healthy, enjoyable, and harassment-free workplace. You will have the opportunity to reflect on different possible harassment situations and to think about ways of dealing with them.
Communication is key! “People to People” communication for meaningful results is the main principle behind this course.
As you go through the course you’ll be able to link to important policies and acts, and relevant guides. We encourage you to take your time while navigating through this learning experience and we hope you will find it useful.
The course is made up of several components that can be approached as a whole or individually. Some components, such as the Communication section, deserve to be consulted on a regular basis. Feel free to use the course in your own way.
Values and Principles
There are a number of key values and principles that should always be present in the workplace. These values and principles are reflected in the Treasury Board Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process.
- Respect for people
The Treasury Board’s Role
The Treasury Board is committed to having a harassment-free workplace. The goal of the Treasury Board as the employer is to maintain a productive, healthy and respectful workplace where positive working relationships and practices are promoted and where everyone is guided by the values of the public sector which includes treating each other with respect and fairness.
Bargaining agents support this mandate and are involved in initiatives to promote such an environment.
The Treasury Board Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution demonstrates this commitment. This Policy was developed to:
- Ensure preventive activities are in place to foster a harassment-free workplace and create a culture where respect for people is highly valued;
- Ensure employees have access to an effective, timely and confidential harassment resolution process without fear of reprisal;
- Optimize the use of informal resolution processes;
- Enhance the collaborative union-management approach to harassment.
Applying this Policy and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process in the workplace will:
- Foster a productive, healthy and respectful work environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity;
- Reinforce awareness and importance of good communication and effective interpersonal skills in preventing harassment;
- Ensure situations of harassment are addressed and the prompt resolution of complaints;
- Address the needs of all parties concerned throughout the complaint process as well as any detrimental impacts on the work unit resulting from the incidence of harassment.
The Canadian Human Rights Act
The Canadian Human Rights Act provides every person in the workplace the right to freedom from harassment based on:
- National or ethnic origin
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Family status
- Pardoned conviction
The items listed above are also referred to as “prohibited grounds” meaning that discrimination is illegal if based on these grounds.
The Treasury Board Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution
The Treasury Board Policy stresses the responsibility of deputy heads to protect employees from harassment beyond the requirement of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which forbids harassment on prohibited grounds of discrimination, by requiring deputy heads to act on all forms of harassment. This includes:
- Objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment;
- Any act of intimidation or threat.
This applies to employee behaviour in the workplace or at any location or any event related to work including while:
- On travel status;
- At a conference where the attendance is sponsored by the employer;
- At employer sponsored training activities/information sessions; and
- At employer sponsored events, including social events.
Exercising the normal supervisory functions is not harassment, but how such functions are exercised can risk giving rise to the potential for harassment or perceptions of harassment. (View Is it Harassment? A tool to guide employees)
Some Important Thoughts on Harassment
- Allegations of harassment are taken very seriously. The word “harassment” should be used responsibly.
- Harassment needs to be addressed promptly with sensitivity, competence and discretion.
- Open communication and early intervention are essential in preventing and resolving harassment.
- Resolving allegations of harassment in the most informal way feasible, with the least disruption possible for the parties involved and the work environment should be the primary goal.
Emotions tend to run high when people are involved in a harassment situation. This can have an effect on their perceptions and behaviours. Speaking to someone you trust may help you shed light on what is going on and what actions may be most appropriate.
Having now completed an overview of relevant information related to preventing and resolving harassment in the workplace, you can go through the following scenarios of possible harassment situations. These exercises will give you the opportunity to reflect on how you could react in similar situations.
The first three scenarios are relevant to all employees. The last two scenarios address more specifically management issues. It is advisable, however, that managers review all the scenarios.
People to People Communication – Scenario 1
The Coffee Break
One morning, you’re having coffee with co-workers when someone begins to talk about a meeting that took place earlier that day. At the meeting, Bill, who is of Indian origin, made a presentation about a new computer system being installed in your organization.
One of your colleagues at the table starts to imitate Bill’s accent. Most of the people laugh. Bill isn’t there.
- What would you do?
- Would you laugh?
Is this harassment? Maybe there are a few things we should consider.
- Even though Bill isn’t there, could the situation affect him?
- If Bill found out later that his colleagues were laughing at him, how would he feel?
- Could Bill’s co-workers think about him differently afterwards?
- Could Bill begin to think about himself differently?
- If you were making a presentation in a foreign language and people laughed, how would you feel?
- The next time you make a presentation, would you feel a bit more self-conscious?
- Not everyone is laughing. Do some people appear to be uncomfortable?
Maybe this is harassment, but what can I do about it? Should I do anything?
Should I speak up? Before you make your decision, take a look at some of the key values and principles that may affect your response.
Simple communication skills helps in creating a respectful workplace: The exchange of information and feelings leads to mutual understanding.
Clearly and respectfully presenting our ideas and thoughts, using “I” messages can be very effective in changing things. Also, stating what you want by making a request can be more effective than criticizing. Making a request does not guarantee that you get what you want. Making a request, however, is solution based and its impact is, in general, more positive on others than criticism.
Sample Comment: “I feel upset when you make ethnic jokes. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop.”
No to Harassment
Laughing at someone even if they aren’t there can demean and belittle the person. In the scenario, Bill could be offended if he found out about it later. Bill’s reputation could be harmed, and people could view and treat Bill differently.
No to Discrimination
Laughing at someone because they have an accent is discriminatory behaviour according to the Canadian Human Rights Act. (Based on race or ethnic origin.)
Respect and Integrity
Respect means accepting people as they are regardless of their culture, beliefs, accents, age, etc. Gossiping can be hurtful and harmful. It’s always best to avoid it. Let people know that you do not approve of gossiping and that you encourage people to talk to one another directly.
Sample Comment: “This gossip makes me uncomfortable. Have you shared your concerns about the presentation with Bill?”
You can take responsibility for a situation even if you did not cause it. For example, if you see a leaking faucet in the workplace, even if you did not cause the problem, you may choose to report it to the proper authority to ensure action is taken.
In this scenario, responsibility might mean ’speaking up’ if you’re involved in a situation that could hurt someone’s feelings or be viewed as harassment. Taking responsibility is really about leadership. We all have the seeds of leadership in us. Being a leader means taking action and this often involves risk. Taking risks may mean being exposed to criticism, ridicule or embarrassment. You may even fear losing your friends or compromising your own identity, self-image or your career. Taking risk is sometimes very positive. Ask yourself: What value am I serving by acting or not acting? When in doubt, speak with someone you trust to clarify your position.
Cycle of Responsibility
- You take action.
- If you practice taking action more and more, you see more results.
- The more results you see, the better you’ll feel about yourself.
- As your self-esteem improves, you’ll further increase your chances of success.
- As you increase your chances of success, you’ll find that you’re more comfortable taking action.
The Public Service wants to create a working environment where employees are valued and respected no matter what their personal circumstances (race, national or ethnic origin colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or pardoned conviction) are. It wants to reflect the diversity of all Canadians.
Small actions by a lot of people make a great difference!
Now it’s time to make your decision.
It’s not easy to speak up…
- Maybe they’d start picking on you, saying: “What’s wrong with you?” or “I thought you were one of us!” How would that make you feel? Do you think that you’d lose your friends?
However, consider this:
- If you decide to avoid the situation, your colleagues might think that you agree with what was said or done. By not speaking up you might be perceived as giving permission for this kind of behaviour to continue. If you decide to tell your co-workers about your concerns, chances are the behaviour will stop.
It’s not easy to speak up! Consider these ways.
Communication is more than just talking to each other. One side of communication is expression – speaking, writing, or acting – and the other side is the receiving side – listening, reading and observing. Remember, we always communicate even without words! Our body language and behaviour can speak ’volumes’ about how we feel and what we think. When we communicate we also transmit our energy, our beliefs and our emotion. Even our tone of voice has a great impact on others.
You could make light of the situation.
Sample Comment: “Hey, guys, what do I do that makes you laugh when I’m not around?”
You could suggest some positive things.
Sample Comment: “WOW! I thought Bill gave a really good presentation. He sure knows what he is talking about! I don’t think I would have been able to explain the new system as well as Bill did.”
You could try to explain to your colleagues how their comments might negatively affect Bill.
Sample Comment: “I think that if Bill heard your comments, he might be hurt. This is unfair.”
If you’re not comfortable responding immediately to the situation, you may approach your colleagues later. This would give you some time to consider what you would say, and how.
Keep in mind…
Creating a respectful workplace is everyone’s business.
Even if you’re not directly or immediately affected by someone’s inappropriate conduct, you can still choose to act in a way that reflects your values. Laughing at people or talking about them behind their backs is disrespectful and inappropriate. It may seem easier or safer to talk about a person than to talk to him, but, this way of communication fosters unhealthy relationships by creating unease and tensions among people.
Remember, talk to people rather than about them, and encourage others to do the same.
People to People Communication – Scenario 2
Fred gets upset with any colleague who asks him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He yells, he slams his desk drawers and stomps around the office. It’s been going on for years and no one does anything about it. Like many others in the office, you are afraid to say or do anything that might upset Fred.
