The Myth of Body Language as a Credibility Assessor

Workplace investigators and human resource professionals should be cautious of relying on the body language of a witness to evaluate their credibility during an investigation.

Fact-finding investigations, especially in cases of harassment, at times turn into an evaluation of one person’s version of events versus another’s, or as some call it, the “he said, she said” dilemma. In these cases, assessing the credibility of the two parties may be the easiest way the investigator can come to any defensible determination relative to credibility. When making a judgement on credibility, evaluating a person’s body language can be tempting and is often supported by many human resource professionals and workplace investigators in Canada. However, the empirical research shows that relying on body language is not a helpful method for evaluating credibility.

To clarify, body language, in the context of this article, includes both verbal cues (speech hesitations, stuttering, voice pitch, and inflections) and non-verbal cues (no eye contact or eye movement in certain directions, fidgeting, and overall nervousness).

What does the research say?

Body language is often referred to in investigation reports when credibility is being determined by the investigator. However, the link between honesty/dishonesty and body language is tenuous. Meta-analyses and experimental studies in the field of deception detection found that neither verbal nor non-verbal cues act as reliable predictors of deception. In other words, there is no conclusive evidence to warrant investigators relying on body language when making judgements on a person’s credibility.

Specifically, Bond and DePaulo (2006) conducted a meta-analysis regarding body language as a predictor of deceitful behaviour and found no relation between the two. In a separate meta-analysis conducted by Sporer and Schwandt (2007), twelve observable behaviours, including eye blinking, gaze aversion, postural shifts, hand movements, etc., were reviewed, and none were found to be correlated with deception. Three additional studies conducted by Wiseman et al. (2012) evaluated whether eye movement is a useful predictor of lying, with all three concluding it was not a useful predictor at all.

Lastly, in the book Talking to Strangers (2019), author Malcolm Gladwell concludes we are not skilled at “reading” others. He quotes a study based on over 550,000 arraignment hearings in New York City between 2008 and 2013. Of these 550,000 hearings, New York City judges released slightly more than 400,000 defendants on bail. A computer program released 400,000 defendants based on the same information that the judges had, including the defendant’s record, age, and what happened the last time the defendant was released. This study pitted man against machine – who would make the better decisions?

Interestingly, the defendants that the computer released were 25% less likely to commit another criminal offense while on bail than those actually released by the judges. The one difference was the judges saw the defendants and factored their impression of the defendants into their decision making. This result is significant and further supports the conclusion that we lack the skills necessary to accurately “read” another person’s body language.

The above studies indicate that body language is not a reliable predictor of honesty/ dishonesty and cannot be relied on to determine the credibility of a witness in a workplace investigation. Non-verbal cues such as eye contact, foot movement, and fidgeting and verbal cues such as speech errors and longer response times do not hold up as indicators of deception.

Why is this research important?

Research shows that relying on body language to assess credibility can be a flawed approach and that body language provides no greater predictive power of honesty/dishonesty than chance. When interviewing a person whose body language suggests that they are being dishonest, ask yourself, where is that assumption coming from? Is dishonesty the best explanation for their behaviour or are other factors at play?

There can be many reasons for certain body language to appear from a witness during a workplace investigation, but why does it appear? Most Canadians will not be involved in a workplace investigation during the course of their careers. When someone finds themselves involved in one, it is only natural for them to be nervous or fearful of the process. This anxiety about the investigative process may explain why some witnesses may appear less than truthful to the investigator when what they actually are is nervous.


It is tempting to believe we can tell when someone is not being honest. We sometimes infer the dissonance in their mind must be somehow reflected in their body. The reality is simpler yet more inconvenient: It is difficult to determine what other people are thinking, and there is little we can do to change this. Workplace investigators are, therefore, charged with sorting through the ambiguity to come to a well-reasoned assessment of the facts.

Relying on an evidence-based practice is paramount to building defensible conclusions. For reliable predictors of honesty/dishonesty, look to more concrete factors such as the following:

Determining the Plausibility of the Witness’s Story
Does the version of events offered by the witness make sense? Does the story “hang together” given the circumstances surrounding the event that they describe? Is the story consistent with what a reasonable person would see as normal in that situation?

Does the Witness have Motive?
Does the witness have any motivation for the investigator to believe their version of events? Are they motivated to lie to the investigator? Typically, if a witness has no motivation to lie about their story, they are likely more reliable.

