How to Conduct an Effective Workplace Investigation

You’ve just received a complaint from one of your employees that feels he is being bullied by his manager. What do you do? Most managers are very uncomfortable with this scenario and are unsure of the steps they need to take swiftly in order to both resolve the situation and meet the requirements of the law.

The 5 key components to an effective workplace investigation are:

  • Speed
  • Confidentiality
  • Thoroughness
  • Objectivity
  • Closing the Loop
  • Speed

As soon as a complaint is brought forward you are obligated to investigate, regardless if the complaint is verbal or in writing. Speed is of the essence to ensure employees know you take complaints seriously and that the situation doesn’t spread further. Interviews need to be conducted with both the complainant and the alleged harasser. Both should be asked if there were any witnesses to the incident(s) and those witnesses also need to be interviewed. Keep careful notes of the interviews. It is also a good practice to allow the interviewee to review your notes and sign off on them as being an accurate record.


It is extremely important to stress to all interviewees, including witnesses, that the interview must be kept confidential. There are to be no discussions of the interview with any outside parties, nor to other witnesses or the complainant or alleged harasser. By keeping the investigation contained within the bounds of all interviewed parties, integrity of the investigation is maintained as well as the privacy of all individuals involved. If one of the interviewees is found to have broken the confidentiality agreement, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken.


The investigator should review all the material pertinent to the complaint, including any documentation by both the complainant and the alleged harasser, and speaking to all available witnesses. Any other evidence that may be available should also be reviewed, such as security camera footage, emails (assuming your policy has already informed employees that their emails may be monitored), etc.


Do not jump to conclusions. Maintain objectivity throughout the process. Once you have collected all the data, then make a determination based on the evidence. Your report should also include what steps need to be taken to resolve the situation, such as disciplinary action, mediation, training, etc.

Closing the Loop

Don’t keep the parties hanging. You need to meet with each party (complainant and alleged harasser) after the investigation has concluded and let them know the results. To maintain confidentiality, this means just the high level results. A copy of the report and all documentation need to be kept in a separate file from the employee file. If disciplinary action is warranted, a copy of this can go in the appropriate employee file.

This is a very simple explanation of an investigation process. There are entire courses dedicated to this topic that can provide more details on each of the steps above, but each investigation should have the above components as a minimum. Workplace investigations are never enjoyable and many people dread them. But these 5 key components will help guide you through what can often be an uncomfortable process.

Policy or no policy? What do you do about social media in your company?

Remember the video of a New York Taco Bell/KFC outlet uploaded to You Tube showing a group of rats running about the restaurant? How about the two Domino’s Pizza employees who thought it would be funny to post mucus being slathered on sandwiches in the back kitchen? Or a Honda Product Manager posing as a consumer and getting caught posting positive comments about Honda’s Crosstour vehicle? Social media is such a powerful means of communication. Everyone is connected. And it’s permanent! Everything posted on the internet, regardless whether it’s been “deleted” or not is on there, somewhere, forever.

Now that’s not to say all social media is harmful. When used well, it can provide tremendous value to a company with its advertising, marketing and recruiting efforts, as well as improve communications with its stakeholders and customers. Implementing a social media policy will not ensure that errors in judgment will never occur. But a well-written policy will help to ensure your company and all of your employees know what’s expected and what’s acceptable when it comes to company social media use.

Take for example It is a popular online retailer of shoes, clothing and accessories. Zappos has successfully created real relationships with its fans and customers by being up front, consistent in its messaging and offering and always delivering a high level of customer service. The maker of the board game, Cranium, has incorporated game content into its communications to engage fans and customers, creating a positive two-way relationship. It’s important then for your company to approach social media like you would any other business element and implement a policy. A policy ensures your employees are all “on the same page” when it comes to corporate communications on any social media platform.

To begin the process, understand how your company will use social media. Set some objectives. Then structure the policy around those objectives. Educate your employees on its use and then consider access. Who can and can’t post messages and who is responsible for ensuring what’s been posted is appropriate. When designing a social media policy, ensure it:

  • Adheres to all other company policies
  • Maintains a safe, harassment free environment for your employees
  • Protects important company information
  • Ensures employees are accountable
  • Outlines the discipline for policy violations

A thorough, well thought out social media policy with help to ensure your company hits the headlines for all the right reasons and keep your customers coming back time and time again!

What does an Engaging Workplace look like? 10 Ideas for Work Leaders!