Are Fred’s colleagues being harassed? Before you answer this question, think about the following…
- Would you ask Fred to help you with anything?
- How do you feel when you see or hear Fred in that state?
- Fred’s supervisor has let this go on for years. How do you feel about that?
- Why isn’t anyone saying anything?
- Fred’s behaviour isn’t directed at you, but does it affect you?
- Do you want to approach Fred on this issue?
- Could you talk to your supervisor?
- Could you talk to anyone else?
So, what could you do in this situation?
Before you make your decision, take a look at the following values and principles.
Talking to Fred, your supervisor, Union Representative, Human Resources Advisor, Informal Conflict Resolution Practitioner, Harassment Prevention Advisor, or your Employee Assistance Program representative helps everyone look for solutions. Fred may change his behaviour if he realizes the effect it has on everyone else. Fred may seek outside help to deal with his anger. You and your colleagues may learn some ways to create a safer work environment for all.
No to Harassment
Harassment can be present in the work unit even if it isn’t directed at any one person. In the scenario, Fred may not be directing his destructive anger at you, but his behaviour is affecting everyone. Open, ’people to people’ communication and early intervention are important steps in preventing and resolving conflicts.
Respect and Responsibility
Inappropriate displays of anger can be verbal–yelling, cursing or swearing–and non-verbal–staring at someone in a hostile way, throwing things and slamming doors or desk drawers.
These expressions of anger or dissatisfaction can be demeaning. Working in a place where you or anyone else feels afraid is unhealthy.
Being responsible means taking action even if you did not cause the situation. In the scenario, it is your responsibility to talk to someone in a position of authority about Fred’s inappropriate behaviour.
As a manager, if you know about Fred’s behaviour, even if no complaint was made formally, you still must act quickly. One way to take action is to assess the situation and, if applicable, have the entire group, including Fred, come up with some solutions.
Remember, lead by example. Be the change you want to create.
If you decide to file a complaint about Fred, everyone involved (witnesses, managers, Fred and you) must treat the complaint and the complaint process as confidential. Confidentiality will help to preserve the dignity and self-esteem of everyone. It will also maximize the witnesses’ ability to provide a statement that is not affected by gossip.
So, what choice would you make?
Saying nothing might be easier because…
If you talked to Fred,
- Fred could get angrier, BUT he might say that he’s getting help to deal with his anger.
If you talked to your supervisor, he might say,
- “You know how Fred is. It’s not such a big deal!”
But consider what else could happen.
- Fred’s behaviour could be disturbing everyone’s ability to work.
- Fred’s anger might be preventing teamwork.
- People could start looking for jobs somewhere else.
You’d probably prefer avoiding this situation. It’s a tough one, but if you don’t take action, Fred’s behaviour will likely continue and its impact may get worse.
Even if others say they have spoken to the supervisor and nothing has changed, talk to your supervisor.
Sample Comment: “I am concerned about how easily and frequently Fred gets angry. I am afraid if he is allowed to continue, he might hurt himself or someone else. It has gotten to the point that I try not to go near his office and refuse to work with him on projects. I believe his behaviour has a very negative impact on our team’s productivity. Would you please help us create a safer environment”.
Fred’s supervisor has the responsibility to speak with Fred and make him aware of his negative conduct. He can tell Fred what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace and what behaviour is not acceptable. If Fred disregards his supervisor’s recommendations, his supervisor can take corrective action.
If no one takes action, talk to your Union Representative.
Speak to a Harassment Prevention Advisor, an Informal Conflict Resolution Practitioner or talk to your Employee Assistance Program representative. (These representatives cannot take action to resolve this situation, but can hear you out and possibly advise you on things that you can do to deal with the situation, including referring you to other resources for further assistance.)
You could also file a complaint as a last resort.
Filing a complaint
The person responsible for managing the complaint process in your organization will receive complaints and ensure that the complaint process is conducted effectively, fairly and quickly. Your Human Resources Advisor, Harassment Prevention Advisor or Union Representative can also guide you through this process.
The formal complaint resolution process as described in the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process and the Guide on Applying the Harassment Resolution Process involves five steps:
- Acknowledging receipt of the complaint.
- Reviewing the complaint to determine whether the allegation(s) meets the definition of harassment.
- Exploring options for resolving the complaint while ensuring that consideration is given to informal resolution processes.
- Rendering a decision and notifying in writing the parties involved as to whether or not the allegations were founded.
- Restoring the well-being of the workplace.
A complaint of harassment may put a strain on relationships in the workplace. Whether the complaint was founded or not, the employees involved may feel hurt or uncomfortable around each other afterwards. For that reason, it is very important that the manager proactively seeks out ways to mend relationships and create an environment of respect, trust and open communication.
Keep in mind…
Single isolated incidents such as an abrupt manner or an inappropriate remark do not generally constitute harassment.
People’s ability to deal with difficult situations varies. If you’re uncomfortable with someone’s manner or style, assess the situation before reacting. Sometimes our own personal sensitivities influence our perceptions and interpretations. The more we know about ourselves–our strengths, weaknesses, values, desires, motivations and beliefs–the better equipped we are to respond to circumstances.
Our interpretation of circumstances influences the way we respond to them. For example, if a colleague does not return your call and you interpret this as “he or she is ignoring you”, you may feel offended. In fact, even when a behaviour is clearly rude such as when someone says, “Get lost!” or, “That’s a stupid idea!”, your response is still a function of the interpretation you make of the situation. This is not to say that rudeness is acceptable. The message is this: you have the power to decide how to react to circumstances.
A golden rule always remains useful: when in doubt, speak with someone you trust to clarify your position.
People to People Communication – Scenario 3
Marika and Sami
Marika notices that her supervisor, Sami, seems to be behaving differently towards her. She feels that he has been avoiding her for the past month. When Marika wasn’t invited to a meeting involving one of her projects, she asked Sami why. He told her that he had asked one of her colleagues to inform her about the meeting.
In reality, Sami was upset. He was reacting to a decision that Marika made, a decision that was well within her authority. She and Sami had discussed the issue and had agreed on how to approach it. However, after speaking to someone else in the office, Sami felt that Marika’s decision was different from what they had agreed upon. He assumed that Marika was trying to hide this information from him.
Sami didn’t ask Marika about her decision. He stopped talking to her about things that were in her area of expertise. He stopped inviting her to meetings. He avoided making eye contact with her and didn’t respond to her requests to meet with him. Sami also told some of Marika’s colleagues that Marika liked to work alone and that she was not “much of a team player”.
Everyone in the office started to feel the tension between the two. Marika asked Sami twice about the situation. Sami responded that it was ’business as usual’, but he continued to ignore her. Marika finally decided to write Sami a letter expressing her concerns and requesting that they meet to talk about the problem. Sami and Marika met to discuss the situation. That was when Sami realized that his assumptions were wrong. Marika and Sami tried to rebuild their work relationship but were unsuccessful. Later on, Sami tried to have Marika report to someone else. The problem was getting worse.
Was Marika being harassed? Before you answer, ask yourself some questions…
- Is excluding someone a form of harassment?
- Could Marika’s career be affected by Sami’s attitude?
- Might Sami evaluate Marika’s performance unfairly in the future?
- Is it possible that Marika’s co-workers might start treating her differently?
- Could Marika’s co-workers begin to worry that Sami might treat them unfairly?
- Is trust being damaged?
Maybe harassment is involved.
Marika spoke to Sami, but he maintains the same position. She feels isolated and knows that people are aware of Sami’s behaviour. Marika is also confused–Sami is giving her two conflicting messages. The verbal message tells her everything is fine. The non-verbal tells her that there is a problem.
What would you do?
Before you make your decision, take a look at the following values and principles that may affect your response.
Whenever possible, make the situation known to the other person as constructively as possible in an attempt to resolve the situation. This could include the assistance of a resource person such as a coach, facilitator, advisor, mediator, manager/supervisor or union representative, to help you prepare for a meaningful conversation. Using some of the basic communication methods presented in this course and the ones you may already know, try to initiate a resolution process. Do not wait for the other person to do it! Also, beware of what psychologists call “Ego Struggles” or “Power Games”.
Ego struggles occur when parties involved in a conflict get stuck in their positions out of some form of pride or power, to protect self-image or to establish dominance over the other person. A good question to ask yourself if you think you might be stuck in an Ego struggle is, “What exactly am I trying to achieve by maintaining this position?” Be honest in responding to this question. Challenge yourself if the purpose is to show the other person that you’re right or to demonstrate that they’re wrong or incompetent. Stay focused on what you want to solve or improve. Do not look for whose fault it is.
If the problem is not resolved, or if one of the parties feels he or she cannot speak directly with the other person, other options such as a facilitated dialogue or mediation can be explored. In this scenario, Sami and Marika would have the opportunity to express their feelings, needs and concerns with the help of a neutral third party. When successful, this leads to satisfactory solutions for the involved parties and it can be significantly easier to go through than other adversarial conflict resolution mechanisms.
Informal resolution processes can be effective in resolving issues related to harassment but require the willingness of the parties to participate. They are confidential, voluntary processes and cannot be forced on anyone.