Can the Witness’s Story be Corroborated?
Is the witness’s version of events corroborated by others? Is the witness’s story coherent with the versions offered by others interviewed? Having corroborating evidence is powerful and can go a long way in determining a witness’s credibility.

What is the Past Record of the Witness?
Reviewing the past record of a witness can be a helpful way to assess the possibility that the witness may attempt to mislead the investigator. This may include reviewing the witness’s disciplinary record for situations where their credibility may have been called into question.

In the final analysis, the evidence is clear – we must not rely on body language to assess credibility. Rather, workplace investigators must be diligent and earnest in relying on facts over feelings, beware of our biases, and to be ready to challenge our assumptions about people.

About the Author

Devan Corrigan
Devan J. Corrigan is the Founder and Principal of Corrigan HR Consulting which provides consultancy services in the area of human resources and labour relations. He is often called upon to conduct workplace investigations in both the provincial and federal jurisdictions. Devan holds an Honours degree in Psychology from Saint Mary’s University and a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University.




Bond, C.F., & DePaulo, B.M. (2006). Accuracy of deception judgements. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(3), 214–234.

Gladwell, M. (2019). Talking to strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know. Little, Brown and Company.Sporer,

S.L., & Schwandt, B. (2007). Moderators of nonverbal indicators of deception: A meta-analytic synthesis. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 13(1), 1–34.

Wiseman, R., Watt, C., ten Brinke, L., Porter, S., Couper, S. L., et al. (2012). The eyes don’t have it: Lie detection and neuro-linguistic programming. PLOS One, 7(7), e40259. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040259


Reducing Participant Stress Before a Workplace Investigation

Reducing Participant Stress Before a Workplace Investigation It is normal for participants in a workplace investigation to feel some anxiety, but too much worrying can create barriers to obtaining critical information, which is a challenge for investigators looking to build complete and thorough reports.

Ensuring participants fully understand the process and their role in it can help alleviate unnecessary anxiety during the investigation. With a greater understanding of the process, participants can feel empowered to speak confidently in the interview and provide the investigator with the necessary information.

Where does this anxiety come from?

Participating in an investigation can be stressful. Most people do not have the experience of participating in a workplace investigation and simply do not know what to expect. Without a proper understanding to put their interview in the larger context of the investigation, participants could engage in counterproductive and unhelpful behaviours. They may fear scrutiny falling on their own actions or the consequences of sharing their knowledge of an incident with the investigator. They may feel they have no control over the process and be less than cooperative. They may, intentionally or not, withhold critical information. Some may even refuse to engage in the investigative process at all. All these behaviours act against the goal of uncovering the relevant details of a workplace incident.

These behaviours do not make a participant deceitful but rather it stems from a survival instinct and is linked to the fight or flight response, a mechanism that enables individuals to react quickly to a threat by either facing the threat directly or disengaging it by escaping to a safe place. Viewed in this light, becoming adversarial in an interview or refusing to participate can be seen as rational responses to stress, even if such behaviours are unwarranted. Ultimately, the investigator wants to curb these kinds of emotional reactions from participants’ as they will not be conducive to the investigation.

The investigator must reduce the imagined “threat” in the mind of the participant before conducting the interview. Luckily, there are practical solutions to alleviate anxiety before interviews which will result in a better outcome. This article will provide some tools that will allow the investigator to eliminate some of the unnecessary pressure felt by the participants. This should result in higher-quality interviews.

Although no investigation process is stress-free, ensuring participants understand the process ahead of their interview can greatly reduce their stress. It is clear that some participants like the Complainant and Respondent in a case will likely receive more information than witnesses, but providing information about the investigation to all participants will generally be helpful for the investigator and to the overall process.

Using the following two-step process before conducting an interview will benefit both the investigator and the participants of the investigation.

Step 1 – Introductory Letter or Email

Send a well-crafted letter or email to the complainant(s), the respondent(s), and any witnesses (i.e. all participants).  The letter or email should include the following:

  • the mandate of the investigation,
  • the role of the participant in the investigation (are they the complainant, the respondent or a witness)
  • the expectation of maintaining confidentiality throughout the process,
  • the time and place of the interview with the participant, and
  • request for a pre-interview phone call.

Outlining the process of the investigation in writing from the start will reduce participants’ anxiety level.

