How to Brace Your Organization

What happens once an investigation is complete? There’s plenty of information on the importance of conducting effective investigations in the workplace, but how are those implicated supposed to move forward once it comes to an end and what emotional aspects need to be considered?

This article will guide employers and employees on what to expect in the aftermath of workplace investigations.

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The investigation process

Planning Phase – When planning the investigation, we begin with a phone call to discuss the nature of the investigation. Once all information is gathered and we have all tools at our disposal to conduct a fair, unbiased investigation, we move to phase one.

Phase One: Investigation – Throughout the investigation, we conduct interviews of all parties involved, including the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. Our goal is to gather as much detail as possible to obtain relevant, corroborated evidence that will be documented and presented in the final report. Once interviews are conducted, we will review the evidence and establish our findings.

Phase Two: Disclosure of Findings – Restoring the workplace after an investigation is a crucial step in maintaining a positive work environment and a cohesive culture. Facilitating a conversation provides an opportunity for the complainant and the respondent to speak up, hear about the full effect of their actions and take responsibility for them, and come up with actions to be taken to repair the harm caused. This includes coaching, mindfulness training, and team-building sessions.

Phase Three: Restoration – In certain cases, we offer restoration services to identify the primary causes of a damaging and unhealthy company culture and offer proven solutions to resolve these issues, enabling all participants to move forward together.

Read more: Professionalism, Impartiality, and Empathy in Workplace Investigations

Impact on organization and employees

No matter what side of the issue an individual is on, a workplace investigation can be hard on people. The subject matter is serious and often tough to discuss, sometimes causing participants to feel uncomfortable and not as communicative.

The responsibility of the investigator is to mitigate those negative feelings, create an open dialogue, and foster a sense of psychological safety, allowing participants to feel calm, respected, and heard.

If an investigation is not effectively managed or participants do not feel there is a lack of transparency or that they can trust their investigator for any reason, there can be lasting, negative impacts to the investigation and the organizational culture. Furthermore, ineffective investigations can lead to increased costs, low workplace morale, escalations, and liability issues.

From an employee perspective, certain investigations (depending on the subject matter) may result in decreased job satisfaction, lack of purpose, low productivity, low motivation, and lack of focus and self-esteem. They may also suffer mental health issues and negative wellbeing overall. Feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, anxiety, shame, stress, isolation, guilt, lack of control, loss of credibility, and disengagement or attrition may also be experienced due to a workplace investigation.

Adversely, some employees may display a sense of entitlement and dominance that could manifest to bullying and micro-aggressions.

Employer vs. employee motivations

Employers, regardless of whether they are perceived as a “good” boss or a “bad” boss, are focused on the following:

  • Avoiding lawsuits
  • Retaining talented employees
  • Minimize negative impacts on morale
  • Minimize loss of productivity

Employees, on the other hand, are focused on:

  • Feeling psychologically safe
  • Being heard
  • Reaching a thoughtful, fair conclusion
  • Seeing real change

Despite the variances of motivations, the goal of an investigator is always to find the truth and take action based on empirical data.

What does resolution look like?

Resolution could look different for every participant depending on the nature of the investigation. That’s why it’s not always in the best interest of the investigator to try and appease everyone, rather get to the core of the problem and address it with effective solutions and organizational strategies.

Resolution may be an apology, it may be a commitment on behalf of the organization, it may be the termination of an employee, it may be training, or it may be a change in work schedules – the options are endless and truly vary depending on the type of investigation and the findings.

The emotional toll of the investigation aftermath

Tensions run high during workplace investigations, and just because they come to an end doesn’t mean those emotions do, too. There can be lingering effects of the experience of having gone through an investigation, but also the event itself that leads to a need for investigative services. These emotions can be challenging to navigate, but employees who feel them are not alone and should know they are common.

Read more: Workplace Investigations and Mental Health

There are often lingering effects of harassment in a workplace that can be deeply challenging. We’re putting them here not to scare you — but in hopes that if you face these consequences, you’re not alone. Some common ones we see:

Impacts on performance

Having to go through an investigation can take an emotional and mental toll on participants. It is not uncommon for their day-to-day to seem exhausting, trying, or overall challenging to get through. Despite the intention, telling yourself to just push through and do the work can seem impossible.

Anxiety

The stress and emotional and mental turmoil an individual goes through during an investigation can lead to anxious feelings about themselves, their work, the workplace, and colleagues. It can also cause people to think about things like job security, job performance, likeability, etc.

Blame

Whether you’re an employer or employee, it can be hard not to feel blamed depending on the implications of the situation you’re in. It’s hard not to take things personally, but some instances are not specifically about the individual.

For example, if you are a leader and a harassment investigation needed to occur due to an employee under your supervision, it can be challenging not to think, “what could I have done better?” or “how did I let this happen?” In a situation like this, the problem is not really about you or your specific leadership abilities.

In another example, if you are an employee who filed a discrimination complaint, feeling guilt or blame for the impacts your colleagues and organization will face is an immense pressure to deal with. But ultimately, knowing you were in a difficult situation that required a difficult choice means you proceeded with action to feel safer in the workplace—and that is the right of every individual.

Alliances

Whether an individual is involved in the investigation or not, people often want to take sides based on limited information, relationships, fear of repercussion, and many other personal reasons. It’s important to not focus on sides and instead think about resolution in the best possible sense.

Ostracization

Depending on the results of an investigation, the people involved may find themselves no longer invited to happy hour or team chats or may sense a general change in attitude towards them in the workplace. When you start sensing that others are uncomfortable around you or you’re worried about how you may come across, that could be an indication that there is a social shift occurring in your workplace.

Retaliation

Retaliation such as wrongful termination, eliminating opportunities, isolating individuals from teams, tasks, projects, or clients, are unjust and should be reported.

Mental health resources in Canada

The Takeaway

It’s not business as usual after a workplace investigation. These can be disorienting experiences for all parties involved and can have lasting effects on an individual’s confidence and emotional wellbeing. Recognizing that workplace investigations can be a challenging experience and taking steps to prepare for the investigation process and post-investigation possibilities can help to minimize negative impacts to individuals and organizations.

If your organization is experiencing conflict, consulting with a neutral investigator will resolve distracting, challenging situations and empower all participants involved to settle on an agreeable solution and continue being productive within the organization.

At Global Mindful Solutions, we have established a process that aims to provide insightful, comprehensive solutions with a compassionate and unbiased approach. This allows all participants to focus on getting back to work and continue making a positive contribution to their organization while leading a fulfilling role in their careers.

Contact Global Mindful Solutions to get started with neutral, knowledgeable, and effective investigation, mediation and facilitation services.

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