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We spent a lot of time and effort in 2018 to really get your input on the future requirements for the CPHR designation.
Written by Janet Hueglin Hartwick
Written by: Merri Lemmex, MBA-PM, PMP
Remember Rodney Dangerfield and his famous catchphrase “I don’t get no respect”? It can be very frustrating when you feel disrespected, and hard to change because respect is something you cannot demand or expect from others.
But first, what is respect?
Respect is series of actions that you show to someone else to build and maintain a relationship. So what does that really mean? It’s those positive feelings or actions you demonstrate to others. It is treating someone so that they feel important or that you hold them in high esteem or regard. Respect can convey a sense of admiration for another, and is demonstrated by exhibiting care, concern, and consideration for their feelings
Talking with Trees (stories that teach good character traits for kids) defines respect like this: “you care enough to think about others’ feelings before you act. Having respect for someone means you think good things about who a person is and how he/she acts. Showing respect to someone means you act in a way that shows you care about their feelings and well-being.” www.Talkingtreebooks.com
How do you get it?
Unfortunately, we cannot just expect respect – it must be earned. People will give another person respect if they feel that they have been respected in turn. Respect is something you can give, and you use your influence with others hoping to get it back. There are several things one can do to show respect for others:
Listen – this is always on the top of the list. People want to be heard and using your active listening skills to really listen to someone will show you respect their ideas and opinions.
Behave in a way that is appropriate to them – show compassion for their feelings and make sure you do not speak or act in a way that makes them uncomfortable (this can be very different from person to person).
Show integrity – do the right thing, always. And that means doing the right thing even when no one is looking.
What about respect in the workplace?
From a recent article in Forbes, 7 Management Practices That Can Improve Employee Productivity, it is noted that “respect can be a simple but powerful motivator, just as its unpleasant twin, lack of respect, has the opposite effect.” Employees are more often to feel engaged and go the extra mile for you if they feel that they are being respected.
Is respect something that is normally demonstrated in your organization, and more importantly on your team? This is especially important if you are a new leader or new to the team and want to establish good relationships with your team.
What does respect look like in the workplace? Respect could be as simple as:
Good manners - such as good meeting etiquette, team behaviour norms such as avoiding inappropriate language or behaviour, sharing, helping others
Valuing others’ ideas – really listening to them instead of imposing your own ideas. Active listening is one of the best ways to show respect both in the workplace and in your personal life.
Give effective feedback – help people understand how they are doing. Whether positive or negative, feedback helps us improve and move forward. Make the effort to help people stay on track or get back on track with feedback.
Do what you say you’re going to do – this might seem easy but often we don’t follow through with our commitments, which sends a message that the commitment isn’t important or the person expecting you to follow through is not important.
Not wasting someone’s time – be on time for meetings, show up prepared, be ready to go, and don’t waste their time when you’re there – value it.
Incorporate respect into your norms – work with your team to create team norms so everyone is on the same page with how you want them to behave. Talk about it and give examples so everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.
Building respect can take time, but losing it takes seconds. Once lost, respect can be difficult to regain. With this in mind, it only makes sense to make showing respect a priority. Of course, the side benefit will be that others will show you the respect you want.
Written by: Bob Acton, Ph.D., R.Psych., (1) LPI; Merv Gilbert, Ph.D., (2) & Jessica Figley, BA, BSW, RSW (3)
When complaints of workplace misconduct occur, it is not uncommon for someone to raise ‘mental illness’ as a complicating factor. It may be an issue for the complainant, the respondent, or bystanders. This mental health issue may already be known when the complaint arises, may come up during an investigation, or may emerge as a result of the alleged misconduct. Each of these scenarios requires a measured response. This can be a challenge for any Human Resource (HR) professional to navigate. Consider the case below.
After an employee complained, ABC Ltd. hired an independent harassment investigator who determined that Susan was inappropriately harassed by her co-workers because of her weight. She was teased, laughed at, and made the butt of jokes. Susan is highly respected at her work. She is one of the company’s top editors to deal with complex publishing issues.
