How to Stop Workplace Bullying in its Tracks

- Monday, May 18, 2015
How to Stop Workplace Bullying in its Tracks
How to Stop Workplace Bullying in its Tracks

Workplace bullying is an enormous problem, which can be very difficult to manage effectively. Not only does the victim experience high levels of stress, but bullying can cause a loss of productivity, and prevent staff from being able to work together. It can also result in more management time being spent dealing with bullying issues, increased costs due to investigations, and higher rates of sick leave, workers’ compensation claims and unfair dismissal claims.

How much of a problem is bullying?

The Commonwealth Government’s Guide to Bullying in the Workplace has estimated that 20 per cent of all workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury are the result of workplace bullying. Further, psychological injury claims are the most expensive type of claims. According to the guide, workplace bulling is the “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person or group of persons at a workplace, which creates a risk to health and safety.” Single incidents of unreasonable behaviour are not considered bullying, although they can be a warning sign that the behaviour may escalate and lead to bullying.

The importance of workplace culture

Bullying usually comes into focus only after there has been a complaint. Steps are taken to investigate the complaint, and measures are put in place to resolve the issues. While it is important that incidents of bullying are investigated and appropriate action is taken, it’s much more effective to tackle the problem of bullying by trying to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

In workplaces where employees work well together, are treated respectfully and have open channels of communication, a bully will be less effective. In contrast, in a culture where workers feel suspicious and fearful, the conditions for workplace bullying are ideal. Often, it may be a manager doing the bullying through an “iron fist” approach, strictly controlling work and demeaning the victim. If this style of management has been accepted by the organisation, then the organisation has (perhaps unwittingly) accepted a culture of bullying. 

Effective bullying investigations

Because of the many legal requirements of a formal investigation, they tend to be formal processes and can even become adversarial if the complainant and the alleged bully have to sit down together in an attempt to resolve the matter. But if organisations are able to handle the matter a little more creatively, informal processes can be adopted. For example, an independent person may speak to both parties separately, giving both sides the opportunity to freely express their views. A code of conduct may be drafted, setting out acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, and both parties can agree to be bound by that code. Informal processes can often bring a speedy halt to bullying issues.

Other strategies to help prevent bullying

It is important that the organisation has an anti-bullying policy, which must be read and signed by every employee to indicate understanding and agreement to its terms. 

This is a foundation document which must:

  • Set out the definition of bullying.
  • Give examples of bullying behaviours.
  • Set out a grievance procedure.
  • Indicate that disciplinary action that can be taken against a perpetrator. 

This document will also become very important in the event of any grievance procedure or litigation arising out of a complaint of bullying. 

One of the most effective preventative measures is to promote a happy, healthy workplace in which employees are valued and respected. Managers should be regularly reminded that they are role models. Regular training of all employees on bullying issues also reminds everyone about what behaviour is acceptable, and sends a strong message that bullying will not be tolerated by the organisation. 

Preventative measures will never fully protect organisations and staff from bullying, but they can certainly help to reduce incidents of bullying, and show that the organisation is serious about stamping out bullying.

Copping Out - When it's time to call the Police

- Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Deferring to police
When Should a Matter be Handed to Police for Investigation?

Police involvement in a workplace incident is an unwelcome prospect for any organisation. It is often difficult for employers to know what matters should be reported to the police, at what stage of the process to contact the police, and how to proceed once the police are involved.

What matters should be reported to the police?
Some workplace incidents are so serious that they should always be reported to the police, for example the death of a worker or a critical injury. Other examples of matters which should be reported to police include: 
  • Fighting/assault. 
  • A worker suspected of significant fraud or theft. 
  • Sexual assault. 
  • Threats to harm another person. 
  • Corruption. 
  • Activity that affects the safety of a child, for example abuse. 
When it comes to less serious matters, an employer may wish to report them, even if the police are unlikely to conduct an investigation.  For example, under the Fair Work Act, a small business employer can report an incident of two employees fighting, even if medical attention isn’t required. 

