Scandal highlights need for healthy workplace relationships

Parker Johnson, a facilitator for the Inner Activist course Building Strong & Respectful Relationships, says it's important for workplaces to listen to employees.

Jian Ghomeshi is in court again today (April 28), facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour that include sexual harassment, humiliation, and aggressive behaviour towards those he worked with, among other charges.

CBC management was found to be responsible for allowing this behavior to go unchecked for years by an independent investigative report conducted by Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson and released April 16. As a result, the CBC fired Todd Spencer, the executive director of human resources and industrial relations, and Chris Boyce, executive director of radio and audio.

“Mr. Ghomeshi’s behavior on the whole created a stressful dysfunctional environment”, stated lawyer Janice Rubin. In spite of the CBC having a behavioural standard, there is no evidence a formal complaint was ever made.

“We noted there was a pronounced power and status differential between Mr. Ghomeshi and the people who worked to support him,” said Rubin. While evidence shows management was aware of the problem, “Mr. Ghomeshi’s star was allowed to rise, his problematic behavior was left unchecked.”

“This is not a unique or isolated situation at CBC,” said Parker Johnson, a local trainer in organizational change and a facilitator for the Inner Activist course Building Strong & Respectful Relationships. “I think all organizations struggle to live out the visions and values they hold. And often times there are situations where power issues arise.”

He said sees this report as an opportunity for organizations to address issues like privilege, power, race, and gender issues. When these are identified and training is in place, organizations and the people who work there can build and identify practices that effectively develop policies. “It all comes down to relationships,” Johnson said.

Neil Guppy, a professor of sociology at UBC, said it’s important to see ourselves as part of a larger whole in order to have success in relationships. “We don’t exist independently and to ensure those who have less of a voice are heard is important," he explained. "When people are being treated as categories and not as people, that brings up conflict."

“Employees are always going to have conflict,” Johnson said, “but also having people trained in the effective resolution of conflict and also taking ownership of inappropriate behaviour. So when they do occur they can respond early rather than allow these things to fester and get worse over time.”

Johnson added the first step to turning what could be a tortuous relationship into one where there is mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration is to have a strong standard for what is acceptable.

Feeling safe in the work environment is also key. Lesley Anderson works in communications for a non-profit organization in Vancouver and took the Inner Activist course last year. She was impressed with the emphasis on non-violent communications and the element of curiosity.

“I gained the ability to step back from situations that would have in the past triggered a negative reaction in me and be curious about the situation of others," she said. "Being able to have a more open conversation and reach greater understanding in what previously might have caused conflict."

The report stated that CBC’s management failed to live up to its obligations to ensure the workplace was free from abuse, and while it took limited steps to deal with Ghomeshi, the actions taken were ineffectual and inconsistent. It makes nine recommendations for a safer workplace and cited weak systems and procedures along with a lack of clear and consistent authority among key failings.

Johnson said workplace relationships are multifaceted. “It’s really important for organizations to roll out policies so that they are actually lived and so supervisors feel supported and are trained effectively to understand what their obligations are—so they are able to model, implement, and intervene. And also to support appropriate behaviour. So it’s not just about doing surveillance for people doing bad things but also endorsing and elevating that which is working.”

Changes to relationships hinge on individuals feeling safe enough to speak up, Guppy said. ”People feel they have a voice—those who may historically have been silenced or marginalized now feel they have the right to speak up. I think the larger issues relate to the whole human rights movement.”

Johnson said he sees healthy relationships as an integral part of social change and that we all play a role in what happens in the various aspects of our lives. “It’s not just protesting what’s wrong and making suggestions about how to make it right,” he stressed. “It’s also standing in the trenches, standing shoulder to shoulder doing what needs to be done to make the changes happen. I’ve seen it happen in the disability community, in the environment communities, [and in] youth and queer community.”

“Mr. Ghomeshi’s behavior on the whole created a stressful dysfunctional environment”, stated lawyer Janice Rubin. In spite of the CBC having a behavioural standard, there is no evidence a formal complaint was ever made.

--- Reposted on April 28, 2015 from the Georgia Straight.

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