Interviewing staff who are traumatised, emotionally distressed or highly resistant to your process, takes a toll on the impartial investigator. Analysing evidence and defending your impartial findings can also be draining, and lonely, when subtle or overt pressures are brought to bear on your professionalism, or your conclusions.
Effective investigators should exercise self-care to remain focused, alert, safe and performing at a high professional level at all times.
What do you do to take care of yourself?
1. Tips to manage common challenges
Before a potentially stressful interview or meeting, prepare yourself and think about what you may encounter. Anticipate and manage any risks that are foreseeable. Remind yourself that while the person you are meeting may be emotional or challenging, but this is not your problem to solve.
Remind yourself that the investigation process is planned and procedurally fair and remember that most of the criticisms directed at you are not about you personally.
Remain professional and calm even in the face of extreme emotion. The participant will pick up on your emotional state. Your composure can calm them, and they are more likely to mirror your behaviour back to you.
2. Assign more than one person to a file
In medium to large investigations appoint a support person or co-investigator who can help with collating documents as they come in, handle administrative tasks, start to summarise the evidence collected in the report.
Having a co-investigator alongside has a number of benefits. The sometimes lonely task of investigator becomes a shared activity, two heads can check on each others unconscious bias and impartiality and the matter can be finalised more quickly. If this seems like an extravagance to your client, be confident that the quality of the output of two minds at work can surpass a weary, jaded investigator working alone. In addition, with clear roles assigned to each person, there need be no duplication of work or more time spent on the file.
If you are a sole operator, this may not be realistic but support from other peers in the profession is available through membership of organizations such as the Australian Association of Workplace Investigators.
3. Be open to continued learning and development
Even seasoned investigators with many years experience can be astonished at the procedural issues that can arise in their process when working with different organisations or challenging participants. Be open to being a continuous learner and to sharing your learnings on each matter with your colleagues, the good, the bad and the ugly. It is cathartic!
Keep learning and developing your skills. CCH has recently published the second edition of our book, “Workplace Investigations” (available from February 2018) for those wishing to learn more. This resource sets out sound and effective principles to run a procedurally fair and rigorous investigation.
Other topics that can support the effective and professional investigator are training in mindfulness, effective complaints handling, high conflict personalities, conflict resolution, unconscious bias, analysis of evidence, interviewing skills. As you build and continue to develop and hone your skills you can more effectively manage with confidence the many pressures that may be brought to bear on your in your role as investigator.
Investigators hear or are shown sometimes horrific, shocking or sad evidence. Once seen, it can remain with you for a long time. Notice when you are feeling overwhelmed or experiencing compassion fatigue.
- Are feeling resentful or jaded;
- Are disheartened after the rigours of investigation; or
- Have developed antipathy for a participant.
It will be time to take a break and reframe. Be aware of your stress levels and emotional responses and most importantly, notice that you are at your limit and take a well deserved break.
If you experience lingering distress after the investigation process has ended, do seek professional support.
Or seek the support of a caring and understanding colleague to help you process this and move on in a healthy way, while maintaining confidentiality. If possible, have regular debriefs during the investigation. Talk to someone you can trust who can be empathetic and understand. The purpose of such debriefing is to express your own emotional response, not to discuss any of the interview content. Tell the debriefing partner how you feel about the participant’s conduct towards you, because you surely can’t tell any of the participants!
5. Take a break!
Investigators can burn out quickly if they are conducting back to back investigations. It is simply not sustainable, or healthy, if there is no down time at all.
Some investigators ensure that they have another skill set to complement their investigation work. That may be legal skills, training skills (in investigations skills, conflict resolution, effective communication), mediation skills, or conflict coaching. Having another string to your bow will allow for a more balanced workload and a break from the investigation treadmill.
Similarly, working for hours on end, analysing and reviewing complex and contradictory evidence, when the brain is tired and winding down to a slow grind, is rarely the most effective and efficient way to investigate. How many times have you noticed that you have an insight about the weight of the evidence when you are doing something entirely unrelated to the matter, such as going for a walk, taking a shower, of after a good night’s sleep. Trust that with a few breaks, you will work more effectively.
6. Enjoy your life!
Recovery from investigation strain works best if you are well rested, have exercise and healthy diet, good friends and family for support. Exercise, meditating, yoga, spending time in nature, eating great food and spending time with loved ones works for everyone and especially investigators. See this as an important part of your job!
Try and avoid working late into the evening and weekends before another long day in the office. Investigators will know how much pressure there is to work swiftly but a failure to take breaks can often lead to early burn out, illness or mistakes and oversights in your analysis. We need time away from this intensive intellectual thinking work, and sometimes when away we will have our best insights and thoughts about the evidence and our findings.
About Lisa Klug
Lisa Klug works astutely with Worklogic’s clients to identify the best approach to resolve complex interpersonal and misconduct issues, and manage legal and OHS risk. Lisa is a highly experienced workplace investigator who has extensive experience in conflict coaching, mediation and training for organisation development.
If you would like advice on managing allegations of bullying in your workplace, please contact Lisa via email or on 03 9981 6557 for an obligation free, confidential conversation.
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