ICMF News November 2011
Workplace Conflict Hitting The Headlines
A shakeup in the way we think about national progress, pioneering moves across the Channel to enforce staff and employer attention on combating workplace stress and a legal test case that blurs the line between discrimination and harassment – it's all been happening recently. Read about these and other stories that have hit the headlines in the News section below. Take a moment to browse this issue’s feature article, 'A Common Vicious Circle And How To Avoid It', check out a new tip to add to your conflict resolution toolkit and catch up with what's happening in the Forum.
A Common Vicious Circle And How To Avoid It
We've received a lot of useful press coverage recently, including mentions in the ‘Financial Times’ and ‘Guardian’ online, in part tied in with the launch of Clive and Jackie's new book ‘Managing Conflict at Work’ (we’ve set up a dedicated website to support this, www.managingconflictatwork.com). This month's feature includes an adapted version of one of several articles that we've recently published – 'A Common Vicious Circle And How To Avoid It'. This considers how front-line managers can step up to the task of preventing an emerging dispute from getting out of hand. To read the article, please click here.
Scan offers a simple reminder of what to keep in mind when brokering a dispute – keeping attention open to information and clues about what may be going on behind what is being said as well as what’s actually coming to the fore. The Scan tag is easily remembered by remembering that in monitoring what's going on all around, a radar is constantly scanning for new data.
Bring Me Sunshine
So Britain is finally getting serious about measuring happiness, with the Coalition Government announcing that it will begin collecting self-assessed ratings of happiness, expecting to publish its first happiness index in 2012. France too has commissioned an exploration of how best to measure national contentedness.
David Cameron acknowledges that applying metrics to measuring happiness is not a rigid science, but that an overall measure of how well the nation feels about itself is an important indicator of progress. GDP alone isn't sufficient to indicate whether life is improving.
First steps for the Office for National Statistics that will survey the views of the nation will be to identify the main areas that people consider most important to their well-being. The National Wellbeing Project kicks off in earnest this year.
Viva Las Vegas – Zappos Shares Its Secrets
Zappos, the on line shoe retailer, has earned a reputation for having an offbeat approach to employee engagement, whilst winning multiple awards for its customer service. Recently acquired by Amazon, the company puts employee happiness at the heart of its strategy, believing that a happy workforce leads to happy customers.
Now Zappos is keen to share its secrets, launching an online program of information, articles and video interviews called Zappos Insights. Topics covered include how the company balances employees’ mental stimulation with maximising available technology and its innovative approach to call centre training. The program has also been extended to include tours and live training events run at its area headquarters in Las Vegas.
So if you consider fancy taking in the MGM Grand whilst stopping by Zappos for a sit on a throne where you can be coached on how to handle customer concerns, then it could be time to make a beeline for Arizona!
Amazon, meantime, says that it has no plans to change the winning formula that it’s acquired.
For more information, visit www.zapposinsights.com.
Cut Down On Absenteeism
We all know that staff absenteeism costs organisations dearly, but what is often forgotten is that much absenteeism can be avoided. Recent research by Mercer puts the average cost of staff absence at 35% of payroll costs in the US, whilst in the UK, the average cost of an individual being away is close to £700 a year.
Stress in the workplace, affecting at least one in five (and probably many more) is a major contributor, and may account for the majority of staff sickness at one level or another.
Test Case Allows Same Evidence For Both Discrimination And Harassment Charges
Workforce reports that a recent legal test case in California has determined that the in certain circumstances, the same evidence can be used to support an employee’s claim of unlawful discrimination against an employer as well as a separate allegations of harassment by a manager or other member of staff.
The case considered whether a manager’s boorish behaviour could justify a harassment claim, given that this same behaviour was expressed in management meetings and so might be seen to represent the organisation.
Following appeal, the California Supreme Court ruled on the case of Roby vs McKesson that “a supervisor’s ‘business management’ actions [should] be considered in determining whether the message conveyed by those actions constituted an offensively biased one the subject of the plaintiff hostile workplace harassment”.
The employee had been subject to humiliating comments from her manager regarding body odour, had been repeatedly snubbed and ignored, reprimanded in front of others and forced to man the office phone during a company party. She was awarded multimillion dollar compensatory damages.
In California at least, a blurring of lines between discrimination and harassment cases may encourage some to redouble their efforts to stamp out bullying. And whilst California has often been first to lead in many things, perhaps in time, the same practice will spread elsewhere. We may but hope.
France Legislates On Workplace Stress
France has taken the lead amongst EU countries in compelling organisations to address workplace stress as a part of the dialogue between managers and employees. This attention the French cabinet followed a period of suicides in big-name employers like France Telecom and Renault.