This is important, because such a report may help the employer meet the requirements of the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, which can be used to defend a claim for unfair dismissal if the employment of either or both employees is terminated. An employer may also wish to report less serious incidents such as small thefts, for example, even if any police investigation is likely to be slow.
At what stage should police be contacted?
In the case of serious workplace incidents, such as a death or large-scale fraud, police should be notified immediately. In less serious cases, when to involve the police is not as clear cut. Suspected criminal activity often arises out of an allegation of serious and wilful misconduct, and usually an investigation will need to be conducted. The employee suspected of misconduct may need to be suspended even before the investigation has properly commenced. Time is of the essence and reporting a matter to the police may not necessarily be the most important thing. Whether an initial investigation should be deferred to the police is also a difficult decision, particularly if there is much confusion about how the incident occurred. 
Why it is important to defer to police in serious cases
The general rule is that the more serious the offence, the more likely that the police or other authorities should be in charge of the investigation.  The reason is that any evidence should remain uncontaminated. For example, if the employer commences interviewing employees, views about the matter may be unwittingly passed on the interviewees. Any evidence that the interviewees subsequently provide to the police may be a reflection of those views, rather than an accurate account of what has happened. This compromises the police investigation, and may lower the chances of a conviction. 
How to proceed once the police are involved
Problems can arise if the police investigation is too slow, or if the lines are blurred. For example, a person accused of physically assaulting a co-worker should not be allowed to continue working with that person pending the outcome of a police investigation. The parties should at the very least be separated from one another. 

There may be circumstances in which a workplace investigation can be conducted while a police investigation is ongoing, especially in cases where employers have a need to deal swiftly with a situation, as in the example of allegations of assault. For this reason, the employer should stay in close contact with the police, and having assistance from experienced workplace investigators can be helpful in navigating the situation.
Making the decision to involve police
When deciding whether to defer an investigation to the police, consider that the more serious the allegation, the more likely that the police should be given the opportunity to initially investigate. If in doubt, it’s a good idea to report the matter to the police, and seek further guidance. An employer may need to suspend the employee on full pay pending the outcome of the police investigation, run a concurrent investigation, or be able to conduct their own investigation if the matter doesn’t warrant police involvement. Whichever path is appropriate, it is essential that employers deal with any incident as quickly and decisively as possible. 

WISE Workplace provides training courses and masterclasses in investigations for HR practitioners, workplace investigators and managers.  Our courses are designed and taught by investigators specifically designed for those engaged in the investigation of workplace misconduct including bullying and harassment.  See below for upcoming course dates

(Articulates with Cert IV in Government Investigations)

Location: Canberra
Date: 20-22 May 2015

Location: Brisbane 
Date: 16-18 September 2015

Location: Adelaide
Date: 19-21 June

Location: Melbourne
Date: 5-7 August

Sex, Lies and Audiotape

- Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Raising challenges in interviews
Versions of Events Differ? Raising Challenges in Interviews

If you are conducting a workplace investigation, no doubt you’re dealing with something unpleasant. All the more so because at some point you will have to conduct an interview with the person against whom allegations have been made.

Allegations have been made, an interview is required

To conduct a proper investigation, you need as much detail as possible about the allegations. For example, if an employee – let’s call her Sarah – alleges that she has been bullied by another employee – let’s call him Michael – one of your first actions in investigating the matter will be to interview Sarah and get as much detail as possible about why she says she has been bullied by Michael. As a matter of procedural fairness, Michael must have an opportunity to respond to the allegations during interview before any determination is made.

Raising challenges in investigative interviews

One of the big issues that can arise in these situations is how to challenge the interviewee. A challenge is necessary when the interviewee denies the allegations or gives a different account of events. Because there is a chance that the interviewee will remain an employee of your organisation after the interview, you need to tread carefully in order to preserve the working relationship. For example, Sarah says that Michael often yelled at her and made her cry. When you interview Michael, you tell him how the interview is to proceed, put the allegations to him, and then ask open questions that will encourage him to provide a narrative of events so you can collect as much information as possible. 

In this case, you ask Michael whether there were any issues in his working relationship with Sarah and any conflict. You might then ask whether he had ever raised his voice with Sarah or had she ever cried in his presence. Michael tells you that he can’t recall a time when he has seen Sarah crying and that he has never yelled at her. You have a direct conflict between the two versions of events. These points are important, as they may tend to prove or disprove Sarah’s allegations. 

