Workplace Assessments – Uncovering Workplace Conflict

Published on: July 20, 2021

We asked the instructor of our upcoming Workplace Assessments course to set out why workplace assessments can help workplaces uncover the deep-rooted problems at the sources of a workplace conflict. Here’s what he wrote:

Workplace Assessments – Identifying and Solving Issues Before they Become Investigations

In July 2021, the NFL fined the Washington Football Team $10 million as a result of a scathing review of its workplace culture. The review was conducted by Beth Wilkinson, a prominent Washington lawyer. She and her team conducted interviews with over 100 current and former employees, found that the team’s workplace culture was “highly unprofessional” and characterized by fear and rampant sexual harassment that went unaddressed by its leadership. While the media portrayed this as an “investigation”, Wilkinson was not required to confirm or deny any specific allegation of misconduct. Instead, her review focused on the ongoing, deep-rooted patterns of inappropriate conduct at the Washington Football Team.

One of the reasons that many like to work in human resources, employment law and employee relations is because they have a genuine interest in how employees work together and relate to each other. Since there is a legal obligation to conduct investigations into specific incidents of misconduct, learning about how people work together (or fail to) often occurs through the narrow lens of individual complaints about specific incidents that occur between two people. These investigations may ignore or obfuscate the ways in which these incidents contribute to systemic patterns of conflict in a workplace.

A workplace assessment, like Wilkinson’s review of the Washington Football team, takes a broader view of interpersonal conflict. It is a tool designed to address systemic problems in a work environment. Its format implicitly recognizes that workplace misconduct is not exclusively the fault of a single person’s actions – it’s also the product of a workplace culture that tacitly condones it.

At its essence, a workplace assessment is a way to conduct informal research on a group of people about a particular topic. For example, a particular department in an organization may want to gain a better understanding of the way that managers are training and supporting their direct reports. Conducting a workplace assessment on such a topic will require one or more qualitative research methods. Typically, these include semi-structured interviews and surveys. Knowledge and facility with these methods, including designing interview questions and using online survey tools, are critical to conducting a meaningful and accurate workplace assessment.

Once the research is completed, the information gathered from interviews and surveys is summarized in a report along with recommendations on how to address the issues that were raised by employees. Such a report must be compelling to its readers and the recommendations should be grounded in best practices and relevant research on how to address the issues outlined in the report.

The Workplace Assessments course provides participants with an introduction to the qualitative research methods that are fundamental to a workplace assessment, as well as an approach to summarizing the information that’s gathered and designing effective recommendations. Most importantly, it provides participants with an in-depth understanding of a tool that can meet their needs in analyzing and improving interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.