The psychological well-being of every employee is important in the work environment. Employees who experience adverse mental health at work will often be unhappy and unfocused, lose sleep, experience more stress and face additional health risks. Research reveals that 50% of employees took between 1-2 weeks off work during an investigation because of anxiety, depression, stress or diagnosis of a specific psychological disorder (Moira et al., 2011).
Focusing on the impact associated with workplace investigations, employers have introduced a more risk-based approach to managing psychological safety when responding to complaints. Employers can adopt numerous safeguards designed to build and restore trust, confidence and cooperation to reduce the risk of psychological injury during the investigation, such as;
- A policy that protects employees to report a grievance or complaint, as the Fair Work Act requires, is designed to protect employees’ right to make a complaint, even if the complaint is never substantiated.
- Employers provide a confidential outsourcing program such as the Employee Assistance Program [duty of care to support that employee throughout the investigation process Hayes v State of Queensland  QCA 191].
- Although there is no strict legal obligation, offering employees a support person during an investigation interview [BlueScope Steel (AIS) Pty Ltd v Nejat (Paul) Agas  FWCFB 5993].
- A delegation authorising an independent investigator either separate from the workgroup or externally outsourced.
- Delegating an independent decision-maker to review the investigation and consider the findings before considering any action.
As these safeguards create a risk-based approach when responding to the complaint, you may think this should solve the workplace conflict and allow everyone to move forward. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Although the conduct may have been identified and dealt with by the employer’s policy and best practice, will that consistently provide a sustainable solution to re-engaging the workplace and productivity?
The difficulty with workplace investigations is that they are primarily focused on the alleged conduct and, at times, not on the more significant effect an investigation could have on other employees, such as re-engagement, productivity and harmony in the workplace.
At Wise Workplace, we understand the end of the investigation may not always be the end of the conflict. Why? If returning to work, the respondent may feel awkward, unwelcome and embarrassed. On the other hand, they may feel targeted, unsupported and frustrated. The complainant and other employees involved may not think that the appropriate action was taken against the respondent, and mental health may deteriorate upon participating in an investigation.
WISE Workplace, is here to help and have accredited and experienced Workplace Mediators working with clients to develop effective and practical workplace agreements where conflict, disagreement, or tension exists at any time or post investigation. We offer mediation and conflict resolution services, Restorative Conferencing, coaching, and training for HR professionals and conflict management.
Moira, J., Winefield, H., & Arris, A. (2011), Consequences of being accused of workplace bullying: an exploratory study, International
For more information about the services and support available from Wise Workplace, reach out to our team on [email protected].