No to Harassment
Sami’s behaviour is a subtle form of harassment. Being ignored and excluded by a supervisor demeans and belittles an employee and attacks his or her self-esteem.
As Marika’s supervisor, Sami is in a position of power. His behaviour may be intimidating.
Marika might feel that her concerns are not heard and she may think about leaving the organization. If her co-workers think she left because the problem wasn’t solved, it could affect office morale.
No to Discrimination
There would be discrimination if Sami’s behaviour was based on Marika’s race, ethnic origin, language, etc. However, given the facts, there is no evidence of discrimination.
Respect and Responsibility
Respect, in this scenario, means being truthful and considerate. Sami was neither and his behaviour affected not only Marika, but everyone in the work unit. Sami did not show respect by telling Marika’s colleagues that she’s not “much of a team player” and by expressing his dissatisfaction indirectly. This is gossip and is unacceptable. Sami should have verified the facts with Marika. Instead, he acted on the basis of incorrect assumptions.
- Assumptions are sources of misunderstanding
- Seek to understand! Always verify the facts
- Ask clarification questions
Marika did address the issue by asking to speak with Sami and by writing the letter. She should be able to do this without the fear of embarrassment or reprisal.
Integrity in this story means honesty. Sami has shown lack of honesty by refusing to address the issue in a direct and responsible way.
So, what can Marika do?
Saying or doing nothing might be easier, but consider this:
- Marika spoke to Sami, but he maintains the same position. She feels isolated and knows that people are aware of Sami’s behaviour.
- Marika is also confused–Sami is giving her two conflicting messages. The verbal message tells her everything is fine. The non-verbal tells her that there is a problem.
The situation isn’t likely going to get any better. What else could Marika do?
Talk to Someone
- Since Marika already approached Sami (her supervisor) with no results, she could speak to Sami’s supervisor.
- Marika could talk to her union representative, an Informal Conflict Resolution Practitioner, a Harassment Prevention Advisor or an Employee Assistance Program representative for support and to clarify the issues for herself.
- Marika could request an informal resolution process such as a facilitated discussion or mediation.
- If the problem is not resolved, filing a complaint may be an option.
Keep in mind…
There are endless conflict situations in the workplace and many of these situations are driven by people having incorrect assumptions about other people. We often consider our assumptions as the facts and make decisions on this basis. The consequences can be very costly, emotionally, and in other ways.
Before you react to circumstances in your relationships, make it a general rule to ask clarification questions. When asking these questions, do not sound like you’re accusing the other person or looking to confirm what you “already know”. Ask with an open mind and an honest intention to understand the other person’s version or position.
To truly hear their response, you must keep your mind open and uncluttered. Put aside your judgments and ready-made beliefs.
We are basically encouraging you to use dialogue to resolve possible misunderstandings and conflicts. This is not easy. But with practice, everyone can learn and use communication and dialogue more effectively.
How might the meeting have gone if Marika and Sami had followed the above guidelines?
Marika: “Thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. I hope we will be able to clear up any misunderstandings. Are you willing to talk about what has been going on the last couple of months?”
Sami: “I am not really sure why you think we need to talk.”
Marika: “Well, maybe we better start by telling each other how we have been feeling about working together. Do you want to start?”
Sami: “You can go first.”
Marika: “Sure. I have always thought we were a good team, but things seemed to change between us early last month. The first thing I noticed was that you did not invite me to the Acme project meeting. Since that is my project, I was very hurt and confused by being excluded.”
Sami: “I thought John told you about the meeting.”
Marika: “John didn’t tell me about it. I feel there must be something that you’re not saying. Have I given you any reason to be unhappy with my work?”
Sami: “Well, I do think you overstepped your authority on the last hiring. I thought we agreed that the IT position must be filled by someone with at least five years of experience managing a large database.”
Marika: “I can explain my decision. I just wish you had asked me about it right away. I agree that Jane does not have as much general database experience as you wanted, but she does have two years experience with our database and had excellent references, so I felt she was the best choice. Do you agree that the decision was mine to make?”
Sami: “Yes, but it seems to me that you ignored my input and that you might not be as good a team player as I thought.”
Marika: “I did not realize that was how you would interpret my decision…”
People to People Communication – Scenario 4
Mario is managing a team of four Project Management Specialists. He is having a difficult time accepting that his work superior, Derek, has taken a high profile project away from him. Mario was told that he is too busy to devote the time required to deliver or manage the project. As a result, the project was assigned to his newest Project Management Specialist, Danielle. For this project, Danielle will report directly to Derek but will continue to report to Mario for administrative purposes. Mario suspects that Derek believes that Danielle can do a better job than him. Mario met with Derek to express his concern and that he felt Derek was usurping his authority with Danielle. Derek said: “Given your excessive workload, I believe that this will be in the best interest of everyone.” Mario was upset and angry with both Derek and Danielle.
The Project Management Specialists are assigned different projects from various areas of the department, but they always work through Mario. While Danielle is working with Derek, Mario feels that it will be impossible to manage her in an administrative capacity. Mario also fears that it will be even more difficult to supervise Danielle once the project is over and she reports back to him. Mario feels that his competence is being challenged and he will have to defend himself at every opportunity.
Danielle is excluded from any social contact, such as coffee breaks and lunch outings. When Danielle requested that she attend a conference related to her project, Mario refused to approve.
Derek holds his weekly management meeting and invites all of his managers and Danielle to report on their projects. At these meetings, Mario downplays Danielle’s project. After the second meeting, Mario stays behind to complain to Derek that Danielle is exhibiting poor interpersonal skills and appears to be a loner, “She is not a team player”.
Danielle feels that Mario is treating her unfairly, undermining her credibility with Derek and creating tension with her co-workers. Danielle also believes that Mario is participating in gossip about her with the other Project Management Specialists.
Both Danielle and Mario spoke to Derek individually to tell him that the situation was not working. The project is going well, so Derek does not want to deal with it. He suggests that they work out their own differences. Derek has no intention of changing the reporting relationship for this project.
What should Mario do? Is Mario guilty of harassment? Before you recommend any actions, maybe you should consider a few points…
- Mario reacted negatively to the reassignment of the project. He feels personally slighted and hurt. He became angry and vengeful. Could Mario have reacted differently? How much “ego” is involved in Mario’s response? How could he get beyond his “ego” and address the situation objectively?
- Did Derek handle the whole situation appropriately?
- Could Mario have tried other communication strategies with Derek?
- Was Mario’s reaction and behaviour in the best interests of his staff and the organization?
- Was Mario too concerned about his reputation and ego and not concerned enough about the feelings and needs of his staff and of the organization?
- Is Mario promoting a respectful and healthy workplace?
Maybe Mario is guilty of harassment?
Before you make your decision, take a look at the following values and principles that may affect your response.
When Mario was removed from the project, he could have reacted in several different ways. These choices might have produced better results and earlier resolution:
- Mario could have attempted to negotiate a compromise acceptable to both Derek and himself.
- Accepting Derek’s decision, Mario could have spoken with Danielle and established a working relationship during the temporary assignment and another for after the assignment, in order to avoid possible misunderstandings in the office.
- Mario could have increased his attention to the remaining projects, ensuring that they were all successfully delivered. He could have kept informed about Danielle’s projects at the weekly management meetings and dealt with it in the same manner that he dealt with the projects of the other specialists.
- Mario could have requested the use an informal conflict resolution process to help resolve this issue.
If Mario recognized that his behaviour was hurtful and destructive, he could have stopped behaving that way. Unfortunately, he was too involved in his anger to see it.
Derek could have intervened when he witnessed Mario’s behaviour towards Danielle.
Mario could have tried to discuss the situation with Danielle and clarified the roles and responsibilities under this temporary project situation. A mutual agreement would have made the situation more manageable for all parties and improved the working relationship.
No to Harassment
The war Mario waged against Danielle was continuous and damaging. Mario is the manager; his behaviour is unacceptable. Harassment is particularly offensive when coming from a person in a position of authority.
Mario knew or ought to have reasonably known that his behaviour would cause offence or harm to her. His comments concerning Danielle are objectionable and are meant to demean, belittle and cause personal embarrassment. Mario’s exclusion of Danielle, his refusing to approve her attending a conference and his gossip about her could be perceived as harassment.
Derek also has to accept some responsibility in this situation. He should have corrected the dynamics but he chose to ignore them.
As the manager, Mario should have acted responsibly. He had to find a way to get past his anger and deal with the situation. His anger and treatment of Danielle were not fair to either Danielle or the other employees.
As a Manager, Derek has the responsibility to investigate and respond to situations. If Derek neglects to deal with harassment when it first arises, he may be held responsible and be subject to disciplinary measures, as management is ultimately responsible for providing a workplace free of harassment and ensuring the well-being of its employees.
As managers, Mario and Derek need to promote respectful working relationships and help deal with conflict constructively. Mario cannot use Derek as an excuse. Mario is responsible for his own behaviour and the well-being of the employees reporting to him. The climate of mistrust he is creating in the office is unacceptable.
In this scenario, responsibility means Mario has to recognize that he may have behaved inappropriately and he must correct the situation to avoid escalation and to restore damaged relationships.
