We’ve put some focus in recent months on workplace investigations through our series of videos outlining frequently asked questions on the subject. Today we’re covering a question that wasn’t covered in the series but which has arisen a few times and which we have had some success in addressing - How to manage anonymous workplace complaints.
Below is a video (and transcript) I recorded following a client raising the issue with us. Here are the key takeaways from the video:
- Anonymous complaints sometimes name a respondent and sometimes they do not (i.e. they refer to the alleged ‘offender’ without actually naming them).
- Sometimes they are isolated and only made by one person and at other times they may be made by many persons.
- The key determinant as to whether action should or should not be taken by management is whether or not the allegations would amount to a breach of policy if they were substantiated.
- Where the respondent or alleged offender has been named, often there is insufficient detail for management to approach the respondent.
- Where the options for management to take action appear to be limited, it’s best not to ignore the situation and hope it will resolve itself. Workplace problems rarely do, so the best approach is to engage a third party expert in workplace investigations.
- Though direct investigation options may be limited, a discrete cultural review or survey will often uncover the facts of the issue at hand. Equally, it may also identify some positive strengths of the workplace that management may not be aware of.
- It would be timely of management, that upon receipt of an anonymous complaint there is reflection to consider why the complaint has not been raised through the appropriate channels as per policy. Is the complainant fearful of victimisation or have they raised complaints previously and believed they have not been heard, they were not taken seriously, or t hat their complaints were not adequately addressed? If these are either real or perceived barriers to following policy then such matters do need to be addressed by the organisation.
If your business is is experiencing anonymous workplace complaints or you wish to ensure your policies are robust and that staff are aware of the policy regarding anonymous complaints, please contact us via phone (1300 227 901) or email for more information.
I've just arrived at the airport after having visited a client who's been receiving a number of anonymous complaints via email, and they're unsure what to do with those complaints. What they do know, is that if the allegations would be substantiated through an investigation, they would form a breach of policy. So they can't really just sit by and ignore these anonymous complaints, but how do you move forward when you don't know who the complainants are, or if it's the one complainant or many complainants, if you don't know whether it's a current or past staff member, or somebody associated with a current or past staff member?
There is enough information in the anonymous emails to know which business unit is been the area of concern and who the respondents would be, but not enough information to put to the respondents for them to be able to address specific allegations.
So we've had quite a bit of success in this area with working with companies where they've received anonymous complaints. And two of the main processes that we use, is conducting a cultural investigation where a number of staff in the hierarchical organisational chart are identified and interviewed and asked generic questions on their perspective of culture, leadership, management, operations, work flow, and usually there's a lot of valuable information comes out of ... you know, which is really good for a company to work with, as well as, positive things that are reported back as well.
But staff are also made aware, before they participate, of their requirements around confidentiality, and also that if they raise a complaint against a specific respondent, that complaint may be investigated, and if so, their name and the allegation will be put forward to the respondent to fairly be able to respond to.
The other way that we've had success is to be able to run a similar survey, but through an online portal such as an online survey, where staff, again, are invited to give their feedback on a variety of areas within the business. And again, notified of their confidentiality requirements and that if they do raise a complaint they need to identify themselves, otherwise the complaint will not be addressed.
Through both of those processes, we also remind staff and make it very clear that from this point onwards anonymous complaints won't be addressed. They do need to come through the complaints handling process of the business to see if we can start to channel concerns being raised through the appropriate mechanisms so they can be addressed properly. Anyway, this client is considering both of those options and is quite keen to pursue some form of investigation. If you've been receiving anonymous complaints and you'd like to know how to manage those, then please contact us and we'd be very happy to help you. We usually uncover a lot of information that's really useful for business, positives, negatives, understanding the perspectives of their staff, and we provide a report with really thorough and robust recommendations. So looking forward to hearing from you if you need support in that area with investigations of anonymous complaints.