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Data and Investigation Series: How can organizations use investigation data to benefit their workplaces?

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This is the third and final post in a series of blog posts that I wrote on data and investigations.1

To recap, workplace investigations are also an invaluable source of data that organizations can use in a variety of ways – outside of the investigation process – to help their workplaces get into the zone – the optimal workplace that is characterized by respect, civility, tolerance, inclusivity, and no, or few, employment-related legal problems.

In my first blog post, I discuss why collecting investigation data is important and the types of investigation data that organizations may consider collecting.

In my second blog post, I discuss considerations and methods for collecting investigation data.

In this blog post, I discuss how organizations can use investigation data to the benefit of their workplaces.

Developing and implementing strategic interventions

To develop effective solutions, an organization needs to understand what the issues and the problems in the workplace are.

As noted in my previous blog post, investigation data can help organizations inform and identify unknown issues and trends in workplaces and confirm assumptions about what is happening in workplaces. Once this information has been collected, organizations can use it to develop and implement strategic interventions to address the root causes of those workplace issues.

If investigation data demonstrates that certain employee groups (e.g., demographic groups, job classifications, work locations) are under- or overrepresented as complainants or respondents, organizations can implement strategies specific to those employee groups, such as targeted training, a review of hiring/onboarding practices, or workplace restorations.2 For example, if investigation data shows that a significant percentage of workplace harassment complaints are arising from a specific work location, the organization may wish to conduct a workplace restoration at that site. As my colleague Dana J. Campbell-Stevens noted in her blog post, “Designing the Right Workplace Restoration Process,”3 a critical step in designing a workplace restoration process is to gather information to clearly understand the issues and conflicts and customize the process to address those particular issues.

If investigation data demonstrates that an organization is receiving a significant number of complaints regarding specific types of issues or that investigations are finding that a specific type of allegation is frequently substantiated, the organization can develop targeted interventions such as training, policy development, or organizational transformation initiatives.

Several years ago, when I worked for a different organization, the organization shared a report on racism in the workplace that included data on complaints of racism by racialized employees. The data clearly demonstrated that a substantial number of racialized employees had experienced or witnessed some form of racism, and as such was a widespread and systemic issue across the workplace. The organization, now understanding that racism was a real and substantive problem in its workplaces, launched an anti-racism strategy that included specific and measurable goals for addressing the issues raised in the complaints.

Improving workplace policies and procedures

Organizations can use investigation data to make substantive improvements to their workplace harassment and discrimination policies and related procedures (e.g., complaint intake processes and investigation procedures).

One key data point that can be gleaned from investigation data is the frequency of complaints and allegations that are out of scope. Investigation data may show that there are certain types of complaints or allegations that are not captured by an organization’s existing policies, or whether existing policies clearly and accurately define types of problematic or concerning behaviours that the organization wants to prohibit in the workplace.

For example, an organization’s investigation data shows that in 25% of investigations, the allegations were substantiated (i.e., what the complainant alleged to have occurred in fact happened), but the behaviour, although found to be disrespectful, did not otherwise arise to the level of harassment as defined in the policy. In this situation, the organization may consider amending their workplace policies to include a definition of and prohibition against disrespectful behaviour. Alternatively, this data may point to a misunderstanding of what behaviours constitute workplace harassment and as such are prohibited by their workplace harassment policy. The organization may want to revise the definition of workplace harassment to improve clarity and provide additional training on what is and is not workplace harassment.

Investigation data can also reveal inefficiencies or challenges within the complaint and investigation process. For example, a follow-up survey for investigation participants reveals that participants did not fully understand the investigation process and found the information shared with them to be confusing. The organization may decide to review its existing informational materials regarding investigations and rewrite them to improve clarity, or to create additional materials to address any information gaps.

Annual reporting

Organizations should consider collating their investigation data into an annual report that is shared with employees.

Annual reports can help organizations to increase awareness of and transparency around issues in the workplace and what the organization is doing to address those concerns. Annual reports are an important opportunity for organizations to communicate progress, successes, and areas for improvement. By being transparent with its investigation data, an organization can help to establish trust and confidence in its investigation processes.

As I noted above, several years ago I read a report on racism within my former employers’ workplaces, which used data to demonstrate that racism was a widespread problem in the organization. As a white person, I was not aware of my colleagues’ experiences of racism and did not understand the extent and depth of racism across the organization. After reading this report, I made a more conscious effort to support anti-racism initiatives in the workplace.

Many employees expressed concern that the report on workplace racism was simply a check-box exercise and would not be followed up with concrete action. To acknowledge this concern, the organization committed to annual reporting on the progress, successes, and challenges of its anti-racism initiatives.

Putting it all together

In conclusion, I hope that organizations can see that investigation data is a powerful resource that can help them achieve their workplace goals. Organizations want to do the right thing for their employees – that is, take action to create a safe and respectful workplace for everyone. As part of this process, investigation data can help organizations do the right thing – that is, determine what actions and strategies the organization should take to meaningfully and effectively address the issues it faces.


1 This blog post is based on a webinar that we did on September 14, 2023, called “Data and Investigations.” If you would like to hear the webinar, please contact us at info@rubinthomlinson.com to request a copy.

2 A workplace restoration is a response to workplace conflict that considers the larger context and specifically what is needed to create a healthy and harmonious workplace.

3 Available at https://rubinthomlinson.com/designing-the-right-workplace-restoration-process/


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