Tips Surviving a workplace investigation | WISE Workplace

Published - 6 August 2009

Workplace investigations can be one of the most stressful exercises a workplace can undertake. Get it right and systemic and endemic problems may be addressed. Get it wrong and you run the risk of creating a toxic workplace.

No one wants the trauma often associated with an investigation, but if it does happen, the following tips can help you manage the process:

1. Don’t keep staff in the dark

Be open to staff. They do not need to know the details but it does help if they know there’s something happening in the work area. It often helps to briefly give an explanation and then remind staff of their obligations in relation to the Code of Conduct. If you don’t tell them, the rumour mill will go into overload!

2. Choose a skilled and sensitive investigator

The investigator should be empathetic and inform you or their project manager of any potential problems they can see arising in the workplace as a result of the investigation.

3. Choose a good communicator as liaison

Allocate a good communicator to keep an open dialogue with the investigator so the organisation remains fully informed throughout the investigation.

4. Timing is everything

Sometimes, in difficult matters, respondents and complainants will drag an investigation out in the hope it will ‘go away’ or to flex muscle.This is often done by not being available for interviews or claiming their‘support person’ is not available. It is important to nip these situations in the bud for everyone’s sanity. A good investigator, with your support will address these problems with you.

5. Dealing with workplace stress

Be alert for potential stress in the workplace and have mechanisms in place to deal with it should it arise eg. Employee Assistance Programmes.

6. Don’t view an investigation as a drama

Don’t look at a workplace investigation as an inconvenience or major problem. Accept they are facts of life in the modern workplace. If they do occur, be assured that your corporate or Departmental policies are working.

7. Learn from the experience

Treat an investigation as an opportunity to effect change if something is not working, or to strengthen existing policies and programmes. An investigation MUST be a learning experience for a workplace. It is of little use to undergo an investigation and not use the experience to enable and strengthen the workplace. The investigation can be a strong indicator of where holes are appearing and what policies need to be tightened up. It can also be a tool to empower Team Leaders and Managers.

8. Don’t take it personally

Resist becoming involved with criticism or complaints from those directly involved in the complaint. As the manager of the complaint or investigator, you are responsible to ensure certain procedures occur at the right time and that people are provided procedural fairness. You do not have to be abused or accept criticism from individuals for things that are outside of your control. Try to understand the stress complainants and respondents are under and refer them to the appropriate place for support.

9. Implement recommendations

An essential phase of any investigation is the implementation of change stemming from the recommendations in a report. Failure to implement recommendations is a common criticism of any major report or enquiry and will only serve to generate future complaints around the same issues.

10. How to improve staff morale

Staff usually want to know what is happening in the workplace. When an investigation is completed, it is important to conduct a debriefing session – especially if the investigation involves misconduct.

The old adage that ‘justice must be seen to be done’ is important in workplaces, especially if there is a public ethos of ‘walking the talk’. Do not disclose specific details, but a general debrief can do wonders for morale.

After all, a workplace investigation is just another managerial tool.