 You need to outline to Michael the information that you have gathered on these points. You tell Michael that other staff members have heard him yelling at Sarah and they have seen her crying in meetings. Then you give him an opportunity to respond. You must remain objective during this process – do not say anything that is judgmental (for example, “You shouldn’t have done that …”) or that indicates that you have determined the matter one way or another. Once you have given Michael the opportunity to respond to your questions, it is essential to repeat back to Michael what he has just told you. This can be paraphrased or summarised. The point of this is to make sure that you have understood the information and that it is accurate. Ask whether your recount is correct.

The key points in summary

So in summary, the steps for raising challenges in an investigative interview are:

  1. Ask the employee to tell you about the incident. 
  2. Where there are differences between the versions of events, raise them with the employee.
  3. Ask the employee to respond to those comments.
  4. Recap what the employee has just told you, summarising the key points.
  5. Ask the employee whether your summary is accurate.
The need for objectivity and procedural fairness

A properly executed investigative interview should demonstrate objectivity on the part of the interviewer and procedural fairness by putting the detailed allegations to the interviewee and giving them ample opportunity to respond. When these principles are followed, the interviewer has a good chance of collecting detailed information that will allow a proper assessment of the facts and a sound conclusion to be reached. 

Surviving Hell - Men and Workplace Bullying

- Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Workplace Bullying and Men’s Sense of Self
Surviving Hell - Men and Workplace Bullying

As a society, Australia is becoming better at dealing with workplace bullying. That is, better at understanding, noticing, preventing, stopping and compensating for injury. Yet we also have so much to learn about the more nuanced after-effects of this scourge within Australian workplaces. One problematic and often ignored aspect of the broader effects of bullying is the devastating impact upon the identity and wellbeing of men. Gender stereotypes around ‘toughness’ and ‘coping’ have a lot to answer for, as we begin to unpack the pressures on men to withstand even the most dire of workplace bullying situations. We look at the specific impacts that workplace bullying can have upon men’s sense of self – as well as the workplace more broadly.

A study in ill treatment
In a recent article by MacIntosh et al, a close analysis was made of men’s responses to bullying. The researchers found that men who were the subjects of bullying in the workplace utilised similar mechanisms afterwards to try to hold on to their sense of self. The participants reported feelings of shock, confusion and a negative shift in identity after being bullied. Many had considerable difficulty in reconciling the way they saw themselves as men, with the way they had been treated. A lengthy process of ‘sustaining self’ was often needed, employing processes such as comparing their earlier identity with their ‘bullied’ self, taking stock, considering help, and coming to terms with the new reality.
Costs and consequences
Most employers understand the basic responses that are needed when a male staff member reports bullying. Yet there is more that can be done by human resource personnel and employers generally when such a report comes through. Certainly, an investigation of allegations will commence, plus leave might be granted for the staff member/s where appropriate. But with only 25% of men who have been bullied staying at the same workplace, more intensive and personalised assistance should be embedded in the employment culture. Without such investment of time, energy and other resources, workplaces stand to lose good workers, considerable corporate knowledge and trust from remaining employees regarding genuine support from ‘the top.’ Worse still, the perception that bullying behaviour is tacitly ignored or tolerated by management can have marked effects upon morale and productivity.
Tailored methods
Because of gender stereotypes that persist regarding the need for men to ‘suck it up’ following an attack like bullying, even good managers and HR staff can miss the indications that all is not well in the workplace. If a male staff member actually does approach HR for assistance around workplace bullying (often extremely challenging), initial contact must be supportive, inclusive and flexible in terms of availability and resource choices. Once the allegation is proved, helping the employee to slowly find ways to sustain his sense of self can greatly increase the chances of wellness being rebuilt, and the employment relationship continuing. 

In terms of policies and procedures relevant to the reporting and treatment of workplace bullying, make sure that these are professionally tailored for the individual workplace. For example, where gender composition or the nature of work could make personal reporting difficult in work hours, ensure that access to help is discreet, multi-channel and appropriate to the situation.
Walking beside
Being bullied – combined with gendered expectations about how they should react – can coalesce into a living nightmare for men in the workplace. Be sure to assist male employees to navigate the difficult path to equilibrium following an incident of workplace bullying. With accessible resources, tailored policies and suitable support, employers can actively assist men in the workplace as they regain their post-bullying sense of self.

