Leaders are responsible for managing workplace conflict

Cora Tolliver, Conflict and Complaint Management Services Regional Manager (Atlantic)
Cora Tolliver, Conflict and Complaint Management Services Regional Manager (Atlantic), sits down with a CAF member. Photo: Able Seaman Tyler Antonew

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Conflict and complaints in the workplace are sensitive topics, particularly for those in leadership positions. A natural reflex for commanders, leaders and supervisors is to view complaints as undermining authority, team cohesion and the broader institution.

There is a paradigm shift underway within the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) that views conflicts and complaints as an opportunity to learn and strengthen a workplace.

This is part of a concerted effort to better address the needs of members, whose dedication and professionalism are key to mission success. Over the last two years, 16 Complaint and Conflict Management Services (CCMS) offices have been established across the country. These offices represent a source of expertise that can support chains of command in matters of workplace conflict. Here are the different ways they can help.

Advising

The first way that CCMS agents can support you is by acting as a neutral source of expert advice.

“Managing conflicts and complaints remains a leadership responsibility,” says Nadia Lécuyer, Canadian Armed Forces National Harassment Advisor. “With the new program and agents in place, commanders have an additional resource that can help them analyze the situation, understand their options and make better decisions.”

Many aspects of conflict management remain the same, even with the establishment of CCMS offices. For instance, the emphasis on dealing with conflict early, locally and informally does not change. Likewise, formal processes for addressing grievances, harassment complaints, human rights violations and other disputes are essentially the same.

What’s new is the availability of a specialized agent who can help you navigate the complexities of workplace conflict. They can also help refer cases to other entities as required, such as the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre.

“When workplace complaints lead to legal proceedings, our team in Ottawa can support chains of command,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre Sasseville, Director, External Reviews at the Integrated Conflict and Complaint Management (ICCM) program. “We can help commanders understand legal terms and processes, and we’ll also help those being brought before the courts.”

Training

Until recently, chains of command had relatively little access to training in conflict resolution as a leadership skill. By providing instruction to leaders on how to deal with workplace conflict, CCMS agents help leaders recognize their responsibilities and make better decisions about conflict-resolution.

“There has been a big demand for better training opportunities for leaders,” says Ms. Lécuyer. “Along with the customized guidance we now offer, we have also revitalized the Harassment Advisor and Harassment Investigator courses, to update them in line with policy changes, new approaches and workplace realities.”

A list of all training programs available through ICCM will be available in the near future.

Tracking

A key innovation of CCMS is the ability to help track cases. For the first time in the history of DND/CAF, there will be a centralized log of all the cases in which CCMS is involved. In particular, the tracker will provide information at the unit, formation, base, regional and national levels. It will help to understand the prevalence of an issue within DND/CAF and identify areas of particular concern.

CCMS agents can assist leaders in gleaning insights from data in the tracking system, to better understand and manage issues within their teams. Data within the tracker will be shared in a way that respects members’ privacy and confidentiality.

Investigating

Through ICCM, the CAF is creating a team of harassment investigators. These investigators will review allegations of harassment, analyze evidence and report findings to chains of command. This capability is still being developed and is expected to be fully operational by the spring of 2019.

Case study

A commander refused part of a member’s request to wear an article of clothing for religious reasons while in uniform. Thanks to the services offered through ICCM, the commander was informed that a request of this nature can only be denied on the grounds of safety, personal or public health, universality of service, or cost. As it turns out, the case did not meet any of the grounds for refusal, therefore the commander conceded the need to accommodate the member’s request.

More engagement with commanding officers

Anecdotal evidence suggests commanding officers are adopting more of a “prevention” posture by increasingly reaching out to CCMS centres for guidance and assistance, in order to address situations before they escalate into a conflict.

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