Over the last few months, I have been speaking at regional HR meetings on the topic of “Using Workplace Investigations to Drive Employee Engagement and Improve Company Culture. And although I hear some skepticism on how this could be possible, attendance has been at very high levels. When talking to the attendees, I am hearing that HR professionals are very interested in finding a better way to handle sticky and serious employee relations issues. But there are numerous reasons why we are still doing the same old thing.

  1. There is no time to spend on research and implementation of anything that is not a daily process.
  2. Although investigations are costly and time consuming, most HR departments do not have a budget set aside for employee relations.
  3. The limited training resources available on investigations don’t provide information that transfers over well to actually conducting the investigation.
  4. Owners and/or executives are under the impression that avoiding investigations creates less liability than exposing possible problems in the workplace.

Now consider this. What if a workplace investigation was simply another standard business process that HR used to talk with employees and gather information, in order to find out what is really happening in their organization so that improvements can be made? When you think about it, you are likely doing this to resolve issues that arise and improve communications and actions between employees anyway.

Recent surveys show that employees often don’t bring forth issues of discrimination, harassment and bullying because they either don’t believe anything will be done about it if they do, or that they will get blamed and be treated poorly or lose their job. HR must clearly communicate a new initiative to investigate all workplace challenges in the same manner, in order to create a great place to work for everyone. And then stand by that promise. The good news is, they don’t even have to be called investigations. Maybe the “Better Workday Project” would fit well into your company culture. When employees start to see a positive impact, they will get on board.

There are several benefits that come from using the same “investigation” process for all forms of workplace conflict.

  • Employees get comfortable with the process and open participation increases.
  • Employees begin to see that brining issues to HR really does lead to resolution and a better place to work.
  • The relationship between managers and HR becomes more interactive.
  • Studies show that employees that trust upper management and HR, and feel they are treated fairly, are more productive and engaged with their peers.
  • When the serious accusations arise, investigations are more productive, and employees are less fearful. After all, they usually know what is happening in the workforce before management or HR.
  • It is much easier to get owners and executives on board for the serious investigations, when they have seen improvement by investigating the smaller employer relations matters.

One step forward:

The next time an employee relations issue arises, take the time before you act to plan out a means to deal with the issue that implements the standard steps of an investigation. Then work through the steps methodically to see how this application could reduce time spent and make the process more calm and respectful.

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