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The Benefits of Hiring an External Investigator – HR Professional Now

This article is from HR Investigations By Hena Singh

We have now passed the fifth anniversary of the changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“Act”), which requires employers to have workplace harassment and violence policies and to conduct workplace investigations into allegations of harassment and violence.

As a result of these changes to the Act, there is a heightened awareness for employers of the importance, necessity and value of conducting proper workplace investigations. However, there is still confusion for employers as to when investigations are more appropriately conducted internally or externally.

There are a number of instances where an employer can, and should, attempt to resolve disputes in the workplace without the involvement of an external investigator. For example, performance related issues or basic interpersonal matters where there are no allegations of harassment, violence, discrimination or any other wrongdoing may be handled internally, with the advice of legal counsel, if necessary.

However, when the issues are more serious than the day-to-day performance and/or interpersonal conflicts, or involve allegations of harassment, violence and/or discrimination, things get a bit more complicated.

Conducting investigations internally can be attractive from an employer’s perspective as they can feel less intrusive and can be more cost-effective at the outset. Although this may be enticing to employers, the complexities and problems that can arise from an improper internal investigation may quickly outweigh the appeal of handling it internally.

The cases speak for themselves. Take for example the recent case of Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. Wal-Mart stated they conducted an internal investigation of the employee’s complaints and found that the complaints were unsubstantiated. However, the employee commenced a claim against Wal-Mart and the Ontario Superior Court awarded the employee $1,450,000 in damages. Although the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced the award to $410,000, it is clear that significant damages can flow from an improper internal workplace investigation. Not to mention the inherent costs and potential embarrassment to the employer caused by these public cases and decisions.

The lesson? The Act and the cases are telling us clearly that workplace investigations are important and should be conducted properly. Employers who do not follow proper process with respect to investigations can, and will be, held liable.

Properly trained external investigators are proficient in their knowledge of the process to follow – how to sift through information; what information to look for; and how to elicit the necessary information to conduct a proper and thorough investigation.

External investigators can be of further benefit to employers because they are inherently neutral and impartial and have no pre-existing interests in the outcome of an investigation. External investigators also understand the expectations and requirements should litigation arise following allegations of workplace harassment, violence and/or discrimination.

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Addressing Psychological Safety During a Pandemic

The article is from Sarita Bhakuni, Psy.D., and Kimberly Jarvis, Ed.D.

What happens when you go to sleep in one world and wake up in another?

In what feels like a significant and dramatic shift, our illusion of safety has shattered. Activities such as taking a walk through the park, hugging our neighbors and spontaneously meeting for coffee have been paused in the spirit of reaching a collaborative health goal.

If we pay attention to how everyone is metabolizing current events, we can learn a great deal about how people show up in crisis, influence and lead others in their day-to-day work. We all have opinions about what is the most important thing to pay attention to as we navigate these unchartered waters, and truth be told, there are gems in many perspectives. As we think about what anchors us to strive in the worst of circumstances, there are a number of things to consider. What makes some leaders strive and others stumble during a crisis?

A New Model for Success

In addition to planning physical workspace changes and the logistics of phasing in employees, leaders should also prepare themselves to navigate the more complex issues of their employees’ sense of psychological safety. Doing so requires a practical dialogue around understanding both the way they show up as a leader and what matters most to their colleagues and direct reports. We propose a three-pronged model to help us think about success in this realm:

1. Reality-testing

At the base of the equilateral triangle is our reality-testing: How do we know that what we are learning is real and true? We’ve heard enough about fake news, but whose “BS detector” actually works? If, during a crisis, you can stay calm enough to establish a vision that differentiates what is real from what is imagined, then you are already a step ahead.

We rely on our imagination and creativity to innovate, but in the current situation, catastrophizing does not help us; in fact, it can be harmful. If we let ourselves go down the rabbit hole of helplessness, our ability to spring to action will be dulled by a sense of impending doom. When we focus on the facts, including what we know and what we understand to be true, we can build a solid foundation upon which we can examine the other sides of the triangle.

2. Self-awareness

At the right-hand side of reality testing is our self-awareness — the marinade for every filter we use to metabolize our understanding of ourselves in the world. Self-awareness is largely driven by empathy, or how we put ourselves inside other people’s experiences, and influence, or how we persuade people to see the world through our experience and perspective. With the confluence of those two elements of behavior, we can hope that consideration, compassion and competence have equal seating in our vision of ourselves.