Excepting dissemination on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation or age, French law has extended the meaning of discrimination stated in EU law to include any action that has “as its purpose or effect to injure or adversely affect the dignity of any person and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment." Bullying typically must show a repeated pattern.
Workplace bullying is regarded in law like any other aspect of staff welfare. An individual’s mental health must not deteriorate because of their work, and therefore companies must take action to prevent or resolve issues concerning bullying.
Incidents of ‘psychological violence’ can extend to non-activity too. For example, a recent test case awarded in favour of an individual who had been put on a performance review following many years’ employment in which he had not received criticism. Before the review concluded, the employee noticed that his job was already being advertised. The French Court of Appeal supported the claim of psychological violence.
Calm Down Dear! – What To Do When You Hit The Boil
Thankfully, incidents of uncontrolled rage are relatively few and far between in the office (remember the You Tube video of the IBM guy cursing his computer or Basil Fawlty taking umbrage with his Mini Cooper?).
But if stress does build up to a point where you feel the need to erupt, Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, suggests some last-minute tips as your blood begins to boil:
- Sit in your car and scream, so releasing energy and then letting your body relax
- Recall a happy childhood memory
- Breathe in for three seconds and then out for three, and finally (the one we particularly enjoy),
- Imagine your rival being humiliated, for example, seeing them nude and about to sit down on a drawing pin!
(Cited in BBC News Magazine).
Money Can Buy Happiness, Perhaps
Contrary to what has long been believed, it seems that there is a strong correlation between people’s happiness and their wealth – at least when comparing the relative wealth of countries.
Research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, quoted in ‘The Economist’ (December 18, 2010) shows a strong correlation between individuals’ life satisfaction scores and country GDP. Most Western countries bunch together with satisfaction scores reaching as high as 8 out of 10, although there are some exceptions. As ‘The Economist’ leader explains: “Latin Americans are cheerful, the ex-Soviet Union spectacularly miserable, and the saddest place in the world, relative to its income per person, is Bulgaria."
In the same article, a further misconception that we become more grumpy as we get older is challenged. In fact, individual perceptions of wellbeing take an upward trend from middle age, according to a study of US citizens.
A study at Warwick business School further suggests that happy people are more productive. In an experiment, people who had watched a humorous film performed 12% better in class they were given after than those who had not. This result may not be too surprising, but it's one that many organisations seem to be slow to take on board. Perhaps a daily screening of an old Harold Lloyd or somesuch film might boost morale. Oh, and we shouldn't forget a morning exercise warmup, to get the endorphins flowing, the great stress reliever.
As you may know, the Forum is run entirely with voluntary effort. This includes maintenance of our website and bulletin board, which during recent months has taken a little back seat in development, whilst we moved between servers and attempted to resolve a problem with the bulletin board site being bombarded with spam emails (a problem which has now been resolved, but does require verification when making postings).
To cap it all, Clive managed to delete the entire contents of the previous Forum during the server transition! This means that we are effectively back to square one, however the bulletin board is now up and running again and we've tightened security. Similarly, the familiar ‘umbrella; on our home page, giving access to the different departments or subject areas covering all things relating to conflict management has now been put back online.
Whilst there’s still more to do to bring us back to where we were, our website has now returned to offering business as usual. Please play your part by contributing your own thoughts, learnings and questions.
To get things moving again, we've suggested a number of fresh topics on the bulletin board, covering topics such as when it's appropriate to call time on grievance appeals, whether individuals can influence their organisation's culture and how to reconcile individuals who need to work together following a bitter dispute. Remember, you can initiate any topic or question that interests you, and please do login to the site and at your thoughts on the current discussions! No comment or contribution is too small.
Following a busy year in which our guests included a senior adviser from Acas, a leading authority on emotional intelligence, a former Scotland Yard senior investigator and NLP specialist, and a prominent executive coach, we've held off scheduling a live event January.
Following last year's experience, when a sudden flurry of snow and ice brought much of the country to a standstill and less than 50% of individuals who'd planned to attend our January meeting were able to make it into London, we thought that a repeat performance this year would not be best avoided. Given that the snow and ice has returned for many of us with a vengeance, this decision seems to have been a wise one.
Nonetheless, we are hoping to schedule another live event very soon and of course you will be the first to know about this!
Mediation of a dispute often hits a road-block when there seems no clear way forward in resolving a problem. Perhaps the disputing parties can see that a solution should exist but they can't work out what. Help may be at hand to open up possibilities by using the 'breaking set' technique. This encourages individuals to break the mould of their current way of thinking, approaching a problem from 'left of field'.
Click here to read or download our 'breaking set' tool.
Words of Wisdom
In each issue, we aim to include a carefully chosen quotations, people question. This issue, we pay homage to the Pulitzer prize winning journaist and writer Ellen Goodman and her observation on the value of making a small change:
"I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people convinced that they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another".