Have you ever wondered if your employees like coming to work? If you answered yes, how do you know? Think of the following situation: It is 5:00 pm, and most of the department is on the way out the door. However, one team is still there working hard and having fun at the same time. What can you, as a leader, do to create this kind of environment for your employees? Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Don’t micro-manage. You don’t need to be breathing down your employees’ neck. Show them interest, encourage them to think differently and ask them how they made a decision to understand their thinking.
  2. Give back credit. Promote your team’s work. Make sure they get the credit for their accomplishments. Say thank you publicly.
  3. Minimize bureaucracy and promote simplicity. As long as your team is producing and working on the right things, don’t bother them with unnecessary steps or details.
  4. Be open to feedback and mean it. Ask a few trusted team members to be candid with you when you’ve done something thoughtless or insensitive.
  5. Know them personally. Learn about their families, their career goals and truly care about them. Ask them how they would like to be recognized. Show the employee that you care not only about work but about their life as well.
  6. Create meaningful work with purpose. The most important thing any leader can do is to link the work to the strategic imperatives of the company. That is the work your employees do is important to the success of your company. When an employee feels he or she is making a difference, it makes a big difference.
  7. Hire Top Performers and get rid of the bottom performer. It is well known that leaders typically spend more time managing their under-performing employees than focusing on their top performers. In hiring A players, the standards are raised, the energy is high and there is a low tolerance for mediocrity.
  8. Lead by example. Simple as it seems to be, we all have our blind spots and need to be aware of them. Acting with integrity is key.
  9. Encourage socialization at work. Something as simple as ordering pizza for lunch or having a popcorn break on Friday afternoons can help to build camaraderie during working hours and doesn’t intrude on employees’ personal time.
  10. Pay People for their Worth. Although it is last on the list, pay is still a great motivator (maybe a great equalizer versus motivator; this is a minimum requirement, but once it’s met, the other factors above come into play, like Maslow’s hierarchy). Your team may love what they do but if they feel underpaid, it may affect their long-term commitment.

6 Steps to Help with Work Life Balance

What does work-life balance actually mean? How do you know if you have a good work/life balance? And what can you do to achieve or maintain it?

My search began at They define work-life balance as “a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” and “lifestyle”. It goes on to say that the expression was invented in the mid 1800’s. Anthropologists said happiness occurs when there’s as little separation as possible “between your work and your play”. Here we are in the 21st century and we’re still trying to figure out that balance.

The proliferation of technology has not helped matters. Laptops, smartphones and the internet have, for the most part, removed office walls and allowed us more freedom to work but also raised the expectation of when and how much we work. This can translate into a higher rate of stress among workers, less job satisfaction, more sick days and lost productivity.

To see what my work-life balance equation looked like, I took the “work-life balance quiz” on the Canadian Mental Health Association website. My results surprised me! You can try the quiz too at

The results from the quiz prompted me to brainstorm a few ideas to see where I could make some improvements. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Build downtime into my schedule. By this I mean, go for walks regularly, read a trashy novel, take a hot bath, listen to music or paint.
  • Get moving! We all know exercise has tremendous health benefits, including reducing stress. Maybe a colleague would like to start a morning or after work walking or running routine.
  • Avoid activities that zap my time. This includes surfing the net, checking Facebook or watching TV shows that I’m really not that interested in.
  • Say “no” more often. This involves setting personal boundaries and sticking to them.
  • Ask my employer what work options are available. Does my company offer flextime, part time or the ability to work from home?

And, here’s the big one,

  • Leave work at work. Commit to turning off the devices after I leave for the day. Maybe not every day but certainly some days.

Top 5 Reasons Why Companies Make Hiring Mistakes

Urgency to fill the role

You would not be hiring in the first place if you really didn’t need the work to be done. Many hiring managers make the mistake of moving so quickly through the recruiting process that they end up just getting that warm body in the seat; and then one of two things happens. Either the chosen candidate wasn’t the right candidate and you end up firing them a few months later, or the chosen candidate realizes the role is not the right fit for her so she ends up resigning a few months later. Either way, the tendency to rush through the recruiting life cycle ends up costing companies in the end, to the tune of up to 14 times the candidate’s base salary.

Using expensive headhunters

Due to the sense of urgency to fill the role, many companies turn to headhunters thinking they are the panacea of a quick turnaround with the right candidate. If you haven’t taken the time to build a relationship with a headhunter and vice versa, chances are the headhunter will not know enough about your company’s and team’s culture or the role to be able to find that perfect candidate for you. You’ll end up with the same result in reason #1.

Unclear job and skill requirements

In the haste to get a job posted and start getting that flood of resumes in, many hiring managers do not take the time to flesh out in detail the job duties and the skills required for success in the role. This makes it tough to articulate clearly to candidates what you are looking for, and you may unwittingly miss the mark and attract the wrong candidates for the role. A well written job description will save you both time and money by honing in on the right candidates the first time round.

Hiring someone just like you

The “just like me” effect is easy for even the most seasoned hiring managers to fall in to. We all gravitate towards personalities that are just like ours. However, you may not need another you on your team. Having a clearly defined job description and knowing the competencies required to successfully do the job lends objectivity to the hiring process. Choosing behavioral based interview questions carefully based on the competencies you require will ensure you are collecting the appropriate data from each candidate to be able to make an objective decision. Having other members of your team help interview and assess the candidates provides another viewpoint to help ensure the “just like me” effect is not the reason a particular candidate is offered the job.

Failure to conduct effective reference and background checks

In the rush to get an offer out to the candidates, hiring managers often disregard this important step. Not every candidate is who they say they are. Checking references of previous employers, ensuring the educational credentials are valid, and candidates pass a criminal check is essential information to help employers ensure they are making the right decision. You must first obtain the candidate’s consent allowing you to verify the information your candidate has provided.

The old adage of a stitch in time saves nine certainly applies to the recruiting process. By taking the time to do things right the first time, you will save yourself the aggravation of having to go through the whole process again in the near future. SymphonyHR can streamline your recruiting process and make sure that great candidates do not fall through the cracks.