WISE Workplace provides training courses and masterclasses in investigations for HR practitioners, workplace investigators and managers.  Our courses are designed and taught by investigators specifically designed for those engaged in the investigation of workplace misconduct including bullying and harassment.  See below for upcoming course dates

Conducting workplace investigations advanced
(Articulates with Cert IV in Government Investigations)

Location: Sydney
Date: 6-8 May 2015

Location: Canberra
Date: 20-22 May 2015

Sliding towards Corruption - Conflict of Interest in Government

- Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of Interest: A Source of Corruption in Government

It is an unfortunate reality that supposedly small conflicts of interest can grow into fully-fledged corruption. Within government, conflicts of interest can at first seem like the most minor of issues. Certainly, small favours might be given or suppliers provided with minor inside information. Perhaps friends are awarded short-term contracts without an entirely complete tender process being applied. Especially when time and/ or money is a crucial factor, these can seem like small conflicts compared to the bigger task of getting the main job done. After all, aren’t we trying to become more business-like in our government practices? We explain why it is a slippery slope from ‘mere’ conflict of interest, to corruption in government activities.

Where’s the conflict?

Conflict of interest involves the unacceptable overlapping of personal and public interests. Let’s take an example from the political realm. We have all seen red-faced ministers admit that they own undisclosed shares in a company whose activities fall within their industry portfolio. One personal interest – the shares – has a direct clash with their public responsibility, being the privilege of holding elected public office. There is often a ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ element to conflict of interest in government. After all, stakeholder engagement is an increasingly important part of public roles. Plus, all levels of government are now generally being driven towards private-style operational modes. In the face of this reality, it can be hard to separate good service from conflict of interest.

Navigating the space

One important element of identifying conflicts of interest is perception. In reality, a government worker might have absolutely no intention of using their privilege, connection to industry or policy knowledge to advance their own interests. Yet even if a conflict of interest is only perceived to exist – rather than actually being real – the damage might already be done. It is important for all public officers to declare and discuss potential conflicts, both real and perceived. What might only seem a minor issue can in fact have a large impact upon the public trust that is attached to a person, unit or department. In short, it is best to err on the side of caution when identifying and declaring potential conflicts of interest.

An insidious slide

Conflicts of interest left unchecked can become the perfect seeds for enduring corruption in government. When the initial conflicts go unnoticed or undeclared, a culture of corrupt action and decision-making will often begin to emerge. Particularly where a conflict produces improper gains that are small ‘in the grand scheme of things’, it can seem to the parties involved that nothing particularly bad is going on. For government workers who consider their pay insufficient, their outside activities more important or their ambitions essential, it can seem that a small beneficial conflict is completely inconsequential. Yet the ongoing repetition or development of the conflicted behaviour is a sure-fire pathway to outright corruption. Another way that conflicts of interest can evolve into full-scale corrupt behaviour is where the culture and/or senior management adopts a permissive attitude towards the practice – or even initiates it. Unethical and corrupt behaviour can then combine to become the new normal.

Maintaining integrity

When personal gains are made at the expense of public trust – or even when a perception of this prevails – the potential for corruption within government is pronounced. One ongoing challenge for public sector bodies is developing policy and training resources that actually embed themselves into workplace culture. Conflicts of interest and corruption can sometimes be given a simple ‘tick’ in terms of corporate documentation and practices. Thorough risk analysis and practical ethics training can go some way to ensuring conflict-minimisation, and the prevention of corruption within government workplaces.  

Essential Tips for Using Timelines During Interviews

- Tuesday, April 07, 2015
How to Use Timelines in Interviews
How to Use Timelines in Interviews

When conducting an investigative interview in the workplace, finding out exactly ‘who did what when’ can be somewhat easier said than done. Because we are generally interviewing a number of people and collating various documents and/ or items, we need to find ways to accurately collect and reconcile the information on hand. One useful tool to use during the investigative process is a timeline of relevant dates, times and events. During and after each interview with witnesses, a well-constructed chronology has a number of important uses.

