Do Your Employees Trust Your Company’s Workplace Investigation Process?

By Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, on January 10, 2020

Your employees are happy, right? Turnover is low. The parking lot is full by 8:30 a.m. You’ve gotten almost everyone’s RSVP for the upcoming holiday party! So, whew! A great employee experience all around.

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We all hope this is true, and it should be in some companies, but it’s more likely that you’re somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as the employee experience is concerned.

In our recent Employee Experience Survey, HR Acuity surveyed more than 1,300 employees and found out what employees think.

Read the report for an in-depth look at the data and discover how organizations can improve culture, build trust, reduce risk and enhance the employee experience. 


And for HR, the most critical aspect is how your company tackles problems and how you handle the workplace investigation process.

Can Your Employees Speak up about Problems?

You want your employees to be whistleblowers -- not to the press or Congressional committees -- but to you, so you know what is happening. You can’t solve problems that you don’t know about. But, do your employees feel comfortable speaking to you, and do they know where to go when reporting an incident or reporting misconduct?

In the survey, 85 percent of employees said they strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I know how and where to report inappropriate, illegal or unethical behavior at work.” That’s great, although it should be 100 percent. But, 85 percent is a reasonable amount.

But, here’s where it gets scary. The number drops to 61 percent who agree or strongly agree that “I feel confident that if I report a concern at work it will be investigated thoroughly and addressed fairly.” That means 39 percent of your staff isn’t confident that the company will address a concern. 

And even worse, “I feel confident that I would not be retaliated against [receive any negative action] if I report on an issue at work” comes in with only 53 percent of employees agreeing. Forty-seven percent don’t feel that they are safe to report an issue.

Why do employees feel that way? What happened in the past when people reported problems? Do you do employee surveys and not respond to the complaints employees bring up?

Do you push sexual harassment under the rug when the offender is a “high performer?” 

If you do any of these things, it makes sense that many people don’t think it’s safe to report issues, like reporting drug use at the workplace. You want to know when your employees see problems. This is a massive advantage to your company -- not just on employment issues but on everything.

Read our free guide on conducting fair workplace investigations. 

Recently, a Dutch grocery store introduced an app to measure employees for a new uniform -- but it required employees to strip down to their underwear or “tight-fitting clothes” to work. You can imagine the outcry and the company scrapped it.

But, I wonder about the culture of a company that no one felt comfortable speaking out--or those that did got shut down. This was clearly a bad idea, and yet, it got all the way to the testing phase. This is the type of thing you want your employees to speak up about.

Why Don’t People Report Misconduct?

  • 46 percent “didn’t trust that it would matter or be handled appropriately”
  • 42 percent “were afraid of consequences or retaliation”
  • 33 percent “didn’t feel comfortable or think issue would be taken seriously”

These numbers are terrible. And when you couple them with what happened when people did report, it’s even more frightening:

Only 51 percent know that the company investigated. Twenty-one percent know no one investigated the issue. And 27 percent have no idea what happened when they reported an issue.

Why didn’t you initiate your workplace investigation process? There are plenty of reasons not to investigate something. For instance, there are many times employees report things that are not a problem, and require no investigation. For example, if an employee reports “time card fraud” because the department manager never clocks in and out for lunch, you know that the department manager is exempt and receives a salary rather than hourly pay. So, no harm, no foul. But, if the employee doesn’t understand that, she sees a boss who is padding his time card and an unresponsive HR department. So, when she sees something that genuinely needs to be reported, she won’t bother.

It takes just a couple of minutes to explain, “The department manager receives a salary, and we don’t track his hours. He doesn’t need to clock in and out.” Problem resolved. And the employee feels confident that you listen to her.

And I used female pronouns on purpose here because complaints from male employees were 26 percent more likely to be investigated. Do women report different things than men do? I don’t know. But, that’s a huge difference. You need to investigate or explain why no investigation is necessary every time. 

And why is it essential to the investigation? If an issue is reported and not investigated, 64 percent of the reporters will leave the organization. So, you know that if you ignore an issue, the reporter is more likely than not to leave.

Turnover is expensive. Plus, a disgruntled employee could later file a lawsuit. And, if their issue was an illegal one, you could find yourself in deep trouble. 

This impacts your entire organization.

If someone reports an issue, the company investigates and resolves the issue. Then, people were far more likely to tell their coworkers to report problems. Why is this important?

Let’s look at the hypothetical employee who noticed her manager not clocking in and out. It’s a non-issue, but she doesn’t know that. So, when her co-worker says, “Hey, the department manager sexually harassed me. Should I tell HR?” what is she likely to say? Her experience with a manager who she thinks HR protects may result in her telling her co-worker to say nothing “because no one will do anything anyway.” 

This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. 

There are plenty of other findings in HR Acuity’s Employee Experience Survey, but hopefully, this is enough to encourage you to investigate and report back whenever someone brings up a problem.  

Ready to improve your company’s employee experience with a constructive workplace investigation process? Schedule a demo to learn how HR Acuity can equip your organization with a better way to document, investigate and analyze employee issues.

 

Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady
Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.

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