Workplace investigations: The devilish details
Monday, October 03, 2016
Receiving an employee complaint and embarking on an investigation can be a tough but necessary decision. Once the journey down that road has begun, it is important to make sure you conduct a thorough, timely and objective investigation.
Doing so requires a good balance between paying attention to the details and keeping an eye on the big picture. Here are three ways to be sure you keep your investigation fair and on track.
1. Appropriate communication
Including admonishments at the beginning of every interview is important. Of particular importance in a small office or department is emphasizing the fact that nothing in the interview should be discussed with anyone else in the office, even if that person was interviewed as well.
Comparing conversations or influencing each other's responses compromises the integrity of the investigation. Such discussions also open the door for more opportunities of retaliation against participants in the investigation.
To keep things as private and controlled as possible, be honest with witnesses and stress the importance of their individual confidentiality.
2. Timing, location and scheduling of interviews
That said, regardless of how clear your admonishments may be, some employees are going to talk to co-workers about what they were asked and how they answered before they even get back to their desks.
Fortunately, it is usually easy to tell which employees are going to be the ones to share everything. Make a note of that when you are scheduling the order of your interviews and do your best to save that person for later in the process.
Further, consider alternating locations for some interviews, if possible. Some people may share better outside the office; others may be more focused at different times of day. Whatever the case may be, try to use schedule, location and time to create the most conducive atmosphere for getting answers and maintaining the integrity of your process.
3. Recording and record keeping
How are you going to take notes, and what are you going to do with them? Consider the pros and cons of recording interviews before you do it.
And if you forego the recorder for pen and pad, make sure you have a plan for handling the paper afterward. Where will it be stored? Will it be transcribed? Shredded? Both?
Making a plan beforehand will help you remain consistent throughout the process. And paying attention to these details adds up to help create a more favorable big picture.
Specifically, imagine you are an outsider — or as one of my colleagues puts it, a Martian who speaks English — looking at the investigation and the process around it. Will they see a disorganized approach? Will they hear employees discussing the investigation? Will the interviews seem fair? Will the report appear thorough and balanced?
Attend to the details, and the big picture will look better. Then, if the report finds the complaint could not be substantiated, you can feel confident in the results. Conversely, if the report finds something negative, running or facilitating an objective, comprehensive process will help ensure the issues that have been uncovered and will be addressed.
For more on what to do after the report has been completed, stay tuned for our final installment in this series.
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