Canadian HR Reporter

April 2020 CAN

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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16 How Psychologically Safe is Your Investigation Process? Mindfulness and psychological safety go hand-in-hand. A psychologically safe workplace is one where individuals feel confident that their ideas and thoughts will be listened to and are able to speak up freely without fear of retaliation. People who feel that sense of safety are more likely to perform at higher levels and stay with an employer that values them. As a result, many organizations are focusing on how to increase psychological safety in their workplaces. IN REL ATION TO INVESTIGATIONS Given how much attention this critical concept has received in organizations, when it comes to how to make workplace investigations psychologically safe for all participants, there is surprisingly little information. Given the stress, anxiety and emotional turmoil that invariably occurs amidst workplace investigations, this sense of safety is particularly important, irrespective of if you are the complainant, respondent, or witness. What steps can be taken to ensure that psychological safety is embedded into the investigation process? AN ANECDOTAL INVESTIGATION To answer this question, let's begin by taking a look at a situation that pertains to sexual harassment in the workplace — an unfortunately common source of workplace investigations. Since starting with ABC Company three weeks ago, Maria has received a warm welcome from the team, particularly from fellow colleague Sam. Each morning, when Maria arrives to the office, Sam greets her with a tight hug. At first, Maria thought Sam was simply trying to make her feel comfortable in her new environment, but as time goes on Sam's hugs have started to make Maria feel anxious and uneasy. She is scared to say anything with fear of jeopardizing her new role. However, two associates, Katie and Hardeep, noticed Sam's behaviour and notified HR of what they had observed. An investigation is now underway. HOW TO PROMOTE SAFE DISCLOSURE As we saw in the preceding anecdote, a primary reason why individuals do not report unethical behaviour is due to fear of retaliation, including job loss, career growth consequences and social isolation. In other cases, there is the fear that no action will take place to stop the behaviour. What then can we do to create a safe space for individuals to come forward and report their concerns? First and foremost, as people leaders, we need to model behaviour that is supportive, inclusive and ethical, to help employees feel comfortable disclosing issues when they arise. If there is not a fundamental trust that exists wherein employees believe they will be supported by leadership when they bring their concerns forward, it is unlikely they will disclose. Trust can be built by walking the talk, leading with integrity, and demon- strating care and empathy for others. Secondly, creating confidential disclosure mechanisms can ensure that indi- viduals feel protected. Examples include an anonymous hotline that deals with workplace bullying and harassment; having a contracted external consultant or counsellor who employees can direct their concerns to; or appointing an internal person who has been trained to create a safe space for disclosing difficult and sometimes traumatizing issues. Thirdly, having clear policies and procedures in place regarding disclosure, that are supported with training and reinforced regularly in meetings and employee communications, can ensure that individuals know how they can report concerns and complaints. SETTING THE STAGE FOR INTERVIEWS Establishing a safe and secure environment is a critical part of the investiga- tion process. Once a complaint has been brought forward, it is important to set the stage for interviews to take place. To maintain the objectivity and neutrality of the investigation process, many employers will contract an external investigator — someone who is unknown to the investigation participants. The logistics of the interview can sometimes be tricky, but whenever possible, meetings should take place in a location that is neutral and private, and preferably offsite. If participants feel anxious or have any sense of animosity at the workplace, they will be less likely to share and commu- nicate openly. It can also set rumours and gossip into motion if people are observed to be having closed door conversations. Therefore, if off-site meetings are not possible, then it is best to hold meetings before or after regular working hours. Participants in the investigation process should be told in advance what the meeting is about to ensure they are not left confused and anxious about having a meeting scheduled. It can be a simple messaging to employees that a workplace concern was brought forward, and their viewpoint in the matter is needed and appreciated. By Robin Turnill, cphr and Mia McCannel "There is the fear that no action will take place to stop the behaviour."

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