One rude encounter can ruin your day. You expect people to behave professionally at work and to a very large extent, they do. People share information or give direction without being pushy. Importantly, their words, gestures, facial expressions convey respect. People accept you as part of a community with a shared mission that may be creating a project, interacting with clients, treating patients, or developing new knowledge. They act as if you are all working together on this mission and everyone has something to contribute.
But not always. Some encounters are really unpleasant and those events have a huge personal impact. Even when they occur rarely, they have the power to shape a workgroup’s enduring culture.
Leaders cannot rely on these situations fixing themselves. Recovering from a culture of disrespect requires ongoing and deliberate action.
The workgroup process, Strengthening a Culture Of Respect and Engagement (SCORE) was developed to help workgroups overcome forces that weaken their culture of civility and respect. SCORE targets the workgroup culture by helping workgroups to build on positive interactions and improve how they work together.
Western Health runs three major public hospitals in Melbourne’s fast-growing and culturally diverse western suburbs. After a scathing 2015 Victorian auditor-general’s report on the health sector’s poor management of bullying and harassment, Western Health launched a positive workplace strategy, called ‘Don’t Walk Past’. This strategy combined with a range of educational initiatives on each person’s responsibility to manage themselves and speak out against inappropriate workplace behaviour, and annual surveys of Western Health’s 6500 staff, had generated improvements but hadn’t effectively tackled the whole team approach.
“It was a wake-up call for all of us,” says Suellen Bruce, director of people, culture and communication at Western Health. “To not just deal with issues on a case by case basis but to look at root causes. We all needed to lift our game because there were significant OH&S issues for staff and major concerns about the effect on patient outcomes.”
This is when PeopleScape introduced Western Health to Michael Leiter’s SCORE program. Michael Leiter is a global expert on workplace civility and job burnout, designing a world-first “civility intervention”. So far, the results are extremely promising.
The SCORE program was initially pitched to 10 of the organisation’s most senior leaders and as a result, five workgroups agreed to be part of the trial. Each participant was asked to complete a baseline survey that measured respect and engagement in their group, which generated a 60 per cent response rate. The two groups with the highest response rate were selected as the first wave. One was an outpatient clinic with 16 staff, and the other was a hospital ward of 50 people.
Each group nominated a co-facilitator to work with lead facilitator from PeopleScape. In each case, the co-facilitator was a middle manager trusted by their team who had strong interpersonal skills. A half-day workshop was facilitated to train them, both for the program and to maintain the civility focus once the program had finished. A series of workshops and surveys are scheduled to
continue throughout 2018.
While the final data on the effectiveness of the intervention will not be available until next year, when Leiter publishes his research, Suellen Bruce confirms the signs so far are very promising.