Susan’s colleagues did not think they were harassing her; they just thought it was all in good fun to tease her. One of the colleagues accused of harassment revealed during the investigation that he had been psychologically abused as a child by both parents and siblings. Susan was quite upset by this experience and considered finding another job even though it would be very difficult in her community. She filed a complaint and then went off work on medical leave, which was supported by her doctor. Susan’s doctor reported that she developed significant depression as a result of her treatment by the co-workers and referred her to a counsellor.
Susan wants to return to work but she’s concerned about working with her co-workers. Management wants to address the situation but can’t terminate the rest of the editorial team, all of whom engaged in the harassment. Also, the employer has not yet decided if they will impose discipline, what this discipline might be, or even what solutions they can bring to the situation. The company’s president has expressed that his top goal is to ensure that the harassment is not repeated.
MENTAL HEALTH VS. MENTAL DISTRESS VS. MENTAL ILLNESS
It is critical to be clear about the difference between these terms. Positive mental health includes the ability to be engaged, productive and ‘present’ in one’s work and to cope successfully with the inevitable challenges that arise. It recognizes the range of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are part of being human, some of which can be quite distressing, but includes an ability to manage these effectively. It means more than the absence of significant distress or symptoms.(4)
In situations involving misconduct allegations, many parties will likely express strong emotions such as anger, fear or confusion. While this is understandable, strong emotions likely have minimal bearing on the determination of misconduct and do not mean that someone has a diagnosed mental illness.
Terms such as ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental distress’ are not synonymous and, when misused, can lead to further confusion. For example, people can refer to themselves as ‘depressed’ but they may only mean they are sad or struggling to manage a situation (experiencing mental distress), but it may not mean that they have been diagnosed with a disorder such as Major Depressive Disorder (a mental illness). Other examples include people describing themselves or others as having ‘ADD’ when they are a little impulsive or inattentive or saying they are ‘bipolar’ when they may be emotionally reactive to challenging situations.
Mental distress is when a person typically experiences high stress and unpleasant emotions. It is a normal part of living associated with dealing with the problems and challenges of life. A diagnosis of a mental illness or disorder can only be made by a regulated health professional on the basis of a proper assessment of the individual’s reported symptoms. The term mental illness includes a wide range of conditions that affect how people feel, think and behave. These may be transient or chronic and can significantly impact workplace functioning. HR professionals should consider a person to be experiencing a mental illness when they are informed that a health professional has made a formal diagnosis.
MANAGING MENTAL DISTRESS DURING MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS
The absence of a diagnosed mental illness does not mean that mental distress should be dismissed as trivial. There can be significant emotional implications for both the individual and the workplace during an investigation. Understanding how people are coping with difficulties is essential, as difficulty coping can contribute to lower performance while at work (i.e., presenteeism) or increased interpersonal problems.
There are a few steps that the HR professional can take to assist a distressed individual, whether they are the target or the respondent. It is important to emphasize that this can be challenging, and the temptation may be to ignore it and hope the problem will go away. However, this is unlikely, and delay may well make the situation worse. The first step is to be empathetic and to listen to the person describe their feelings and experiences (e.g., “I’m upset because…”). People often need to tell their story, and this can be an excellent way to help a person reduce the distress they are experiencing. You may not need to take immediate action or respond to the individual’s proposed solutions but being kind and demonstrating compassion is an excellent first step.
Here are some steps you can take to help:
- Listen and reflect back what the person is telling you. You don’t have to agree but should demonstrate that you understand and care.
- Suggest the person contact your company’s employee assistance program (EAP), if you have one. If an EAP is not available, suggest the person seek consultation from their family physician or a local counselling or crisis centre. Have contact information for those centers available and provide it to your employees.
- If the employee gives you permission and it is appropriate to do so, you can inform his or her manager or supervisor that the individual is struggling and suggest some strategies that the manager could employ to help. Remember that the manager may need some guidance about how to effectively support an employee in this context.
- Explain the process that will be followed in your organization’s response to allegations of misconduct. Knowing what to expect can effectively settle a person. When a person is upset, they may not remember what you said to them; therefore, provide them with the written policy or procedure which they can reference later.
