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Written by: Cindy Lynn Roche, MA CPHR
People don’t know what they don’t know and that fact is just one of the reasons the subject of respect in the workplace is such an important discussion. Organizations and teams are made up of individuals, and each individual has a lived experience unlike anybody else’s life story that may influence how they interpret situations, their interactions with others and the things they choose to say and do. The part of being respectful that we sometimes forget is that there may be no visible signs or obvious reason for why somebody is as they are, and we just don’t know what we don’t know.
Consider for a moment what your colleagues and boss know about you. Think next of the things they have no idea about and would never expect of you. Imagine finally that every person you meet may have some unspoken story framing how they see and experience the world.
Respect involves recognizing that anybody you meet could need an extra measure of understanding, compassion or acceptance. They might not, but if you extend the courtesy of awareness that they may not be working from the same starting place as you, you’re likely to find that your working relationship becomes more productive as each of you comes in to the interaction prepared to offer a little more and work just a bit harder. That kind of a stance doesn’t negate what the other offers but anticipates that what we’ll bring may be different, informed by the standpoint of our experience, values and fears.
- A member of a minority group that was systematically sanctioned for their difference and otherness, as justified by who their ancestors had been and grudges against enemies from long ago… she struggled to learn the common language and suffered the embarrassment of her linguistic mistakes along the way.
- An immigrant who experienced the worry of having the right papers in hand, her presence validated and justified by a long approval process… she is proud of that journey and proud of the citizenship she holds.
- A nomadic childhood spent moving from town to town every couple of years resulted in bullying that gave way to terrified shyness… That’s what that deep breath is about when she speaks up in a meeting and it’s the reason that so much of what she says sounds more like suggestions for consideration.
- She has Lupus, Fibromyalgia and/or depression or or or... Every day she copes with pain and a myriad of symptoms, grateful for her ability to work on good days and self-loathing when she can’t make it in… She hopes nobody notices when she’s moving slowly and tries not to give in to the chronic fatigue. Invisible illnesses, whether chronic diseases, mental health challenges or some nefarious and long-lasting bug, are never a choice. Doctor appointments, pain, brain fog and frustration at one’s inability to be “normal” are balanced against delivering results in the workplace, getting things accomplished and not letting anybody down.
- She is half deaf and a hearing aid won’t help her hearing so she must position herself to hear people with her good ear, finding it easiest if she’s face-to-face with them even as she isn’t conscious of reading their lips. She gets overwhelmed when there is too much going on or if she’s caught in the middle of a crowd; not being able to distinguish exactly where sounds are coming from leads to a kind of vertigo and it is exhausting.
- “She” is one woman who believes all those challenges make her stronger (except when they remind her that they own her strength). She works harder than many because she fears she being found out, fears not keeping up with expectations, and fears that if she ever gives in to her weaknesses that she will let the people who count on her down… She doesn’t want to let you down.
I’m not making excuses for her or anyone. I’m not even suggesting you put up with excuses. But I do think we would all be well served by remembering we don’t always have all the facts about people. I’m asking you to consider that “different” exists even when it isn’t obvious and to respect that there may be more at work than you know.
As you may know, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and The Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of Canada (CPHR Canada), have an agreement to mutually recognize each organizations' certification programs.
Written by: Chris Kneeland
It’s easy to find business leaders actively formalizing their company’s strategy for success. Determining how best to grow profits and achieve market dominance are core to executive job descriptions.
Far more rare, however, is finding business leaders paying sufficient attention to their organization’s culture and internal engagement. Despite countless articles, research studies, case studies, TED talks, and Harvard Business Reviews proving the impact of highly engaged workforces on a host of organizational performance metrics, most business leaders inappropriately neglect this area.
Employee engagement scores across most industries are at all-time lows. Poorly engaged workforces cost companies multiples of billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. Even more alarming, leadership apathy towards internal engagement has led to an increase in the number of “actively disengaged” employees – meaning staff who are so disenfranchised they deliberately cause harm and sabotage corporate plans.
