Case Study

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Read the following article from Unit II’s Required Reading (located in the Unit II Study Guide):

Lytle, T. (2015). Confronting conflict. HR Magazine, 60(6), 26-31. Retrieved from

After reading the article, analyze the scenarios provided below, and choose one to discuss in your case study paper. In your case study, be sure to address the following items:

§Begin the discussion by identifying which of the scenarios you chose.

§Include a brief statement that identifies your style of conflict management.

§Use the information provided in this unit to develop a process to resolve the conflict.

§Describe how you would handle the workplace investigation for the chosen scenario.

As a result of a merger, the organization decided to decentralize its human resource management (HRM) functions and create area human resource (HR) generalists across the United States. One of their responsibilities is to handle all employee relations issues. You report directly to the senior vice president of HRM in the corporate headquarters in New York, and there is a dotted line reporting relationship to the vice president of field operations in your area, which is located in the Midwest. You just arrived at your new location for this position about six days ago.

Armed with the information you have learned in Units I and II and aided by your own experience and ability to research, please read the scenarios below, and select one for this assignment. Please answer the questions, and follow the guidelines presented.

Scenario #2:

While conducting HR audits in the offices throughout your area, the newly promoted area director catches up with you to see how his offices are doing, and he invites you to lunch. While at lunch, he confides in you that he feels very uncomfortable with a certain highly regarded branch manager because she is always touching him inappropriately, and she does this in private as well as in front of her staff and vendors. He has politely asked her in private to stop this flirtatious behavior, explaining that it was unprofessional and that it makes him uncomfortable. Her response was to laugh it off, and she told him he was just too uptight.

She is a top performer, and he does not want to lose her or fire her; however, he asks you to talk with her to reinforce his request to stop the behavior.

What is your response to the area director? Based on your knowledge of employment law, conflict management, and investigation procedures, what would be the best way to handle this situation? For example, what laws are involved? Where do you start?

In this situation, you are the employee relations representative for the organization. What is your role in the investigative process? Describe the steps you will take to investigate this employee complaint, and explain how you will resolve the conflict.

In your response to the scenario you have chosen, follow the guidelines below:

§Be sure to include academic sources to support your positions/conclusions. You are required to use at least two outside sources beyond the required reading for this unit.

§Be sure that your analysis is highly relevant, thorough, and remains on topic.

§Accuracy should be strong, with close attention to detail in all parts of the assignment.

§Writing should be clear and concise with solid sentence structure and should be free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

§Your paper should be at least three pages in length.

All sources used must be referenced; paraphrased and quoted material must have accompanying citations in APA format.

For extra information

Unit Lesson

Introduction to Addressing Employee Conflict

No matter where you work, even if it is from the sanctity of your own home, workplace and life conflicts are unavoidable. Hopefully, you have completed the ROC-II inventories in the discussion board exercise and discovered your conflict management style. In real-life situations, you do not get the opportunity to take back what you say, but there is a technique that allows you to stop and rewind or reflect on an interaction. This technique is a part of a conflict management tool developed by Chris Argyris and popularized in the book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization; the technique is called the ladder of inference.

The Ladder of Inference

Have you ever made an assumption, acted on it, and found yourself embarrassed or ashamed of your actions because you were way off base or missing vital information? You are not alone; we all make incorrect judgements from time to time, but we can avoid these conflicts and improve our communications by learning to use the ladder of inference model (Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith, 1994).

While we can make bad judgments by jumping from data within our perception of beliefs to actions based on assumptions, we can also learn to use the model to avoid these jumps by checking our assumptions before we misjudge or create a workplace conflict. If conflict does occur, this model may be used by employees to retrace their steps, check their assumptions, and unravel the conflict themselves (Senge et al., 1994). There are times, however, when a human resources (HR) professional must intervene with a thorough workplace investigation.

Workplace Investigations

Today’s supervisors spend one fifth of their time dealing with employee conflicts (Ramsey, 2005). These arguments often distract daily schedules, demoralize the environment, and jeopardize productivity. They can lead to unsafe and aggressive hostilities. When these conflicts are not addressed, the tension spreads throughout the workplace, and the issues become everybody’s problem.