- Arrange a check-in meeting in the near future to see how they are doing.
- Allowing a support person to be present in meetings in which sensitive issues (such as possible harassment in the workplace) will be discussed is an approach that may be helpful for all employees. In unionized environments, the support person may be the individual’s union representative. However, ensure that the support person understands their role (e.g., they are not there to answer questions) and that all parties agree to this role.
MANAGING MENTAL ILLNESS DURING MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS
If either the individual suspected of misconduct or the person(s) targeted have a diagnosed mental illness, then your response likely needs to be modified. The HR professional is unlikely to possess details of the illness and is probably unable to access them, given privacy and confidentiality requirements. One exception may occur if one of the parties has documentation from his or her healthcare provider indicating a mental illness.
When such documentation is provided by a healthcare provider, it is often vague and may refer to causal factors, such as ‘workplace stress,’ with little information concerning impact, treatment, or outcome. Information of this nature is inadequate for most disability claims and the insurer, and possibly employer representatives, can request a specific diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis, only if it is essential for the investigation.
If adequate information is available to the HR professional, the next question is whether this diagnosis and the associated symptoms are relevant to the complaint under investigation.
It is possible that the healthcare provider of the alleged perpetrator may express the opinion that the behaviour under investigation is the result of their diagnosis. While anyone’s health condition may well play a role in their behaviour, there are very few health conditions that would discount an individual’s responsibility for their own behaviour. Exceptions may include severe conditions such as psychosis or dementia, which are rare in a workplace context.
Conversely, a healthcare provider may indicate that the recipient of the misconduct has a mental illness as a result of the misconduct. Once again, there are very few mental health conditions that can be definitively attributed to a workplace incident. Exceptions include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Existing conditions, however, can be exacerbated by involvement in workplace misconduct. Interestingly, some provincial workers’ compensation boards have introduced legislation including workplace bullying and harassment as a compensable injury, but only if the target has a diagnosed disorder. Thus, while it is compassionate and respectful to consider the presence of a mental health condition in either party, this is unlikely to be causative. Nevertheless, proving causation in this context is very complicated.
Both large and small organizations are held to the same workplace standards (e.g., Occupational Health and Safety guidelines) but small and medium-sized businesses likely have fewer institutional supports such as a legal team and disability management experts. While this places the small organization at a disadvantage, engaging an external consultant can be an effective and cost-efficient strategy in dealing with individual situations.
However, a word of caution is important here. When considering if your employee may have a mental illness, don’t simply accept their word for it. Make sure you receive appropriate documentation from a regulated provider, (i.e. physician or psychologist) and don’t just accept a note scratched on a prescription pad. You may find it helpful to create a template for an appropriate form for the health provider to fill out, in order to standardize the process.
THE INVESTIGATION AND THE HEALTH AGENDA
From a legal perspective, both agendas must be followed: the health agenda and the investigative agenda. Employees must be supported appropriately in their mental health, and thus employers need to follow all the rules and guidelines, such as privacy and collective agreements, to support employees in returning to work. It is also essential to follow through with investigations as best as possible.
If either the complainant or respondent is off work on medical leave, then the investigator must continue on their path to complete the investigation as best as possible. If the allegations are severe and pose potential risks for others, the employer is obligated to pursue the investigation by interviewing other recipients and observers of the alleged behaviour. If the complaint is generic, such as “women experience discrimination” then conducting a climate survey may be more appropriate and much less intimidating than an investigation.
If it is critical to speak to either party but they are off work, then the investigation can be delayed until their return. Alternatively, after legal consultation, it may be possible to engage the individual’s physician to determine if conditions could be arranged that would allow the individual to share their information with an investigator.
Once the individual returns to work, the investigation can proceed and be concluded.
CAN MENTAL DISTRESS OR MENTAL ILLNESS MITIGATE RESPONSIBILITY IN WORKPLACE MISCONDUCT?