Recording time

Prior to commencing witness interviews, set out a clear timeline document that can be populated as you go along. Software for this purpose is available, but a simple spreadsheet can be very effective. The three basic columns will be Event, Time/Date and Source. You can also add an extra column within Time/ Date if events are reported to have occurred over a period of time, for example March 7 to March 20. ‘Source’ might be a witness that you interview, or items such as policies, correspondence or records. Also make sure that you are completely confident with your chosen format – having informed your witness that you will be taking notes, it can be off-putting if you are struggling with your admin tools during the course of the interview.

The comparison of chronologies

In the initial collection of data in your timeline, start with the least controversial data that you have. For example, the incident in question might have occurred at the office Christmas party, which is documented and confirmed as being December 17, 2014. Less clear issues around time and date can then be discussed during interview. Yet it is incredibly important not to utilise leading questions as your timeline develops, and interviews roll along. To illustrate – Witness 1 might have stated that she left the party around 11pm. Witness 2 should not then be asked: “Did you see Witness 1 leave at around 11pm?” 

Potential ways to maintain the integrity of the interview and the timeline data in this instance could be to ask open questions along the lines of: “Can you remember seeing Witness 1 leave the party?” and if affirmative, “What time would that have been, approximately?”

The issue of discrepancies

As your timeline fills out, it is often the case that discrepancies will arise both around facts and times. For the purposes of the overall workplace investigation, some of these might be negligible and/or able to be explained by other factors (such as the possible haziness of time at a Christmas party!) However, other glaring clashes in your timeline will need further investigation or analysis. It is vitally important that you don’t discard out of hand one witness’s version of dates and times as wrong, instead favouring more ‘cogent’ versions of events. In the interests of natural justice, seek a fair and open method to resolve the discrepancy.

Let us say that you have telephone and computer records indicating that Witness 3 was at work on December 17, 2014. Yet Witness 3 states clearly and repeatedly that she did not work from the office that day. Putting the contradictory information from the records to Witness 3 is essential for natural justice. And she might just reveal with a little embarrassment that her work colleagues all share passwords for convenience: Witness 2 prefers Witness 3’s workstation with a view, and always uses her computer and phone while the other is out. With some more digging, this placement of Witness 3 out of the office on the date in question might well be verified.

Time is of the essence

Using a timeline to trace and develop the chronological aspect of your investigation is highly recommended. Without a precise and cross-checked ordering of events, there is a danger that procedural fairness will be hampered during the interview process, as illustrated above. When compiling a professional and accessible investigation report, a quality graphic timeline will prove itself to be a must-have tool.

The Ripple Effect - Bullying Impacts on Observers too

- Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Impacts of Bullying on Observers
Eye of the Beholder: The Impacts of Bullying on Observers

The all-too-clear effects of bullying upon targeted workers have been closely studied across many years. In a bid to reduce bullying-related injuries and impairments, employers have worked hard to prevent and detect bullies in the workplace. Yet how do those who observe bullying behaviour – yet escape it themselves – tend to fare? Recent findings are beginning to shed light upon the other, often-forgotten people involved in workplace bullying – those who have to observe such behaviour. 

Missing from data, missing from view

In 2014, Cooper-Thomas and colleagues noted that observers of workplace bullying are indeed often left outside of analyses of bullying behaviours at work. Yet with one British study indicating that 46.5% of respondents see themselves as being observers of workplace bullying, it is certainly timely to address the impacts of bullying not only upon targets, but also the unfortunate witnesses of such behaviour. 

Negative effects

It has now been established that observing bullying can raise a number of negative emotional states in the individual. A witness may feel concern for the victim, worry for themselves, and stressful empathic visions of being ‘in the other’s shoes’. Just like direct victims of bullying, observers tend to develop a negative perception of the overall work environment. Compared to personnel with no exposure to workplace bullying, victims, observers and observer/victims generally experience significantly low morale. And not surprisingly, workplaces with high rates of bullying exhibit high conflict, ambiguous role definitions, and unfair leader behaviour. It appears that if we add the numbers of observers to the numbers of victims of workplace bullying, the overall negative effects upon workplace morale and productivity are considerably multiplied.

