Six Tips to Increase Employee Trust of Internal Investigations

Six Tips to Increase Employee Trust of Internal Investigations

 The most recent study of the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center concluded that an investigation process viewed as procedurally fair “substantially increases the chances that reporting employees will accept the [company’s] outcome.”

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the research and also spoke with Sue Reisinger at Corporate Counsel about the implications of the research, suggesting that it is time for companies

  • to rethink how they handle internal compliance complaints; and
  • develop protocols and training curriculums that help translate the precepts of procedural fairness into daily practice.

Tips for Employers

Here are a few communication strategies and practical “how to” recommendations companies can use to increase the likelihood employees will first use internal reporting tools and that the reporting party will accept the results of the company’s internal investigation and refrain from raising the concern to third-parties on social media or to the government or adversarial counsel:

  • Humanize the reporting experience: Selection of the person(s) who will receive complaints is critical as appearing approachable and accessible is a key component of procedural fairness. Share the bio and picture of the person who will receive compliance reports with company employees.  Tell your employees why they can trust this person to receive their complaints and concerns.  Ensure that employees can make reports in their native language.
  • Explain what you’re doing and why: For many employees, making a compliance report can be a traumatic event. The jargon and procedures can be confusing and intimidating and many will fear retaliation.   Use simple terms to explain the process and reassure reporting employees that retaliation is prohibited for raising a concern in good faith.
  • Manage expectations.  If an investigation is warranted, explain how the investigator will be selected and the anticipated timing of the investigation.  Establish a process to “check-in” periodically with the reporting employee.
  • Carefully select a well-trained and neutral investigator.  Research shows whether the reporter trusted the investigator was critical to whether the reporter perceived the investigation as procedurally fair.   When communicating with the complaining employee, the accused employee and witnesses, the investigator needs to make eye contact and use body language that conveys respect.
  • Close the loop with the reporting employee, accused and any witnesses interviewed.   Even in situations where confidentiality concerns preclude the ability to share the results of the investigation, closing the loop with everyone who participated in the process is critical.  Closing the loop, gives the opportunity for the company to assure the participants that the company works hard to apply its compliance policies in a consistent manner.  One strategy for doing this where confidentiality precludes sharing the actual results any corrective action or the results of the investigation is for the company to provide an overview of the company’s neutral, fact-based, and unbiased decision-making process.
  • “Market” your reporting and compliance programs.  Develop a communication plan and consider periodically sharing high level and appropriately sanitized summaries of compliance investigations and/or the types of numbers of reports being received and resolved.  Where appropriate, thank the reporting employee and the employees who participated in the investigation.”

 Read more articles about managing workplace conflict at Win-Win HR, a blog by Lorene Schaefer.

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