Stop paying lip service to the issues causing internal discontent and sub-optimal performance, and move employee engagement to the top of the C-suite agenda.
Most firms assemble talented teams of high performing professionals to develop well funded product development and marketing plans to achieve competitive advantage; yet, rarely do these same organizations devote sufficient attention - or dollars - to people strategies aimed at the human capital required to bring those plans to life. Or, if leaders are actually paying attention, they too often rely on under-qualified, and poorly resourced HR managers. Those managers, in turn, often assemble ad hoc “Culture Committees” and task them with implementing superficial events like holiday parties, summer BBQ’s or work anniversary celebrations.
This is wildly inappropriate.
Employee engagement is far too important to delegate to improperly trained HR Managers or ragtag teams of volunteers who are better at creating distractions than solving tough issues associated with under-performing organizations and disenfranchised personnel.
Business leaders, wake up and step up! Properly address internal challenges that are hindering your company from achieving its full potential!
Senior executives have five main responsibilities. Only one of those –maintaining relationships with financial stakeholders (like banks, private investors, or Wall Street) to ensure a healthy balance sheet - doesn't directly affect internal engagement. The other four duties do. Those include:
- Ensure your organization has absolute clarity about the company’s vision and mission
- Provide an operating model, and organizational structure, that is optimized for success
- Create an environment (Policies / Workplace / People Strategies / Training) that attracts and retains top talent and allows them to do the best work of their lives
- Help every person understand how they personally contribute to the organization’s goals, and then hold them accountable.
Business leaders who focus on these four areas have a tremendously positive influence on employee engagement and can improve the health of even the most dysfunctional corporate cultures.
How to get started?
Start by disbanding superficial Culture Committees. Instead, call upon properly trained professionals with legitimate expertise in the space - professionals who are capable of understanding how your organization’s purpose, points of differentiation and strategic plans are enhanced by nurturing a high performing culture. Whether you hire in-house or outsource, treat talent management with the same importance as you would any Asset Manager tasked with protecting your most firm’s most cherished intellectual property.
Secondly, accept that fact culture cannot be forced or faked; rather, it is built over time by consistently managing specific beliefs and behaviors of all internal stakeholders. Pay particular attention to how your people interact with each other, and how people within your organization respond to change. Also, seek out internal influencers – regardless of formal title or authority – and bring them into your inner circle for help. And remember, perks and parties may temporarily improve morale, but proper talent management tools, communication protocols, and staff engagement metrics improve how your people function, thus improving how your business operates.
Lastly, just like any other core focus for your business, culture requires a framework that results in clarity for your employees, and consistency in execution. Any decent internal engagement plan must formalize processes relating to:
1) How decisions are made
2) What behaviors are rewarded or punished
3) How talent is sourced and on-boarded
4) How information is communicated
5) How leaders are taught how to lead
Ignore at your peril.
Overcome your doubt or suspicion. Too many senior leaders inappropriately consider culture conversations fluffy. Topics like role clarity, departmental morale, employee feelings, manager misbehavior, or staff conflict resolution may not – on their surface - seem on par with other commercially hard-nosed topics that C-suites prefer to discuss. But ignore these issues at your own peril.
I suggest you table an agenda item at your next executive meeting to clarify who is accountable for employee engagement issues. That person must have NOTHING to do with the next company party. Instead, he or she must be highly empowered and have unquestioned credentials. Understand that employee engagement is directly co-related with customer engagement, and any decisions and actions he or she implements will impact your customer experience, brand reputation, and can become a significant competitive advantage (or disadvantage).
Three Gifts to Give Yourself This Valentine’s Day
Written by: Janet Hueglin Hartwick
Valentine’s Day is a time to show the person you care for that they matter to you– by giving presents, saying something thoughtful or spending quality time together. But what about at work? What happens when the person you report to stops showing you that your work is valued? Unanswered emails, postponed meetings, rushed conversations become the norm and you’re expected to be a “professional” and roll with it. That’s fine for a while, but what about when you find it too difficult? Keep reading to discover three gifts you can give yourself to fall back in love with your job. But first, let’s take a look at why everyone (including your boss) needs to know they are valued at work.