Constructive management

In the same way as victims of bullying, observers of bullying can suffer psycho-social stress, burnout and an acutely negative attitude towards work. This can flow through to role engagement and productivity, as workers’ wellbeing becomes taxed by these negative observations. Interestingly, the phenomenon of bullying was found to be associated much more with laissez-faire management styles than constructive or assertive styles. That is, when managers are disorganised, hands-off and looking the other way, more bullying arises.

The ripple effect

As well as the negative effects that victims and observers reported, it became clear in the work of Cooper-Thomas et al that the organisation itself suffers as the experience of bullying rises. In this way, there is a discernible ‘ripple effect’ caused by bullying in the workplace. Flowing out from the individual impacts on targets and observers, bullying behaviour causes marked negative effects on reported staff turnover and satisfaction, as well as morale and productivity across the workplace.

Reduce the bullying experience – get constructive

So for employers, it appears that concentrating only upon those effects that bullying has upon single ‘targets’ can be somewhat myopic. Rippling out through targets, bullying observers and then to the wider organisation, the overall negative effects of this behaviour can be vastly underestimated. One of the strongest preventative measures for both bullying and the ripple effect was found to be constructive leadership techniques. 

Where communication is clear, roles are well defined and reporting procedures are accessible, bullying itself tends to dwindle in prevalence. Constructive managers will no doubt need to maintain vigilance against the impacts of bullying. This will necessarily involve not only stopping a bully in their tracks, but also dealing assertively and professionally with the fall-out caused by any ripple effect.  An audit of current reporting procedures, anti-bullying training and risk factors will also go a long way to preventing unacceptable behaviours in the workplace.

Preventing Employee Theft Without Losing Your Shirt

- Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The High Costs of Employee Theft
The High Cost of Employee Theft: Is it Happening to You?

It can be a shock to discover that theft is occurring in your workplace. Each of your staff may have shone at recruitment, with no visible trust issues apparent. So how can we reconcile our valuable personnel with the fact that theft regularly occurs in the workplace? What did we miss? Let’s take a look at the typical way in which workplace theft occurs, plus some startling statistics about the costs to industry. 

The many ways to thieve

On shop floors, at workstations and in warehouses, Australians are stealing an accumulated $2 billion from retail employers alone each year, according to the Australian Retailers Association. Cold hard cash and inventory are certainly among the most popular ways for staff to steal from the workplace. In fact, staff members tend to pilfer from workplaces at approximately the same rate as customers. And for ordinary customers, we enjoy a 3% added cost to our purchases, courtesy of employee theft. But there are other, less obvious methods by which staff can fatten their pay packets. False invoices, inflated petty cash claims, sneaky discounts to friends, personal activities in company time, irregular credit transactions, undeclared client gifts, falsified documents and inaccurate time sheet entries can all work to strip away from the employer’s bottom line. 

Who and why?
We would perhaps not be surprised to learn that a lower-paid cashier has had a hand in the till to help pay their rent or groceries. Yet such generalisations don’t necessarily hold in the context of the ‘average’ workplace thief. In fact, the staff who tend to steal the most from bosses are those in the higher-paid and higher-access executive roles. With access to financial resources such as company credit cards, cab vouchers and expense accounts, white collar managers unfortunately take the gong for the greatest theft in the workforce. And for those personnel involved in daily dealing with accounts, revenue and general finance, the temptation to thieve can also be extremely evident. It can be a simple case of opportunity meets temptation for those workers given the greatest trust. 
When the chips are down
It is perhaps not surprising that attempts by workers to steal tend to increase during times of economic downturn; costs climb and paying bills can become harder each day. And it is also at this time that employers are actually more likely to take a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and theft. It is important, however, for workplaces to take a measured stance on workplace theft reduction. This includes not making any hasty decisions once a thief is detected. 
Tips for employers
If an employee is suspected of theft, it is important for management to carry out an objective and professional investigation. Rather than jump to any conclusions, be sure to implement a process that adheres to the principles of procedural fairness. It is also important to regularly check and update your policies and procedures around fraud and theft. As part of this, ensure that the employment contract you use at recruitment has strong and clear explanations of the types of misdemeanour that will not be tolerated. Think also about your staff morale, including strategies for keeping employees content. There is a direct link between unhappy workplaces and the amount of theft engaged in by workers. Also think carefully about the right steps to take once theft is uncovered. It might be tempting to make an example of the employee who slips a stapler into his backpack, coming down swiftly and hard. Yet instant dismissal in such a case – particularly if the worker’s record is otherwise unblemished – might lead to unfortunate legal repercussions for the business. Work out if this is something with sufficient gravity to warrant calling the police, or if internal measures might suffice. 
Keep it clear
Humans are of course a rather self-serving lot. Petty thievery might unfortunately be here to stay. Yet employers can take assertive measures to reduce the likelihood of workplace theft. First, develop and regularly check or policies and processes related to staff fraud and theft. Secondly, take measured action in relation to any allegations, and seek advice if you are uncertain about the best response. And finally – aim for a workplace with high morale and clear communication, to help reduce the temptation for wrongdoing among your staff.  

