The HR buzzword of recent years has been employee experience, but it's a natural extension of the focus on the customer and candidate experiences. Typically, the employee experience focuses on the positive elements and aspects of the workplace, but what about the other types of activities that aren't as positive, such as investigations? Is there a way to maintain a positive experience so that the workforce appreciates the respect, fairness and clear communications that make up part of the process?
The point isn't just to try and dress up something to look more fun or important than it really is. The point is to create an environment and a culture where people feel comfortable bringing up issues when necessary because they know the employer will take them seriously and work to resolve them in a timely manner. The key elements of that include respect, fairness and transparency, as we'll explore more deeply below.
Core Components Impacting Employee Experience
Investigations and employee relations practices are a necessary part of business, but we can surround those practices with components that demonstrate our dedication to creating a safe, positive workplace for everyone. The first step is to ensure that employees feel both respected and safe during the investigation. Google's research into teams shows that psychological safety is a critical point that can't be overlooked:
"Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives."
Additionally, ensuring a thorough and fair investigation process helps employees to see that their concerns are significant enough to warrant attention and action, regardless of the outcome. Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity, was recently quoted in Inc. on this very topic:
"[A] thorough investigation can't be accomplished overnight. It takes time to interview all the involved parties. Since the wait can be frustrating, it is important to check in with those involved, periodically, to ensure they know they haven't been forgotten and that the investigation is ongoing."
Part of this comes down to setting clear communication guidelines and expectations. When both parties feel like everything was done "by the book" and that the findings accurate and complete, then everyone can feel more comfortable about the process and the outcome.
Transparency as a Value Point
One important but tricky area revolves around transparency. To the extent possible, employers need to maintain as much transparency into the process with regard to reporting findings and any relevant actions taken. While it's not always possible to share openly the outcomes of an investigation, it is important to close the loop to the degree that you can.
"While it may not be appropriate to tell the involved parties everything uncovered during an investigation, you should let the person who brought forth the issue know if you found merit to the allegation. As appropriate, you may also provide information on the steps that will be taken to make sure the offending behaviors stop," said Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity.
This transparency isn't just a formality, there is actual value to the individuals and to the business.
The foundation for transparency is trust, and research shows that organizations that are more transparent and trusting perform better. Additionally, there are more direct impacts on workers as well. For instance, a 10 percent increase in organizational trust is equivalent to a 36 percent increase in pay for employees.
My belief is that a lack of trust places a cost on every interaction within a company, sort of like a tax. If you don't trust your peers, you withhold a little information. If you don't trust your boss, you try to cover your bases in other ways. That tax on every relationship puts a strain on you and takes a toll on others, even if the cost is not immediately obvious.
Hopefully this paints a clear picture: it isn't just about trying to create a mushy, positive work environment simply for the sake of it. It's about creating a workplace where people can come to work knowing that their employer and the employee relations team has their back. Through a mix of transparency, open communications and a fair, accurate process, employees can turn their focus to doing their best work instead of worrying about investigations and other components of the process.
Ben Eubanks is the Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research. He also founded upstartHR.com and hosts We're Only Human, a podcast focused on the intersection of people and technology in the workplace.