What Can CEOs Do To Resolve Workplace Discrimination And Bullying?

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As the Head of Investigations at conflict resolution and culture change consultancy TCM, Gary Rogers says he has seen a more than threefold (68%) increase in investigations pre-pandemic to now. Gary brings attention to this issue of workplace bullying and discrimination and shares what business leaders can do about it.

Organisations are steadily returning to a new sense of normal, many considering the benefits of a modern, hybrid, workplace. This, in itself, can bring many challenges for employees and employers, as the re-building of workplace relationships takes place after a prolonged period of remote working.

A recent survey by an Australian legal company identified that nearly half of respondents said that bullying increased during the covid period, whilst remote working was the norm.  There has even been advice for employees who are anxious about the return to work as restrictions are lifted. 

With the reintroduction of ‘office’ working, come the challenges of difficult working relationships and, ultimately, the potential need for a formal investigation. I have seen an increase in requests for investigators, not just relating to poor behaviours, but serious and complex allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination, staff fraud and corruption.

You may never actually become involved in the investigation itself but you will, undoubtedly, have the final report come across your table for some form of action or input. It is of paramount importance that, as a Senior Leader, you are aware of what to look for within the investigation to protect your organisation’s reputation, finances, employee trust and respect that you will do ‘the right thing’. When you receive these reports, there are some key things to consider and watch out for, ‘red flags’, that may indicate that this investigation may put you and your organisation at risk.

Case Management

Has the investigation been managed correctly, in line with organisational policy? Has there been senior-level oversight of the investigation? Failure to follow organisational policies and procedures will inevitably lead to some form of scrutiny and criticism, whether from your Trade Union, your Legal team or an Employment Tribunal.

A letter to healthcare providers after a tragic incident in 2015, from Baroness Harding, outlined 7 key principles for investigations, one of which was board-level oversight. The principle behind this was to ensure that you, as senior leaders, have an overview of ongoing investigations assessing their risk to the organisation, understanding the sensitivity of each case and the routes being applied, such as disciplinary and appeal hearings

Do You Understand It?

If you are unable to understand what has taken place, what has been investigated, how it has been investigated and how the outcomes have been reached, then rest assured no one else will either. Making the report clear, concise and providing evidence-based outcomes is a key factor in a successful investigation. If these are missing, then you place yourself and your organisation at risk.

Is Everything Present?

If the investigation is referring to witness statements, documents or policies, are they in the report? Can you see them? You need to be assured that the investigation provides the evidence that supports its outcomes, or how can you be sure that the investigation is complete, or fair, or robust or actually happened at all?

Biased Or Objective?

Investigations must be objective and not influenced by any preconceptions or judgements, decisions based on evidence. If you have an investigator that articulates within their report that they know the history of the individuals involved, or that they have ‘heard’ about them, or even if you see comments or judgements that are not supported by facts, then alarm bells should be ringing. Some key phrases to look out for are ‘in my opinion’, ‘I have heard’ and ‘it is clear’. If you see these, they are not neutral phrases and may indicate some form of bias.

One more thing, encourage and embrace your employees, at all levels, to speak out and challenge poor behaviour. Creating a psychologically safe environment where employees feel confident to report, or challenge, poor behaviour is the foundation of good employment practice.

By doing this simple task, you demonstrate your commitment to creating a workplace that will not tolerate poor behaviour, discrimination or harassment. You create a workplace where people respect each other, work together to achieve common goals and perform at the highest standards.

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