In the absence of empathy, there is little emotional intelligence (EQ) to lead or connect with people. When we are too hungry to influence, we forget that people are built of free will and that without buy-in, people will carve their own paths. Experts in the study of emotional intelligence speak about self-awareness as the keystone to being an emotionally intelligent leader who makes a significant impact, not just on day-to-day but on what becomes sustainable during times of change.

3. Stress Tolerance and Managing Ambiguity

The final side of the triangle is governed by our stress tolerance and ability to manage ambiguity without surrendering to it, cracking or loading our unhealthy behaviors as the new normal. Our current situation is driving everyone to ask the million-dollar questions: When will things return to “normal,” and where do we go from here?

People with a combination of grit, tenacity and the patience to pause can allow for the disruption of current beliefs about the best way forward. People who can tolerate ambiguity understand that there aren’t solid answers to many of our questions. We have to lean into the uncomfortable space of the unknown, hope that there are opportunities to learn and meet parts of ourselves that have been buried in an emergency kit we may have no experience using.

As our self-awareness integrates with our ability to manage stress and ambiguity, our message to ourselves is one of security, containment and hope. When we strive to move forward, we are leaning on what we know of the world, what we know of ourselves and others, and how we believe that knowledge will impact our lives and the lives of the people around us.

This model also reminds us of the importance of the company we keep. When we surround ourselves with people who tend to be solid in their grasp of reality and have a future-focused, optimistic perspective, it buoys us. On the other hand, we understand that a frenetic, negative behavior and perspective is contagious, and when we spend time with people who are convinced that the world is ending, we may start losing sleep.

The Workplace Review – An Organizational Health Check – Worklogic

Article by: Grevis Beard  Workplace Reviews

Many of us are accustomed to having an annual check-up of our health.  Even if we appear to be glowing with good health we understand the benefits of checks and tests that may uncover any hidden issues and allow us to deal with them before they get worse.

In the same way, a workplace review is an excellent method of checking the health of an organisation. Most people are more familiar with the workplace investigation, which is well recognized as a useful tool for establishing facts where disciplinary consequences are a possible outcome. Less well known, but a more powerful vehicle for change, is the Workplace Review.

At Worklogic, we are seeing a growing demand for this service as companies move towards a more proactive paradigm in managing “people risk”.

What is a workplace review?

A workplace review is a proactive process initiated by an employer to ‘gauge the temperature’ of the organisation, a department or a team. Typically the review will be conducted by an independent third party consultant, who can make an objective assessment of the situation and offer feedback to the organisation based on the information obtained.

When to conduct a workplace review?

You can certainly use a workplace review where you have concerns but have not been able to pinpoint the particular problem or pathology. At the same time, given that the majority of employees will “suffer in silence” rather than lodge a formal complaint, a workplace review enables you to hear about and identify issues early.

A workplace review can be particularly beneficial when you have;

  • negative rumours or gossip about poor workplace behaviours but no formal complaints;
  • poor morale or performance of a team (indicated by high absenteeism, poor results etc); or
  • a risk management need to gather feedback on a particular issue.

Unlike an investigation, with a workplace review there are no allegations or complaints put to the participants and the consultant does not make findings of fact. You can initiate a workplace review without a complaint being made, or where the employee is not comfortable being named as a complainant.

How does the review process work?

The first step is for the organisation to establish the terms of reference for the review. The Terms of Reference provide a framework for the review. Questions to consider include:

  • What is the purpose of the review?
  • What kind of information does the organisation want to gather?  For example, is the organisation interested on employees’ views about communication? Perhaps they are looking for feedback about how teams are working? Maybe they are interested in employees’ feedback about the workplace culture?

The next step will usually be to conduct interviews with employees using questions aimed to elicit feedback about what is happening in the workplace.  The interviews may involve all employees, a specific group of employees or a cross section of employees if the team is very large. Participation may be compulsory or optional depending on the organisation’s objectives.

After all the data has been obtained, the consultant will usually then provide a written report which may summarise the concerns, themes or issues that the employees have raised. The consultant may also make some general comments on trends in the issues being raised by employees and recommendations about how to deal with these issues.  The employer can use the notes of discussion and any comments by the consultant to assist the employer in its decision-making.

Finally, what the organisation does with the information it gathers is important.  In the past, we have conducted reviews in organisations where the culture is poor and participants appear jaded and cynical about how the information will be used. They had no confidence that anything would change as a result of the review.

After the review is concluded it is important that the organisation responds to the information obtained, what changes may need to be made, who will lead the implementation of that, and that this is clearly communicated to participants.  This can be an incredibly positive message for employers to deliver. In contrast, the usual outcome of an investigation is disciplinary action a workplace review offers the opportunity to obtain data that will improve workplace dynamics.

