conducting an investigation in the workplace

Investigation in the Workplace – 4 Words of Concern

In conducting workplace investigations, coaching and conflict resolution in the workplace, I have found that there are 4 words which I hear repeatedly, when I am called in to resolve a workplace conflict, coach an employee on problem behaviours, or determine if an employee has been bullied or harassed.

These are 4 words that you do not want me, as a consultant coach, investigator and resolver of conflicts, to hear from your employees. They mean that perhaps this problem could have been avoided or resolved weeks or months ago, without the expense of an investigation in the workplace or mediation or remedial coaching.

So what are they? 

No  

One

Has

Ever

You can remember them by the handy acronym NOHE. Here are some examples:

  • “NO ONE HAS EVER given me any feedback on my performance.”
  • “NO ONE HAS EVER told me what is expected of me in this role.”
  • “NO ONE HAS EVER asked me to provide more information about my bullying complaint.”
  • “NO ONE HAS EVER talked to me about this grievance.”
  • ‘NO ONE HAS EVER asked me how I am going in my job.”

Often NOHE is followed by TITFT – “This is the first time…”

When I sit down and listen to the employee’s story, I don’t necessarily accept or agree with everything they say, but there is an exchange of information happening. A process has begun. The question is, is it too late to repair things?  

I understand that managers are busy. They don’t always have time to communicate expectations or feedback, or they think that the employees should just “get it.” After all, no one told them how to do this manager job. Sad but probably true.

Maybe they think everything is going OK because there haven’t been any problems… so far. Maybe if they ignore the problem it will go away.

But NOHE has consequences.

  • Failure to communicate your expectations to employees can result in confusion, poor performance and in extreme cases, deviant behaviour such as bullying or fraud.
  • Employees whose managers don’t give them feedback have lower job satisfaction and don’t value their manager. Plus if you dismiss an employee for poor performance when you have never given them feedback, they may have grounds for a legal challenge.
  • Failure to acknowledge and act on complaints of bullying or harassment is a breach of work health and safety duties and will discourage employees from reporting deviant conduct.
  • Where managers don’t act on disputes or grievances it can create a vacuum that enables some individuals to actively dominate others and create perceptions in the workplace that certain individuals are allowed to “get away with it”.

So how can you be a manager who breaks the NOHE cycle?

  • Listening to and communicating with employees regularly will create an environment of fairness and respect.
  • If you are busy and tend to forget, set a recurring time in your calendar for feedback/checking in.
  • If you are concerned about your listening, communication or feedback skills, take a course or read a book such as Crucial Conversations or Thanks For The Feedback.
  • If someone brings a problem to you, decide whether this is something which needs your action or which you can coach the employee to resolve and act on themselves.
  • Don’t punish people for reporting mistakes or bad news. Be grateful (even with gritted teeth) that they did not hide it from you.
  • Follow through, check on the outcome and provide ongoing support.
  • Maintain confidence on what is disclosed, or if you do need to disclose what you’ve been told, make this clear to the employee.

Christa Ludlow is a lawyer with over 20 years’ experience in employment law and administrative law, and a qualified workplace investigator, coach and mediator. She is a Principal Consultant with WEIR Consulting. Christa can be contacted here.

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