After an Investigation: The Role of Policies in Improving Workplace Culture and Team Dynamics

Rose Bryant-Smith
June 14, 2017

In Worklogic’s inaugural research “Aftermath or Afterglow: Improving Team Dynamics & Workplace Culture Following a Misconduct Investigation” conducted with Monash University PhD student, Sarah Carrier, we explored the interventions that employers can take to rebuild team dynamics and organisational culture following a misconduct investigation. The research explored the latest academic research and the results of an employer survey to determine what is best practice.

The research also revealed some interesting findings about employment policies and procedures and gives powerful insights into the role of how policies set workplace conduct expectations, as well as being a vital marker of workplace culture.

The Academic Research: What Can Policies and Procedures Achieve?

Academic research proves that the overall tone of procedures to respond to bullying and misconduct concerns does influence workplace culture. Several studies suggest that procedures focused on mediation and reconciliatory measures (rather than strictly punitive measures) result in better outcomes for the workplace as a whole (Cicerali & Cicerali, 2016). These measures include discussions with the parties involved, offering counselling for the individuals involved, and procedures which promote early intervention in conflict and suspected misconduct (Salin, 2008).

Requiring procedural fairness in the handling of complaints – and overall in workplace policies – is important in supporting lower rates of absenteeism, greater job satisfaction, employee commitment and work ethic, which in turn results in greatly improved workplace dynamics (Barsky & Kaplan, 2007). In this regard, it is not so much the effect of procedural fairness being in place as much as it is of employees being aware that there are fair procedures in place (Barsky & Kaplan, 2007).

Employer Survey: Effective Policy Interventions after an Investigation

The research also surveyed Australian employers to determine what interventions they were taking post-investigation and how effective they were. The survey revealed some interesting insights relating to the HR policies in place at the time of the misconduct and the use of policy-related interventions following a misconduct investigation.

What policies were in place – and how well were they communicated?

All participating organisations had existing policies and procedures in place about bullying, confidentiality and proper use of information, privacy, grievance procedures and occupational health and safety.

Over 70% of organisations reported having policies and procedures in place regarding conflict of interest, performance management, computer use and IT, sexual harassment, recruitment and selection, flexible work/carers, discrimination, complaints and handling procedures, social media, procurement, fraud, whistle-blower procedure, employee well-being and diversity.

Notably, less than 55% of organisations reported having policies covering occupational violence, inclusion and promotion.

Just over a third of respondents (37%) reported effectively communicating all the policies in place, 56% reported effectively communicating some of the policies, and 7% reported a lack of effective communication of policies.

Policies that received the most staff attention included bullying, discrimination, flexible work, employee well-being, sexual harassment, occupational health and safety and social media.

What policy-related interventions were made after an investigation?

Only 16% of participating organisations reported making policy-related interventions as a direct result of the complaint or investigation. Most policy interventions were implemented independent of the investigation.

Policy changes were made address the specific matters of the dispute and reduce the risk of future misconduct.

The following were the most common policy changes:

• Bullying (88%)
• Complaints handling procedure (63%)
• Whistle-blower procedure (50%)
• Grievance procedure (50%).

Other common policy changes covered sexual harassment, discrimination, flexible work/carers, performance management, conflict of interest, occupational health and safety, fraud and social media.

Grievance procedures were the only intervention reported to improve team culture and dynamics.  Performance management policy change was the only policy-related intervention reported to improve organisation-wide culture and dynamics.
A small number of policies were developed for the first time following the investigation, including conflict of interest, fraud, social media, and confidentiality and proper use of information.

While most policy interventions were revised following the investigation, not all of the changed policies were communicated to employees.

The most effective policy-related interventions were reminding staff of respectful workplace behaviours and what constitutes bullying, presentations given by human resources, and improved grievance procedures.


Figure 1. The effectiveness of policy interventions in addressing individual, team, organisational and risk issues.

Most organisations (64%) reported no barriers to implementing these policy interventions. Barriers that were mentioned by participants included a lack of commitment to change, the intervention not considered a priority, insufficient time, a lack of human resources and relationships with unions and employee representatives.

Key Policy-Related Lessons For Employers

1.  Communicate policy changes to staff

Our research showed that many pre-existing policies were revised and introduced following a misconduct investigation.  Yet, nearly half of these were not communicated to staff. Policies which set standards for workplace behaviour will have limited effect on the employees and organisational culture if they are not known to all.

2.  Introduce policies focused on employee empowerment

Unfortunately, many organisations lacked policies relating to employee empowerment, such as inclusion, employee well-being, diversity, recruitment and promotion. Academic research shows the importance of a humanistic values system in the workplace and stresses the value of mutual respect and support for employees.

3. HR plays a critical role in reinforcing policy

The most effective policy-related interventions were reminding staff of appropriate workplace behaviours and what constitutes bullying. Presentations by human resource departments were also reported to be effective interventions.  These findings highlight the central role of HR in improving organisational culture.

4. Adopt a more outcomes-focused approach to policies and procedures

Overall, it is clear that Australian employers have in place the key compliance-related policies and procedures. At the same time, there is also much scope for a richer and more outcomes-focused approach when it comes to policies and procedures. Research has shown that procedures focused on mediation and reconciliatory measures (rather than punishment) will result in better outcomes for all.

Conversely, a compliance-focused approach could miss out on this opportunity. In our experience at Worklogic, there is often a lack of procedural fairness in employment policies, and they are very focused on immediate risk management and discipline.

5. Review and refresh your policies

As a result of the research, we recommend that organisations review their policies for tone, values and fairness. Look for opportunities to include reconciliatory measures – such as informal discussions with parties involved, conflict coaching and offering counselling for the individuals involved.  Ensure there are procedures promoting the early intervention in workplace conflict and suspected misconduct in place.

Best Practice Post-Investigation

If you would like to learn more about the most effective individual, team and organisational interventions following a misconduct investigation, then register now for Worklogic’s free lunchtime webinar “Best-Practice on Your Post-Investigation Journey“, on June 22.

About Rose Bryant-Smith

Rose Bryant-SmithRose Bryant-Smith is the co-founder and director of Worklogic. She is passionate about building ethical, productive and innovative workplaces. Rose leads projects about organisational ethics, risk management, corporate governance and organisational performance. Rose applies an astute, rational approach, strategic thinking and practical problem-solving.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work.

If your organisation needs help reviewing its employment policies and procedures or with developing effective post-investigation support strategies, please contact Worklogic.

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