Investigating psychological injury
Effectively investigating psychological injury in the workplace requires a unique combination of formal process and empathetic human skills.
It is vital that employers understand the need to safeguard the mental health of all employees involved in such sensitive matters, while also facilitating a high-quality investigation.
Manage employee stress levels
In seeking to accurately gauge the circumstances surrounding an alleged psychological injury, investigators must keep the principles of natural justice front-and-centre throughout the process.
This means that unnecessary stress must be avoided during interviews. Stress must also be sensitively managed in particularly difficult situations, such as in COVID-19 remote work arrangements. Whether or not a psychological injury was caused by employment itself is a complex conundrum and requires well-honed investigative skills to ensure a fair, robust and accurate outcome.
Champion procedural fairness
Seasoned workplace investigators understand how to expertly sort rumour and innuendo from the actual facts surrounding a workplace psychological injury.
Staff emotions can be high when the possibility is raised that employment may have actually harmed an employee’s mental wellbeing. Well-trained investigators will know how to sensitively manage the interview milieu – for example, away from personal attacks and unrelated grievances back to the key issues.
Questions to witnesses should calmly and fairly glean what actually occurred, rather than fan unhelpful comments around the employee’s ‘off’ personality, their unusual presentation or other supposed subjective failures.
And when speaking with employees either on-site or remotely, investigators of psychological injuries must communicate with tact, sensitivity and understanding of the stress that is endemic within such a process.
On the back of the hard year that was 2020, it is vital that worker mental wellbeing be respected during investigations. Procedural fairness must be substantive and visible to all involved, and not just a ‘box to be ticked’.
Approach worker wellbeing with care
Finding the right approach is a fine art, and one that requires a particular set of professional skills. It is not sufficient to go through the motions when investigating a psychological injury. Compassion and empathy are essential to the process, in order the establish rapport and enable witnesses to feel safe in sharing difficult material.
For example, if a key witness does not feel that a co-worker’s return to work after COVID-19 was fairly treated by management, how can that witness be put at ease by the investigator if they are silently worried about their own treatment if they bare the truth? And how might the value of the investigation report be diminished if the truth remains in fearful hiding?
New investigators might be forgiven for thinking that only those with superpowers of intuition, compassion and wisdom could possibly untangle such sensitive factors! Knowing how and where to take lines of inquiry in such circumstances is certainly a challenge.