workplace culture investigation

A healthy workplace culture is fundamental to the success of every organisation. The culture of your organisation is influenced by many factors…leadership, management, workplace practices, policies and people.

Unfortunately, even if a workplace has a generally good culture, issues or incidents can occur which need a workplace investigation. Communication and confidentiality are essential in any investigation. To preserve a positive work culture, the communication element must be handled tactfully, sensitively and in a timely manner.

How can you protect your culture during and after a workplace investigation?

As head of our investigations team, John Boardman has conducted countless of investigations. We asked John to provide some insight into what happens to an organisation’s culture during an investigation.

What should be communicated to staff who are aware of a current investigation?

It is important to prevent gossip, and speculation by staff which can be hurtful and potentially lead to claims of ‘defamation’. On the other hand, formal information can prevent rumours from occurring. If an event was witnessed by several staff and/or the complaint or allegations are known to them, it is best to formally communicate with these staff to inform them an investigation has commenced. They should be reassured that no assumption of guilt or innocence will be made by the organisation and that decisions will not be made until the investigation process is complete.

It’s important to communicate, but what about maintaining confidentiality?

To ensure the integrity of the investigation process, employees should be instructed not to speak to others about the matter to ensure there is no collusion in relation to witness evidence. They should, however, be advised that they can speak to their significant other, nominated Support Person, union or EAP counsellor etc. Confidentiality obligations are extended to Support Persons.

It should also be made clear that the matter is confidential and that breaches of confidentiality may lead to disciplinary action. Further, any adverse action or victimisation taken against a party involved in an investigation, will be treated very seriously.

How do you communicate to staff after an investigation has been completed?

The direct parties to the conflict should be provided with feedback, in writing, regarding the findings of the investigation. This should be combined with a face-to-face meeting allowing the person concerned to express a view regarding possible outcomes. Any disciplinary action taken because of an adverse finding, will need to be dealt with in accordance with the organisation’s disciplinary policy and procedures and/or relevant industrial instruments (such as an Enterprise Agreement).

Communication with the broader workgroup will, in most cases, be necessary. Informing staff about the action management has taken following an investigation can provide learning to the broader workgroup, including that the organisation takes its policies and values seriously. This, in turn, will build confidence of staff in the complaints/grievance process and encourage them to come forward with their concerns.

How do people recover from conflict and go back to working together?

Restoring working relationships after a longstanding conflict is difficult and takes time. In some case it may be irreparable. Formal mediation and/or Facilitated Discussion are frequently able to assist, particularly if combined with psychological counselling. Trust is won over time and saying ‘sorry’ is more convincing if people can witness changed behaviour.

What needs to be done if a fractured relationship cannot be repaired?

Changing reporting relationships, physical relocation and/or altering duties and responsibilities may be any option. If relationships are deemed irreparable, an agreed separation may need to be explored.

Support when you need it

iHR Australia is one of Australia’s leading independent workplace investigation providers. We provide a range of investigation services, from dealing with informal complaints to significant and complex formal investigations. Plus we support you on how to communicate to staff throughout an investigation.

All our workplace investigators are highly skilled, senior HR and Workplace Relations professionals, with a minimum of 15 years of experience.

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