Picture it! Enhancing memory recall in interviews

- Tuesday, March 17, 2015
reasonable action
Using Sketches to Trigger Memory in Interviews

Professional investigators face one challenging adversary – human memory. The deterioration of memories over time, plus a number of ‘tricks’ that the brain can play when attempting to recall information has often frustrated professionals in the field. The well-known PEACE model of interviewing certainly assists workplace investigators to structure a cogent and methodical interview. Yet how can the quality of retrieved information be enhanced, let alone be guaranteed as factual? These qualitative problems have led to the use of innovative methods for increasing the integrity of memories retrieved from the human mind. We examine one of these methods – the use of sketches to trigger memories in the interviewee. 

Recalling PEACE

In the early 1990s, British psychologists and law enforcement professionals worked together to enhance the investigative interview process. The PEACE model encouraged interviewers to take a methodical approach to interviews, stepped through as follows: 

  • Prepare (Understand the problem, key personnel and the overall investigation plan) 
  • Engage (Establish rapport and a relaxed environment prior to questioning) 
  • Account (Obtain information via a variety of methods) 
  • Closure (Summarise, and invite interviewee to add further material) 
  • Evaluate (Assess the quality and relevance of material in relation to overall plan)    

The PEACE method provides many benefits that were previously unavailable to workplace investigators. Yet some shortcomings have included the length of time needed to complete interviews, as well as some persisting problems with memory quality. With our understanding of human cognitive processes increasing with each decade, some innovative methods for cross-checking memory data have greatly assisted the interviewer’s quest for reliable information. 

The fallible memory

Noting phenomena such as reconstructionist tendencies and possible false memory in humans, researchers of cognitive interviewing practices began to see that unintentional fabrication was a part of many interview scenarios. Memory deteriorates over time, plus the mind tries to fill gaps with embellishments where necessary. How could these difficult aspects of memory be reduced? At the Account phase of PEACE, it was known that using multiple ways of accessing an interviewee’s memory of an event worked well to improve data quality. 

At first, the interviewer might ask for a chronological recount. Next, they would perhaps ask the interviewee to discuss a few events in reverse order. And this could be followed with recall of a mental image of a relevant site, followed by a description given in words. This cross-checking of approaches has proved to be invaluable for the triangulation and more accurate retrieval of memory data. So where might sketches fit in? 

A sketched moment
As part of the arsenal of interview techniques available to the workplace investigator, an interviewee’s visual sketched recall of an incident can prove invaluable. Talking, by itself, will sometimes not be a good fit for particular interviewees. Some have limited English and/or vocabulary resources, leading to a stilted and possibly low-value interview outcome. And even where an interviewee is voluble in their recount, sketching key places or moments can greatly strengthen the utility of memories retrieved. 

The cognitive interview process involving a sketched component might flow as follows: 

The interviewee reveals that something took place in the car park with a manager. A workplace interviewer could ask for a sketch of the carpark, complete with any people and vehicles noted (stick figures and rectangles are fine!) These could be labelled with names, colours, distances, doorways and other relevant features. It is important to maintain open questions and an encouraging tone. 

The sketched result might then jog a memory, raise further questions and/or allow momentum in the interview to continue flowing. It might also confirm or bring into question the interviewee’s earlier responses and allow space for any clarification. A door has opened, and facts can begin to be verified and tested. 

