Too Much or Not Enough?

New to employee management, Kristina feared the day she would have to field her first case of employee harassment. The day finally came when an employee called Kristina to discuss an email she had sent the day prior regarding an alleged hostile work environment. The employee was out on a leave of absence for mental health, claiming that the workplace was giving her anxiety to the point that she was unable to perform her job duties.

The employee elaborated over nearly an hour of certain situations and interactions with her supervisor which she perceived to be harassing in nature, and used a number of “trigger words” in her phone call, including “bullying,” and “harassment.” Kristina did her best and listened to everything the employee had to say, hesitant to ask any follow up questions for fear of putting words in the employee’s mouth and being liable for saying the wrong thing.

After the call wrapped up, Kristina met with her supervisor to give him a run down of the call and to go over next steps. Kristina’s supervisor was incredibly frustrated with her failure to ask any probing questions to get the employee to clarify certain points, define particular terms, and expand on specific examples. At the end of the day, Kristina’s not saying enough could be potentially damaging in that a proper investigation was not conducted.

It is vitally important that supervisors know what questions to ask in these early stages of an investigation, when reviewing or listening to an employee complaint. In this first conversation, there are a few things to always keep in mind as you ask your initial and follow up questions:

  • Ensure Confidentiality: Reassure the individual that the initial conversation regarding their complaint is intended to gather as much information as possible, and that the conversation will be kept confidential as much as reasonably possible, and all information provided will be kept on a “need to know” basis.
  • Stay Impartial: Focus on being objective to gather relative facts. Avoid pushing the investigation/conversation in any particular direction, so ask open ended questions. Never offer any opinion or follow up question that the interviewee with perceive as an attempt to discredit their responses.
  • Take Notes: Document everything, look for inconsistencies, seek opportunities for more evidence and names (of the accused, of potential witnesses, etc.).
  • Determine (Initial) Credibility: Interviews often provide differing accounts and conflicting versions of the events. Be aware that the issues are very personal to the employee(s) involved and know that because of personal/emotional investment, individual perceptions may be clouded.

Once you have these basic factors implemented and in place, what questions should you ask? Obviously, some of your follow up questions will be very specific as they pertain to the situations/accusations that were presented, but are there any standard questions you should always be asking in investigatory conversations? Read along in our next post when we go over some of these questions and explain the “why” behind the reason for asking.