What is a Workplace Assessment?

This blog post is written by Blaine Donais, President and Founder of Workplace Fairness International (WFI). ADRIO is collaborating with WFI for the seventh year in a row to offer the Advanced Workplace Restoration and Workplace Fairness Assessments program. This is a popular program among experienced ADR practitioners, senior government employees, HR professionals and conflict coaches. Register and learn how to become a workplace fairness analyst (WFA).

The world of work in Canada has undergone a fundamental transformation in the last few years.  Increased regulatory attention has been paid to psychological health and safety in the workplace.

At the core of this regulatory strategy is the concept of “assessment.” The rise in popularity of assessment is based upon the fundamental proposition that behaviours do not happen in a vacuum – they are reinforced by structures and ideas in the workplace.   

However, the term “assessment” is now applied to a whole variety of processes that are commonly used in the workplace.

In this article, we will explore the many different uses of the term “assessment”.  We will demonstrate the there are many different purposes, approaches and outcomes for different assessment processes.  We will place these assessment strategies on a spectrum from Reactive to Proactive approaches for securing psychological health and safety in the workplace. Finally, we will summarize with a helpful matrix about different assessment types and their purposes and methodologies.

Workplace Culture Assessment/Workplace Assessment/Workplace Review

These first three names for assessment are used interchangeably and essentially describe the same approach, have the same purpose and use the same methodology.

The main purpose of these types of assessments is usually to comply with Federal or Provincial Occupational Health and Safety legislation that requires employers to investigate occurrences of harassment whether or not a complaint has been filed. The assessment is used primarily as a substitute for an “investigation that is appropriate under the circumstances.”

As such these assessments are primarily reactive in nature.  They are initiated in response to allegations of harassment, discrimination, or poisoned work environments.  The assessor (usually referred to as the “investigator” is retained to determine if there is a negative workplace culture that could amount to harassment, discrimination or bullying as it is defined in the workplace policy.

These types of assessments are not primarily designed to be engagement processes – even though they may use some tools that are similar to the engagement processes described below.  Rather the assessor is mandated to determine if there is a culture of harassment, violence, discrimination or bullying. 

The assessor is often (although not always) mandated to make recommendations for corrective action.  In the Federal jurisdiction, the investigator is charged with recommending additional protection and prevention measures to reduce the risks of harassment or violence in the future.  In Provincial jurisdiction there is no such legislative mandate for the investigator.

Workplace Health Assessments

The term “Workplace Health Assessment” is used in a variety of contexts in the world of work.  In this case, a Workplace Health Assessment uses the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety as its analytical paradigm. 

Workplace Health Assessments may have a variety of purposes that range from reactive, to restorative to entirely proactive.  The assessor, often referred to as the “Facilitator”, will engage the workplace leadership and staff in an exercise that will allow them to provide feedback on the 13 psychosocial risk factors set out in the National Standard:

  • Organizational Culture
  • Psychological and Social Support
  • Clear Leadership & Expectations
  • Civility & Respect
  • Psychological Demands
  • Growth & Development
  • Recognition & Reward
  • Involvement & Influence
  • Workload Management
  • Engagement
  • Balance
  • Psychological Protection
  • Protection of Physical Safety

Under the Standard, organizations who have positive scores related to these risk factors tend to have a higher level of psychological health and safety.  The Facilitator will work with the organization to determine how well it manages these risk factors.

Note that we have placed the Workplace Health Assessment closer to the reactive side of the spectrum.  This is because in practice, many organizations seek a WHA because they realize they are struggling with one or more of these risk factors.  It is yet to be determined if a WHA qualifies as an “investigation that is appropriate under the circumstances” to fulfill the organization’s duty to investigate in Ontario’s provincial jurisdiction.

However, a WHA can also be used for both restorative and proactive purposes.  The original intention of a WHA was to proactively analyze how the organization protects workers from psychological harm.  There have been a number of organizations that have performed a surface-level assessment using the “Guarding Minds at Work Survey.”   Other organizations have treated the WHA as a restorative process and thus have build a whole engagement process around the assessment that is designed to empower leaders and staff to engender psychologically safe and healthy workplaces.

Workplace Restoration Assessment Phase

A purely restorative use of assessment can be found as a phase of a greater restorative process.  At Workplace Fairness International we have developed a five-phase process for workplace restoration as set out below.  Each phase is designed to maximize the opportunity for empowerment and recognition for all involved.

As an empowerment process, the assessments conducted by a workplace restoration practitioner usually involve one-on-one conversations with staff.  The conversations are very different from interviews that might be conducted in some of the other assessments we have discussed above. The conversations are meant to encourage participants to take an active role in restoring the workplace culture.

Workplace Violence and Harassment Risk Assessments

One of the newest entries in the area of workplace assessments is a creature of federal jurisdiction legislation.  Amendments to the Canada Labour Code under Bill C65, require employers and their applicable partners (i.e. the unions through the health and safety committees) to conduct an assessment of the risk of violence and harassment in their workplaces and to develop protection and prevention measures to help reduce the risk.  This type of assessment is meant to be entirely proactive.  The practitioner works with the employer and applicable partner to determine risk factors, develop a measurement matrix for assessing risks and conducting an exploration for the likelihood of risk related to each of these factors.

Workplace Fairness Assessments

Workplace Fairness International has developed a unique process for analysing the fairness of conflict management systems within organizations.  This assessment uses 21 measures to determine the strength of the conflict management system and to propose changes to the system that will improve how conflict is managed.  This is an entirely proactive approach that is based upon the understanding that conflict is predictable, and the risk of negative conflict can be reduced through proactive measures.

WFI Workplace Assessment Matrix

To help summarize the different kinds of assessment, we provide you with a convenient matrix that delineates the purpose and methodology for each assessment type.

There are many different types of assessments and they are used for different purposes. If you would like to find out more about how to conduct Workplace Fairness Assessments you can join our online advanced seminar on Workplace Fairness Assessments and Restoration on July 8 -12, 2024 and July 22-26, 2024 . Read more about how you can reserve your spot here.