Be true to yourself; as a manager, when you’ve made a mistake admit it and rectify the situation.
Mario: “Yes, well I was very angry and thought that it would convince Derek to change his mind about having you report directly to him. But I have come to terms with it and I now want to make the best of the situation. My behaviour was inacceptable and I am sorry.”
Open the door to encourage the employee to discuss any issue with you that may come up in the future. Keep the lines of communication open.
Danielle: “Thanks, I appreciate your honesty and I feel better about the whole thing. I am quite confident about the project but the office dynamics were becoming a concern.”
Mario: “Danielle, let me know if you want to talk about the project or need anything, my door is always open.”
Vertical and horizontal communication
Communication is a multi-way process. Think of a four-way stop corner: each person has to determine who can move next, are they turning or going straight? What are they going to do next?
How do you read the other drivers?
As managers, in communication we have to read all the signs, including our own.
We have to be aware of our own reaction and make sure that it is not negatively impacting our environment. When we feel upset and angry, we must analyze the reasons and deal with the cause. Sometimes, this may mean questioning our assumptions or our motives.
In this scenario, Mario should have taken some time to think about his reaction to Derek’s decision to reassign the project directly to Danielle. His anger and ego made it difficult for him to be reasonable. In the script above, Mario apologized to Danielle for his poor behaviour and he opened the door to establishing a better working relationship. However, it is not going to be easy. Derek, Mario, Danielle and the other employees are going to be observing each other until each is confident that the communication is open and consistent.
Just like the four-way stop, they will wait and see and will be tentative at first until trust is re-established among the parties.
Once trust is broken, communication is the only way to rebuild.
Keep in mind…
Creating a respectful workplace is everyone’s business.
Treat others as you would like to be treated. This can be particularly difficult when you feel unfairly treated. But our response to a negative challenge is a personal choice.
However, once you choose, you will be accountable for the consequences of that choice. If you make the wrong choice, have the strength to recognize it, admit it and take action to correct it.
It does not matter who started the series of events. In this scenario, both Derek and Mario have a management responsibility to recognize and correct inappropriate behaviour. Mario should know better than to take his anger out on Danielle. However, it is now time to rebuild the relationships and to get everyone working together again. Mario must not let his “ego” take the lead; he must move forward by including Danielle in office activities and initiating the discussion as the scripts demonstrate.
People to People Communication – Scenario 5
Working under Pressure
Bernard is a manager who works in a high pressure and very demanding position. He is due for his performance review, which will determine if he will receive performance pay this year. Bernard just turned 50 years old and has been in this position for the last ten years. Over the years, Bernard did his best for the organization. He never thought twice about arriving early and working late. John, Bernard’s work superior, has come to expect this level of effort from Bernard and expects the same commitment from everyone who works for him. John always places heavy demands on Bernard. Bernard feels the pressure from John and, in turn, transfers the demands to his staff.
Bernard is tired of the long hours. Over the last year, he has been relying more and more on his staff to pick up the extra workload, in order to reduce his overtime. Justin, one of Bernard’s employees, is a single father with young children at home. Justin does his job well but cannot work overtime.
Bernard resents Justin for not taking his share of the burden by working overtime and as a result has given him an “average” rating on his performance assessment, stating that he needs to improve his interpersonal skills. Justin’s peers were each given an “above average” rating. Justin believes that he gets along well with his peers and performs at the same level as his peers. Justin has been talking to a few of his fellow employees and has finally decided that he would write a letter to Bernard, complaining about unfair treatment and suggesting that he feels harassed. Bernard has overheard Justin talking about his potential complaint.
What would you do if you were Bernard? Maybe you should consider a few points?
- Is it fair for Bernard to accept the pressure from his work superior and to transfer it to his employees?
- Should Bernard expect all of his employees to be willing and able to work overtime constantly? Is this part of the condition of employment for Justin’s position?
- Is Bernard aware that he is feeling resentful and that it may blur his perception of Justin’s performance?
- Is Bernard judging Justin based on his needs rather than against the standards of performance of the position?
- Is Bernard using his supervisory position to force subordinates to work overtime?
- Is Bernard’s behaviour creating unhealthy tension in the work environment?
- Has Bernard accepted unreasonable expectations from John? Are these expectations in keeping with the value of encouraging employees to balance work and family life?
- Should Bernard discuss the issue of overtime with John and try to re-establish more reasonable workload levels and expectations?
- Should Bernard provide Justin with more details about what he meant by needing to improve interpersonal skills?
What would you do if you were Bernard?
Should Bernard review the situation with all the employees? Should Bernard re-examine his action against Justin? Should Bernard seek a new management agreement with John?
Before you make your decision, take a look at some of these values and principles that may affect your response.
Simple communication skills helps in creating a respectful workplace: the exchange of information and feelings leads to mutual understanding.
A healthy work environment is one within which people are able to communicate openly to reduce tensions and to address their concerns. Bernard should be discussing the workload pressures with the employees, examining options and developing action plans. The team and Bernard should determine if the workload is excessive. Do they need more resources? Is this a temporary situation?
Bernard should have been communicating right along with John and informing John of his team’s struggle to keep up with the heavy workload. Bernard should negotiate a more reasonable workload or increased resources with John. Bernard should include this negotiation in his management agreement with John.
Once Bernard has negotiated his agreement with John, he should communicate his expectations to his staff and negotiate individual and team agreements.
No to Harassment
Bernard should not be punitive in a performance assessment because Justin is not readily available to work overtime. This would be unfair and demeaning and could be construed as harassment. Bernard has to review Justin’s performance based on objective criteria.
In working so much overtime in the past, Bernard has unfairly created expectations with John and is transferring the pressure to Justin and the other employees.
Bernard is in a position of authority and is potentially affecting Justin’s reputation and career, by using Justin’s performance review to resolve an office workload issue.
No to Discrimination
In this scenario, Justin may have been discriminated against on the basis of either marital or family status under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bernard may need to recognize that Justin can work a different schedule than what he had in mind and still be effective in his work. Bernard can be flexible and explore options with Justin for getting the work done while respecting Justin’s limitations for overtime.
Respect and Integrity
Respect means accepting people as they are and understanding that everyone has different personal obligations and responsibilities outside of work.
Bernard must identify reasonable and appropriate job performance standards for all employees and respect them at performance review time. Bernard cannot evaluate Justin differently because he does not agree with Justin’s personal priorities. Job performance standards should reflect the job requirements in an objective manner.
In using the performance review, Bernard is jeopardizing his integrity and that of the performance review system.
Bernard may be applying so much pressure on his employees that they may be afraid to speak-up and refuse the overtime. Everyone will react differently to pressure but it will cause tensions in the workplace. Bernard should have an open discussion with all his employees about the workload and his expectations. Every employee should feel comfortable enough to express their concerns and to participate in finding solutions. Solutions are more likely to be long lasting, if everyone is involved and feels respected.
Bernard is responsible to resolve this situation. As the manager, he must identify the cause of the problems and take action to find and implement solutions.
Bernard has a responsibility to address the issues with his superior and to correct any errors he is making with his staff. Bernard must separate his personal feelings, needs and values from his managerial responsibilities.
When people have differences of opinions based on different values or beliefs, conflict may result. Managers must recognize and address differences immediately in order to deal with conflict constructively.
In this scenario, responsibility means recognizing that you may have behaved inappropriately and that corrective action must be taken immediately to avoid an escalation of the situation. As a manager, you must be sensitive to individual needs. Your operational requirements are important but achieving them must never be detrimental to the well-being of the employees.
The Public Service promotes the respect of individual differences. It is important to recognize individual values and to respect the differences among individuals.
In this scenario, Bernard resents Justin because he was not readily available to work overtime. Bernard will have to discuss with Justin, and the other employees how to improve the climate in the workplace.
You can show leadership by using people’s differences as strengths and not as weaknesses in a team.
Certain types of work environments do not lend themselves to day-to-day communication (telework, research, shift work, etc). The work can be done individually; therefore, people have to make an effort to maintain contact. Others are conducive to communication because the work requires people to talk to each other (general office work, project teams, etc.)
In any type of organization, it is essential for management to make a concerted effort to get the employees together on a regular basis to discuss the work and individual concerns. Consultation within the organization goes a long way towards identifying potential problems.
Bernard could have avoided the problems in the scenario by getting the group together on a regular basis and discussing their concerns. It is important to understand the underlying causes of the problem. Bernard’s frustration with the overtime led him to take inappropriate action against Justin. The knowledge of how the employees’ felt about overtime might have allowed Bernard to respond earlier and with more positive results.
This type of regular communication allows everyone to air general work-related issues and promotes a healthier work environment.
Talk to the team and work out a plan.
Bernard can invite his team members to discuss options and action plans to address the heavy workload.
Bernard: “We have an extra heavy workload for the next two weeks. I would like to discuss how we could meet our deadlines. I would prefer not to have to work too late myself. Can we pull together and come up with a plan?”
The employees will be able to voice their concerns and work together towards a potential solution.
Justin: “I cannot work overtime every night, but if we can come up with a schedule, I can make arrangements and work a few nights.”