Multiple methods

Sketches obtained during a PEACE-based interview process can add significantly to both the interview itself and the information retrieved. At the stages of Preparation and Engagement, it helps to be prepared with appropriate materials and an idea of which questions might be suited to this method. Let the interviewee know that some sketching might be an option during the interview. With the Account phase, cross-check any sketch with any other memory-retrieval data, such as chronological recount. And at Closure and Evaluation, assess how or if the method assisted in heightening the quality of the overall interview outcomes. Adding sketched memory to your interviewing tool-kit could certainly prove a useful method for gaining the best available information for your report.

Four Steps to a Great Investigation Report

- Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Steps to a Great Investigation Report
Four Steps to a Great Investigation Report

By the time a workplace investigator has reached the stage of compiling the investigation report, many hours, documents and interview outcomes have no doubt accumulated. How to bring all of this together effectively into a quality report might seem quite challenging. Yet, by dividing the task of reporting into a step-by-step plan, the complex assortment of materials gleaned from your workplace investigation can be streamlined into a useful and professional report. 

Revise the brief

The first thing to consider before you begin compiling the report is whether or not the Terms of Reference (TOR) have been met. These were established at the beginning of the investigation between yourself and the employer, setting out the key people, queries and facts relevant to the task. With the TOR in mind, ask yourself if you have achieved all necessary aspects of the investigation. 

Prepare your draft

The best investigation reports are well planned and logically organised. With the Terms of Reference and your evidence on hand, you can begin to sketch out and double-check your preliminary findings. Let us say that you feel confident that an allegation of misconduct has proven true as a result of your investigation. You would double-check and note all evidence relevant to this particular incident, to ensure that available material does in fact support your finding. Issues of procedural fairness, such as the inclusion of all relevant witnesses, should be kept in mind. 

Write with future readers in mind

A well-structured workplace investigation report will have one or two key features. First, the format will be clear and sequential, with an easy-to-follow index of both the report body and appendices. Secondly, the language of the report should be as clear and non-technical as possible. Don’t forget that the employer wants a very clear idea of what happened and what you have found – not a file full of big words! Plain language ensures that your objectivity is on show. Also, make the report itself relatively brief. The heart of the report document itself should simply cover the following four core components, with appendices attached. Objective and neutral language is essential, in order to clearly demonstrate that procedural fairness has remained front-and-centre during the task. 

A logical sequence

Our four-part plan can help you set our your investigation report logically, ensuring the report is complete and easy to understand.   

Part 1 - Overview

The first part of the report, the introduction, will give a broad-brush overview of both the critical events and the process of the workplace investigation itself. A summary of the TOR, including all allegations and relevant parties, will be included. Following this, an accurate timeline of investigative activities is set out so that readers get a feel for how and when each allegation arose and was dealt with. In general, you are providing a birds-eye view of events preceding the report. 

Part 2 – Findings

These are your findings relevant to the allegations. This might seem premature, as you are yet to introduce the evidence. Yet, if we consider future readers of the document – employer, possible lawyers and/ or courts and tribunals – placement of the findings near the start of the report creates a user-friendly format. Set out each allegation, plus a short statement as to whether or not you are satisfied on the basis of the evidence that it is founded in fact. 

Part 3 – Evidence

In the third section of the investigation report, describe available evidence as it relates to the allegations in question. Clearly refer readers to the numbered appendices at the back of your report, so that statements can be crosschecked with particular evidence. For example, you might refer to sections from two transcripts which corroborate allegations of a third party’s behaviour. Ensure that the relevant sections are appended, and avoid emotive language (descriptions such “damning document” for example) to ensure that your compliance with procedural fairness is apparent to all. 

Part 4 – Summary and recommendations

Finally, part 4 will summarise your workplace investigation and the outcomes achieved. In particular, you will include any recommendations if requested in the TOR's. These should be numbered and refer back to the findings. As an example, you might structure a recommendation as follows: “Due to allegation B having been made out against Mr TL (refer page 1 of Findings), disciplinary action of X is recommended.” 

Strive to be thorough and clear

By checking for completeness, drafting well and utilising our four-part report outline, you can ensure that all of your hard investigative work pays off. Write plainly and set your work out logically. With a clear and objective approach, you can generate a workplace investigation report that will pass muster as being fair, useful and professional.