It’s Not Wrong to Want to Belong
Professionals do a great job of telling themselves what they don’t need. “I don’t need face time with my boss”, “I don’t need to hear I did a good job” and “I don’t need to be put on a special project.” Here’s the thing: your brain needs these and more. “Human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.”[i] Whether we like it or not, knowing we belong is vital to our mental wellness and our ability to perform at work. “The need to belong is not a new idea…what is new, however, is the existence of a large body of empirical evidence with which to evaluate that hypothesis. If psychology has erred with regard to the need to belong…the error has not been to deny the existence of such a motive so much as to underappreciate it.”[ii] Professionals may act like they’re superman but it’s just not true.
When we go without proof we are valued at work for an extended period of time it can impact us greatly.
Three Tips to Love Your Job Again
If you are getting by without being told you belong, you have my sincere sympathies. It is a hard place to be but there are things you can do to make this time a bit easier.
- Go on that work trip you are always “too busy” to take. Many leaders that I work with pass on opportunities to travel because they don’t have the time. “There is a conference I have always wanted to attend because it has all of the industry innovators in one place. I’d love to go. Well, maybe next year.” Why not make this the year and send the message to your brain that you’re going to attend the conference because you belong there? Professional development budgets are created to be spent. There is no reward in not investing in yourself. If you have the ability to take a legitimate work trip that will offer a tangible benefit to you and your team, get going.
- Ask for what you really want. One of the best ways to know you are valued is when you receive a reward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big gesture like “we’ve decided to give you a 20 per cent bonus” or small one like “great job on that project, can I take you out for lunch?” The real gift is social proof that you belong. So, why not make it happen for yourself. If your leader missed the chance to acknowledge an amazing performance, make a legitimate business case that outlines what you would like to see happen. Would you like to recommend a new policy that you think is overdue? Write your own, covering all of your bases and doing some research, and perhaps it will get adopted. Being offered what you want is ideal but getting it for yourself can still be pretty terrific.
- Write yourself a work valentine. This sounds hokey but stick with me. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to slow down and take stock of your accomplishments. Sure, you may complete a performance evaluation, but I’m talking about a personal reflection on the value you contribute. This can include situations that challenge your resiliency – dealing with cranky colleagues, creating the same reports over and over or working without a leader in place. Take a few minutes to write down what you are most proud to have accomplished in the past year. It’s not the same as having it told to you but you deserve to have these positive thoughts be front and centre…even if you’re the one who put them there.
Everyone needs to know they are valued. Promote your own mental fitness and take care of yourself (body and brain) this Valentine’s Day.
Six steps for the best practice method for HR professionals
People who have experienced psychological trauma are present in every workplace. Some people have experienced developmental trauma in their childhood, some (such as first responders) have experienced it daily as a part of their work, and some have experienced it as part of a work-related accident or assault.
Conducting effective trauma-informed workplace investigations involves recognizing the signs of trauma and responding effectively so that the investigation can proceed successfully and efficiently. Those involved, including both HR professionals and investigators, need to know how trauma can affect complainants, respondents, and witnesses. Effectively integrating trauma into an investigation means not only recognizing it but anticipating it and building a trauma-informed best practice policy and procedure.
This brief article outlines the various aspects of psychological trauma and its interface with workplace misconduct allegations and makes suggestions for HR professionals about the factors they need to take into account when building their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
What is Trauma?
