Investigating with Caution and Compassion Leads to a More Positive Corporate Culture
As a workplace investigator and trainer, I have seen my fair share of sexual harassment cases in the workplace. It’s an unfortunate reality that sexual harassment is still prevalent in many workplaces, and it can have devastating effects on reporting parties, responding parties, bystanders, and the workplace culture as a whole.
However, when it comes to investigating sexual harassment in the workplace in Canada, it’s essential to approach the situation with a trauma-informed approach. This means taking into account the potential trauma that reporting parties may have experienced and being sensitive to their needs throughout the investigation process.
So, what exactly does it mean to have a trauma-informed approach to investigating sexual harassment in the workplace? Here are some key considerations that I believe every workplace investigator and HR professional should keep in mind:
- Recognize the potential for trauma
Sexual harassment is a form of trauma, and reporting parties may experience a range of emotional and psychological responses as a result. These responses can include feelings of shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, and depression, among others. As an investigator, it’s important to recognize the potential for trauma and be sensitive to these emotions throughout the investigation process. It’s also important that investigators recognize the potential for trauma to the responding party as well. The responding party may believe they are wrongly accused or feel that they have already been deemed guilty, which can lead to feelings of anger, fear, shame, anxiety, and depression.
- Create a safe and supportive environment
It’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for reporting parties to share their experiences. This can include providing private spaces for interviews, allowing the reporting party to have a support person present during interviews, and offering resources for counseling or other forms of support.
- Avoid re-traumatization
When investigating sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s crucial to avoid re-traumatizing the reporting party. This means being mindful of the language and tone used during interviews, avoiding blaming or shaming, and respecting the reporting party’s boundaries and limitations.
- Conduct thorough and objective investigations
While it’s important to be sensitive to the potential trauma that reporting parties may have experienced, it’s also crucial to conduct thorough and objective investigations. This means gathering all relevant evidence, interviewing all parties involved, and making impartial decisions based on the facts of the case.
- Consider the broader workplace culture
Investigating sexual harassment in the workplace is not just about addressing individual cases of misconduct – it’s also about addressing the broader workplace culture that may contribute to such behavior. As an HR professional, it’s important to consider whether any systemic issues within the workplace may be contributing to sexual harassment and to work with management and other stakeholders to address these issues.
By adopting a trauma-informed approach to investigating sexual harassment in the workplace, we can help ensure that reporting parties and responding parties receive the support and care they need, while also addressing the broader issues that may be contributing to such behavior.
Of course, implementing a trauma-informed approach is easier said than done. It requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to ongoing training and education. Here are some tips for workplace investigators and HR professionals who are looking to adopt a trauma-informed approach to investigating sexual harassment:
- Get educated
One of the most important things you can do as an investigator or HR professional is to get educated on the topic of trauma and how it can manifest in the workplace. At the Workplace Investigator Network, we are committed to providing ongoing, quality training options including our Trauma-Informed Workplace Investigator program, live webinars, and on-demand webinars.
- Create policies and procedures that are trauma-informed
Make sure that your workplace policies and procedures are designed with a trauma-informed approach in mind. This may involve revising your investigation protocols, providing resources for all parties involved in a sexual harassment investigation, and ensuring that your workplace culture supports a safe and supportive environment for everyone.
- Work with experts
Consider working with experts in the field of trauma and sexual harassment to help you develop a trauma-informed approach to investigating workplace misconduct. This may involve hiring consultants, attending training and workshops, or seeking out guidance from organizations like The Workplace Investigator Network that specialize in these areas.
- Practice active listening and empathy
Active listening and empathy are crucial skills for workplace investigators and HR professionals who are adopting a trauma-informed approach. By listening to reporting and responding parties with an open mind and showing empathy for their experiences, you can create a safe and supportive environment that helps the parties feel heard and understood.
- Foster a culture of accountability
Finally, it’s important that organizations foster a culture of accountability within the workplace. This means holding people accountable for their actions, but also addressing the broader workplace culture that may contribute to such behavior. By working with management and other stakeholders to address systemic issues within the workplace, you can help create a culture that prioritizes respect, inclusivity, and safety for all employees.
Investigating sexual harassment in the workplace is not just about conducting a thorough investigation or making disciplinary decisions – it’s about creating a workplace culture that supports the well-being and safety of all employees. By adopting a trauma-informed approach to investigating workplace misconduct, we can help ensure that all parties receive the care and support they need, while also addressing the broader issues that may be contributing to such behavior.
As workplace investigators and HR professionals, we have a responsibility to create safe and supportive work environments free of sexual harassment. By doing this, a bad situation can be the catalyst for creating workplaces that prioritize respect, inclusivity, and safety for all employees.