HR investigations play a critical role in ensuring that your organization adheres to complex legal standards, but they are so much more than a compliance checkbox. Thoughtful, swift, and consistent investigations foster a healthier work environment and elevate the employee experience by building trust and transparency.
In our 2023 Workplace Harassment and Misconduct Insights report, the data reveals that most employees know how and where to report instances of workplace harassment and misconduct (72%). Yet, 40% of them lacked confidence in their organization’s ability to conduct thorough investigations and fairly address workplace issues. Equally concerning, half (46%) of the employees worried they might face retaliation if they reported concerns.
Reframing investigations as an opportunity to build trust is a powerful way to elevate the employee experience. Here are seven best practices to build a more trustworthy investigation process:
- Deliver a Swift Response: Investigations should be initiated promptly, showing employees that you take their concerns seriously. Even a short delay in acknowledging and addressing complaints opens the door to doubt and could weaken the resolution process.
- Be Transparent: Open, honest communication throughout the investigation cannot be overstated. Employees must stay informed of the process and timelines. It’s the best way to reduce anxiety and build trust.
- Stay Impartial: Your team’s investigators must be impartial and objective, ensuring a fair and unbiased examination of the facts. This not only safeguards against legal liabilities but also contributes to a sense of justice. If impartiality is compromised, either reassign the case or consider a third-party resource.
- Show Empathy: Empathy from the investigations team can make a world of difference. Employees that come forward are trusting you. They may be worried about retaliation or that they’ve made a “career-limiting move.” Listening to employees, understanding their concerns, and offering support can help rebuild relationships and trust – even if the outcome is not what they hoped for.
- Document All Processes: Consistently documenting your investigations process is crucial for many reasons. First, it provides a clear and comprehensive record of every step taken, ensuring transparency and accountability in the event an issue escalates legally. Next, it helps consistency in the application of your company policies and procedures, reducing the risk of discrimination or bias claims. Finally, thorough documentation serves as a valuable resource for future reference and analysis, and improvement.
- Audit and Improve: As we know, the work environment is always changing. That’s why every investigation should be seen as an opportunity for growth. Use the insights gained each time to refine your policies, practices, and training programs.
- Provide Aftercare: Aftercare has become an important aspect of the investigation process. A thoughtful aftercare routine can help your employees move past workplace issues and investigations, while a lack of aftercare can cause unresolved emotional issues to fester and negatively impact employee engagement, productivity, morale, and retention.
The Positive Ripple Effect on Employee Experience
While we can’t control people’s bad behavior, trustworthy investigations offer a chance for us to mitigate some of the impact. Here’s how:
- Enhanced Retention: When employees believe their concerns are taken seriously, they are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Conversely, when employees don’t trust the investigation process, retention suffers.
- Improved Productivity: Engaged and satisfied employees tend to be more productive. Reduced stress and greater job satisfaction can lead to increased performance.
- Positive Employer Brand Reputation: Organizations that prioritize employee well-being tend to have a positive reputation in the job market, making it easier to attract top talent. According to our 2023 Workplace Harassment and Misconduct Insights report, when employee issues were reported, investigated, and resolved, the referral rate for the organization increased to 56% (compared to 7% for organizations that don’t investigate reported issues.)
- Legal Safeguard: Proactive investigations and a culture of transparency can help organizations address issues before they escalate into costly lawsuits or regulatory fines.
While compliance is critical, it shouldn’t be viewed as a standalone goal for HR. Compliance should be an integral part of your organization’s broader commitment to fostering a positive employee experience; investigations should be a big part of that commitment. When conducted with empathy, transparency, and a real desire to improve, investigations become a powerful tool for building employee trust.