Causes of these conflicts vary; causes can range from increased stress and competition to frequent restructuring, downsizing, and mergers. Workers are asked to do more with fewer resources, and the stress causes frustration and anger as well as job insecurity. In an unstable work environment, it does not take much to ignite an argument due to false impressions based on generational differences, race or cultural differences, narrow-mindedness, discrimination, or other perceived injustices. Supervisors must intervene when conflict, such as employees refusing to cooperate or share information, is disruptive to the workforce (Ramsey, 2005).

If the conflict is a common topic of conversation in the workplace or it is brought to the attention of management or human resources (HR), it is time for management and HR to get involved.

There are several excellent strategies for investigating workplace conflicts, such as harassment, in the required reading materials. We will discuss the minimum actions that need to take place and current changes to the laws that are affecting the investigation process.

If your company receives a complaint, whether formal or informal, it must promptly be given to the individual who will review and investigate the complaint. If it is deemed that there is a threat to the employee or environment, a decision to suspend the alleged harasser must be made while the investigation takes place (Below & Ptasznik, 2014).

The following individuals should be interviewed: the employee who made the complaint, the alleged harasser, and any witnesses identified as relevant or as having information related to the situation. When interviewing, allow the individuals to explain what happened without interrupting. Check facts for clarity by using the four W questions: Who? What? When? Where? Obtain dates and names of witnesses as well as any documentation, if available (Below & Ptasznik, 2014; Woska, 2013).

Interview with the employee who made the complaint: Inform the employee who made the complaint that he or she will not be subject to retaliation. You can advise, if it is company policy, that any individual will be reprimanded for filing a false complaint.

Ask the employee who made the complaint what type of solution he or she is looking for during or after the investigation.

Ask him or her to write a statement explaining the facts of the situation. Do not promise complete confidentiality, however, as the information will be shared on a need-to-know basis (Below & Ptasznik, 2014).

Interview with the alleged harasser: Relate each occurrence of the alleged harassment, and give him or her an opportunity to respond. Then, get the alleged harasser to provide his or her version of the facts along with any documentation related to the situation that supports it. Finally, get any names of employees whom the investigator should interview, and explain why (Below & Ptasznik, 2014).

Interview with the witness(es): Provide the witness with a general overview of the complaint. Do not give any details. Ask the witness to provide any information regarding the complaint and to describe any unsuitable behavior that he or she has witnessed. Advise the witness that he or she will not be subject to retaliation (Below & Ptasznik, 2014; Woska, 2013).

It is very important that you do not ask if the witness has talked to anyone else about the issues; if the witness has spoken to someone else, it is essential that you do not ask who was spoken to and when the communication occurred. Also, do not advise the witness that the interview is confidential.

According to Smith (2012), it was determined by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that employees cannot be prohibited from discussing investigations. The NLRB determined that this violates the employee’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The act protects concerted activities among union and nonunion employees.

According to the NLRB (as cited by Smith, 2012), if employers want to request confidentiality, there needs to be specific concerns—not generalized concerns about the lack of confidentiality. Legitimate concerns, according to the NLRB, include the following issues: there is a need for protection of witnesses, there is a danger that evidence will be destroyed, there is a danger that testimony will be fabricated, and there is a need for prevention against a cover-up (Smith, 2012).

Here is the dilemma: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), on the other hand, requires employers investigating complaints of sexual harassment to keep the investigation confidential! This is explained in the article titled “NLRB Rejects Common Practices; What is HR to Do?” that is located in your required reading for this unit.

Equally important is the required reading that provides an update on the EEOC’s newly proposed guidance on retaliation, which takes an aggressive stance against retaliation (Smith, 2016). This required reading was released in 2016 with the goal of keeping organizations up to date on retaliation laws. For example, retaliation against employees for discussing compensation may violate EEO laws and the NLRA; this connection may not even occur to the employer. An employer’s most reliable defense against claims of retaliation are consistency in the application of policies and well-documented discipline (Smith, 2012).


Below, J., & Ptasznik, H. (2014). Workplace harassment claims: Spending a little time now can save you a lot of money later. Michigan Banker,26(9), 9-10.

Ramsey, R. D. (2005) Interpersonal conflicts. Supervision, 66(4), 14-17.