One of the themes in our series of articles is that we need to be thoughtful and kind to each other at work. Taking this approach, in part, contributes to a psychologically healthy workplace and a more functional and profitable one as well. Having a psychologically healthy workplace is thus a business imperative.
"But if I'm kind to someone, doesnt that mitigate the responsibility they may have?"
Individuals can and need to be held accountable for their behaviour at work, regardless of their mental status. As a community of individuals, all employees have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in their workplace. While mental distress and mental illness are considerations in any given allegation, one employee’s safety or experience should not be discounted by “mitigating” circumstances in the life of the other.
Accountability is not a punitive term nor is the act of an employer holding someone accountable inconsistent with an employer acting with kindness and respect. As the central actor in a psychologically healthy workplace, employers have a duty to balance the circumstances and needs of all employees. This duty requires an employer to be flexible and responsive to the particulars of an allegation and to act empathetically. This duty is not altered where mental distress or mental illness are disclosed.
There is no such thing as mitigation in misconduct, but context can be built around the incident, and specific approaches can be taken during and following the investigation to achieve the best possible resolution of the complaint.
The message for consultants and employers is simply that mental distress and mental illness cannot be used as a shield, but they do provide a foundation for answering the question, “So, what do we do next?” Individuals do make mistakes, and there is also the element of context which should be considered, but accountability for inappropriate behaviour must follow. Doing otherwise may be perceived as neglectful or improper.
FINDING SOLUTIONS SURROUNDING WORKPLACE MISCONDUCT
Finding solutions post-investigation is critical and should be a mandatory component of an investigation process. Conducting an investigation, without some post-investigation recovery is incomplete and unwise, as significant workplace disruption occurs before, during and after a complaint and investigation.
Whether or not mental illness is involved, there are limits to what can be accomplished by a given outcome or solution, including accommodation. In remaining cognizant of appropriate legislation, legal obligations, and best practices, HR professionals can ensure that solutions are made to the full extent of those provisions. As discussed above, there are very few health conditions that excuse individuals from (or mitigate) taking full responsibility for actions in a normal context.
WHAT HAPPENED TO SUSAN?
In the case of our case example, a number of solutions were initiated and found to positively impact the situation. Each of the respondents who harassed Susan were reprimanded and letters were placed on their employment file, with accompanying cautions to not engage in harassing behaviour again with specific consequences outlined should they not follow expectations. Mistakes were made but consequences were required so that the actions of some employees would not be repeated.
Susan was provided with counselling to overcome her mental illness, with the cost borne by the company.
A mandatory education program was initiated for all company employees about workplace harassment, the consequences for individuals, and company policies and procedures for continuing workplace psychological health. Finally, a restorative workplace intervention took place among the various players including Susan, during which Susan received meaningful apologies. She returned to work.
The company and those found guilty were held accountable and company policies and procedures were modified to reduce risk and improve working relationships. All people were treated well but held accountable.
In summary, HR professionals can effectively incorporate mental distress and illness into both the investigation and solutions for workplace misconduct as well as follow appropriate legislation and legal precedents. Adding in the element of mental health to the workplace misconduct context makes it more complex, but it is manageable with the tools outlined herein.
Investigations are a key deliverable for most Human Resource (HR) professionals, and effective interviewing skills form a cornerstone in the production of quality results in investigations. Interviewing others, a component of investigations, particularly in the context of a quasi-legal process such as a workplace investigation, is complex and multifaceted. It is important for the HR professional using interviews as part of the investigation strategy to understand the best methods available to conduct these types of interviews. This article summarizes research and experience on this subject and outlines the best practice methods to use in the context of this area of human resources work.
Investigators are obligated to be ethical and to respect the rights and dignity of others, regardless of their role as a complainant, respondent, or witness. As such, investigators should also act with integrity and make every effort to be truthful, honest and fair. A fair process needs to employ standards and methods that people inherently trust and with which they cooperate freely. An ethical and fair approach to a workplace investigation involves using high quality, scientifically-supported interview methods as part of the investigation.