Conducting a review vs an employee survey

We are often asked by clients if an annual survey will achieve the same objective as a review. Many organisations will utilise an annual survey to obtain a degree of feedback from employees. The annual survey may be a limited and detached vehicle for obtaining information. This is because a survey is usually geared around set responses or a multiple choice format. It may  not have the capacity to be responsive to the participant and further examine a particular line of thought like a review which can include “deep dive” questioning.

What are the advantages of conducting a workplace review?

There are a number of key advantages associated with conducting a workplace review:

1. It’s a collaborative process

In our experience, employees welcome the opportunity to be part of a workplace review. It is a consultative process. It also provides participants with an opportunity to have their say about the issues affecting them in the workplace, and to contribute to the development of creative solutions to these issues.

Employees who have ownership and influence over how they work are generally more loyal and more engaged.

2. It’s a proactive process

Occupational Health and Safety laws now require employers to take active steps to manage the health and safety of their employees. This is a significant shift from the old paradigm in which employers would not be required to respond to an issue until they received a complaint.

In this context, the workplace review offers an opportunity for an employer to ‘keep ahead of the game’ by flushing out issues that are bubbling away under the surface. Employers then have the opportunity to act to avoid a situation elevating.  By investing in a review, an employer may avoid issues developing and leading to expensive litigation or costly staff turnover.

3. It can challenge assumptions

A workplace review can also be valuable in challenging the organisation’s assumptions, or things it simply takes for granted. It encourages a culture of consideration and analysis of why and how things are done. For example, a workplace review will often highlight issues around role clarity or employee attitudes to customer service, giving the organisation the opportunity to improve work practices and processes.

4. Rich quality of data

Unlike an investigation which focuses on obtaining very specific data about discrete issues, the data from a workplace review is broader and provides a rich vein of information for the employer to constructively use.

5. Anonymity

In most cases, participants in a review will remain anonymous. Information can be shared freely and without fear of repercussion. It is important that careful consideration is given to how anonymity will be achieved as simply removing names may be insufficient to de-identify participants, particularly in reviews involving smaller teams.

6. Less disruption to the business

An investigation can be a challenging process for the participants and where the allegations are serious and may lead to significant disciplinary outcomes, the organisation may need to work restoratively with the people involved afterwards to rebuild relationships.

As the focus of a review is generally broader, the process is less confronting for participants. The opportunity to discuss issues can be seen as positive and cathartic for participants. It can also be encouraging for employees to see that the employer values their opinion and is committed to exploring issues.

A case study

Worklogic conducted a review with a recruitment business which had experienced a huge turnover in staff and had received some negative feedback via exit interviews. Those staff that had stayed were unproductive and disengaged.

Through interviewing the team, we were able to establish that a previous manager (who had since resigned) had created discord and friction in the team. The team spent a lot of time on the road and felt disconnected and isolated. Now that the manager had left, staff were relieved but the incoming replacement was new to the business, had a different style and staff were feeling rattled and unconfident.

Armed with this information, the organisation was able to put in place a number of strategies to develop the relationship between employees, starting with an offsite meeting which celebrated the hard work of those who had stayed on and offered an opportunity to get to know the new manager away from the pressure of the sales environment. The team made plans to conduct a weekly meeting and include those on the road using Skype. The new manager benefited from access to a mentor who had been with the company for a long time. Twelve months on, the organization was performing well and staff felt reinvigorated.

A quick guide for conducting workplace investigations

The following articles expand further on the importance of workplace investigations and assessments. Leaders can minimize risk to the organization through making a decision to conduct an impartial investigation and/or assessment. When properly done they should limit liability and most importantly provide valuable information and an opportunity to bring about positive change within the organization.

Despite legislation mandating that investigations must be undertaken, there are no hard-and-fastrules on how to conduct a proper workplace investigation. As a result, many employers continue to con duct investigations that may not withstand legal scrutiny. Here you can find some key legal principles and best practices for conducting effective workplace investigations.

Workplace investigations are becoming increasingly prominent in today’s workplaces. In part, this is due to fairly recent legislative changes that require employers to conduct workplace investigations in certain circumstances. Employers have also recognized the benefits of conducting investigations prior to administering discipline, to identify issues with workplace morale, and to highlight areas for improvement within their workplace culture. Additionally, in certain circumstances, properly conducted workplace investigations can be effective tools to mitigate the risks associated with litigation or arbitration.

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