The One Thing You Should do After an Investigation

Rose Bryant-Smith
June 21, 2017

Our inaugural research “Aftermath or Afterglow: Improving Workplace Culture & Team Dynamics After a Misconduct Investigation” focused on the various interventions that can employers can make after a complaint and investigation, and how effective the our research participants judged those interventions to be.

One of the key findings of our research is – perhaps not surprisingly – that whatever you do after an investigation, do something!

An Investigation: Essential, but not a Panacea

Worklogic’s investigators conduct an independent, impartial investigation into formal complaints about misconduct at work, make findings of fact and make comments on apparent breaches of policy.

No matter how thorough, fair and useful an investigation is, a workplace investigation will not:

  • explore proactively the feelings of the complainant, respondent and participants;
  • work with the broader team to understand the impact of the complaint and conflict
  • teach the employees the standards of conduct that the employer requires;
  • work with the wrongdoers to help them identify their risk factors and teach them self-control strategies for the future;
  • explore any issues other than the allegations set out in the complaint (procedural fairness requires strictness about scope!);
  • invite managers and other staff to reflect on their own contribution to the conflict…and so on.

The investigation is an essential, fact-specific, scope-limited determination of what happened.

Is It Really ‘Over’?

A decade of experience has proven that once the investigation is complete and the findings have been communicated to the complainant and respondent, most employers feel that the matter is ‘over’. They have been so focused on the disciplinary element, and the policy requirement that an investigation is conducted, that they feel that ‘the case is closed’. It’s a little like the cop at the crime scene: ‘Move on, nothing to see here’!

This is probably due to:

  • A sense of ‘closure’ at the findings of fact – ‘I know what happened now’;
  • A sense of relief that the findings weren’t worse – ‘At least I don’t have to call the insurer / police / ombudsman’;
  • A compliance-only approach – ‘The policy only requires that I ensure an investigation is conducted, not that everyone is happy about it’;
  • Division of responsibilities between HR, risk, legal and mid-level management – ‘It’s my role to ensure that the risk is managed – it’s the line manager to get everyone back on track as far as team dynamic and productivity’; and
  • Avoidance of the non-urgent work of repairing relationships, improving the broader culture of the team and the workplace as a whole – work which requires tenacity, careful judgment, and possibly more investment.

These feelings are all completely understandable – we all know the relief we feel after we’ve ticked something tricky off our to-do list. However the research tells us that this is an important opportunity for the employer to take further action to rebuild team dynamics and organisational culture.

Now is Not the Time for Laissez-Faire Leadership!

The research is clear: the worst outcomes for the team and the workplace occur if the employer is avoidant. That is, if no measures are taken to deal with the conflict at hand, or to repair the feelings of employees who have made or responded to complaints, the conflict and ill will lingers.

Many managers prefer a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, where they take a back seat and allow employees to drive their own workloads and productivity and make the decisions, while the manager is available to employees when they need it. Some teams respond well to this approach to leadership in ‘normal’ times, however in times of crisis and conflict, employees are looking for active, engaged and directive leadership to set them straight.

Other managers deliberately take the laissez-faire approach because they wish to abdicate responsibilities, take the path of lower effort or avoid dealing with messy emotions. This is detrimental when the team is looking for a change in the dynamic and in how employees are behaving.

After a complaint and investigation, passive management also sets a precedent that:

  • Employees can sort out their interpersonal problems by themselves;
  • The employer accepts the poor conduct and therefore breaches of the employer’s values;
  • The team’s feelings of hurt, neglect and frustration don’t matter; and
  • The lower productivity and higher turnover that can result from ongoing problems isn’t of concern to the employer.

All of this can allow a toxic team environment to fester.

Do something (and tell your staff)!

This research indicates that whatever intervention you choose after an investigation of misconduct, the action must be taken and also communicated to employees in some way.

Communication will promote confidence that appropriate measures are in place and that management are taking an active role in handling the conflict.

What interventions should employers consider after an investigation? They include interventions at the individual, team and organisational levels.

Discover the most effective interventions

Learn about the most effective individual, team and organisational interventions you can make to rebuild team dynamics and organisational culture following a misconduct investigation by downloading Worklogic’s research whitepaper. You can also register now for Worklogic’s free lunchtime webinar “Best-Practice on Your Post-Investigation Journey“, at 12.30pm tomorrow, Thursday 22 June, 2017.

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.

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

If your organisation needs help developing effective post-investigation intervention strategies to rebuild team dynamics and organisational culture, please contact Worklogic.

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