The Conversation Management (CM) Approach  incorporates a number of high-quality, evidence-based interview methods as well as standard interview principles that serve to acquire the best evidence available. These include helpful psychological principles that help to improve the interpersonal process and enhance accurate reporting, using relatively structured methods such as the PEACE framework, techniques concerning how to work with vulnerable populations, as well as techniques to evaluate the data.
A fundamental aspect of the CM approach is the acknowledgment that these are often difficult conversations undertaken in high-stress situations in which people are likely to present inaccurate information. To counteract these problems, good investigators should first strive to create a positive environment that facilitates the retrieval of accurate memories and information. One way to do that is to use a structured approach such as the PEACE model.
The PEACE model was developed in the 1990s in the United Kingdom after legislation was introduced mandating the audio recording of suspects in criminal investigations. The PEACE model is an acronym for the sequential phases of the model. ‘P’ refers to the necessary ‘Preparation and Planning’ before the interview. The ‘E’ stands for the interview ‘Engage and Explain’ phase which involves the opportunity to understand the person being interviewed and build rapport between interviewer and subject. ‘A’ is the ‘Account’ phase which is pivotal to the interview, during which open questions invite an account of the events from the people or persons being interviewed. If this open-ended phase produces inconsistencies (with either the existing evidence or the person’s actual account) further probing should then occur to resolve these queries. This phase would then be followed by the ‘Closure’ phase, during which a summary of what has been said is shared with the interviewee, allowing the person to either add to or modify it before concluding the interview. The ‘E’ or final phase, ‘Evaluation’, occurs after the interview, and is meant to allow the interviewer and their team to reflect on the effectiveness of the interview as well as determine if further inquiries are necessary.
Within this framework, there are several factors to consider in producing high-quality interviews.
Six Components to Produce Quality Interview
The Interviewees: Just as a piece of delightful music or a dance performance has elements of spontaneity even though the artistic performance is based on rigorous practice, planning and preparation, so too is the work of the skilled investigator. The preparation work is done behind the scenes before, and sometimes during, the interview itself.
Each interview should occur only after considerable planning, which includes an in-depth understanding of the background of the individuals in order to develop an interview strategy (the overall approach to the interview and how it fits with the overall investigation) and an interview plan (the detailed, tactical interview approach taken with an individual).
A review of their personnel file and research about their experience within the organization can be helpful to develop some early hypotheses about the person and their characteristics that can be beneficial in creating an effective interview. While this review can be helpful in guiding the investigator (e.g., the interviewee may be shy so the phrasing and general approach may need to be adjusted accordingly) the investigator needs to be wary of inadvertently creating assumptions or being influenced by others in this regard.
The Context: The workplace itself, including the team functioning, interpersonal relations of the group, and the physical and psychological safety of the workplace can all significantly affect the individuals concerned and may play a role in the investigation. The wily HR investigator will gather independent perspectives about the workplace to begin to understand how the context may play a role in the interview.
The Interviewer: The interview is an interaction, a dance so to speak, between the investigator and the interviewee. An investigator’s role is to fully understand the factors involved including the facts and how individual motivations, thoughts, and emotions drive behaviour in these types of situations. To do that effectively, the investigator must:
- Maintain their role as a mediator of the truth, not that of an adversary,
- Actively minimize personal bias, and
- Not be moved from logic to emotion.
While, of course, high-quality interview methods are key to obtaining good information, the interview itself is an artful activity. The best interviewers are deft and able to adjust their approach to meet the needs of the investigation.
The Relationship: The interview is a purposeful conversation involving a relationship between two people. The investigator must influence the interviewee to tell the truth, but this influence is based on many factors including the interviewer’s credibility, trust, and the rapport built at the beginning of the process.
In the context of workplace misconduct investigations, people need an opportunity to tell their story. People need to be heard and the investigator can build rapport and create an atmosphere of trust by listening and demonstrating understanding. Not only does this help the interviewee, but it improves accurate memory recall.
Several methods, when combined during an interview, can be effective in producing more accurate and detailed information, and serve to maintain the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee as well as reduce the stress on the interviewee. This is often very important in the workplace, where relationships are often maintained over years, as opposed to criminal investigations in which relationships are started and ended with the timeline of the criminal investigation.
