Clearing the Air After a Workplace Investigation: Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the negative impact an investigation can have on a work group.  I also addressed the “low hanging fruit,” i.e., the basic post-investigation actions that need to be taken.  In this post, I describe a “normalization” process that can be used to address the significant stresses that result when all parties to an investigation remain in the workplace.

Typically, this process is led by someone with coaching, mediation, and facilitation skills. It can be an internal person, if he or she is not part of the workgroup and was not involved in the investigation.  Often, it is better to bring in someone from the outside.

The process has several steps. First, the coach/mediator needs to get a basic background: the allegations, the type and extent of the investigation that took place, and the findings. Though helpful, it is not necessary for the coach to read the investigative report and often this does not occur.

Second, the coach/mediator should interview the parties. Questions include what happened, how have the parties’ interactions been going since the investigation began, and what would enable the party to move past the investigation. The coach/mediator should get each party’s agreement to a facilitated meeting and determine if they have any concerns or preferences for the meeting. It is important that the coach/mediator develop a rapport with each of the parties – and to understand where each is coming from – as a prelude to the meeting.

The next step is preparation of a meeting agenda. Each one is unique to the situation at hand, but has certain common components, including discussions of (1) the role of the facilitator; (2) common goals that all of the parties share; (3) how the parties want to interact with each other in the future; and (4) what the employer wants and needs from the parties. It is a good idea to send the agenda to the parties in advance for their review and comments. The coach/mediator also needs to prepare a “Ground Rules” document to guide the participants’ interactions during the meeting.

The meeting itself should be in a comfortable, private space. The table should be such that no one has positional authority or precedence. (Yes, these are not that different from international peace talks.) The participants may or may not fully stick to the agenda, but the facilitator’s job is to ensure that the essential matters get discussed in a concrete manner and resolved to at least some degree, even if it’s only deciding to meet again to continue the discussion. The facilitator also needs to ensure that the uncomfortable topics get out on the table, e.g., retaliation or performance concerns.

When the meeting is over, someone needs to write down what was decided. Typically this is the facilitator and the notes should be sent to all participants for their corrections, additions, and changes, if any. If a second meeting is contemplated, the facilitator will want to try to ensure this actually happens.

What happens when all the notices have been sent and the meetings have occurred? Management should continue to check in with the parties from time to time to see how things are going and take appropriate action as needed. And hold its breath.

What have you done to normalize things after an investigation?  ~Amy Stephson



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