practice area: family law
date: May 14, 2017
outcome: found not guilty by the jury

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.

Case won