The American Psychological Association defines "trauma" as a person's emotional response to an extremely adverse or disturbing event. This trauma definition can refer to a person’s emotional reaction to a very upsetting event, such as being involved in an accident or repeatedly witnessing horrifying experiences, or to something more extreme such as sexual assault. Essentially, it is when a person experiences an event that leaves them feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
All encounters are experienced subjectively, and all humans process a disturbing event differently because we interpret them through our individual life experiences. As such, people will react quite differently to the same event, depending on their experiences. For example, one person who was repeatedly bullied in school may respond differently to an aggressive interaction in the workplace than a person who did not experience schoolyard bullying. Thus, trauma may be best thought of as the specific experience of the person in question, not the details of the event itself.
Trauma can be experienced by all concerned including the complainant, the respondent and witnesses. Trauma will not always be experienced by individuals who are placed in similar situations. One person will experience an event or series of events differently from another. Science has created a better understanding of how trauma occurs and what places a person at risk, but more work needs to be done to understand the risks involved in trauma. Its existence is far from automatic.
Trauma reactions fall across a broad spectrum, and health professionals have developed different categories to differentiate between different types of trauma. While the guidelines have changed over time, and there still is some debate, science has increased our knowledge of psychological trauma. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are many possible trauma-related diagnoses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). While these are some of the current official diagnoses of the American Psychiatric Association related to trauma, others have suggested additional, unofficial frameworks to help understand this multifaceted problem including Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Developmental Trauma.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
ASD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It's natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation, and the "fight-or-flight" stress response is a typical, adaptive reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after a potentially traumatizing event, although most people recover naturally from initial symptoms. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with ASD. People who have PTSD experience longer-term symptoms that last over one month.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be experienced by those who experience multiple traumatic events that go on for extended periods of time, such as soldiers, paramedics, police officers, or firefighters who are repeatedly exposed to continuous disturbing events such as death, bloodshed or viewing of disturbing images such as child pornography in their work. As such, they accumulate stress in the workplace.
Developmental Trauma is a result of a child experiencing adverse childhood events (ACE) such as abuse and neglect. These experiences interfere with the child’s neurological and psychological development and result in adult health difficulties including physical health problems and mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Recent findings emphasize the role of childhood adversity on interpersonal functioning in adulthood and indicate that emotional regulation and dysregulation (i.e., the initiation, inhibition or modulation of one’s emotional state and behaviour) play a critical role in adult behaviour.
Understanding how trauma shows up in the workplace is vital because trauma, regardless of the type, affects how people live their lives, interact with others, and cope with stress. Symptoms of trauma show up in the workplace but may manifest more severely during an investigation. Acute stress, which is often experienced in an inquiry, can trigger the emergence of trauma symptoms.
When Does Trauma Show Up during an investigation?
Before an event occurs: Trauma may show up in the normal behaviour of an employee. Trauma may affect a person’s regular behaviour at work and may or may not be involved in the alleged misconduct.
During an event: Trauma may show up when the behaviour of others or a situation triggers a traumatic experience in the complainant. Trauma may show up when a person experiences an extremely negative or disturbing event. A respondent’s behaviour may be trauma-related to the alleged actions involved in a complaint. Finally, a witness may be traumatized or have old trauma triggered when witnessing an event.
After an event: The stress of an investigation can be so significant for an individual that they can become “re-traumatized." Re-traumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in a re-experiencing of the initial trauma event. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics (loss of power/control/safety) of the original trauma.
How does trauma affect an investigation?
There are two ways that trauma can affect an investigation.
First, trauma may affect a person’s behaviour or how they react to and deal with all the issues surrounding a complaint and an investigation. A person experiencing trauma may experience a myriad of reactions including emotional reactions of fear, anxiety, and anger, physical reactions such as stomach upsets, headaches, and sleeping problems, psychological reactions such as being vigilant to danger or focusing on seemingly incidental details of events, and behavioural reactions such as withdrawing both mentally and physically. They may be quite emotional and react to situations in ways that may surprise an HR professional, as the response may be different than what the HR professional expects.
Second, trauma affects memory and can affect the accuracy of investigative data, which typically comes from a person’s memory. As a traumatized person may only have fragmented memories or may have memory gaps and inconsistencies in what they do remember, their recall of events may be affected.
