Explanatory Notes for the Diagnostic Flow Chart
How Problems Come to Light
As people become better informed about workplace bullying and harassment, incidents can come to light in a wide variety of ways from many different sources. Early intervention means paying closer attention to observation, informal, and third party reports than may traditionally have been the case; the objective is to deal with things early on, and at relatively low levels of intervention. Training and publicizing contact information for referral points throughout the organization is important, and it’s also wise to identify, train, and support the informal problem solvers to whom people in the workplace tend to take their concerns. At the same time, there is a need for clearly identified reporting protocols for situations that have escalated to levels that require more formal action.
Initial Screening of Situation
The person who initially becomes aware of a bullying or harassment situation may not have formal responsibility for dealing with it. They will need to be able to make a judgment call about whether it should be reported, and to whom. Training should include use of problem solving scenarios, so that staff will know how to handle a wide range of situations, and be able to respond quickly and appropriately.
Initial Judgment Call About How to Proceed
Once the concern reaches the appropriate contact point, then preliminary identification of the issue and assessment occurs. Typical response patterns might be:
Immediate risk or danger: Notify senior management, security, police. Know your mandatory reporting responsibilities, and any duties to warn others.
Suspected criminal behavior: Notify senior management (unless they are directly implicated) and police.
Harassment policy violation: Help the complainant to report the problem to institutional resources such as Human Resources or a designated harassment advisor
Nature and extent of problem: What specific behaviors are involved? What is the impact on the target? How widespread is the problem? What is its impact on the work unit?
Stage of escalation: Is this an isolated incident, or a recurring, ongoing or longstanding problem? What interventions have already been tried, and with what results?
Who is involved: What is the working relationship of the key parties? How many people are involved, either directly or indirectly? What impact have bystanders had on the situation?
Determination of Who Is Best Equipped to Handle the Situation
Can this matter be addressed informally? What real or perceived conflicts of interest might have a bearing on who can be asked to deal with it? Who has the necessary authority, skills, experience, credibility, and time? Will outside help be needed?
Explaining the Process and Providing Support to Both Parties
If the situation has been intercepted early, then it may be sufficient to provide coaching and support to help prepare the complainant to talk about it with the perceived perpetrator. This person may want a neutral third party to facilitate that conversation, or to have a third party raise the issue on their behalf. Sometimes a complainant will be very tentative or unsure about whether or not to make a formal complaint, and will need support in making an informed decision. In some instances, the matter may be of such a serious nature that an investigation will need to be launched, with or without the complainant’s agreement. Where a formal complaint is being laid, the person accused needs to be made aware of the nature of the complaint that has been brought against them. Both the complainant and the accused need to be made aware of the process that will be followed in investigating the complaint, the possible outcomes of that process, and the support services available to them. Union members will need to have union representation. Access to advocates and legal counsel will need to be discussed.
In-depth Assessment and Diagnosis
Assessment and identification of issues needs to be undertaken promptly and discreetly, whether it is to be conducted by in-house or external resources. Included in the identification process should be interviews with the parties directly involved and input from any relevant direct witnesses. Any relevant recent events, contributing factors, or other contextual information should be noted. Care should be taken not to rely on hearsay. Use open-ended questions. Watch for contradictions and inconsistencies. Confidentiality requirements should be made very clear and should be carefully enforced.
A range of intervention and support measures should be made available, as appropriate, including coaching, counseling, training, facilitation, mediation, informal and formal investigation, group intervention, and progressive discipline. Problems that are intercepted and dealt with early on are more likely to be resolved with simple intervention measures. Situations that have been allowed to escalate or become entrenched will probably require more extensive intervention measures.
Follow-Up Monitoring and Fine-Tuning
A common problem is that of sustaining behavioral change. Frequently, behaviors will improve in the short-term, and then gradually slide back into old patterns. Interventions focused exclusively on the target and the bully or harasser are more difficult to sustain without appropriate support from the rest of the work unit. Another difficulty is that inappropriate behavior may be driven underground, only to resurface in a new venue or with a new target. It’s important to follow up periodically with the complainant, the bystanders, and the perpetrator to monitor progress, to watch for unanticipated outcomes, and to provide positive reinforcement or corrective intervention.
If the first intervention has not had the desired results, then it is important to follow up and to put other measures in place to address the situation.
Debriefing and Postvention with the Stakeholders
Debriefing and postvention tend to be neglected stages in the problem solving process. When an investigation has been undertaken, some level of disclosure is needed to reassure those who have been affected by the situation. It is important to allow people to express their feelings about what has happened, and to reflect on the role that each of them has played in its development. Rebuilding trust entails reaching some level of agreement about how to repair damaged relationships and move forward. Mutual support throughout this challenging phase increases the likelihood of successful conflict transformation and sustainable change.