Step 2 – Pre-interview phone call

This step is significant in decreasing anxiety of participants involved in the investigation. The pre-interview phone call allows the investigator to provide further details, including introducing themselves, the mandate, and explaining the investigative process in more detail.  This call also provides the participant a chance to ask questions about what is expected of them during the process.  Having this take place ahead of the interview establishes rapport between the investigator and the participant early on and it also humanizes the process. In this phone call, the following issues should be addressed in more depth:

1. Introduction of the investigator

It is important to explain that this call is not the actual interview, but serves as an opportunity for introductions between the investigator and the participant. The investigator should explain that the interview will take place at a later date, and most likely in person. Information provided to the participant can include the professional and educational background of the investigator, the investigator’s role as a neutral third party, and the expectation of the participant to provide truthful answers during the interview.

2. Explain the mandate in general terms

Explaining the mandate during the pre-interview phone call is critical.  If participants understand the purpose of the investigation, they will be able to identify what information is relevant to the matter at hand. This gives the participants confidence ahead of the interview and it helps the investigator as well, since the participant will think more critically about the information that is required.

3. Explain why the organization is investigating the matter

Participants can often be critical of the reasons why organizations conduct investigations in the first place. During this call, the investigator can explain that organizations have a legal obligation to investigate alleged instances of harassment, discrimination, and violence in the workplace, pursuant to legislation in most Canadian jurisdictions. To allay any further skepticism about the investigation, the investigator can also explain that workplace investigations are ultimately conducted with a hope to correct some workplace problem that exists. Again, this explanation should help the participant to understand the process and reduce some stress.

4. Explain what to expect with the investigative interview

Participants often fear the interview, and in particular, the questions that will be asked by the investigator. The investigator should explain that the participants will be asked questions in good faith and will be expected to provide truthful responses. It might also be helpful for the investigator to explain that they will not be trying to “trip up” the participant or trick them with difficult questions. It is important to note that the investigator is not interested in being deceptive but is interested in getting to the truth. Tricks and traps are counter-intuitive to this end. Explaining this to the participant will go a long way in establishing a level of trust prior to the interview.

5. Reconfirm the importance of confidentiality

This might be the most important part of the call with the participant as it is vital the investigator gets commitment from the participant to maintain confidentiality throughout the process. The investigator should relay that ensuring confidentiality protects the integrity of the investigative process. Participants should also be advised that if confidentiality is breached and information leaked to other employees, the entire investigation may be compromised. Depending on the organization’s policy or process, a breach of confidentiality could also result in a disciplinary penalty to the participant culpable of that action


The interview of participants is critical to producing a high-quality investigation. The accuracy and completeness of the information provided by participants during an interview can be skewed, or even incomplete, when participants experience stress and anxiety about the process. This negatively impacts the legitimacy of the investigation. The two-step process outlined above will go a long way to reducing participant anxiety by building rapport and trust between investigator and participant, resulting in higher quality interviews and a more complete investigation.


About the Author

Devan CorriganDevan J. Corrigan is the Founder and Principal of Corrigan HR Consulting which provides consultancy services in the area of human resources and labour relations. He specializes in conducting workplace investigations in both the provincial and federal jurisdictions. Devan holds an Honours degree in Psychology from Saint Mary’s University and a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University.

Workplace Restoration Q&A with Anne Grant

Workplace Restoration Q&A with Anne GrantQueen’s IRC sat down with Anne Grant, the facilitator for our new Workplace Restoration program, to find out more about the topic and the program. In the interview, Anne shares her experience in workplace restorations, including the surprises she’s had along the way. She gives some insight into what makes workplaces toxic and how this program will help organizations that are experiencing disruptions like prolonged conflicts, increased harassment or grievance claims, leadership issues, strikes, investigations or significant organizational changes.

What kind of problems do organizations have that would require a workplace restoration?

A workplace restoration might be needed after a polarizing event like a big investigation. It might be a merger or a strike. It might be difficulties with management. It might be a group of rogue employees causing problems. Often after a strike or lockout, a few rogues, union or management, can keep the conflict alive.

One of the things that I’ve really seen over the last ten to fifteen years is a need to address the conduct in the workplace. In general, it’s because people are getting into bad habits and engaging in behaviours that are not acceptable in this day and age, as we’re seeing in the media right now. People get sloppy, they engage in a lot of things that they shouldn’t, and people put up with it for a long time.

I heard of a workplace that was becoming increasingly dysfunctional and toxic, and so they decided to cancel the Christmas party. I thought, you can’t do that. You can’t just wait until November and say, “By the way, we’re not having a Christmas party.” At another place, they used to let the staff go a little earlier on the last Friday before Christmas. The new manager said, “No, that’s ridiculous. You have to stay until 4:30.” These were the kinds of things that were the last straw, completely breaking down the morale in these workplaces.

