DYNAMIQ IN THE NEWS: DEALING WITH WORKPLACE CONFLICT

When it comes to managing common emergency incidents such as a fire evacuation or workplace accident, most companies have well-defined policies and procedures. However, when it comes to conflict in the workplace (involving staff members or clients) there is often a difficult grey area, where people hesitate or become apprehensive about taking action.

Dynamiq has observed cases in which clients have terminated staff as a result of conflict, or serious issues have arisen due to the mental health of staff. The vast majority of these issues, however, go unreported.

 

Notable Past Instances

In some cases of workplace conflict there are warning signs which may signal an opportunity to prevent an incident from occurring. The following are case studies involving attacks that could have been anticipated if organizations had clear guidelines on reporting conflict:

Gittani Stone Shooting – In 2007 a Gitani Stone staff member, Mr. Lee, shot a colleague who complained about him. Prior to the incident he was involved in numerous altercations with co-workers; however no action was taken by management. The primary judge found the employer in breach of its duty of care, stating that, “I accept a reasonable employer would have well communicated a zero tolerance policy of workplace violence.” The Judge ordered Gittani Stone to pay the victim $861,197 in damages.

DHS Attack – In 2013, a former DHS worker, Benjamin Dunne, stormed the DHS Tuggeranong office armed with a chainsaw. He smashed through a glass door and terrorised his former co-workers. Staff members were forced to flee and he was arrested by police. The court was later told that Dunne was “suffering from significant mental health issues at the time and believed he was being harassed, bullied and attacked by some in the workplace”.

 

Recommendations

Organisations should make it easy for their staff to report and escalate issues relating to workplace conflict. For this to be effective, all relevant departments need to be involved.

To avoid delays or confusion, each category of incident should be allocated a number to call in order to get advice on how to manage or report it. Categories may include:

1. Threats or acts of violence
2. Bullying, harassment or aggression
3. Identification of threat indicators (e.g. mood changes or targeting statements)
4. Personal issues (e.g. addiction or substance abuse)

There should also be plans and step-by-step operational procedures for managers to follow. These should be developed as a cross-functional process with input from a number of departments such as Risk, Security, Workplace Health and Safety, and Human Resources. In addition to the initial response, these would also include options for mediation and counselling.

With a new framework in place to deal with workplace conflict, staff and management should undertake regular training on the steps to follow and how to use the resources at their disposal.

For more information on what your organisation can do to mitigate issues arising from workplace conflict, contact Philip Kent-Hughes on Philip.KentHughes@dynamiq.com.au.

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