Workplace Investigations Improve Company Culture. Really?

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.

Don’t have a streamlined, compliant investigation process in place? Get a little help from InvestiPro.

The Top 10 Investigation Challenges: Part 10 – Getting back to work.

Whew….the investigation is over and now we can all get back to work, right? Often it is not that easy. In most companies, employees are well aware of what goes on in the workplace. Even in the largest companies, employees talk about what is happening in their department or building. Pretending that an investigation never happened will cause employees to wonder. And more often than not, the imagination is worse than the truth. Addressing the situation and communicating the expectations for moving forward can help put an end to the distractions that could otherwise go on for weeks. Here are a few tips to help everyone in the company return to work post-investigation.

Within a day or two:

  • Set a meeting or plan to address the situation with all staff within a few days or a week after the conclusion of the investigation.
  • Confirm the fact that there was an investigation, and that appropriate steps have been taken and the matter has been resolved.
  • Inform employees that although you can understand their curiosity and concern, the company will show respect for all parties involved by putting this behind them and not discussing it any further. Convey the expectation that employees will do the same and gossip, negative remarks and discussions of personal information will not be tolerated during work hours.
  • Provide means by which employees can share their work related concerns by meeting with their manager or Human Resources.
  • And close by reminding employees of resources that are available to them if they need to talk this through via the company Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or counseling benefits offered through their health plan or local social services.

Three to four weeks later:

  • Post-investigation is the right time to review the company policy and make any revisions that are needed to promote a zero tolerance workplace and comply with the laws. Managers who were involved in the investigation should be allowed to provide insight, and the final revision should be reviewed by an attorney.
  • Provide all staff training, review the laws, distribute and review the company policy, and have each employee sign an acknowledgement that they attended training and understand their rights and responsibilities. Managers should attend this meeting to show that they are united in the enforcement of the zero tolerance policy.
  • At the end of the meeting, either as one group or after breaking into separate departments, allow for open discussion on how the laws and the policy apply in your workplace. Provide examples of courteous respectful behaviors, and those that are not allowed (being careful not to use examples that are too close to the recent investigation). And ask employees for suggestions on how to promote better behaviors within the workplace.
  • Schedule and conduct Supervisor/Manager unlawful harassment training, even if it was conducted in the recent past, to remind the management team how important this is to the company.

Three months later:

During an investigation employees may take sides, restrict communication, and become uptight and leery of those they work with.  If relationships are left to rebuild on their own, it can impact business for a period of months or more. Employers must take an active role in helping employees to rebuild trust in their co-workers and managers, so they can feel comfortable again and even enjoy their daily work.  It is usually most effective to begin the rebuilding process within three to four months of an investigation, allowing for a cooling off period when raw emotions can heal.

  •  A good first step is to host a company lunch or barbecue. During this time, implement games or activities that promote teamwork, positive reinforcements and laughter. When employees laugh together, they let their guard down.
  • Institute a spot award program to recognize teamwork, kind/respectful behaviors, and providing a helpful hand to others.
  • Spend time, either one-on-one or in groups, talking about growth and learning opportunities in the company to increase engagement.
  • And finally, actively manage employees by using your performance review and progressive discipline processes to recognize and build on good behaviors, and control the wrong behaviors BEFORE they get out of hand.

I hope this information is helpful to you. But remember, if you need to investigate……! Simplifying the way employers conduct investigations.