How do you restore a workplace after a polarizing event?

It’s about looking for commonality, and that’s what I tend to focus on. What is your ideal working relationship? What is your ideal work environment? What are the components of an ideal workplace for you? And then, how do we implement that? Nine times out of 10 everybody has, pretty much, the same idea of the type of workplace they want.

Let me give you an example of a school board. They had a huge strike that went on for months. I was asked to come in and do a restoration between the union and management – it was a multi-stage process. It started with the school board and the executive of the teachers’ union, and then it went to a larger forum with all of the grievance officers, the managers, the principals and so on of the school board.

What was really interesting with the school board was something that I did not see coming at all. It was a Catholic school board. I met with the union, and they told me all sorts of horrible things about management. Then I met with management, and they told me all sorts of horrible things about the union. The next day I was supposed to meet with them jointly to talk about what my assessment was and what the plan was to go forward. Before the joint session the head union guy said to me, “Are you going to do the prayer, do you want me to do it, or would you prefer the superintendent to do it?” My jaw was on the ground going, “What?” These adversaries open and close with a prayer, and I thought … okay, let’s back up here. If you guys can open and close with a prayer, we can find a way forward together in a pleasant way. We had to find and recognize that commonality before we could move forward.

What makes a workplace toxic?

In my view, a toxic or poisoned workplace is one where the dysfunction of the people within the work group negatively affects interpersonal interaction and productivity.  One of the things that Peter Edwards talks about in his book[1] is how there are different types of people in a workplace. There are the positive leaders – they come in and they’re keen, and they want to do extra stuff. Sometimes you want to slap them because they’re so perky! Then you have the rogues, the negative leaders, who are perpetually negative and stirring the pot. In the average workplace, there are 5% on either side, book ending, positive and negative. You have the 70% in the middle, who are neutral and essentially just come to work and do their job. Then some that fill in the gaps.

In a toxic workplace, what happens is more and more of the neutrals start to go over to the dark side, because there’s no enforcement of the rules. They engage in excessive chitchat, including malicious gossip, sometimes because they aren’t getting information in a proper manner and they don’t know what’s going on. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty so they start cutting corners. They stop doing any extra. They stop caring.

Our positive leaders and positive followers don’t usually go over to the dark side, but they become apathetic. They start to leave. Sometimes there can be a mass exodus. Suddenly everybody retires; they can’t get new people to come in because the reputation of the department or organization is terrible.

In a healthcare organization I worked with, the leadership was perceived to be playing favourites, but a big part of what was going on there was that it was a very highly regulated industry. They implemented a very vigorous risk management protocol so that if there was an error, there were reams of paperwork that had to be completed. A lot of individuals saw that as punitive, but in fact, people weren’t being punished or disciplined. The problem was that the organization wasn’t being clear and wasn’t communicating the reasons behind the protocols. This lack of communication enabled a larger than normal group of negative leaders or rogues.  When the managers didn’t handle the rogues, they ended up with a very unhappy group of employees overall.

What is the most surprising part of the workplace restoration process for you?

People are often shocked when I do my assessments, because I start by asking people what they like about their workplace. Most of the time I get a vast majority of responses, if not 100%, that have really positive things to say about the workplace and really positive things to say about their colleagues.

I remember working with a group a few years ago in a fairly intense work environment, a 24/7 operation. Word on the street was the manager was crap. The manager was not doing their job. The manager was terrible. In that particular case, I was jointly retained by union and management. One of the things that I’ve learned along the way is that you really need to check in with the actual troops on the ground. I interviewed 50 staff, and 48 of them had no issues with the manager.  However, two staff absolutely hated the manager’s guts. These two were absolutely vitriolic about the manager. These employees were very skilled and respected members of the team, but for whatever reason, they did not get along with their manager.

As part of the restoration process, I met with two groups of 25 employees to reveal the findings of the interviews. I told the group, “You’re going to note in my slides that there are no management issues, and that is because 96% of you stated you had no issues with the management of this team.” Suddenly, the whole room is looking around going, “Wow. That’s interesting.” The group recognized there were a couple of loud mouths, who are very powerful and persuasive leaders, stirring things up, but they didn’t know how to handle them. There were other issues in this organization, but there was a complete disconnect about what the actual source of the problem was. A huge part of restoring that workplace was acknowledging and jointly working on solutions for the real problems, as well as shutting down the malicious gossip about the manager.

