As workplace investigators, we can sometimes find ourselves in situations with complainants, where it feels as though we are not fully grasping what a complainant is alleging. These situations made me reflect on tools that I have used to help steer me in the right direction to better understand a complainant’s allegations.
Several of my investigations have led me to reflect on the phenomenon of “groupthink,” and how it impacts the workplace and intrudes upon workplace investigations. Groupthink is a term that was first coined by social psychologist Irving Janis, and refers to a group that, when working together, strives for harmony and consensus above all else.
On the evening of Sunday, March 7, I, along with 17 million other people, tuned in to watch Oprah’s interview of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I am the first to admit that I wanted to hear all the details about their decision to step back as “senior” members of the Royal Family, but as an investigator, I also was also interested in how Oprah approached the interview – how she asked her questions, what she asked, and how Harry and Meghan would respond.
My first experience with a workplace investigation was vicariously first-hand, when a close friend of mine was named as a respondent and I became their de facto support person. The investigation was ongoing for three months. During that time, my friend ate, slept, and breathed that investigation.
I must admit that pre-COVID-19, I was wary to conduct investigations virtually. This had more to do with my own discomfort with technology and videoconference platforms than anything else. Now, more than six months into the pandemic, it is hard to deny that virtual investigations may be around for the long haul. Below are some of our observations regarding conducting investigations remotely.
Alcohol and work events often don’t mix well. Some know this from personal experience. Others, like us, are called upon to investigate allegations arising from work events at which alcohol and “good times” were flowing freely. It will come as no surprise that, as workplace investigators, the issue of alcohol consumption and intoxication pops up with some frequency in our work.
Last week, our colleague Dana Campbell wrote a terrific blog entitled “Four Tips for Conducting Workplace Investigations Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis.” It contained some excellent advice including the use of technology to replace face-to-face interviews that are part of our investigation process.
We have all had a chance to put Dana’s advice into use this week as we are all investigating and working remotely. For the most part, this way of working has been successful. However, we have had some unanticipated mishaps, which we share with you below. And, in the spirit of working in new ways, this is the first RT blog written collaboratively, so you will hear the voices of different members of our team.
It goes without saying that the entire world is currently treading in unchartered waters. The COVID-19 crisis is something that this world has not seen or experienced in many generations, if ever! All industries, businesses and sectors are assessing how to carry on with “business as usual” when the circumstances are anything but “business as usual.” In the wold of workplace investigations, the same questions are being asked.
Ordinarily, a solid workplace investigation rests on four pillars; namely – fairness, thoroughness, timeliness and confidentiality¹. If not handled appropriately, the COVID – 19 crisis has the potential to rock that foundation in two ways – it may impact the fairness and timeliness of an investigation.