Smith, A. (2012, September). Banning talk of work investigations unlawful. HR Magazine, 11.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROBERT NEUBECKER FOR HR MAGAZINE EMPLOYEE RELATIONS COVER STORY Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But ignoring it can be. By Tamara Lytle At a hospital, employee conflicts can happen amid life-or-death situations. No one benefits when these conflicts are ignored—not the staff, not the managers and certainly not the patients. While it’s a natural human tendency to avoid uncomfortable conflict with others, that tactic won’t work in the long term. “It’s like a crazy song you can’t get out of your head,” says Dan Bjerknes, director of HR opera tions at Catholic Health Initiatives/Mercy Medi cal Center in Williston, N.D., who has a master’s degree in counseling and previously worked as a conflict management consultant. By the time a clash comes to HR’s atten tion, it’s often too late—such as when a valu able employee is quitting. Even seemingly small conflicts can be important because they’re often really about larger issues. > July/August 2015 HRMagazine 27 COVER STORY EMPLOYEE RELATIONS Workplace conflicts happen everywhere, and ignoring them can be costly. Every unaddressed conflict wastes about eight hours of company time in gossip and other unproductive activi ties, says Joseph Grenny, co-founder of VitalSmarts, a training and organizational development company in Provo, Utah. Now multiply that by all the issues not being resolved. “It’s an enormous drain on an organization,” says Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Understanding the reasons behind workplace conflicts can help HR profes sionals tackle problems before—or after— a conflict turns into a face-off between departments that refuse to work together or a screaming match between colleagues. Amanda DeBernardi, SHRM-CP, the company’s HR manager. In fact, the feuding parties’ manager was ready to fire them both. Both had strong goals for their departments but had lost sight of the bigger picture of what was good for the company, DeBernardi says. She found help in Grenny’s book on difficult conversations. She sat the warehouse supervisor and maintenance manager in a conference room with a blank piece of paper in front of them. Each person had his say without interruption as the other took notes rather than presenting a different side of the story. DeBer nardi used a white board to categorize the problems and pressed bothtobrainstormsolutions.Theemployeesaren’texactlylunch buddies now, but the process worked. DeBernardi’s only regret is not mediating the situation sooner. “The key thing is the participants knowing they are respon sible for the results and they are the ones developing the solution,” she says. “I’m here to facilitate, and that’s all I will do.” She esti mates that she spends at least 30 percent of her time dealing with workplace conflicts. Many fights over resources can be avoided when people per ceive that they are operating in an environment of plenty—in When Should HR Step In? HR professionals and conflict management experts recommend that HR get involved in workplace con flicts when: • Employees are threatening to quit over the prob lem. Recruiting and training are expensive; it's often cheaper to work out a solution. • Disagreements are getting personal, and respect between employees is being lost. • Conflicts are affecting morale and organizational success. other words, where everyone has what they need to operate effec tively, says Lindred Greer, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Note that the key is creating the perception of abundance—so solutions are possible even when acquiring more resources is not an option. Thinking creatively is one way to do this. For example, if two departments are fighting over a small training budget, HR might offer to conduct in-house training so both can benefit. Conflicting perspectives. In an increasingly global and diverse workplace, sometimes the heart of the problem is that people differ from each other in age, gender, ethnicity or per sonality type. That’s something Marcia Reynolds, an organizational psy chiatrist with Arizona-based Covisioning LLC, has witnessed. A good place to start is by realizing that, even though people may shy away from it, conflict is actually normal and healthy. In fact, many believe it’s a vital ingredient to organizational success. Experts have found that the most effective teams are those in which members feel safe enough to disagree with one another. A culture where dissent is allowed, or even encouraged, can spur innovation, diversity of thought and better decision-making. “Conflict suggests the way you’ve been doing things is not the way it’s going to be forever,” says Casey Swartz, HR manager at CTLGroup in Skokie, 111. “You don’t want to hire a bunch of clones.” According to Michael Woodward, an organizational psy chologist in the New York City area, the challenge is in figur ing out which conflicts are healthy and which ones are harmful. “Unhealthy conflict is when it becomes personal and emotional. Thenyourjudgmentgetsclouded,”Woodwardsays.Bycontrast, good conflict can lead to higher levels of trust. If people see that it’s OK to challenge the boss, they can question the status quo, which is better for the company. Beneath the Surface Difference is at the heart of conflict, so it’s areas where people often don’t align. Conflicting priorities. Some fights are over resources such as budgets; others erupt from incompatible goals or reactions to structural change in the company. At Black Butte Coal Co. in southwest Wyoming, a warehouse supervisor and a maintenance manager were clashing so severely over policies and procedures that they were frequently yelling at each other. The fights worsened until the two depart ments didn’t want to work together, recalls 10 Steps to Resolving Conflict Schedule a meeting to address the problem, preferably at a neutral place. Set ground rules. Ask all parties to treat each other with respect and to make an effort to listen and understand others' views. 