What do you think the most important step in a workplace restoration is?

If I was going to choose the most important part, I think it’s developing and communicating clearly the terms of reference for the process right up front, because you’re going to keep falling back on that when you do the plan, when you do the implementation, and when you do the evaluation. People have to know what you are going to do because typically they have lost the ability to trust.

Why is Queen’s IRC introducing a Workplace Restoration training program?

Queen’s IRC offers a course called Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation, and we heard the feedback that people need to know what to do after the investigation is over, to help repair the damage done by a strike or merger or investigation. Additionally, IRC participants were asking detailed questions about how to restore and rebuild workplace relationships where there has been a history of bullying or sub-standard behaviour.  So in addition to adding a module to the Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program on this topic, Queen’s IRC decided to introduce a 3-day Workplace Restoration course to delve more deeply into this process.

There’s lots of courses out there that just give you the assessment part. That’s a component, but it’s not the whole thing. This course will teach people the whole process – from the assessment, to making and implementing a plan, to the evaluation. (Read more about the 4 Steps to Fix a Toxic Workplace.)

What will people learn in the Queen’s IRC Workplace Restoration program?

They will feel prepared to recognize and define some symptoms of a toxic workplace. They will be equipped to conduct an assessment to understand more clearly what the real problems are in the workplace. They will have tools and techniques to plan and implement the restoration plan, and they will also have some guidance as to how to go about evaluating it after the fact.

I’m a total believer in the Queen’s IRC approach, which is: teach it, do it, teach it, do it, teach it, do it. Participants will create terms of reference in a simulation based on current workplace problems. They’ll conduct some interviews. Then they’ll get a series of surveys, and, in groups, they all assess a workplace based on the information they got from me in the simulation.  Program participants will create a plan, write a report and compile recommendations to address the issues in the simulation.  Finally, they will learn how to go back and evaluate the process to ensure on-going mutual respect in the workplace.

Who should attend the Workplace Restoration program? How will it be useful to different people?

The ideal audience for this program includes anyone who has a leadership role in the workplace – that could be formal leadership roles, HR professionals, union executives, stewards, and so on, but it also could be technical leaders, clinical leaders or organizational development professionals.

Workplace restoration is about partnering with your union and collaboration between managers and employees to create the workplace that everyone really needs.

Different groups are going to have different levels of issues. This program is going to give them the awareness of the things they should be looking for so they’re finding the symptoms up front. How do we recognize this ripple before it becomes a tidal wave? I think part of it is people don’t know where to start.

A section of this course is going to be talking about what kind of questions to ask and how to do an assessment, but a big part of it is, what do we do with the information? How do we reengage the staff? How do we bring them back to a joint vision of what the workplace should be?

They will learn how to do an assessment, including some ideas around different kinds of terms of reference for these processes, whether they retain somebody, or whether they do it in house. They will learn how to tailor it to their context, to their workplace, and how to customize this approach to their specific issue. They will learn not only how to gather the information, but how to analyze it. It may be that they already have a lot of this information. So what are we going to do with it?

In closing, what do you like about the workplace restoration process?

I really, really like doing this work. This work is very satisfying, because what I have found is the vast majority of people want to do the right thing. I think that our job, as Labour Relations professionals, is to make it easy for them to do the right thing. Studies have shown that people want to come to work. They want it to be a bit friendly. They want it to be a bit relaxed. They want to do a good job.  This applies to senior staff and millennials and everyone in between.  They want to feel like they’re really contributing something. I think that’s what this process is tapping into.


About Anne Grant

Anne GrantAnne Grant has practised as a full time mediator and conflict resolution professional since 1994.  Anne’s dispute resolution practice includes extensive mediation of labour and civil disputes. She specializes in the assessment and restoration of poisoned work environments as well as conducting a range of workplace investigations. Currently she is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Labour Relations Foundations, Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation, and Workplace Restoration programs, and Past President of the ADR Institute of Ontario. Anne has far-reaching experience handling toxic workplaces in the public and private sector. She provides strategies to address dysfunction at the individual, team and departmental level. Her experience includes extensive mediation of civil and labour disputes, as well as facilitation, poisoned work environment interventions and human rights investigations.


