Even the least intrusive investigation can cause participants to feel uncertain and to wonder what will happen next.
Workplace relationships are likely to be frayed after an investigation. The steps you take next is important for the parties, the witnesses and the entire team and organisation. What steps should be taken to repair and restore workplace relationships and teams after an investigation?
Communicate the outcome
Inform the complainant and respondent of the findings of the investigation. While the outcome may involve difficult conversations, do not delay relaying the outcome.
- Do not provide copies of the investigation report to the parties unless your policy requires this. A high-level summary of the outcomes is best to avoid creating further tension in the workplace and to reduce the risk of victimisation of participants. The level of detail given to participants in the investigation, and to the wider organisation, will vary according to their role and in keeping with confidentiality requirements. In general, the parties need enough information so that they can understand and accept the outcome. You may need to reassure parties about the process and provide a broad understanding of the information relied upon to substantiate findings.
- Focus on what the organisation is going to do in response to the findings and what support the participants need to work together.
- Inform the parties what, if any, interventions will be undertaken as a result of the investigation findings.
In some cases, a complainant or respondent may resign in the course of an investigation. Even if the person who may be viewed as the problem or who engaged in the proven behaviour has left the workplace, it is important to address the findings and reaffirm workplace behaviour standards.
Manage emotions and expectations
It is also important that post-investigation interventions address the parties’ emotions. An understanding of the thoughts and feelings of the parties can promote understanding. Even when people cannot agree on all points, an understanding of the feelings of others can help the parties recognise the issues that have led to this point and allow them to move forward. Failing to address the emotion involved can cause underlying resentment as parties may feel that the issues were not addressed. Promoting positive attitudes through frank discussion can assist in resolving conflict and illuminate the causes of conflict, so that any further issues can be promptly dealt with.
A focus on restorative measures, such as facilitated discussion, mediation and individual counselling for affected parties often results in better outcomes than strictly punitive actions.
On the team level, it is important to promote collaboration and reduce alienation so that individual employees feel included in the team and responsible for promoting good team behaviours. Training in workplace bullying and managing conflict can empower employees to recognise and call out inappropriate behaviours. Tailoring training to recent workplace experiences may combat bullying, and indicates to investigation participants that their concerns are being addressed. Such training shows everyone on the team that bullying is not acceptable and addressing it is a team responsibility.
Informing all employees about the impacts of workplace bullying also shows an organisational commitment to a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, even if they were not involved in the issues that gave rise to an investigation.
Training should not be a one-off activity, but should be reinforced by follow-up activities that demonstrate the organisation’s ongoing commitment to a healthy workplace culture. Surveys or other feedback mechanisms can also provide a perspective on where a team is at and help identify issues before they grow into problems.
Take disciplinary action if needed
Where misconduct allegations are proven, more punitive measures (such as transfer or termination of employment) are important to show the organisation’s strong commitment to anti-bullying and to deter similar behaviours. where a respondent’s behaviour is so poor that reconciliatory methods are not possible, punitive measures have a role in setting a clear example about inappropriate behaviours.
Transfer of the complainant or respondent, such as physical separation or transfer to a different department, is less useful in addressing the true nature of the problem. However, where the respondent was in a managerial position or causing significant distress to the complainant, this could be important.
Acknowledge all participants and address their fears
Thank everyone who participated in the investigation individually. Remind them that victimisation or any sort of retaliation will not be tolerated.
Explain as much as you are able without violating confidentiality. Let the participants know that the investigation has concluded, that findings of fact have been made, and that appropriate action is being taken. Confidentiality about individual disciplinary action may be necessary, but team-wide or organisation outcomes can be shared. Taking these sorts of steps can build confidence in the complaints process and show the organisation’s commitment to resolving issues.
Address unproven issues
Even if allegations are not proven, a report may reveal that some participants are engaging in problematic behaviours and do not fully understand appropriate workplace behaviour or codes of conduct. An investigation can reveal cultural issues within a workplace or divisions within a team than affect how the team is functioning and need to be addressed.
Treat the investigation as an opportunity for growth and learning
Regardless of the conclusions of the investigation, reflect on how the investigation came to happen. Was there a lack of understanding about appropriate standards? Has there been a recent change in direction or management that has not been explained to the team? Have past concerns about workplace behaviour or culture been disregarded?
Also look at your organisation’s process and procedure’s around complaints. Could the matter have been resolved earlier or informally? If the investigation shows managers need additional skills in addressing team functioning, such as dealing with interpersonal conflict or holding team members accountable, review training and coaching options.
In addition to investigations, Worklogic provides a variety of training programs and coaching opportunities for teams and individuals that can help you build a positive workplace culture and contribute to the wellbeing in your workplace.
About Tanya Hunter
Tanya Hunter applies a sensitive approach to working with vulnerable clients and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and astute understanding of legislative and compliance frameworks and enterprise agreements.
She brings a balanced, impartial approach to the entire process from preliminary analysis of complaints to conducting investigations, creating productive policy guidance and solutions and implementing change projects.