The investigative interview should facilitate maximum spontaneous disclosure both initially and in response to further questioning and capture comprehensive details which are then systematically analyzed. The analyzing of the data occurs both during an interview and post-interview.
“But I’m not a police officer, why do I have to learn all about these in-depth methods?”
While the HR professional is not involved in criminal investigations, their investigations can have powerful consequences on those involved, including loss of employment, physical and psychological impairment, and legal disputes. Therefore, it is incumbent upon investigators to use the best methods possible not only to obtain accurate information but to preserve existing workplace relationships as much as possible.
The Conversation: The proper interview method is not an interrogation. An interrogation is a conversation in which the investigator presumes a person’s guilt and then establishes a dialogue that is designed to prove the guilt of the interviewee (think of all the “interrogations” we’ve seen in movies). Interrogation is not an interview, per se, but a method to persuade a person to tell a specific truth.
Investigators must avoid interrogation methods as these can influence the information obtained, particularly for vulnerable individuals who may be affected by their emotional state, developmental abilities, and psychological or mental state. In addition, the way questions are phrased can play an important role during an interview. Even seasoned police officers can fall into the trap of “leading the witness”, thus making their statement inadmissible in court.
Active listening, methodical observing, and attention to detail are all skills critical to success in this area.
Recording the Conversation: In the context of workplace investigations, there is no definitive answer as to whether to record the interview on some sort of audio device. Unlike in the United Kingdom and in many police jurisdictions in North America where audio (or video) recording is mandatory, HR advisors will receive different advice from their legal counsel ranging from never record to always record.
It is important to create a culture of organizational justice; so, when recording interviews, ensure that all interviewees are recorded, not just a select few. Transcripts of each recording can be judiciously produced depending on the need to manage costs.
Our perspective is that accuracy is paramount. Using technology such as digital audio recorders to record the conversation is easy and accurate. In our opinion, it is important to record your conversations with complainants, respondents, and witnesses because of the following five benefits:
- Improves Communication: The interviewer can focus on the interview rather than typing information or taking notes and therefore be able to use observational skills and active listening strategies.
- Produces A Better Record: It preserves the most important evidence – the oral evidence – in its original form. A full and valid representation of the information provided and how the interview was conducted is produced.
- Protects Investigators and Interviewees: Failure to record interviews, or failing to record the entire interview, can increase the scope for abuse, or speculation of abuse and protects investigators against false accusations of abuse, coercion or manipulation, or of failing to follow procedural rules.
- Assists in Analyzing Data: Recordings can help organize the information and thus improve the ability to analyze all the data.
- Evaluation and Learning: Recordings are great tools for evaluation and feedback on interviews, and for training and research. They also help investigators improve their skills.
A common myth is that the interviewee will be more formal and provide less information when being recorded. It is our experience, however, that the skilled interviewer can move past initial concerns quickly and effectively. Once the procedure and benefits are explained, and permission is given by the interviewee, a proper and full interview can follow.
Thinking: The skillful investigator uses critical thinking (the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement without the influence of emotions and opinions) and blends their various approaches to gather evidence and form appropriate judgements.
Critical thinking involves a number of components including analyzing the information, applying standards to the data, discriminating data value, using logical reasoning to analyze the data, and synthesizing the information to reach an answer or conclusion. There are, however, a myriad of risks to this approach (e.g., confirmatory bias) that the investigator must be wary of.
Finally, there are a few specific interviewing techniques, mostly emanating from police interviewing methodology, such as the Reid Technique  and the Cognitive Interview , that may be considered. Each of these techniques has valuable contributions to make but it is likely beyond the normal practice of an HR investigator to dive deeply into these practices as it is normally the purview of those involved in criminal proceedings.
Understanding and practicing the best methods to obtain facts through interviews is an ethical approach all HR professionals conducting investigations should aspire to. These strategies can provide outstanding methodologies to use in workplace investigations particularly when dealing with high-stress situations and vulnerable populations.