Conducting thorough internal investigations is necessary for creating a well-run workplace. Anything less can send signals to internal and external stakeholders that you don’t take workplace issues seriously or that the organization does not care what is going on with the company. But internal investigations can be a challenge to conduct well. Internal investigations contain numerous pitfalls that can lead to a subpar investigation, which can send the wrong message. Let’s take a closer look at common mistakes HR professionals make when conducting internal investigations.
When conducting an internal investigation, an HR manager is in many ways like a detective gathering evidence to prove or disprove allegations. But many HR managers fail to gather sufficient evidence to appropriately investigate the accusations. Physical evidence, like e-mails, should be gathered before any interviews are conducted. Physical evidence can provide initial corroboration of allegations, but alone is not enough for a complete investigation. Interviews will also need to be conducted. Interview questions should be planned out in advance and should be open-ended to draw information out of witnesses. The physical evidence obtained can often be used to confront interviewees.1
Another common mistake HR managers make when conducting internal investigations is not having an internal reporting system to receive complaints. Many internal investigations are stopped before they ever get started because staff do not know the proper channels for filing a complaint or there is no policy in place detailing what should happen once the complaint is received. A reporting system can make it easier for HR managers to assign cases, monitor the progress of investigations, and ensure no complaints are left unresolved.2
Time is of the essence in internal investigations. Investigations that take too long to get started or complete can send the wrong message and can leave staff thinking that the complaint is not important. With investigations involving allegations of harassment, a delay could even subject the complaining employee to further harassment. 3 However, an investigation should not be done in such a hasty way that it is not thorough. The challenge with internal investigations is conducting a thorough investigation with minimal delay.
An HR manager must remain objective throughout the course of the investigation. While anyone can be influenced by an unconscious bias, investigators should acknowledge any biases and be sure they do not influence their analysis or ultimate conclusion.4 A lack of objectivity can cause an investigation to reach a conclusion before it is thoroughly completed. A lack of objectivity can also lead the investigation to be conducted in a way that simply justifies the premature conclusion.
The final common mistake HR managers make when conducting internal investigations is inconsistency, or handling similar investigations differently. Inconsistent investigations can lead to claims of discrimination and even a lawsuit. Similar situations should be treated in a similar manner to avoid any suggestion of discrimination. If one claim is investigated but another is not, ensure there is a valid reason for doing so. If one employee is sanctioned more severely than another for a similar set of circumstances, be prepared to justify the discrepancy.5 If situations appear similar, but actually are not, it is best to be able to articulate the differences to avoid the notion of inconsistency.
Anyone with a human resource career can attest that internal investigations are a challenging aspect of the job. Internal investigations require a multidisciplinary skillset that is not easily learned. But an MS in Human Resource Management helps you deepen your knowledge of internal investigations to avoid the common mistakes. A master’s in human resource management can help you gain the strategic, organizational, management, and analytical skills that today’s employers are seeking. And earning it from an accredited online university lets you reach your professional goals with minimal disruption to your everyday schedule.
Internal investigations are one of the most important, yet challenging, aspects of an HR manager’s job. But the common mistakes can be avoided with proper planning, preparation, and thoroughness. An MS in Human Resource Management can be a great way to gain the skills necessary to avoid the mistakes made during internal investigations.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Human Resource Management degree program. With Walden University, you can earn your degree with minimal disruption to your everyday schedule.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.