Workplace Investigations: Do You Make These Seven Major Mistakes?

Workplace Investigations: Do You Make These Seven Major Mistakes?

Have you received a complaint from an employee about a workplace conflict that seems to be interpersonal in nature and that likely hurts productivity? If so, then the time has come to roll up your sleeves and initiate an investigation.

Before you launch your investigation, check out these seven common mistakes employers make when investigating complains like bullying and abrasive behavior.

Workplace Investigations : Seven Major Mistakes

Mistake #1: Tell the “wrong” people about the complaint and the people involved.
This is a big no-no. You should run the investigation with complete confidentiality to maintain credibility for the investigation itself. No one is going to believe your investigation is legitimate if you announce ANY opinions about the parties or the probable outcome. It is bad for morale, and potentially catastrophic for the reputation of you and your company.

Mistake #2: Draw conclusions based on personalities instead of facts
If you could completely trust your instincts about personalities, you wouldn’t have to run an investigation. Your impressions of people are strictly limited by your perspective as an employer and how they interact with you. Your other employees have differing relationships to the parties involved, and your personal feelings should have no influence.

Mistake #3: Be inclined to err in the direction of the person with authority
Your managers know better than to misbehave because it is bad for their reputation and their career, right? No, not necessarily. Often, interpersonal conflicts source from people in authority, and their subordinates have little recourse but to complain to HR. It is key to the investigation that you look at complaints objectively and not assume that the person in authority is behaving themselves.

Mistake #4: Make excuses for bosses who have a reputation for being tough
You shouldn’t be making excuses for anyone in an investigation. But this is especially true for people in authority. Being a tough boss is not a bad thing but sometimes the boss crosses the line and believes that being tough is the same as abuse. Making excuses undermines the experience of the person making the complaint, and it also paints you as a having a clear bias.

Mistake #5: Identify with the accused because you understand “bullying”
You cannot downplay the seriousness of the accusation of “bullying” but you owe it to everyone involved to conduct a fair investigation. Don’t let your personal feelings cloud the investigation.

Mistake #6: Assume that all conflict behavior must be bullying behavior
Not all conflict behavior is “bullying” behavior. There may be something more complex going on than you realize. If you start with a false assumption, you may end up drawing a false conclusion.

Mistake #7: Propose an ineffective solution to the problem
For your organization, implementing the wrong solution is like a surgeon amputating the wrong leg. It puts your investigation in the position of actually harming the organization and leaving it in worse shape than when it began.

Workplace Investigations Should be Based on Knowledge and Facts


Workplace conflict comes in many forms. Some situations involve abrasive and unconscious behaviors, others involve character disorders which must be handled in special ways, while some conflict is truly bullying behavior. It is critical to avoid the mistakes that can compromise an investigation. Your investigation should be based on knowledge and facts. These seven mistakes are just the tip of the investigation iceberg.

For more information about how to understand the various types of abrasive or bullying behaviors and more information on workplace conflict, contact Kathleen Bartle, MA, Conflict Consultant.