Supporting stakeholder wellbeing during investigations

Vince Scopelliti - Friday, March 26, 2021

Participating in a formal workplace investigation can be a stressful and difficult experience, whether you are a complainant, respondent, witness, manager or HR professional. Organisations need to consider how the health, safety and wellbeing of all participants can be supported during an investigation and how they can meet their duty of care. Some simple preventative practices can be of significant benefit - here’s how. 4

Employee Assistance Programs 
One of the first tasks to action when an investigation needs to take place is to conduct a risk assessment based on the information available. This should include a vulnerability assessment and ensuring that all parties have access to wellbeing and support services at every stage of the process. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and or other similar programs are an important source of impartial support and can assist stakeholders in improving their resilience and reducing the impact of stress during difficult times. Make sure you provide information to stakeholders about the services available through your EAP provider, or any other alternative support services you can offer, including details of how to access the service and important information about their rights and entitlements (such as the right to privacy and access to a support person). Don’t forget to document this step. 
If the investigation is likely to be complex or involves sensitive or potentially traumatic elements, it is a good idea to check with your EAP provider or alternative support service that they have people with the right skills and training to support employees involved in a workplace investigation. That way, you can confidently refer your parties to a quality service with reliable support. 

Clarity & Communication 
Another way that the potential stress and strain of an investigation can be reduced is by providing clear and regular communication to stakeholders. For most employees, being a party to an investigation is a very foreign experience. When people feel uncertain and unsure about what to expect during an investigation, their stress and anxiety can increase, which can also have the effect of increasing workplace conflict, complications and parties seeking help from lawyers or other advocates. So wherever possible and appropriate, you should keep stakeholders informed about procedural matters such as timeframes, organisational policies and processes. Ensure that they have been provided with the information they need to understand how the principles of procedural fairness will be applied to the investigation, their rights and responsibilities. Make sure you also let them know who they can contact if they need additional information or want to query a particular process. 

Confident & Skilled Investigators 
So, your employees are being supported and they understand what to expect during the investigation. The next step is making sure that people leading the investigation are experienced, confident and expertly skilled in their practice.  When investigating matters which are highly sensitive, critical or involving vulnerable people it is also essential to ensure that the interview and investigation process does not contribute to or cause further harm or distress. It can also be wise to consider how the investigator will be perceived by parties in the interview context, making sure you also consider gender and cultural issues relevant to the matter. 
 It can also be important to ensure you consider the impact of the case on the wellbeing of your investigator. Think about their experience, skills, and specialist expertise. An investigator who is experienced in insurance fraud or financial misconduct may not be the right person to lead an investigation into discrimination or sexual harassment, and might find the subject matter challenging. Some good questions to ask yourself are: 
  • Does my investigator have the requisite qualifications and industry experience to perform the task I am asking of them? 
  • Does my investigator have the confidence, tools and techniques necessary to tackle difficult topics and subject matters, and to inspire trust in the parties? 
  • Does my investigator have the resilience and insight to effectively manage any personal feelings or impacts which arise as a result of the investigation?   
If you can confidently answer “yes” to these three questions, then you are on the right track. If not, don’t panic. WISE Workplace provides a range of investigation services nation-wide. If you need assistance with managing an investigation, developing or strengthening your HR team’s skills in this area or would like to discuss how WISE Workplace could support your business please do not hesitate to reach out on 1300 580 685 or email admin@wiseworkplace.com.au.

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