3 Ask each participant to describe the conflict, including desired changes. Direct participants to use "I" statements, not "you" statements. They should focus on specific behaviors and problems rather than people. 4 5 . Ask participants to restate what others have said. Summarize the conflict based on what you have other. The Baby Boomer had taken notes on when her younger colleague was showing up in the morning and complained about the quality of his work. He called her overbearing and inflexible in trying new approaches. “A lightbulb went off for us on how to get these people to work together,” Scala says. HR set up a new system that uses checklists to show the con tributions of each person, which helped the Boomer to recognize hercolleague’saccomplishments.Asaresultofthatconflict,HR also developed a mentorship program that pairs M illennial with older workers, enabling younger workers to gain a better under standing of the value of older colleagues’ experience. A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey found that 72 percent of employees rank “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as the top factor in job satisfaction. Conflicting assumptions. One ofthe biggestdrivers ofcon flict is when people misinterpret others’intentions. The introvert who stays quiet during an entire meeting and brings up a prob lem at the end is not trying to sabotage a co-worker; that behav ior simply aligns with his personality type. A change in seating arrangements in the office isn’t a personal attack on someone, just a reorganization that may not have been thought through. Someone who’s not acting according to a person’s stereotyped expectations—like a woman who’s very assertive and thus behaves in a way that contradicts traditional notions of feminin ity— may just be being herself. > When Should You Seek Outside Help? While it's better to address workplace conflicts as soon as possible and at a local level, sometimes you need out side help from a mediator, arbitrator or attorney. Experts say those situations include the following: • When potential legal issues are involved, such as alle gations of discrimination or harassment. • When the HR department doesn't have the time or training to provide the conflict resolution assistance needed. • • When there are patterns of recurring issues. When the flare-ups are becoming abusive or resem ble bullying. • When a manager needs retraining that can't be done in-house. • When the environment is so toxic it's time to get everyone offsite so the office doesn't trigger continuing . heard and obtain agreement from participants. . Brainstorm solutions. Discuss all of the options in a (0■ positive manner. Rule out any options that partici pants agree are unworkable. 7 8 Summarize all possible options for a solution. Assign further analysis of each option to individual participants. . i. I0. Make sure all parties agree on the next steps. Close the meeting by asking participants to shake hands, apologize and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict. Source: Society for Human Resource Management. To get a sense of how diverse perspectives color people’s percep tions, she asked leaders at a global company she was consult ing with to participate in an activity in which they were blind folded and asked to describe the puzzle pieces in their hands. She observed as people gave descriptions so different that they couldn’t figure out they were holding the same piece. “Conflict is inevitable because we’re human beings and come from different backgrounds,” Reynolds says. That’swhy organi zations need to remember to bring people together to get to know each other, she points out. Brian Scala, an HR administrator, repeatedly saw genera tional clashes in his job at Vince and Associates Clinical Research Inc. in Overland Park, Kan. The Baby Boomers and members of Generation X saw the Millennial as lazy with poor work eth ics, while the Millennial viewed their older colleagues as less adaptable to change. In one instance, two lab workers from different generations who performed the same job came to H R complaining about each negative responses. LI July/August 2015 HRMagazine 29 EMPLOYEE RELATIONS Too often, people think that “anything in disagreement with mybeliefisintendedasapersonalaffront,”Woodwardsays. “We like to ascribe meaning to everything that happens. But we often confuse our interpretations about the beliefs of others with their actual intent. We’re all self-centered that way.” Moreover, telling people not to take conflicts personally won’t work. Regardless of any such disclaimers, people take things personally about 70 percent of the time, according to a meta-analysis of many surveys by Greer, the Stanford professor. But what may help is to simply acknowledge people’s feel ings, according to Reynolds, author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs (Berrett-Koehler, 2014). For example, if someone was irate that his project wasn’t chosen for funding, the author would say: “It sounds like you feel like it’s a decision about you personally.” Conflictingtolerances.ConflictexpertsandHRpractitio ners say employees have differing levels of comfort with address ing conflict. Too often, discomfort causes conflicts to be avoided entirely. And that’s not good. Conflict avoidance can lead to real blowups when one per son can’t hold itin any