Employee no.2: “It works for me, I can work most nights, but this week is better for me than next week. I like this approach better, Bernard. In the past I always felt that I had to work whenever you ask.”
Employee no.3: “I can work anytime; I like the overtime money. I can work every night for the next two weeks.”
Bernard can also inform his employees that he intends to discuss the workload demands with John and explore the potential for workload adjustment or greater resource allocation.
Bernard: “Great, I think that if we work it out, we will be able to accommodate everyone. We can establish a schedule of availability, but only work if we have to. I will also speak to John to discuss the resources and the workload to see what we can do to avoid these crazy peaks.”
Re-examine Justin’s performance Review – Meeting between Bernard and Justin
Bernard should speak with Justin to address the difference of opinion on overtime and personal time, to re-establish his relationship and remove some of the tension. They have to work out their differences and re-examine Justin’s performance review to reflect a fair evaluation of Justin’s work.
Bernard: “Hi, Justin, you seem disappointed with the performance assessment I gave you. I have thought about what I was doing and realize that I was not being fair to you, so I want to correct things. The meeting with the team has helped me see that everyone wants to work together and that everyone is willing to do what they can to meet the workload.”
Bernard must accept that a manager can be wrong and should admit that he made a mistake. This shows leadership and integrity and respect for others. By admitting an error, Bernard and Justin have a better chance of re-establishing a good relationship.
Justin: “I am so pleased that you asked to discuss this issue, I was very upset and I did not know how to deal with the situation. It looked like it was getting out of hand. The meeting with the team was a good idea, I was really nervous when I spoke out, but I had to. There is no way that I could work the same hours as the others. I was also concerned about my performance evaluation and thought that I would have to fight that too.”
This discussion will also reinforce the commitment to the action plan and schedule that the whole team worked out. Bernard and Justin will be able to discuss the performance evaluation in relation to the actual work done.
Bernard: “I would like to meet next Tuesday to discuss your revised Performance Evaluation. Your performance will be measured against the job standards that we have established.”
Justin: “Tuesday is great, and that should give us a chance to settle some of the other priorities.”
Meeting between Bernard and John
Bernard approaches John to discuss the excessive workload and the need to balance work and personal needs.
Bernard will suggest options to meet the organization’s needs and set realistic goals with John.
Bernard: “We have worked together for a long time and I have always given 110%, but this overtime is becoming unmanageable. I just had a meeting with my team and we came up with a schedule for overtime and an action plan, so we will meet this deadline. However, I want to talk to you about this constant and increasing requirement for overtime. We need to either reduce the workload or add more resources. The overtime requirements are excessive. We must recognize that employees have a right to balance work and personal priorities.
My employees cannot all contribute equally and the situation is becoming divisive to my team. I would like to discuss the options to address this situation. Once we have agreed on a solution, it should be included in our management agreement.”
Ignore the Situation
It’s not easy to admit that you might be wrong.
- Bernard may believe that admitting that he was wrong shows a weakness on his part. Bernard may fear that his employees will lose confidence in him if he doesn’t stick to his decisions. Maybe some of Bernard’s employees will indicate they also do not want to work as much overtime and productivity will decrease as a result. What happens to Bernard’s evaluation review and performance pay and how will this make him feel?
- Should Bernard let his personal needs dictate how he treats staff and what he expects from them? Is it fair to transfer the pressure Bernard is feeling to his employees?
However, before deciding to ignore the situation, consider this:
- If Bernard decides to avoid the situation, he will likely lose Justin’s trust and confidence and may face a harassment complaint, as a result. By not taking action and having the situation escalate, John may have cause to question Bernard’s leadership abilities, his ability to manage his staff and to solve staff problems.
- If Bernard takes action and corrects his inappropriate behaviour and decisions, chances are the situation will disappear and the unit will be stronger when facing future challenges.
It may not be easy to admit you might have made a mistake! What might happen if you did?
Keep in mind…
Creating a respectful workplace is everyone’s business, but one of the most important is managerial responsibility.
Treating an employee differently or negatively for something that is beyond their control and outside their position’s responsibilities is inappropriate. Your operational requirements are important but must never be detrimental to the well-being of employees.
As a manager, you have the responsibility to promote a healthy working environment. This includes listening to your employees and understanding that they need to balance work with personal needs.
As noticed in the case of Bernard and Justin, communication released some tension, allowed people to voice their concerns and increased the potential for finding solutions. When everyone participates in finding solutions, they will all feel more committed to comply with the solutions. As a result, the solutions will be more stable and long lasting.
Bernard’s proposal to speak with John about the increased workload gave the team the incentive to work out the overtime needs in the short term. There was an expectation that the workload would be addressed in the near future. The commitment to speak to John also promotes trust between Bernard and his team. Justin and the other employees can also feel respected for their commitment to the job and believe that Bernard will support them with senior management.
The next section comprises a number of possible harassment situations. Going through the situations will give you some insight on how you could react in similar situations.
The first twelve situations are relevant to all employees. The last six situations are more aligned with management issues. It is advisable, however, that managers view all the situations.
People to People Communication – Situations
These are further examples of work situations that you may encounter. Read each situation and put yourself in the shoes of the individuals.
An organization allows $500/year per employee for training. One manager refuses to allow their employees to go on training unless it is strictly required for the position.
What would you do?
Speak to the manager
You could speak to your manager to help you better understand the reasoning behind why only training required by the employees’ position is accepted. Do not assume your manager is excluding you from these opportunities. Learning needs and learning opportunities should be discussed between managers and employees before decisions are made.
If you are fine with the restrictive decision you may choose not to follow-up with your manager and request training related to your position.
An employee is not aware that the quality of his/her performance is decreasing. The employee’s manager is new to the position and has not talked to the employee about this. Instead, the manager keeps telling the employee that s/he is doing well as a means of encouraging the employee and also gives the employee a fully satisfactory appraisal. Six months later, the employee’s performance is assessed by the manager and the employee is given an unsatisfactory appraisal.
Is this harassment?
This is not harassment. This is poor management at best, but it could lead to a perception of harassment when the second appraisal is given because the employee was still unaware of any performance problems.
Even if the manager had the best of intentions, the end result is a performance problem and an unguided employee. Expectations of improved performance are unrealistic if the employee does not know there is a problem.
You work in a team with another employee. This employee consistently withholds relevant information or delays communicating it to you.
What would you do?
Speak to the employee
Discuss with your colleague your perception of his/her reluctance to communicate relevant information to you. This may help the employee understand the impact of his/her behaviour. If nothing changes, you may want to inform your supervisor of your colleague’s inappropriate behaviour and its impact on your work performance. If your colleague persists even after your supervisor’s intervention, you may want to file a complaint of harassment.
Doing nothing in this situation may trigger unpleasant feelings in you (such as frustration, fear or anger) which will likely make it more difficult for you to approach your colleague in a constructive manner.
A female supervisor asks one of her male employees, always the same one, to massage her neck when she feels tense which makes the employee feel uncomfortable. The request is made in a sweet, cajoling voice.
Is this harassment?
There is harassment if the male employee feels embarrassed by the request and intimidated because his supervisor is asking him to do this. This type of behaviour by a supervisor is inappropriate and unprofessional. Other employees may also find this behaviour inappropriate and may feel uncomfortable with the situation.
An employee invites you to a restaurant after work.
What would you do?
Accept the invitation
An employee has the right to show interest in you. If you accept the invitation, no problem. You may want to clarify the invitation by either asking additional questions or stating the goal of the invitation, e.g., getting to know you better.
Refuse the invitation
If you refuse the invitation and the other person does not pursue the matter, that’s fine.
If you refuse the invitation and the employee keeps on asking you out, this may become harassment. However, sometimes the message given may be confusing. If you don’t feel comfortable saying no, you may respond in such a way that the ’no’ is not clear and the other person doesn’t hear it. So, the person might keep asking you to go out.
Communication is very important. The message must be clearly stated by both parties. You may want to clarify the invitation by either asking additional questions or stating the goal of the invitation, e.g., getting to know you better.
If a supervisor asks you out, you might find it difficult to refuse. This might become harassment because of the power differential in a supervisor-employee relationship. The supervisor has a greater responsibility than the employee does in keeping clear boundaries.
You may feel flattered by the invitation; however, you also have the responsibility to discourage this type of relationship because of the potential negative impact on everyone at work.
Despite training and supervisory assistance, an employee cannot meet his/her work objectives. The supervisor gives the employee a non-satisfactory performance appraisal.
Is this harassment?
If the supervisor is rude when giving the employee his/her performance appraisal or includes derogatory comments in the appraisal, this could be harassment.
The supervisor should stick to facts and remain objective when giving an employee a performance appraisal.
The supervisor has the right to manage, including the preparation of performance appraisals.
If the appraisal is presented in a professional manner, there is no harassment. This is simply a good management practice. The supervisor should stick to facts and remain objective when giving an employee a performance appraisal.
A person shares with you in confidence that s/he believes a colleague is harassing him or her. The employee does not want you to tell the other person or anyone else.
What would you do?
In this particular situation, your role is mainly to listen and guide if appropriate.
The employee should be encouraged, if appropriate, to make the situation known to the other person as constructively as possible in an attempt to resolve the situation.
