Julie Hall FAHRI is a manager in the Misconduct, Discipline and Advice unit of the Department for Education and Child Development in South Australia.
HRM caught up with Hall to find out more about dealing with misconduct in the workplace.
Can you describe the process for dealing with misconduct at work?
Reports of suspected or alleged misconduct come via a variety of mechanisms including police, child abuse notifications, incident response management systems, external agencies etc. One of the first things to be determined is: are the allegations so serious that the employee needs to be directed away from their duties immediately? This would generally revolve around serious allegations relating to child protection concerns.
The Misconduct, Discipline and Advice Unit (MDAU) works alongside the Investigation Unit (IU) and manages the legislative employment requirements and processes while the investigation is underway. Once the IU reports, the MDAU assesses and advises the relevant decision-maker. If there is insufficient evidence to proceed under the legislative framework, options may include reminders about boundaries, refresher training, etc. Or conversely, on reasonable grounds, the delegate may determine that the employee is in fact liable for disciplinary action.
How do you manage workplace conflict?
Ascertain and focus on the facts, understand individual styles and have an internal acceptance that dealing with conflict is awkward. Help parties identify the issues and don’t get distracted or take sides. Be aware that initial information might not always be accurate. Conflicts can arise from miscommunication or misunderstood perceptions; if you give people an opportunity to express their views, it can often help parties to identify reasonable resolutions.
Above all, don’t ignore conflict otherwise it will fester and reach a stage that is inherently unproductive.
What’s your advice for managers in their approach to difficult conversations?
Ideally, don’t enter into a difficult conversation without having an understanding of the matter at hand. Do understand that everyone needs the opportunity to be heard and taken seriously. You don’t have to agree, but you should listen. Prepare yourself beforehand. Write down your actions clearly and logically in dot points to help guide the conversation.
What would you consider your greatest career achievements?
My current role is the most challenging. It has taken enormous effort and commitment to redesign the unit’s structure, alongside reviewing and implementing new processes and working standards. It is an honour to work in such a specialised and important environment that assists with improving the safety and wellbeing of South Australia’s children and young people.
This was originally published in the May 2015 edition of HRM magazine.