Welcome back to ‘Check the Drama at the Door,’ our ongoing series about preventing workplace conflict and promoting a healthy culture. Over the past few weeks, I have been identifying potentially “triggering” events or issues and turning points at which companies may be able to take steps to avoid strife, boost productivity and loyalty and, one hopes, make their businesses desirable employers. If you missed the last couple of posts, check them out here! They cover establishing culture, organizational changes, communication improvement, training practices, and HR tools.
My experience as an independent workplace investigator has given me a bird’s eye view of workplace conflict as it unfolds, and I have been able to spot a few patterns. One pattern is that there always seems to be a singular point in time where the action could have been avoided. I have been posting a series of blog entries that address best practices for conflict prevention and resolution while identifying potentially triggering turning points. This is the fifth post of that series.
Use technology, analytics, and other cutting-edge tools to note and address trends.
Employers should make maximum use of technology and data analytics tools to gather, analyze, and share information to track trends, and to identify and address potential problems.
Employers can collect and analyze the following type of data:
- hiring data;
- turnover rates;
- departures of a particular type of employee in a department (for example, has there been a large number of women, older employees, or employees of other protected categories who have left a particular department?);
- data about who is being promoted, getting pay raises, getting recognition, or receiving the higher evaluation scores;
- pay equity issues.
- Many companies have systems in place to encourage diversity and attempt to eliminate or minimize unconscious bias. These tools can and should be used to supplement those programs.
- For example, is a particular hiring manager only hiring men, young employees, women, people of a certain race, etc.? Although this may not amount to conscious bias, it might indicate unconscious bias or a lack of diversity in the candidate pool. If so, mechanisms can be put into place (unconscious bias training, expansion of recruitment methods, etc.) to address these concerns before they become a problem.
- Beyond hiring, analyze ratings, raises, promotion rates, etc. for departments and the company as a whole to check for similar warning signs and, if necessary, to implement similar fixes.
- For pay equity issues, use data to see if there are significant differences in pay among men and women and among employees of different races and ethnicities. This information can serve as a tool to define or clarify the criteria that is being used to determine employees’ total compensation (including starting salary, base salary, incentive bonuses, performance bonuses, etc.).
Make sure you view investigations as a conflict resolution tool, not as a defensive tool. When an employee lodges a formal internal complaint, the situation has already escalated to a true conflict, but an investigation provides a company with an excellent opportunity to diffuse the situation, no matter the outcome or findings.
To the extent your investigation uncovers some level of misconduct, address the issue and implement a creative and effective fix. Companies often fall into the trap of thinking there are only two options: do nothing or discharge an employee. Doing nothing is almost never the answer (even if allegations are unsubstantiated, you might need to clarify information to change perceptions, there might be a policy or practice you need to tweak, or you might consider some targeted training). And while termination is certainly an appropriate action when the facts warrant that decision, companies too often reach this decision without a deep analysis and they fail to document that analysis (which sometimes leaves the terminated employee feeling he has been treated unfairly).
- trying to “spin” facts to “protect” the company;
- failing to implement any remedial measure;
- failing to communicate during and after an investigation;
- a lack of consistency (i.e., a lack of actual and perceived fairness) in the investigation process;
- reaching conclusions prematurely or turning an investigation into a witch hunt.
Practices to Consider:
- There are no “bad facts” in investigations, only facts. Your initial job as an investigator is to collect evidence in order to reach a fair and reasonable conclusion. Next, it’s to figure out how to fix the situation. If you do not find evidence to support an allegation, there is likely an issue of perception (or misperception) that needs to be fixed. If you find any type of misconduct, you must implement creative remedial measures that are in line with the severity of the misconduct. This means looking at the entire picture to see what would send the most appropriate message and will prevent the misconduct from happening again, or from escalating.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. At the beginning of the investigation, be precise and transparent. For example, you might tell the accused party: “My job is to provide you with an opportunity to respond to each of the allegations raised about your behavior.”; you might tell witnesses: “I’m performing an independent investigation and although the allegations do not involve you or your job directly, you’ve been identified as someone who might have important information to share with me.” During the investigation, make sure you keep the parties apprised of your progress. You are not required to reveal details about your witness list or the exact work you’ve performed but simply that you are continuing your work. After the investigation, communicate clearly and compassionately with all parties. Make sure you are addressing both actual and perceived fairness throughout the process.
- Do not let unconscious bias or preconceived notions tarnish your independence during and after an investigation.
Remember that there is always room for improvement in your organization's culture; whether that be in your evaluation procedures, or your compensation mechanisms, it is important to constantly be looking for areas that can be improved upon, and organizational gaps that can be closed. Be sure to check in next week for our final post in the series. Patti Perez will discuss turning challenges into opportunities and tie the entire series together.