Observations from an internal workplace investigation

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HR Roundtable panel member Bill Pinto details what goes on during an internal investigation in the workplace:

Occasionally clients ask me to conduct internal investigations for them concerning a variety of employee matters. Recently, I worked with a client on an investigation of alleged harassment. An employee presented a couple of incidents that involved her and asserted that a couple of other employees were experiencing some of the same issues. The client asked me to interview the employees in the department as well as their supervisors to determine what had occurred and whether further action was necessary.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I interviewed a number of employees and the supervisors, asking them if they had observed anything that the complaining employee alleged or any other incident of possible mistreatment. The reactions from the employees to the various questions I asked them were interesting to say the least. These are the most common reactions that I heard:

1) Did I do something wrong?

2) That employee complains about everything.

3) That employee can dish it out, but she can’t take it.

4) This place can be like junior high sometimes.

The other observation that I had was how often people think everyone else gets better treatment. It is a reminder how myopic we can be. We get caught up in what we are doing and how we are treated and fail to step back and look at the bigger picture. Psychologists have found that people tend to attribute their successes to their own internal abilities and their failures to external causes – refusing to admit, or at least downplaying, any responsibility for poor performance or problems they may be having. It is understandable that this phenomenon would occur in the workplace as well. Over the course of an internal investigation, you can see these attribution effects play themselves out from every angle. The complaining employee sees the problem with everyone else. The alleged harasser thinks the complainer is the one who is too sensitive. The co-workers who may observe some unfair treatment do not say anything because that is the supervisor’s responsibility. The supervisor says he cannot act unless one of the employees complains to him.

After I completed my interviews, I met with the complaining employee a second time to follow-up with her and ask her some questions about certain matters that were revealed over the course of the interviews. When I asked her specific questions about those matters, she accused me of interrogating her unfairly. And the attributions continued.

Can you think of any co-workers with whom you have worked who blame others for their shortcomings? Have you ever been that person?

5 comments Add your comment

Turd Ferguson

July 15th, 2009
12:47 pm

Cushy State jobs are for slackers and people occupying the State chair couldnt make it in the private sector…LOSERS…*POOT* inya face.

Truth

June 30th, 2009
11:10 pm

If the employee is in a non-merited state position, no matter how many years they have worked for the State, the employee has no voice to complain or go up the chain of command to his superiors. And, if the employee complains anyway, he/she can be fired on the spot with no recourse.

BAL

June 30th, 2009
10:55 pm

As a long term state employee, I have been in many different work places/offices thru out my years, and what I have observed is that the work place environment is created by the Supervisor and/or Director in each office. If management is fair, reasonable, honest and open, the office environment has always been good/highly productive, but if management is poor, the entire office staff suffer. The office dynamics created by poor management is akin to being a patient in a psychiatric ward where each individual workers worst personality traits seem to come out in the attempt to make sense of something that makes no sense or has no solution. And, what I have seen is that State Management has no accountability to anyone for how staff is treated, and in general staff have little voice or credibility. Fairness in state government for the staff is a joke, and remember we are a Free Work state, which means either accept the environment or look for another job.

AMB

June 30th, 2009
10:12 am

I have had this very experience myself! In my case the employee was completely unwilling to recognize her own responsibility in the situation and not only elevated her complaint to our corporate counsel but complained about me stating that I was bias. How do you handle such an employee?!

Turd Ferguson

June 22nd, 2009
1:53 pm

Can you think of any co-workers with whom you have worked who blame others for their shortcomings? YES…Most of them do this.

Have you ever been that person? Absolutely NOT!

I am the perfect employee.