The employee can share the situation with persons such as a supervisor, Human Resources Advisor, Harassment Prevention Advisor or Union Representative to seek further advice.
You can let the employee know that many situations can be resolved informally without necessarily having to submit a written complaint.
Remind the employee that in a respectful workplace, issues related to harassment must be addressed and not avoided.
An employee works in an organization but goes for coffee with employees of another organization who share the same cafeteria. The employee gossips about mistakes and situations that occur in their colleagues’ work or personal lives.
Is this harassment?
This is not harassment, however, gossiping is unhealthy in any work environment and should be avoided. You might think this is harmless coffee break chit-chat, but it can be extremely harmful to others who have no way of defending their reputation from such disparaging remarks.
A supervisor organizes her staff meeting at 3:30 even though she knows that you leave around that time. The supervisor tells you it is your responsibility to keep yourself informed of what went on at the meeting. You’re uncomfortable with the situation.
What would you do?
Talk to the supervisor
If there are no operational reasons for the time of the meeting, and the same supervisor has accepted your work hours, you may want to explain to your supervisor how this affects you, e.g., conflict with your personal life, contributes to errors in your work, feelings of exclusion, embarrassment with regard to your colleagues, etc.
If this does not work, you may want to speak to a person in authority, Human Resources advisor or Harassment Prevention Advisor and suggest a facilitated conversation or mediation to resolve the issue informally.
If there is no possibility of having the meeting at a different time for operational reasons and there are alternative means to obtain the information, this would be fine.
A group of employees tease one of their colleagues who is overweight. They even place two chairs side by side and invite him to join the group for lunch.
Is this harassment?
This is definitely an improper conduct and may amount to harassment, especially if the behaviour is repetitious. The employees knew or ought reasonably to have known that their actions were demeaning and would cause embarrassment and personal humiliation.
You are an employee of retirement age who must keep on working because of financial problems. Your supervisor only gives you routine work instead of the projects you used to be responsible for and gives the other interesting and high-profile projects to a new, younger employee.
What would you do?
Speak to your supervisor
Following discussions with your supervisor, you might agree that your supervisor continue to give more complex projects to the new employee. If there seems to be no reason for your supervisor’s conduct, explain what your expectations of your work are and how you plan on meeting them. You may want to remind your supervisor that, according to the Canadian Human Rights Act, age cannot be used as grounds for discrimination. If nothing is done, you may consider speaking to someone in authority, then seek advice, suggest informal resolution or file a complaint, generally in this order.
If this situation does not bother you, then fine. Although if you are concerned about this situation, you should speak with your supervisor and follow through as mentioned above.
A supervisor does not like one of the employees with a bubbly personality who enjoys working with people. One day, the employee, preoccupied with work, forgets to attend the Section’s weekly meeting. The meeting was not scheduled electronically, so the employee did not get any notification. The supervisor takes advantage of this incident and makes a series of repeated remarks like, “Be careful not to give that job to this employee, she might forget to do it. You know, this employee missed the Section meeting.” or “That employee might be getting Alzheimer’s.” or, “I think this employee is getting old. She forgot to attend the Section’s meeting.” The employee is made aware of these comments by her colleagues.
Could this be harassment?
Making snide remarks about an employee is inappropriate. Some of the remarks refer to some of the prohibited grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act, e.g., age, disability. If the supervisor was unhappy about the employee’s absence at the meeting, the concerns should be expressed directly to the employee.
The comments may not seem significant to some people, however the remarks are repetitive and the supervisor ought reasonably to have known that they would cause offence or harm to the employee.
Situation 13 – Office Personalities
Keith believes his senior employees should show enthusiasm toward their jobs every day. He has a vacant senior position in his organization that he will use as a developmental assignment for one of his employees, on an acting basis. Keith has invited all the employees to apply. Keith equates enthusiasm with someone having a “bubbly personality”. He decides that this will be the only criterion used to evaluate the candidates during the interview. Tracy is especially “bubbly” and Keith has been showing preference towards her. Alain, who is pleasant but not so bubbly, felt uncomfortable during the interview. Alain knew what Keith was looking for but did not believe that showing enthusiasm would mean that you could do a better job. Alain thinks that what Keith really wants is a woman in the acting position, and states how he feels during the interview.
If you were Keith, how would you handle this situation?
Before you decide how to handle this situation, as a manager, you may want to take the following into consideration.
- All qualified candidates should be treated fairly and should be able to compete on a level playing field. As a manager, Keith can make the decision to name one of the employees acting, however, since he decided to hold a competition, he must treat everyone equally.
- If Keith cannot defend the “bubbly personality” criterion in making a selection, the criterion must be defined in a professional and objective manner, then communicated to all the employees. This communication will facilitate the acceptance of Keith’s decision.
- Managers can make mistakes. A good manager recognizes when he or she is wrong and is not afraid to reverse a decision to correct a situation.
- Keith may feel that employees do not have the right to question managerial decisions. However, if Keith does not address the situation, the work environment may be difficult to manage and employees may feel de-motivated.
Situation 14 – The New Boss
Rita is a newly appointed manager from within the organization. Rita, Fred and Louise were co-workers before Rita’s promotion and they developed a special relationship over the years. Rita is now the supervisor but feels pressure to maintain the past relationships. Rita wants to show that the promotion has not made her a snob. Rita, Fred and Louise are frequently seen smoking and chatting together. The other employees need to discuss their work problems with Rita, but find Rita responds with impatience when they try to meet with her.
Helen, one of the other employees, mentioned to Rita that she and the other employees feel excluded from Rita’s guidance and leadership. Helen believes that this will have a negative effect on the morale in the office and the job performance of the employees.
If you were Rita, how would you handle this situation?
Before you decide how to handle this situation, as a manager, you may want to take the following into consideration.
- Rita needs to make the transition from co-worker to supervisor. With a new job comes new responsibilities. Rita needs to understand what is now expected of her and to make decisions accordingly. Rita needs to define her relationship with Fred and Louise to ensure that it does not interfere with her ability to discharge her responsibilities.
- Even if Rita has the best of intentions, ignoring some of her employees will result in them feeling neglected and will negatively affect her job performance, as well as create tension in the office.
- If Rita is feeling insecure in her new role, she should speak with her manager. Rita and her manager may be able to set up a developmental plan where Rita may benefit from some coaching.
- Rita should be available to all her employees to address work issues. Her employees may interpret avoiding them or not being available as the same thing. This may not be harassment, but it is very poor management. She needs to build her relationship with all the employees.
- As a new supervisor, it takes time and it is sometimes difficult to change the relationship with colleagues, however, communication will be a great tool to assist him or her to reach the goal. Opening communication to the group, then reaching out to each individual will help create a climate of trust and respect. Listening and asking questions will also show interest in everyone’s work and responsibilities, at the same time, providing the supervisor with a blueprint of the overall workload.
Situation 15 – Behind Closed Doors
Chang supervises a number of employees. Whenever he meets with Julie, one of his employees, Chang closes the door to the office. Chang does not close the door when meeting with any other employee, unless the meeting is personal or confidential. Julie is uncomfortable and embarrassed by the closed door. Julie has mentioned her feelings to Chang several times, but Chang just laughs and continues with the meeting. The other employees are whispering behind Julie’s back, trying to guess what might be happening in the closed office. The next time that Julie meets with Chang, she refuses to leave the door closed and confronts Chang with her allegation of harassment.
If you were Chang, how would you handle this situation?
Before you decide how to handle this situation, as a manager, you may want to take the following into consideration.
- Does Chang have a valid reason for closing the door only when meeting with Julie? If so, Chang should share his reasons with Julie. Julie should then be given a chance to voice her concerns.
- Chang should examine why he laughs when Julie mentions the closed office door. Does Chang understand that Julie is serious?
- Chang should establish an office protocol policy and communicate the policy to all employees in the work unit.
- Chang should be sensitive to the needs and values of each of his employees and act accordingly to avoid situations which embarrass employees.
- Chang could be subject to a harassment complaint, if he does not take appropriate action.
Situation 16 – Dealing with a Poor Performer
Henry, a well-known poor performing employee has just been transferred to Eric’s unit. Eric assumes that this is a test from his work superior. Eric intends to succeed in improving Henry’s performance. He meets with Henry to review his past performance issues and concerns. Eric suggests that they agree on performance expectations and design an action plan together to correct Henry’s weak areas. Eric also commits to monitor Henry’s performance and to keep him informed of any positive or negative progress. Henry agrees with the plan at the meeting, but on leaving, goes to other employees and complains of harassment. Eric has recently seen an e-mail written by Henry being critical of Eric’s supervisory capabilities.
If you were Eric, how would you handle this situation?
- Eric should speak to his work superior to confirm the reason for Henry’s transfer. Eric and his work superior should agree on expectations and the plan of action for Henry.
- Eric can discuss past performance problems experienced by Henry, but Eric should not assume that the problems would continue in this new job. Henry should be given the benefit of the doubt that he will perform adequately and the time to prove whether or not he can perform at the required level based on written performance goals and expectations, and action plan.
- Eric should monitor Henry’s performance, provide regular feedback and document the process.
