How to ensure employees feel comfortable raising concerns about mistreatment

Women at the table

“Most of us respond to conflict by retreating which can translate into disengagement and dissatisfaction which hampers productivity” - Jennifer Pernfuss

With so many workplaces currently experiencing upheaval due to COVID-19, it’s no secret that employee stress levels may be higher than usual. 

One way organizations can help mitigate this stress for their teams, is by ensuring that employees feel safe raising any concerns or complaints they may have. 

Instructor and co-developer of the newly-launched SCS Specialized Certificate in Managing, Investigating, and Resolving Workplace Harassment Complaints Jennifer Pernfuss says that unfortunately any workplace relationships that were strained before COVID-19 may be even more conflict-ridden now. “The additional stress of the pandemic coupled with anxiety related to tension-filled working relationships tests employees' mental health.  Most of us respond to conflict by retreating which can translate into disengagement and dissatisfaction which hampers productivity,” she explains. “In today’s virtual world, ‘hiding’ as a way of avoiding conflict is easier and no less harmful to everyone involved and your business.”

Pernfuss says now is the time to encourage employees to come forward with issues so they can be addressed, resolved, a sense of well-being can be preserved and productivity enhanced. “In cases of alleged harassment, it’s an obligation to act,” she adds. “Abating the tension and stress in working relationships is more important now than ever and those involved are grateful for the support.” 
Her top 6 tips for creating a safe environment for employees to voice concerns are: 

  1. Encourage to employees to communicate concerns of conflict or mistreatment.
  2. To maintain neutrality, hold the perspective that conflict is simply a signal that something wants or needs to change.
  3. Remember - behind every complaint is a request (complaint - "I get cut off in meetings and I feel invisible").
  4. Be present. Listen carefully for the request behind the complaint ("I want my ideas heard during our team meetings").
  5. Explore how best to achieve the desired outcome (design agreements with the team to ensure everyone can contribute meaningfully to the discussion).
  6. Resolve the issue quickly and effectively and document the process thoroughly.

Jennifer Pernfuss is the founder of RESPECT: Conciliation & Education and for the past 25 years she has been helping organizations effectively address and resolve workplace harassment complaints and conflict. Jennifer has degrees in law and psychology. She is a certified ORSC coach and she has coupled this cutting-edge approach with her legal training and field experience with unprecedented results. In addition to her restorative work, she is a 'Respect In The Workplace' trainer, speaker, facilitator, coach to complainants and respondents and leaders, and co-developer of an online training program, Optimal Resolution Method. She teaches Identifying, Addressing and Effectively Managing Workplace Harassment Complaints at the School of Continuing Studies.