longer. Dani Kimlinger, SHRM-SCP, an H R and organizational psychology leader at the business psy chology firm MINES & Associates in Littleton, Colo., recalls how colleagues in adjoining cubicles at a bank were locked in a silent battle for six months. The woman felt her turf was being invaded but wouldn’t talk about it—-or anything else—with the man next door who was causing her consternation. She rolled her eyes at him in meetings, making him feel disrespected. When she finally lit into him, she felt that he should already know what was wrong—but he didn’t. In counseling the woman, Kimlinger instructed her to start small, by saying good morning to the man. Conflict resolution generally works about 80 percent of the time, Kimlinger says, but in this case, it didn’t. The woman ended up leaving the company after conflicts with other people. At a previous employer, Swartz coached a manager with an employee who felt micromanaged. She suggested that the man ager set up a weekly report that would allow the worker to keep the boss informed on what he was doing without constantly being peppered with questions. Almost everyone has some conflict they’re avoiding. In his book, Grenny defines a “crucial conversation” as one that has high stakes, with emotion involved and in which people are likely to disagree. Studies show that increased productivity and engagement are correlated with the shortness of time between identifying a prob lem and discussing it. “If you don’t talk it out, you act it out,” Grenny warns. Encouraging Trust Creating a culture of trust is a crucial job for HR. “Try to make sure when people come to you [the issue] doesn’t just disappear,” Swartz says. Below are some tips for building trust, encouraging good conflict, and preventing or addressing the bad kind: Survey em ployees. Swartz conducts annual engagement surveys and has loads of conversations with employees in the interim. Each year, Bjerknes also surveys employees about how well conflict is being handled at the medical center. The results identify departments that have widespread problems so he knows where training and intervention are needed. Catch people doing things right. Woodward tells manag ers to seek out opportunities to acknowledge and praise employ ees. Doing so creates an environment where people feel comfort able bringing up problems. Welcome dissent. Managersshouldencouragedissentthat’s focused on tasks, strategies and mission. Sometimes a retreat with an outside facilitator is the best way to get beyond surface conversations. Create diverse team s. Create work teams whose mem bers have diverse expertise, ways of thinking and backgrounds. Related Reading Appointing a rotating devil’s advocate is a good way to stir up productive conflict. Create accountability. This is a conflict prophylactic, since many fights arise from a lack of clarity over who has the final authority to make a decision. Making sure that roles are well- established and communicated prevents problems from arising. Encourage people to manage their own conflicts. Tell employees to work out conflict at the level it happens, instead of pushing it up the organizational chain. Doing so will give people confidence that they are capable of handling these issues on their own. “It doesn’t help the culture of our organization if I drop in and fix the problem and get back out,” Bjerknes says. “We have 500 employees. It’s not possible for me to fix all the problems.” After people address their own conflicts, the manager or department leader should follow up to make sure not only that the immediate problem has been solved but also that the root cause has been addressed, Grenny says. Provide training. HR can help people learn the skills they need to handle conflict by sending them to courses or recom mending helpful books. Conflicts tend to become emotionally fraught when someone chooses not to focus on the issue at hand but rather to question another person’s competency, autonomy or integrity. Bjerknes advises people to choose the right time to have a difficult conversation and to prepare in advance the three most important things they want to say about the conflict. “My objective is to be a good coach,” he says. “At the end of the day, the coach is not out there playing. You hope they will use the things you’ve taught them.”
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Case Study

According to the second scenario, a newly promoted area director confides in me as the
employee relations representative for the organization on flirtatious behavior from a highly
regarded branch manager. The area director explained that the branch manager flirts with him both
in private and also in front of her staff and vendors. The director stated that he felt uncomfortable
with her behavior and he had asked her in private to stop but she claimed that he was too uptight.
He did not wish to lose her since she was a high performing employee but all he needed was for
me to reinforce his request for her to stop the behavior.
Conflicts are unavoidable no matter where a person is working which can either be in the
sanctity of one’s home or at the workplace. According to the scenario, the newly appointed area
director was feeling uncomfortable around the branch manager even though he was in a position
to fire her he wanted to resolve the issue amicably and retain her since she was a high performing
employee. The branch manager was sexually harassing the area director since what she was doing
to the area director was unwelcome sexual advances which were physical in nature. Under the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 which is a federal law, sexual harassment falls un...

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