If the action plan does not work, Eric should seek senior management support and obtain advice from Human Resources, if needed, to take further action in managing the poor performance. The threat of a “harassment” complaint must be addressed, but should not deter Eric from the appropriate course of action.
Situation 17 – Quick Action
Richard has five supervisors reporting to him. Each of the supervisors has four junior employees reporting to him or her. Judith, one of the five supervisors, has been diagnosed with a serious but curable disease. Judith discusses her illness with Richard and asks that he keep their conversation confidential. At the next management meeting, Richard announces to his five supervisors that there will be a re-organization. From now on, there will be only four supervisors, each supervising five employees. Judith will be working on special projects. Richard refuses to tell the other four supervisors what prompted this change or why Judith is being moved to special projects. This is not what Judith wanted. Judith overheard rumours from the office staff, they are assuming that she did something wrong and is being punished. Judith meets with Richard to discuss her concerns. Judith believes that her openness with Richard may negatively affect her career and office friendships.
If you were Richard, how would you handle this situation?
- Richard should have discussed any actions that he was about to take with Judith. Judith has the right to know why she is being reassigned and how it may affect her career.
- Richard has not breached the confidentiality agreement with Judith, but he has put her in a more difficult position, since she may now feel that she has to explain what is going on to correct misinformation and speculation in the office.
- If Richard was unsure of how to handle Judith’s illness, he should have sought advice and assistance from his work superior or contacted the Employee Assistance Program. This situation might otherwise become harassment because of the power difference in the two positions and the effect that Richard’s decision might have on Judith’s career.
- If Richard realizes that he has moved too quickly and has taken the wrong action, he needs to take corrective action, quickly.
- Richard should have considered the impact on all the supervisors and employees, as well as the impact on the work climate, as a whole. As others learn of Judith’s illness, they may come to believe that Richard over-reacts to personal information and lose trust in Richard’s ability to address their concerns.
Situation 18 – The New Employee
Christine and the majority of her employees have been working together for more than three years. André, a new employee, is joining this established organization. Other employees have joined this organization in the past, but soon left because they did not feel welcome. Christine’s Director has weekly management meetings. Christine frequently brings her employees along to give progress reports on their projects. The employees perceive attendance at these meetings as an opportunity to be seen and to advance their careers. Everyone except André has had the opportunity to present their projects at these weekly meetings. André asks Christine, “When can I present my project?”. She explains, “Since you just joined the organization, you could not possibly contribute to the discussion, therefore, I will present your project, for now”. After the management meetings, Christine and her team usually go out for lunch to discuss the results. André is not invited to the lunches. André feels hurt and undervalued and he is not sure how he can become part of the team. He discusses his concerns with Christine.
If you were Christine, how would you handle this situation?
- Christine is excluding André from the meetings and from discussions with other employees. Harassment may be present in the workplace.
- Christine has the right to manage and this includes deciding who participates in meetings and who presents projects. However, she must be fair and give everyone the same opportunities. There should be more communication between Christine and André, so that André can understand the situation and determine when he can expect to present his projects at the management committee. If there are other reasons, Christine needs to discuss them with André. Avoiding the discussion will only make the tension worse.
- Christine should ensure that new employees are made to feel welcome into the group and that they are not excluded from any of the activities. If all employees go for lunch after the management meeting, André should be invited.
- We presume that Christine hires employees who she believes are fully capable of doing the job. If this is the case, then Christine should not question their competence before they can prove themselves. Christine may want to allow new employees to present their projects so that she can determine their abilities in this area of competence, she might allow them to observe in the first meeting or she may want to coach them before they present.
- It is a supervisor’s/manager’s responsibility to train the employees for new tasks, so that they can perform according to the job standards.
Before completing the Self-Assessment, consider reviewing some topics of interest. These subjects (communication and informal resolution processes) play an important role in creating a healthy work environment.
People to People Communication – Communication
Maximizing the Benefits of Giving and Receiving Feedback
Feedback is most beneficial if offered in a relationship of mutual trust and respect. In general, before giving feedback to a colleague, ask him/her for permission. This will increase the possibility that feedback is received and used. Also, provide feedback with the intention of creating an opportunity to learn and improve a behaviour, never to put someone down or to show your own superiority.
The following are some guidelines and examples that you could use to receive and offer feedback in such a way as to maximize benefits. We will begin with a section on receiving feedback then discuss how to offer feedback.
The Art of Receiving Feedback: Maximize Your Own Learning
Much has been written on how to give feedback. Most courses and workshops on communication, assertiveness, or problem solving include sections on giving feedback. Receiving feedback, however, has not received as much attention.
As you know, the success of championship athletes, great performers, and top leaders depends, to a large extent, on the constant feedback they receive from their coaches or mentors. Feedback can come from the people with whom you work, regardless of levels or formal training in coaching. They could be your peers, the people who report to you or to whom you report.
Offering feedback to our colleagues is necessary and receiving, even encouraging feedback is equally important. The material contained in this section will give you some tips on, and examples of how to benefit from feedback to improve your performance. Specifically, you will see examples of both effective and less effective ways of receiving feedback.
If you are interested in truly improving your work performance and work relationships, develop your skills in encouraging feedback from others.
Here are some examples that demonstrate the art of receiving feedback.
Someone tells you that the conclusions in your report do not match what was discussed and you snap: “Well, the report that you worked on has many grammatical errors.”
Avoid responding with defensiveness. Instead, try:
Responding with a clarification question. Give the other person a chance to share his or her point of view or experience with you.
“Thank you for your feedback. Would you please tell me where you see the inconsistencies?”
Asking further clarification questions as required. Don’t rush into explaining or defending your position.
“Thank you. What do you think is missing from the report?”
Attempting to reach a common understanding of the situation before you disagree or ’agree to disagree.’ Do not give up quickly.
Avoid responding by arguing over the details of the feedback.
Turn the situation around. Shift the focus from the problem (we’re late!) to finding a solution (what can we do together to meet the objective?) Arguing over whether it is two or three days is useless.
Marika: “It’s taking you too long to redesign that form. We’re one week behind schedule.”
Sami: “Well, we’re only three days late; you always exaggerate!”
Sami: “Yes, we are behind schedule, and this is what I need to speed up the process. Would you help me please?”
This is not to avoid responsibility. If you promised to deliver something and were unable to do so, always acknowledge your responsibility.
Remember, being responsible does not mean that you caused the problem or it was under your full control. It does mean that you are taking ownership for the situation and that you care about it.
Here is another example of someone responding badly to feedback:
Sami: “When we are working together, you never meet your project deadlines. Because you are always late, the whole group suffers.”
Marika: “Why are you telling me this? I don’t want to hear about it!”
Avoid these types of responses when receiving criticism. These responses can also be non-verbal, for example, changing the subject quickly, turning away from the person, or becoming cold and distant.
Marika: “Thank you! I appreciate your frankness. This is difficult to take but I hope that you will always be honest with me when you think I need to work on something.”
Say this even if you hate to hear the feedback. Do not let your Ego or self-image stand in your way to learn and grow!
Remember: do not withdraw or become cold towards that person. If you do, s/he might conclude that you’re upset and might stop offering you any feedback.
There are other ways of discouraging honest feedback:
Looking for confirmation. For example, after a presentation you just made, you say to your colleague, “I thought my presentation was great! What do you think?”
This really isn’t asking for feedback. You’re looking for agreement with your own assessment. You are, in fact, discouraging feedback.
Providing others only positive feedback.
This is acceptable, provided you mean it, however, if you are not being sincere, then your feedback is not very helpful. It could also discourage others from providing you with honest feedback when you need it.
Keep in mind…
Always say ’thank you’ to the person who offers feedback and mean it. A cynical or a mocking ’thank you!’ will not do. A sincere thank you is needed.
Ask clarification questions to get a better understanding, NOT to challenge, discredit or put down others.
Other people’s attitude or assessments of who you are does not and should not determine how you respond. You decide how you want to respond. Even if you think that someone is trying to put you down with his or her feedback, do not overreact and become defensive. Pause, think and say something that fits with your own way of being.
Use the feedback opportunity–when appropriate–to seek collaboration. Do not sound like you are punishing the person who gave you feedback by dumping the problem on them. Do not say, “Well if you don’t like my way, just do it yourself.”
Most people are reluctant to offer feedback out of fear of offending, being criticized in return or being attacked. Encouraging feedback is essential for the learning organization we want to create in our Public Service.
Be the change you want to create!
Guidelines for Giving Feedback
Describe the behaviour that is relevant to the performance, without adding a value judgment. Also describe the consequence of the behaviour and what you want.
“You were 20 minutes late for the meeting and your presentation was first on the agenda. Because you were late, we had to change the order of the agenda and other people were not prepared. Please don’t be late for the next meeting.”
Be specific to ensure that the other person understands what you’re talking about.
Consider the needs of both you and the person to whom you are giving the feedback. Make sure that feedback also addresses the needs of the other person.
Offer feedback on behaviour about which the receiver can do something. Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some behaviour that they are unable to achieve.
Involve the other person. As you give feedback, solicit their input; don’t just impose your view.
