When conducting a workplace investigation, it is essential that there is consideration given to maintaining an appropriate balance between professionalism, impartiality and empathy.
By ensuring that this balance is maintained, employers are best able to protect the interests of staff, and safeguard against allegations of inappropriate conduct during the investigatory stage.
the need for professionalism
It is essential that professionalism carries through in all aspects of a workplace investigation. A failure to conduct the process appropriately could have far-reaching consequences for an employee – resulting in disciplinary action or even dismissal and for the employer in cases where the process, procedures and findings are legally challenged.
Professionalism requires investigators to:
- Ensure confidentiality – Keep any information that is disclosed or otherwise discovered during the investigatory process completely confidential.
- Communicate clearly – This means ensuring that all involved parties have a clear understanding of the process, the information that is required and anything else that can be expected as part of the investigation.
- Act with competence – When undertaking investigations into an employee’s conduct, it is crucial that the investigator is thorough and performs all aspects of the role correctly and appropriately. This includes planning the investigation, conducting interviews and analysing the evidence.
staying impartial in workplace investigations
Investigations must be impartial for the same reason they need to be professional. The investigator must try as much as possible to collect and analyse objective information and make a decision on that basis, not on personal feelings or subjective factors.
In order to avoid perceptions of bias, all efforts should be made to ensure that there is no real or perceived conflict of interest between the person conducting the investigation and other people involved in the investigation, such as the complainant or the accused.
Staff who are known in the workplace to be particularly good friends (or particularly adversarial) with each other should not be involved in the same investigation other than as a witness. This may also extend to staff investigating their own direct reports.
If your business is too small or otherwise structured in a way which makes it complicated for investigations to occur with impartiality, engaging a professional workplace investigator can help ensure an independent and unbiased process.
the value of empathy
Apart from just generally being the right thing to do, there is some real value in being empathetic with staff during the investigation process.
Showing empathy in the workplace investigation context is likely to result in greater cooperation from witnesses and greater accuracy in statements. For example, most employees do not want to get one of their co-workers into trouble. By empathising with those staff and noting that they do not want anybody to get fired or have adverse consequences as a result of the interview, investigators can build up a greater rapport.
It can also reassure those involved that investigators understand what they are going through, and that they will be supported through the process. An employee who has to make a complaint against somebody at work, or an employee having to deal with the consequences of a complaint and the potential disciplinary repercussions can suffer significant stress and trauma. This can have far-reaching consequences in the workplace.
maintaining the balancing act
The three pillars of professionalism, impartiality and empathy are key to conducting a successful workplace investigation, but these can often be difficult to achieve in the average office. For this reason, you may wish to rely on external investigators to ensure that all key elements of a proper workplace investigation are fulfilled. If your organisation needs assistance with investigations, WISE offers both full and supported investigation services, or training for your staff.