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How Fair Is Your Conflict Management System?

Extract #5 from Workplaces That Work: A Guide to Conflict Management in Union and Non-Union Work Environments (Aurora: Canada Law Book, 2006)

Many practitioners and commentators have provided advice on developing effective conflict management systems in the workplace. But are these conflict management systems fair to all workplace participants? And is it even possible to measure fairness in conflict management systems? This article proposes that workplace fairness is both measurable and achievable in conflict management systems. As discussed in the book Workplaces That Work, this is the essence of the Donais Fairness Theory.

What is workplace fairness?

Workplace fairness is based upon the assumption that all participants should be treated with equality of concern and respect in the management of workplace conflict. Individuals in a free and democratic society expect this treatment in their daily lives. A fair system for managing conflict in the workplace builds upon this assumption.

What is a fairness system?

A fairness system is directed at managing conflict in a manner that accords every workplace participant with equality of concern and respect. In the past, Systems Analysis and Design theory has concentrated primarily upon “justice” and “efficiency” in their assessment of conflict management systems. This article expands upon the theory – suggesting that fairness systems should encompass more than justice and efficiency. A fair system for managing conflict should be just, efficient, engaging and resource sufficient – these are the indicia of equality of concern and respect and they are the indicia of workplaces that work.

The Four Quotients of A Fair Conflict Management System

In accordance with the Donais Fairness Theory, there are four main pillars of a fair conflict management system: Justice, Efficiency, Engagement and Resources. We refer to these as “quotients” because each is used in the TIFFS to measure fairness systems are:

Justice Quotient

The Justice Quotient measures all those concepts that one would find in a normal “rights” based forum for dealing with conflict. When you think of how a court operates, it is primarily concerned with Justice. Extraordinary measures are taken to ensure that participants have the opportunity to present their best case, to hear all the case against them and to have proper advocacy to ensure they know their rights. Justice has seven components or focuses in a conflict management system: Access, Applicability, Independence, Protection, Support, Procedural Fairness, Enforcement, and Legal. Each of these focuses is described in great detail in Workplaces That Work. In summary a Just conflict management system: ensures unlimited access to it; covers all the actions of employers and employees; is independant from manipulation; protects and supports its participants; ensures the right to be heard and to hear the case; results in enforcable and enforced solutions; and ensures the legal rights of participants are protected.

Without these components any workplace conflict management system would be considered weak in the Justice Quotient. When trying to determine whether a workplace conflict management system has a strong Justice Quotient, it is important to ask questions related to the above criteria.

Efficiency Quotient

While the Justice Quotient measures how well the participants are treated and supported, the Efficiency Quotient measures the smooth operation of the conflict management system. There is no use having an inefficient system that looks after justice. To determine the strength of the Efficiency Quotient, we focus on seven different factors: Interest, Alternatives, Self-Help, Cost, Flexibility, Education and Timeliness. We will consider the following points of focus in reaching our Efficiency Quotient: In essence we attempt to determine: the level of emphasis placed on meeting the workplace participants’ interests; availability of alternative measures for managing conflict; how well the system encourages individuals to resolve their own conflicts; how cost-effective the system is; the system’s flexibility to allow managers to craft good solutions; how well the system educates participants; and how quickly matters are resolved.

Engagement Quotient

The Engagement Quotient measures the level of participant involvement and buy-in to the workplace fairness system. Engagement is critical to the success of the workplace conflict management system. Without engagement, the system will largely remain unused and participants will avoid the system and craft their own remedies. Engagement measures the extent to which the system encourages positive, voluntary participation in the system. And the Quotient measures the level of involvement workplace participants have had in the design and implementation of the conflict management system.

Resource Quotient

The Resource Quotient measures the company’s commitment to the fairness system through investments in resources needed from development through to implementation. A system cannot be just or efficient without adequate resources. Often organizations devote a considerable amount of time and money to the development of a workplace fairness system only to undermine it later by under funding its operation. Proper investment shows the organization is serious about fairness thus increasing participant buy-in. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to develop a system that suits the demands and does not exceed the resources of a particular workplace. If under funded, it will be undermined. There are four Focuses in the Resource Quotient: Human, Facilities, Financial and Continuous Improvement. The Resource Quotient will measure how well the system is supported by professionals, support staff and external consultants; the level of facilities and services devoted to the system; the financial commitment to the system; and how well the system improves itself through self-evaluation and system change.

Scoring the System

Workplaces That Work
, provides systems analysts with tools to arrive at a fairness score for the conflict management system. The primary tool is called the Testing Instrument for Fairness Systems. The scores arrived at through the TIFFS are subjective in nature and are meant for diagnostic purposes. In addition the book provides participant surveys aimed at generating data used to quantify the analysis of the strength of the conflict management system. Once the focus scores are generated, then a score is calculated for each of the four quotients. And finally a score is generated for the entire system.

Benefits of Measuring Workplace Fairness

The purpose of the Testing Instrument For Fairness Systems (TIFFS) is to provide the analyst with a diagnostic tool to determine what is working and what needs improvement. A system may have many high scores but if one of the focuses is weak, this may affect the entire system. Therefore determining that the “facilities focus” is weak, for example, may lead the analyst to suggest improvements to facilities in the workplace devoted to conflict management. If the “timeliness focus” is weak, the analyst may suggest tighter deadlines, or may suggest more resources be placed into the system to make it operate more quickly. Therefore the Testing Instrument For Fairness Systems (TIFFS) aids the systems analyst to diagnose problems in the system and suggest solutions.


Blaine Donais

Blaine Donais B.A., LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), RPDR, C. Med., author of Workplaces That Work, published by Canada Law Book, has spent many years working with public and private sector professionals. He is President and Founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute, Conflict Management Solutions. He has represented professionals as a labour… MORE >

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