“You’ve been playing music in your office for several days now and it is quite loud. Other people have been disturbed by it. I don’t mind you playing music while you work, but could we come up with some ideas about how to play it so it doesn’t disturb your neighbours? Perhaps a set of head phones would work?”
Use “I” messages. “I” messages promote dialogue because they reduce defensiveness and resistance to communication. “You” messages tend to blame, accuse or attack someone. They create defensiveness.
Jane handed a monthly project status report to Sam. It was not updated and full of spelling errors.
Sam says to Jane: You’re careless and irresponsible (the “you” message)
Sam should say to Jane:
“I’m annoyed that you didn’t update the report. It has a lot of spelling errors as well. I spent an extra hour working on the report. I would appreciate it if your reports were on time and error-free from now on. Is there anything I can do to help you achieve this?”
In general, feedback is most helpful when given at the earliest opportunity after the given behaviour has occurred (but the person’s readiness to hear it is very important).
Check to ensure clear communication. One way of doing this is to have the receiver try to rephrase the feedback he/she has received, to see if it corresponds to what you had in mind.
Speak with honesty and integrity.
Present all of your feedback as opportunities, not threats.
- Offer your feedback in private and respect the dignity of the other person.
- Avoid giving feedback on too many issues at the same time; focus on one or two things.
People to People Communication – Mediation
Informal Resolution Processes – Exploring Mediation
The goal of both informal resolution processes and formal complaint processes is to resolve situations of alleged harassment as soon as possible, in a fair, constructive and respectful manner. In many instances, using informal processes (also called collaborative problem-solving approaches), such as dialogue or mediation, offers the possibility of resolving in a satisfactory manner, and acceptable to both parties, many harassment related issues. Such an approach has the advantage of addressing the parties’ needs, concerns and other interests rather than focusing on who is right and who is wrong. It empowers the parties to focus on solutions to meet their needs and often leads to the re-establishment of respectful working relationships. In this segment mediation is one example of informal resolution processes and is explored further.
Compared to the investigation process the benefits of using mediation are great:
- It is faster
- If successful, everyone is a winner
- It promotes easier restoration of relationships
- It is much less painful for the whole organization
What exactly is mediation?
Mediation is a non-adversarial, communication-based conflict resolution approach. A neutral third party (the mediator) enables involved parties to achieve solutions that meet their needs and interests.
- Voluntary; You choose to participate.
- Flexible; You decide on the solutions.
- Confidential; No discussions will take place outside of the mediation process except with your representative.
- Without prejudice and non-binding; If mediation doesn’t work, the investigation process may be initiated or resumed.
- Neutral; The mediator has no vested interest in the issues discussed.
- Creative; Brainstorming is used to find solutions that work for everyone.
Mediation takes into account your values, needs, and interests.
Key communication skills used during mediation:
- Listening: One person speaks at a time
- Using respectful language
- Hearing the other party’s perspective
- Formulating clarification questions
The Mediator’s Role
- Facilitates dialogue between the people involved
- Maintains neutrality
- Does not judge or dictate
- Identifies key issues
- Helps identify the individuals’ interests
- Resolves power struggles
The Mediation Process: How does it unfold?
Different mediators may use different approaches and techniques, but in general, mediation involves the following steps.
Step 1: Preparation
The mediator meets with the people individually to:
- Explain the mediation process;
- Get each individual’s view of the situation to identify the key issues.
Step 2: Introduction to the Process
The mediator brings the individuals together to explain:
- The mediation process
- Everyone’s roles and responsibilities (including the authority to settle)
- The basic principles for participation (e.g., commitment to the process, good faith, etc.)
Step 3: Identification and Framing of Issues
The mediator and the individuals involved:
- Define the issues (e.g., what needs to be resolved)
- Prioritize the issues
- Create an agenda for future meetings
- Identify the areas where the parties agree
- Document points of agreement and have the individuals sign the agreement
Step 4: Exploration and Resolution of Issues
The mediator will use a variety of techniques to explore and resolve issues, such as:
- Identifying areas of possible agreement
- Brain-storming to identify solutions
- Assessing solutions
- Setting the ground for discussion
Mediation continues until the parties achieve an agreement. It is terminated when one of the parties wants to stop the process or if the mediator feels it is not done in good faith.
Step 5: Finalizing the Settlement
When the individuals reach an agreement, the mediator:
- Reviews and clarifies all areas of agreement
- Ensures that everyone understands the agreement
- Prepares a written memo to be signed by the parties
Keep in mind…
The success of mediation depends on the willingness of the individuals to make it work. The mediator can facilitate the process but if the people are not acting in good faith, mediation will not work! Good faith also applies to the disclosure of facts and information.
People to People Communication – Self-Assessment
This multiple-choice self-assessment is for your own use only: there is no pass or fail. It will help you assess your learning experience in relation to the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process and its application.
Choose the answer that you believe best responds to each question. If you do not choose the best answer, the feedback will guide you to the best answer.
You can use this feedback to get a sense of your strengths or of areas where you may want to do a bit more reading or research.
Q1. The purpose of the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process is to:
Q2. A young man who has just been hired in a department receives the following compliment from a female colleague, “You are handsome and elegant.” The woman tells him this every morning and it starts to bother him. He tells the woman she does not need to repeat this every day but she continues because she does not consider it to be offensive in any way. Can the colleague’s behaviour be considered harassment?
Q3. An employee who says a colleague has been harassing him files a complaint. The person responsible for managing the complaint process believes that the allegations made against this colleague are true and decides to immediately propose that disciplinary measures be taken. Has the complaint process been respected?
- Before rendering any decision, the person responsible for managing the complaint process needs to be satisfied that he or she has all the facts based on his inquiries and the parties have been heard in accordance with procedural fairness.
- When there are reasons to believe the allegations will be easy to confirm, an informal resolution process should not be used.
- The person responsible for managing the complaint process has complete discretion to decide the disciplinary measures on his/her own.
Q4. A female employee at an office where the work is performed in a team environment has a verbal altercation with one of her colleagues. This colleague informs the others, including the supervisor, about it. Everyone agrees to ignore her. In addition, the supervisor places the woman in an isolated office, thus reducing contact with the others even further. Is this a case of harassment?
Q5. Following a heated discussion during an office meeting in which you and one of your colleagues were on opposite sides, your colleague casts mocking looks at you whenever you meet. What should you do?
Q6. Two employees witness a colleague experiencing harassment at work. They’re embarrassed by what they see but they decide to not do anything because their colleague is not affected by the situation. Which of the following statements best describes this situation?
Q7. A unit has a new supervisor. An employee talks to the supervisor about one of his/her colleagues, alleging that this employee is lazy and disloyal. The supervisor, who is redefining the duties of the employees in the unit, takes away almost all of the major responsibilities of the allegedly lazy employee without speaking with him/her first. The employee no longer has much to do, becomes bored, starts to worry and falls into a depression. Is this harassment?
Q8. A work colleague tells you that one of your behaviours is offensive but you do not find it so in any way. What do you do?
Q9. A work unit provides service to other departments from 8:30 to 4:30. For clients to be served properly, it is important that a receptionist always be available to answer their calls. The receptionist who performs these duties decides one day that starting work at 7:30 and finishing at 3:30 would be better for her. The receptionist discusses this with the supervisor, who considers the request but does not approve it because of the additional costs that would be associated with such a change. The receptionist complains and feels like a victim of harassment because of the supervisor’s actions. Is this situation harassment?
Q10. If an investigation is initiated after a harassment complaint has been filed, it can be suspended on which of the following conditions:
People to People Communication – Conclusion
“...every act by which a person causes some form of anxiety to another could be labeled as harassment. But if this is so, there can be no safe interaction between human beings. Human beings are not perfect. They can be, on occasion, stupid, heedless, thoughtless, and insensitive. The question then is: when can it be called harassment?
I do not think that every workplace foolishness was intended to be captured by the word ’harassment’. This is a serious word, to be used seriously and applied vigorously when the occasion warrants its use. It should not be trivialized, cheapened or devalued by using it as a loose label to cover petty acts or foolish words, where the harm, by an objective standard, is fleeting. Nor should it be used where there is no intent to be harmful in any way, unless there has been a heedless disregard for the rights of another person and it can be fairly said ’You should have known better.’”
Source: Arbitrator in British Columbia and BCGEU, 1995 (quoted in Personal Harassment in the Workplace)
In a healthy workplace our behaviours and interactions with others reflect the values of respect, diversity, and integrity. We all share responsibility for making sure that these values are a part of our workplace. This responsibility also includes the prevention and early resolution of harassment.
If you see inappropriate behaviours in the workplace take action. Speak to those involved and share your concerns in a truthful and considerate manner. Involve people in solving the problem, focus on solutions and listen to understand other people’s perspectives. Using simple communication techniques is often the quickest and most effective approach. If this approach doesn’t work, speak to other people you trust or suggest an informal resolution process.
The purpose of the Treasury Board’s Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process is to foster a respectful workplace through the prevention and prompt resolution of harassment.
You can make a difference. Use your power responsibly, make requests instead of criticizing, and never put other people down.
Be the change you want to create!
If you have comments or questions regarding this course please contact TBS Public Enquiries.
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