The aftermath of an investigation is sometimes not as well-thought-out as the actual investigation. However, all stages of the investigation process matter, and those include the planning, execution and the aftermath. Having control over how the investigation ends is very important for businesses as it can have many benefits and prevents further issues from arising. Businesses should then pay more attention and ensure that everything is handled.
So when does the aftermath start? The aftermath is considered as the period after the investigation has been finalised and a decision has been made. The investigation in question is usually initiated following complaints from one or several employees regarding alleged instances of harassment, bullying, sexual advances or other types of misconduct. As the investigation is carried out to improve the workplace and prevent a toxic and hostile work environment, it is essential that it is managed properly. Just because a conclusion is reached, it does not mean that all issues have been addressed.
What is involved in the aftermath?
The aftermath of the investigation refers to a number of strategies and approaches the company implements due to the findings of the investigation. These actions vary from one incident to the other but usually include:
Disciplinary actions: Employees found to have engaged in misconduct will be subjected to disciplinary actions, which include written and verbal warnings, suspension and, in some cases, termination of employment. The company will need to follow the disciplinary procedure to decide which action is most appropriate.
Revised company policies: The investigation may have indicated that the company policies were lacking or were not covering a specific issue raised by employees. It could have been found that they are outdated. As the world is changing, policies need to change as well. Failure to do so will lead to more investigations and more disruptions. Ensure that your company reviews its policies regularly, without a problem being present, to avoid future conflict.
Training and awareness: Mandatory training sessions are necessary for stressing the importance of zero tolerance towards any type of misconduct. The training should focus on recognising and preventing incidents of harassment, as well as fostering a culture of respect and inclusiveness. Employees should be taught what behaviours such as passive aggression can look like and what is the appropriate way to act in the workplace.
Anonymous reporting system: During the aftermath of an investigation, it could be found that the current reporting system did not make it easy for employees to report their concerns. An updated anonymous reporting system may be needed to encourage employees to share any problem they faced or issues they struggled with.
Ongoing monitoring: Just because the investigation reached a conclusion, it does not mean that the job is over. The company must commit to regularly monitor the work environment, conducting employee surveys and revisiting practices as required. This ensures that issues will be detected early and dealt with in a timely manner.
Handling the aftermath
Handling the aftermath of an investigation is one of those situations that is easier said than done. Employee emotions may be high, people may feel wronged and the investigation might have created tension in the workplace. What are the best ways to manage that?
-Oversee follow-up actions
-Be proactive (in more ways than one)
-Manage the emotions of all parties
-Maintain confidentiality and privacy
-Take steps to learn and improve
Employers need to make sure that all involved parties are informed of the outcome of the investigation in a clear and concise manner. Using simple language and terms rather than jargon can avoid confusion and misunderstandings. It is important to be honest and transparent about what was discovered during the investigation and what actions the company will take as a result. Linking action to findings is critical for showing the company is acting on facts rather than personal beliefs or assumptions.
If unsure, avoid making promises or giving false hope, especially surrounding employee positions. Do not promise that someone will not be affected by repercussions if you have doubts. This can cause more harm than good.
Oversee follow-up actions
Once the investigation is concluded, it is vital to take appropriate follow-up actions to address any issues found during the investigation. Be specific and clear about what steps will be taken to prevent any recurrence of the behaviour, such as increased training or new policies mentioned above. Ensure that all employees understand why the changes are being made and no steps have been skipped.
It is wise to keep track of the follow-up actions that have been taken as they may need to be revisited later. Documenting follow-up actions is also important from a legal standpoint.
Be Proactive (in more ways than one)
Being proactive is needed even during the aftermath of the investigation. Employers and managers need to be ready to protect all parties involved in the investigation. This may include offering additional security measures or protection for those who may be at risk of retaliation or harm. Keep an eye out for any retaliatory actions as employees may feel intimidated and not speak up initially.
This is where the anonymous line will come in handy, as employees may feel more comfortable reporting incidents of retaliation or hostility without their identity being known. If more changes are needed or the situation changes, communicate that as soon as possible.
Manage the emotions of all parties
Acknowledge the emotional impact that the investigation may have on all parties involved. Offer support and resources to those who may be struggling with the outcome. The aftermath of the investigation may mean loss of work, friendships and career prospects, so it can be hard to navigate. Even those who did nothing wrong may be blamed by friends and colleagues of the accused. It is important to manage staff emotions so the situation does not escalate.
As mentioned before, empathy is really important. Be empathetic and compassionate when communicating with those impacted by the investigation. Use active listening skills and try to understand their perspective and try not to interrupt them. Ask them meaningful questions to show your attention and interest. Moreover, highlight that everyone must be treated with respect and dignity throughout the process.
Maintain confidentiality and privacy
Prioritise the privacy and confidentiality of everyone involved in the investigation even after it is over. Only share information on a need-to-know basis, and ensure that any information shared is accurate and factual. If it is not necessary to make information public to all employees then do not do so.
Implement strict security measures to protect any sensitive information or documentation related to the investigation. To store confidential files and information, our clients use Polonious as we keep all data secure for as long as it is needed.
If you notice employees gossiping or spreading rumours about the investigation, put a stop to it immediately. It would be ideal to send out a company email/announcement discouraging such behaviours.
Staying professional is necessary even after the investigation has ended. When talking about the accused, you should not use emotive or overly negative language, as this can create tension between employees. Explain what happened in a professional manner and try not to involve your personal emotions. However, do share your thoughts as that shows employees where you stand.
Even though during the investigation, managers are required to remain neutral, after a conclusion has been reached, the managers should seek to support the victim while also enforcing consequences calmly and composedly. As this may be a hard time for employees, it may be a hard time for managers as well as they have to take care of issues. Please do not hesitate to seek help and mental health resources for yourself.
Take steps to learn and improve
The aftermath of an investigation can be a great opportunity for self-reflection. Try to think back on how you handled situations. Do you think you managed most issues appropriately? Could you have done something better? Taking a step back and evaluating things in hindsight can provide a better perspective on how things rolled out. Do not beat yourself up. If you disagree with a decision you made, understand why you made it and consider what you would do differently in the future.
Use the investigation as an opportunity to learn and improve the workplace culture as well. Consider how employees reacted to the aftermath, how the information they received before and after affected their reactions and what other steps could be taken to ease employees into a different environment.
Investigations are stressful and handling the aftermath can be even more daunting as employers and managers may be dealing with numerous employees affected. Depending on the outcome, not everyone will be happy so knowing how to navigate the aftermath is important for ensuring retaliation is prevented.
If you are looking for an easier way to conduct investigations, Polonious supports organisations globally to speed up the investigation processes at a lower cost. We help with information and file storing, workflows, task assignment and automatic case updates that saves time and prevents manual errors. If you want faster turnaround times and a more efficient process, reach out!
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