Every organization has a duty to investigate reported or even suspected incidents of employee misconduct or prohibited activity. While a prompt response with a neutral, fair and organized investigative process is essential to enable resolution of the immediate issues and to move toward workplace restoration, there are additional considerations. Given the complexity and stress involved in an investigation, organizations should not underestimate the potential emotional toll. Workplace Investigations can affect everyone involved, including witnesses, other employees in the work area, and even the Investigator themselves. Everyone responds to stress differently, and good mental health isn’t just the absence of symptoms. So, we’ve put together some advice for businesses wondering how to protect the mental health of their employees throughout and beyond the workplace investigation process.
1. Acknowledge What’s Happening
The first step toward protecting employee mental health during a workplace investigation is to acknowledge that what is happening is difficult for everyone involved. Employees should not encounter barriers to being open and reaching out if they are struggling. It is essential to create an environment in which your employees feel safe and supported when they are candid about their feelings and concerns, and then, of course, it is as important for you to provide assistance. You may find in certain cases, participants may come forward right away with requests for support which may include temporary reassignment or stress-leave. In other cases, you may suggest, for one or more of the parties to an investigation, those types of measures which may not only help ensure an affected employee is no longer being subjected to what they have alleged is unacceptable workplace behaviour, but will also likely go a long way to supporting that individual’s mental health.
2. Offer Transparency & Clarity
Fear of the unknown can be debilitating for many people. While maintaining individual privacy during an investigation is essential, employers should share with participants and other employees as much information about the process as possible, keeping in mind information-sharing should be on a need-to-know basis. Additionally, providing clarity around details like timelines and next steps will go a long way toward reducing unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty. A drawn-out process or a long period without check-ins or updates can increase individual anxiety levels and cause tension in the workplace to escalate.
3. Give Opportunities to De-brief
Strict confidentiality is essential not only about the details of an investigation but in some cases even about the fact that an investigation is being conducted. However, it’s important to provide participating employees with an appropriate contact with whom they can discuss their experience and emotional response to what’s going on. Provide employees with a trusted, neutral person who is not connected to the investigation with whom they can de-brief throughout the process. Ensure this person can check in regularly to help impacted staff work through their feelings and emotions productively and in a way that won’t negatively impact the investigation. Keep in mind that facilitating these opportunities for conversations and support, even with someone at arm’s length within your organization, may not be appropriate or comfortable in all circumstances, and you should consider situations in which additional and perhaps external resources may be required.
4. Provide Mental Health Resources
Ensuring employees have access to mental health services will benefit everyone in your workplace, and the need for support is heightened when you are currently undergoing a workplace investigation. This could include reminding participants and other employees about your existing benefits or extended benefits programs or may require the provision of extraordinary temporary services and supports. Having resources in place and readily available will encourage individuals to get the support they need to maintain good mental health. That resilience will serve you well if your workplace is facing the stress of an investigation and well beyond.
5. Get Experienced External Support
Last but not least, please consider the impact of a workplace investigation on your internal employees who normally conduct these investigations. Investigating one’s co-workers can cause high levels of anxiety. Organizations should have a process in place to identify, case-by-case, individuals who would normally be tasked with these investigations who may be too close to the parties, the incidents, or perhaps may have personal experience that would make the subject matter of a case highly stress-inducing and potentially impact their ability to be objective or damage their mental health.
Hiring an objective external Investigator relieves those pressures on your internal staff. In addition, an experienced third-party Investigator is in an excellent position to identify those participants who may be experiencing high levels of stress and work with you to provide all the supports your organization offers, all of which contributes to a better overall outcome in the case and as importantly, in the end, healthier employees.
At Cenera, our Workplace Investigation team has decades of experience handling investigations with care and professionalism. Our skilled investigators can help your business minimize the impact of a workplace investigation, allowing you to build a workplace culture that supports good mental health.
Reach out to the team at Cenera today to learn more and get the support you need.
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