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Rich Jones: The art of conducting investigations

Thursday 29 September 2016

Rich Jones, Senior Adviser at Acas discusses how to get workplace investigations right.

Rich Jones Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowRich Jones

Rich Jones is a senior adviser who offers in-depth advice and support to employers, delivers training on more complex matters and undertakes mediation and collective conciliation work.



Handling workplace investigations can really test a line manager's confidence and skills. You have to be fully involved in the very human situation - for example, looking into a case of bullying or misconduct - while allowing the company policy to take the strain.

As a Senior Acas Advisor, I have worked in many different kinds of organisations to help build confidence and expertise in this area. Here are my top six investigation tips for line managers:

  1. Remember, there are always two sides to every argument

    Interview the person making an accusation first and then immediately get the other side of the story by interviewing the person accused. Timing is crucial here. Also, be careful of unconscious bias. Try and forget what you might have heard about the people involved.
  2. If someone has done something wrong, let the procedure punish them, not you

    You are judging someone by what the policy says and not by what you think of them. Remember: you are commenting on their behaviour and not on them as human beings.
  3. Silence is a useful investigation tool

    Actively listen to participants (often whilst taking notes and thinking of what to ask next!). Also, look for indicators that a witness may not be telling the truth. Long silences and poor eye contact are often tell-tale signs and it's a good idea to ask them about such behaviour.
  4. If it isn't written down it didn't happen

    I know it's a pain but if you don't write things down it is much harder to prove something did or did not happen. Crucially, you cannot mention anything in your findings which you don't have evidence to back up elsewhere in your report.
  5. Check your social media policy

    Social media can be like a drunken conversation at three 'o' clock in the morning - but written down for all to see. Inappropriate use of social media is probably the biggest growth area for workplace investigations. Such investigations are particularly tricky because company IT policies tend not to keep up to date with advances in technology. So, check your policy. More tips here ... Social media guidance
  6. Being right isn't good enough - you've got to show you're right

    Investigation reports are like maths questions - you get 25% of the marks for getting the right answer and 75% for showing your working out!

The good news is there is no one "right" answer to an investigation but your report must be logical and evidence based. Phrases like "on balance it seems likely that" or "a reasonable person would probably conclude" will demonstrate that you have considered both sides of an argument.

If you want to know more about how to get it right take a look at our Carrying out investigations in the workplace guide.

For advice and guidance on a range of line management issues, see our new Managing People  guidance.

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