Getting to know Informal Conflict Management Systems (ICMS) better

Introducing ICMS into the federal public service

In 2005, section 207 of the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA) made it mandatory for all departments and agencies (as set out in the preamble of the PSLRA) to have in place an Informal Conflict Management System (ICMS). This section of the legislation therefore brought into the federal public service a new conflict management system designed to support the Government of Canada’s commitment to “fair, credible and efficient resolution of matters arising in the workplace.”

Section 207 provides the following: “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.”

What is ICMS all about?

An ICMS introduces a systematic approach to preventing conflict escalation by managing and resolving conflicts in the workplace quickly and constructively. It is a system that supports a culture of effective conflict management that emphasizes honest discussion and collaborative problem-solving between people who are involved in conflicts.

An ICMS is also about building productive working relationships between people. In addition to providing managers and employees with various options to deal with conflict issues (coaching, mediation, facilitation etc.), an ICMS includes training that allows them to develop conflict resolution skills and to build a common understanding for working through a wide array of conflict situations. The benefits of this training are significant in terms of increasing productivity, reducing stress and improving morale, and developing the collaborative relationships between managers and employees and among employees that are needed to work together to achieve organizational goals.

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, which allow employees to readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the ICMS in their organization
  • offers informal recourse options for addressing conflict—self-resolution, coaching, facilitation, mediation, conflict assessments, group intervention
  • allows employees to move from formal processes (grievances/harassment complaints) to informal recourse options without infringing upon their rights to return to the formal processes if they wish to do so
  • provides structures that support training and the multiple informal processes, and that integrate effective conflict management into the organization’s every day operations.

An ICMS can contribute to Public Service renewal

The Clerk of the Privy Council has among his key priorities the renewal of the Public Service. The Clerk tells us that renewal means giving greater focus to how we recruit, to how we invest in our people to help them grow, and to what we can do to provide them with a quality work environment to engage them in the service of Canadians. It is therefore critical to foster the type of leadership and to create the workplace conditions required to attract and to retain talented employees, and to generate the employee engagement needed to provide quality services to Canadians.

An ICMS can serve as an important building block in the renewal initiative in that it contributes to

  • employee development by:
    • providing conflict management training to managers and employees to help them hone their skills in dealing with conflicts promptly and constructively so they become better able to create a work environment where people feel safe and are motivated to perform
  • employee retention by:
    • creating the type of quality work environment that is a determining factor to retaining a new generation of employees who have accepted the public service challenge. Talented employees will remain in an organization that is respectful of its people, gives them avenues to voice their concerns safely, allows them to grow in an inclusive and collaborative workplace, and gives attention to the quality of people management
  • strengthening the departmental enabling infrastructure by:
    • bringing into the organization policies, procedures and tools that allow to manage the different faces of conflict and to introduce solutions at the earliest stages, thus preventing costly and painful conflict escalation
    • implementing an effective conflict management infrastructure that helps better manage the risks associated with unresolved conflicts and increase workplace productivity

Why invest in an ICMS?

Because it will help managers and employees interact better with each other and thrive together in a respectful and harmonious workplace. This will create the type of quality work environment in which public servants can be better engaged in providing services to Canadians.

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