May 24

Workplace Reviews – a flexible tool for addressing conflict

Why a Workplace Review?

In an ideal world, you run a workplace (or culture) review when all seems plain sailing. This type of review acts as a preventative and ‘diagnostic’ tool for you: it will identify hidden dangers for the future for you to remedy now, around, for example behaviour risk, potential conflict, reporting or communication blockages, or any gaps at leadership level.

It is equally likely, however, that you will undertake a workplace review to respond to issues arising in real time. Perhaps there is a sense that ‘not all is well’ in a particular department, but for various reasons, including the seniority of the people involved, it is unlikely that staff will volunteer what is happening through a complaint process. Sometimes a yearly online survey will unearth particular issues, or it may be that a number of exit interviews or “noise” around the workplace are suggesting there are concerns you need to explore further. These examples may each be the catalyst for you to undertake a workplace review, via an external provider (such as Worklogic), and take steps to proactively improve your culture.

To review or to investigate?

Sometimes a negative situation in the workplace (for example, unspecific reports of poor behaviour) could be addressed by either a Workplace Investigation or a Review. The following key differences are important to consider:

Investigation

  • Generally occurs in response to a formal complaint raised by an employee or employees.[1]
  • The complaint must be specific and detailed enough for the respondent to fairly respond to.
  • Procedural fairness must be afforded to everyone in the investigation.
  • In the written report, the investigator will make findings of fact, on the balance of probabilities.
  • Because procedural fairness has been accorded, the employer can then use these findings as the basis for disciplinary action, if needed.

Workplace Review

  • Usually a more flexible process, initiated by the employer.
  • No need for a specific complaint from a named complainant.
  • The reviewer speaks to a larger group of employees, and the conversation is not limited to a particular issue or “allegation”.
  • There are no “allegations” put to particular employees for a response, and therefore procedural fairness is not applied.
  • The reviewer does not make findings of fact in the report.
  • Disciplinary action cannot follow a workplace review.

Case Study

Consider a situation is which HR is made aware by staff, through a training session on workplace values, that the performance of a senior manager ‘high-flyer’ appears to be accompanied by poor behaviour to those reporting to them, in the form of bullying and intimidation.

There is a perception among junior staff that this person is protected ‘at the top’ (previous complaints have led to the person complaining being made redundant), and therefore there is a strong reluctance on the part of all employees to make a formal complaint.

A formal investigation or a workplace review will address the risk in this case, but in different ways. You will obviously want to know more detail about the alleged behaviours, in order to address the risk and take appropriate action; however, an investigation is going to be difficult because there is no formal complaint and only reluctant or even possibly hearsay witnesses (who do not wish to be named for fear of reprisals by the senior manager.)

Ultimately, you decide on a Workplace Review on the basis that, although the review report will not make findings of fact (or be relevant to any potential disciplinary action), it will yield the highest quality data available. It will also protect the anonymity of participants and provide useful recommendations.

Interestingly, the feedback in the review report is more wide-ranging than just the senior manager’s perceived behaviour, although this makes up about 30%. Employees also mention:

  • Poor timing and communication of a recent, major organisational change by line-managers.
  • After the organisational change, reporting lines, roles and authorities appeared confused. Also, weekly meetings are intermittent and one on one catch ups appear to have disappeared.
  • Staff morale is low, partly as a result of some staff being promoted in the recent changes without adequate management skills, but also due to a perception that, since the changes, ‘management do not care’ about the well-being of staff, and there are no opportunities for professional development or advancement.
  • There is a perception of weak leadership at the top, resulting in a lack of strategic direction, clear communication of organisational direction and most importantly, a perceived lack of response to complaints of poor behaviour, including bullying.

The review recommendations separately address each of the themes above, but also includes a formal conversation between senior management/ HR and the senior manager, addressing the perceptions of inappropriate behaviour and bullying, and suggesting agreed measures ensuring future good behaviour.

There is also an all staff workshop held in which staff are thanked for their participation and feedback in the review and advised of the measures to be taken to address the issues and concerns raised (unless those measures are themselves confidential).

To learn more about improving team dynamics at your workplace, access our free webinar on May 25: Workplace Reviews – Getting ahead of the issues and shaping the HR agenda by Kairen Harris.

About Tom Henry

Tom HenryTom Henry began his career as a commercial lawyer where he learnt the value of clear analytical thinking, concise and powerful communication skills, excellent client service and effective case management.

Since joining Worklogic in 2011, Tom Henry has completed a large number of challenging, highly technical workplace investigations in a variety of sectors, and is in demand as a speaker and presenter.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and build a positive workplace culture. Worklogic also offers training courses on undertaking effective workplace investigations. If you would like to discuss any matters relating to workplace complaints and investigations, please contact Tom on 03 9981 6500 or via email for an obligation free, confidential conversation.

Subscribe to the Worklogic blog to receive expert advice on resolving workplace complaints and building a positive culture at work direct to your inbox each week!


[1] Sometimes, HR becomes aware of the allegations, but the employee does not wish to make a formal complaint. If the allegations are so serious, however, that the employer has a duty to investigate in order to address the OHS risk, the employer has a right to do so without the permission of the alleged victims. This is called an employer-led investigation.