Most employers are aware of the importance of conducting workplace investigations to deal with complaints or allegations. But what happens after the investigation is over?
There may be a sense of disconnectedness, embarrassment, awkwardness or even anger amongst staff, particularly if disciplinary action has been taken or an employee has left the organisation.
Although it is no doubt tempting to close the report on a workplace investigation and just move on, there remains a lot of outstanding work to be done before the job is truly over.
The report is finalised, but now what?
There are a number of steps employers can take to ease the way post-investigation.
- Touching base with all parties
The person who was the subject of the investigation would have been notified of any findings and consequences. But it is equally important for employers to touch base with any complainants, whether they are internal, external or on leave, and explain that the process has been finalised. Although exact outcomes may not be disclosed due to privacy or confidentiality reasons, it is important for employers to demonstrate that complaints have been taken seriously and duly investigated.
- Requesting constructive feedback
Although it is unlikely to be appropriate to ask the complainant or the respondent to comment on how they thought the investigation was handled, witnesses and other parties engaged in the process can be approached for feedback. This might include whether they felt the investigation process was transparent and fair, whether there is anything else they want to report about the company, and whether they felt there was sufficient communication throughout the process.
- Reviewing the actions of key decision-makers
This is a fantastic opportunity to consider the way your key decision-makers have behaved. This includes the quality of their decision-making, the steps taken by them to control the situation, and perhaps their involvement in the initial complaint. It can also provide an opportunity to observe how those in senior management interact with each other, and perhaps encourage changes to the chain of reporting and command.
- Identifying any systemic or endemic problems
Perhaps this is not the first time a complaint of a similar nature has been made, or the same person’s name keeps popping up. Maybe the investigation has identified a shortcoming in procedures or policies in the business. Employers need to identify any systemic issues and implement strategies to deal with them as soon as possible.
Rebuilding the team post-investigation
Dealing with any uncertainty or disharmony and rebuilding your team is of primary importance. In the aftermath of an investigation, employers need to:
- Consider whether the complainant and respondent can keep working together. Even if the allegations are not substantiated, it should be assumed that any future working relationship is likely to be strained, if not impossible. Careful consideration should be given to shifting work arrangements, ideally without either party feeling aggrieved by the change. If the parties must continue working together, mediation can help by enabling both parties to air concerns and come up with ground rules.
- Offer counselling to all affected parties, whether internal or external
- Instigate a training program or a refresher course for all staff focusing on the behaviours reviewed in the investigation
- Facilitate team-building exercises. Team-building exercises can help staff resolve any conflict they may feel, give them an opportunity to get to know each other better and to forge new connections in the wake of an investigation. This can be particularly important if a co-worker has been terminated.
- Seek feedback from your employees as to what steps could be taken to improve the workplace culture in general.
Don’t limit the investigative process to a band-aid solution. Once the immediate issue has been addressed, utilise the learnings to strengthen your team going forward.
If you need effective resolution of workplace disputes after an investigation, WISE Workplace has a number of qualified and experienced mediators who can help your workers to resolve any issues post-investigation.