A guide to the key elements of an ICMS in the core public administration

Note: Core public administration refers to the departments named in Schedule I of the Financial Administration Act (FAA) and the other portions of the federal public administration named in Schedule IV of the FAA.

Table of Contents

Purpose of this guide

  • This document is designed to provide guidance to departments and agencies within the core public administration in the implementation and operation of their Informal Conflict Management System (ICMS) to assist them in fulfilling their legislative obligation as set out in section 207 of the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA).
  • Section 207 of the PSLRA reads as follows: “Subject to any policies established by the employer or any directives issued by it, every deputy head in the core public administration must, in consultation with bargaining agents representing employees in the portion of the core public administration for which he or she is deputy head, establish an informal conflict management system and inform the employees in that portion of its availability.”
  • This guide is based on ICMS best practices that have been documented in various departments; therefore, it can serve as an enabling tool in the implementation and operation of a departmental ICMS.

What is an ICMS?

  • An ICMS is a system approach to dealing with workplace conflicts. It is composed of the following functions:
  • These functions are designed to support a culture of effective conflict management and resolution using a collaborative problem-solving approach.
  • ICMS requires the active participation of various stakeholders to be effective, particularly that of the bargaining agents given the legislative obligation that requires they be consulted throughout the implementation phase of an ICMS.
  • The primary objectives of having an ICMS are:
    • to foster a respectful, healthy and productive workplace by establishing working conditions that can prevent the escalation of conflicts through the effective management and resolution of workplace conflicts
    • to support the development of managers’ and employees’ conflict management skills.
  • The benefit of having a well established ICMS is that it creates working conditions that support a quality and productive workplace where:
    • employees and managers
      • are provided with a range of informal processes to deal with their conflict issues
      • have the opportunity to develop the skills to deal with conflicts effectively and respectfully
      • have more productive working relationships
    • managers have better people management skills to manage employees’ performance fairly and effectively.

An ICMS best practice

  • An ICMS that is well designed and implemented:
    • creates a culture that encourages resolution of conflict at the lowest level through face-to-face dialogue between the parties in conflict
    • makes available conflict management training for managers and employees to foster individual responsibility to deal with conflict quickly
    • provides multiple access points (points of contact), which allow employees to readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the ICMS in their organization
    • offers informal processes for addressing conflict—self-resolution, coaching, facilitation, mediation, conflict assessments, group intervention
    • includes procedures to allow employees to move from formal processes (grievances / harassment complaints) to informal processes without infringing upon their rights to return to the formal processes if they wish to do so
    • provides structures that support the training and the multiple informal processes, and that integrate effective conflict management into the organization’s every day operations.

Defining the ICMS terminology

comprises a set of policies, procedures and structures that an organization integrates into its infrastructure to support a culture of effective conflict management and resolution using a collaborative problem-solving approach. It encompasses training and informal processes, and includes the necessary linkages to the formal processes, as well as a full integration into all aspects of people management. It is a system that requires the active participation of various stakeholders.
Informal processes
include self-resolution approaches (e.g. face-to-face conversations) as well as approaches such as facilitation, coaching, mediation, conflict assessments, and group intervention.
Formal processes
refer to approaches to resolving conflicts that involve an impartial third party assessing whether or not a person’s rights have been infringed upon (e.g. grievance procedure, harassment and human rights complaints).
refers to any location or any event related to work, including while on travel status; at a conference where the attendance is sponsored by the employer; at employer-sponsored training activities/sessions; and at employer-sponsored events, including social events.
Workplace conflict:
All conflicts that occur in the workplace. It includes conflict that arises from harassment and discrimination allegations, as well as conflicts arising from informal discussions under section 47 of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). It also includes conflicts that may arise between public servants and contractors, temporary workers hired through agencies or Governor in Council appointees.
Senior ICMS officer:
A person designated by deputy heads to oversee the implementation of an ICMS in their organization.
ICMS practitioner:
A person, internal or external to the organization, qualified to conduct mediation, facilitation, coaching, conflict assessments and group intervention and to deliver conflict management training. It also includes an ICMS coordinator/manager who is qualified to carry out the aforementioned ICMS services.
include bargaining agents, human resources professionals, labour relations advisors, Employee Assistance Program advisors, values and ethics officers, legal services advisors, managers and employees.
Points of contact
refer to individuals designated in the organization to provide information to managers and employees regarding the departmental ICMS and to refer them to the ICMS practitioners. The ICMS point of contact and the ICMS practitioner may be the same person.

Roles key people play in an ICMS

The following outlines the roles of people who are considered key to the implementation and operation of an effective ICMS.

  • Given the deputy head’s legislative accountability, he/she plays a key role in the implementation and operation of a sound ICMS in his/her organization by:
    • establishing an ICMS that makes conflict management training and informal processes accessible to managers and employees
    • identifying a senior ICMS officer who has direct access to the deputy head on ICMS-related matters
    • ensuring the availability of sufficient resources and expertise to establish and support an ICMS that includes a range of informal processes and conflict management training
    • informing managers and employees of the availability of the departmental ICMS and encouraging them to use ICMS as a first consideration when dealing with workplace conflicts.
  • A senior ICMS officer plays an effective role in the implementation and operation of a departmental ICMS by:
    • implementing an ICMS that takes into account the needs of a diverse workforce
    • consulting with relevant bargaining agents when implementing an ICMS, as well as with stakeholders in the design and evaluation of the departmental ICMS
    • promoting the use of the ICMS as an initial consideration to deal with workplace conflict throughout all levels of the organization, including in the regional offices
    • making accessible to all employees and managers, through the most feasible means (e.g. shared service arrangements), informal processes and conflict management training as well as establishing feedback loops to provide comments on the ICMS in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the system
    • implementing a departmental procedure to allow putting in abeyance at the employee’s request a grievance or harassment complaint process already initiated while an informal process is being attempted. All parties in an informal process may return to the formal process upon request at any time
    • ensuring that those who perform the duties of ICMS practitioners are not in a function or role that would require them to represent or advocate for management or employees within the organization and that they perform their duties according to the code of practice outlined below.
  • ICMS practitioners fulfill their key role by:
    • ensuring that the parties involved in a conflict participate in an informal process on a voluntary basis
    • ensuring that the bargaining agent is informed if the issues in dispute revolve around the interpretation or application of a collective agreement as well as encouraging their full participation in the informal process
    • facilitating the participation of any person who accompanies the party
    • protecting the confidentiality of all those who seek their assistance, and the confidentiality of all information exchanged during an informal process, except where required to divulge information by legislation (both the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act apply to information exchanged in an informal process in the public service)
    • ensuring they have no personal interest in the conflict, are impartial, and do not represent the interests of the organization nor of any party.
  • Managers will gain from:
    • attempting to deal with workplace conflicts promptly or by obtaining advice and assistance from their ICMS practitioners when a conflict persists despite their attempt to resolve it
    • taking part in conflict management training sessions to build their skills.
  • Employees also benefit by:
    • trying as much as possible to resolve any conflict directly with the other person (self-resolution approach) or getting the help of an ICMS practitioner when they cannot deal with the conflict on their own
    • taking part in conflict management training sessions to develop their skills.
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