A trauma-informed approach to receiving and investigating workplace issues reduces the risk employees will be re-traumatised by the investigation, which delivers a better employee experience and better outcomes for employers.
Whistleblower disclosures are on the rise
At the third Australian National Whistleblowing Symposium, Commissioner Sean Hughes, highlighted that whistleblowing disclosures to ASIC have increased by 194% since 2020. At Your Call, we have observed a 300% increase in reports being reported through our service during the same period.
You’ve received a whistleblowing disclosure – what’s next?
While the increase in reporting numbers is positive, it naturally raises another question which we hear time and time again at Your Call.
“A report has been raised through our whistleblowing channel – what is the next step and what do we do to address the issue?”
A Sexual Harassment Survey conducted by the Australia Human Rights Commission in 2018 showed that one in three workers in Australia state they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. In our experience in receiving whistleblower disclosures and conducting workplace investigations, we see how employees can be re-traumatised and how the profound impact of that trauma often creates a barrier that prevents survivors and witnesses from sharing their experiences at all.
What does a trauma-informed investigator do differently?
To conduct effective investigations, investigators need to adopt a trauma informed approach by recognising the signs of trauma and understanding how it affects whistleblowers, respondents, and witnesses. This means putting the whistleblower and witnesses at the centre of the process.
A trauma-informed investigator:
- has a high level of professional empathy, emotional intelligence and expert investigative interviewing skills
- is aware of dark corners and will investigate grey areas, rather than rely on black and white data
- will take into consideration and allow the space for the individuals to express the natural human needs and emotions as part of the investigation process which results in better outcomes for both the participants and reduces the risk exposure of the organisation
How to take a trauma-informed approach to investigations
Recent studies in neuroscience show that individuals who have been impacted by trauma give more complete, coherent, and accurate accounts when investigations are done using the following steps:
- Provide a comfortable, safe, and secure location and setting to conduct the interviews
- Accommodate special needs including allowing a friend, family member or support-person to be present during the interview to provide support
- Give the whistleblower and witnesses control over how the incident and subsequently events unfolded by letting them choose a starting point. “Start where you feel comfortable” “Tell me what you remember”. This simple technique minimizes contaminating fragile memories and avoids the witness shutting down due to a traumatic trigger
- Any subsequent follow up questions should be asked in a non-suggestive manner to avoid influencing a witness’s memories
- Investigators should acknowledge and respond to any extreme displays of distress, and Immediate referral should be made to post-interview psychological support if warranted.
Keen to learn more about trauma-informed workplace investigations?
- Download our free best practice whistleblowing program checklist to help audit your current program or get started on your whistleblowing journey.
- Read our article Impression Management: How it prevents us speaking up and what to do about it
- Read this article on The Difficulties of Speaking Truth to Power