When conducting investigations or otherwise making determinations in the workplace, it is essential to avoid bias, whether conscious or unconscious. It is equally important to avoid a situation where co-workers believe decisions made in the workplace are biased - whether real or perceived.
Unconscious bias may take a number of different forms, including:
For investigators, objectivity and drawing reasonable and unbiased conclusions is an essential component of a fair investigation. This doesn't alter the fact that everybody has unconscious biases. In order to remain neutral, investigators should take careful stock of what those biases may be for them specifically and ensure that they do not allow bias to influence their analysis of a party's credibility or their ultimate conclusions.
From an investigator's perspective, a failure to be objective may mean that they have subconsciously drawn premature conclusions about the outcome of the investigation.
A common example involves a situation where a senior executive has been accused of serious wrongdoing, and the investigator understands that the removal or significant disciplining of the executive is likely to result in immediate negative effects for the business.
Against that background, the investigator may be more likely to conduct the investigation in such a way that it justifies a decision which has already been made - namely that the executive will not be terminated or otherwise harshly disciplined.
It is incumbent on impartial investigators to seek to uncover all facts that will help them determine the credibility of the parties involved, and assist in reaching a fair conclusion. It is equally important for investigators to remember that all evidence (however unpalatable) uncovered during an investigation must be taken into account in making a final determination, regardless of whether the information supports or contradicts the allegations.
Forming an inherent bias is a completely natural human response. It is important to ensure, however, that it does not lead or alter the outcome of an investigation. To this end, strategies for preventing inherent bias include:
Employers need to facilitate open and honest communication about the potential of bias affecting a decision-making process. This includes ensuring that all staff who are likely to conduct investigations or make sensitive decisions are aware of the potential impacts of bias, and take steps to avoid it.
Another important stratagem is to ensure that investigators are not required to conduct investigations involving those with whom they have a prior relationship, to avoid any perception of bias.
Investigations are an important tool for companies dealing with breaches of policy misconduct. If an employee views a process as fair and unbiased they will be more likely to report concerns. If you think there is an issue in your workplace and are concerned about potential or perceived bias, WISE can conduct independent and unbiased investigations. Contact us today for an obligation-free cost estimate.
WISE Workplace is a multidisciplinary organisation specialising in the management of workplace behaviour. We investigate matters of corporate and professional misconduct, resolve conflict through mediation and provide consultation services for developing effective people governance.
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