During the investigative process, HR professionals are often focused on gathering the facts, but they need to consider that trauma may impact both the behaviours surrounding the incident and the individual recall of events. The astute HR professional recognizes that the reactions and responses they may expect in others may be entirely different than what traumatized people involved in the investigation consider essential.
6 steps to a good trauma-informed HR practice regarding complaints and investigations
Always use a trauma-informed approach. A trauma-informed approach to the investigation process involves the:
- Realization about the widespread impact of trauma and understanding of its potential impact in the workplace,
- Recognition of the signs and symptoms of trauma in complainants, clients, families, staff, and others involved,
- Response by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices,
- Resistance of re-traumatization
- Acknowledgement that you may not know if a person has trauma and you always need to respect their privacy.
A trauma-informed approach reflects adherence to six fundamental principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures all done in the context of a complaint and an investigation.
- Trustworthiness and Transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice and choice
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
When you first learn of a problem. Consider that acute stress or trauma may be critical and be sure to use a combination of the following:
- Use approaches that make all parties feel safe and supported. Respect all concerned and communicate your respect for them.
- Ensure that your processes are transparent and that your policies and procedures build trust.
- Give people choices in the process (e.g., where to meet, where to sit) as options will work against retraumatizing the person.
- Ensure that you work collaboratively with the individuals while you are following your standard operating procedures. Allow individuals to maintain their own power. Working together will allow others to reduce stress and improve memory.
Conducting a preliminary examination of the complaint. At this early stage, the HR professional needs to gather information to determine if a formal investigation is required. At this stage, you are likely thinking about whether an investigation should take place, its scope, and the best process for the investigation. You aren’t formally investigating at this point.
- Be careful you don’t retraumatize the person or shame them accidentally. For example, asking them why they didn’t act during an assault may cause the person to feel blamed for the incident. Instead of asking questions that way, ask information-gathering questions such as “What was your thought process?” or “How did you react?”
- Instead of saying “Start at the beginning.” recognize that a traumatized person may struggle with sequential, linear memory and say “Tell me what you remember.”
- Resist asking, "What happened next?" and try to use a question like "What were your thoughts during the event?” Alternatively, "What was the hardest part of the experience for you?"
Choosing How to Do an Investigation. After meeting with the person (using a trauma-informed approach) and then meeting with an internal HR team, the HR professional needs to determine if an internal or external investigation is required. Consider if the allegations are serious and whether your team has the necessary resources and expertise to conduct the investigation. Are your staff able to perform a trauma-informed, unbiased investigation?
If you choose an external investigator, ensure that they have the necessary training and expertise to conduct a trauma-informed investigation.
Closing Your Initial Conversation. Just talking about traumatic experiences can trigger emotional reactions in all parties concerned, including nightmares or intrusive thoughts. During the final parts of your discussion with the person, make sure to advise them that they may have an emotional reaction after the conversation. Demonstrate your empathy and provide the person with resources to help them, if needed, such as your EAP program or local mental health resources such as a crisis line.
Conducting an Investigation. While the entire process of conducting a full trauma-informed investigation is beyond the scope of this article, it is important for investigators to be trained and experienced in appropriate interview methods.
Methods such as Cognitive Interviewing or Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) to help acquire accurate data to establish the facts of the situation and to protect the people involved are recommended. Studies show that using effective interviewing methods such as these significantly increases the amount of information an investigator can gather. The book Investigative Interviewing by Eric Shepherd and Andy Griffiths is a comprehensive resource.
When addressing a complaint in the workplace and before beginning an investigation, HR professionals should develop policies and procedures that involve a trauma-informed approach in order to both enhance the psychological health and safety of the workplace and to gather accurate information in the context of the complaint. Improving the knowledge and skills of HR professionals will go a long way to create effective and efficient methods to investigate workplace complaints.
For further conversations, please contact the author at email@example.com