[1] Johnson, J., Dakens, L., Edwards, P., & Morse, N. (2008). Switchpoints: Culture Change on the Fast Track to Business Success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

5 Insights into Conducting Effective Fact-Finding Investigations

5 Insights into Conducting Effective Fact-Finding Investigations Fact-finding is an essential skill set for anybody who is in an HR, labour relations or employee relations role. If you stay in this role, at some point you will end up doing investigations, and having this skill set is going to make you much more efficient as a practitioner.

Jerry Christensen, who recently retired from the City of Calgary, managed and coordinated the City’s respectful workplace program and dealt with all of their human rights issues. With previous experience working in the criminal justice system and with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, Jerry has worked in several regulatory environments where someone had to be held accountable. In this interview, Jerry shares his thoughts about the value of fact-finding and investigation training for HR and LR practitioners, as well as the five most important things he’s learned about conducting effective fact-finding investigations.

“If you’ve not done any workplace investigations, never had any training to do so, and then find yourself being thrust into that role, it can be very intimidating. The word ‘investigation’ is going to be flashing in front of your face in letters that are 10 feet high and blazing red. You may find yourself feeling anxious and nervous about your role in this process.” Jerry points out that this is why it’s important to have training in fact-finding. “Usually, when people are intimidated about the process, they’re going to stumble through it and they may not do it very well.”

As an investigator at the City of Calgary, Jerry took on a neutral role, where he didn’t advocate for one party or the other. This was very important to his role, because if HR or LR are perceived to be favouring one side, the parties involved may feel that it’s not a fair investigation.

Improving your skills in fact-finding is another essential tool in your toolkit, Jerry says. “These skills are your bread and butter as an HR or LR practitioner. I think taking the Queen’s IRC Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation course increases your competency as a professional.”

“Fact-finding is really all about talking to people. I really believe this kind of training is going to help improve their communications skills and their ability to engage with all types of people more effectively. It doesn’t matter what job you do or what kind of business you’re in. I believe that this training will be of benefit to you.”

Whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’ve been through some fact-finding investigations before, Jerry shares the five most important things he’s learned about conducting effective fact-finding investigations.

1. Good Investigations Are Thorough And Fair

The two main criteria for a good investigation are thoroughness and fairness.

It’s important to respond effectively to complaints in the early stages because issues can escalate quickly, to a point where the workplace can get polarized and toxic very quickly. You have camps of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, no one trusts anybody, and employees are upset with what they perceive as an unfair situation because they feel nothing is being done to investigate the complaint. Productivity goes out the window and work doesn’t get done. An employer’s reputation can be negatively impacted very quickly because these perceptions become topics on social media or other outlets – nobody can keep it internalized anymore.

There are many cases where an employer has been accused of not doing a thorough and fair investigation. Those employers then have to deal with negative press, and possibly be involved in costly litigation.

Recently there have been media reports of an employee who launched a civil action, alleging that she brought forward what sounds like sexual assault allegations against another employee, and that the company didn’t deal with it properly. The employer will now have to demonstrate what they did and how they did it in order to defend themselves against those allegations in civil court. If they can’t prove that they investigated this in a fair and thorough way, and if they can’t demonstrate it with tangible facts or documentation, then their liability and reputation could be at risk.

2. Not All Investigations Are The Same

The word ‘investigation’ has a very negative value attached to it. For a lot of people, when they hear that word, they have their own perceptions of what investigations are – mainly from all the crime shows that we see on television. But crime shows don’t show the real way that workplace investigations should be done.

In some situations when a complaint is on the lower end of severity, there may be an opportunity to try to informally resolve the issue. HR and front line managers or supervisors should be able to (and prepared to) give coaching and/or advice to both parties so that they can resolve their conflict themselves. If they can do this, then nine times out of 10, the resolution will stick, and people will be able to work together much more effectively.

When the situation is dealing with more severe allegations, this is where the process tends to get more formalized. Complaints are written out and the allegations are very specific in terms of who, what, when, and where. People will have to be interviewed about their knowledge of the specific allegations. All of that information will have to be evaluated to determine if there has or has not been, a violation of some workplace rule or policy. If necessary, discipline may have to be imposed. In most people’s perception of what a workplace investigation entails, this type of process is what it would look like.

This is where the training that one can obtain through a fact-finding course, such as the one offered by Queen’s IRC, is going to help. It helps you learn to maintain that position of objectivity and fairness, and teaches you how to complete a thorough investigation and write proper reports. If you can demonstrate to the parties involved that your process is as thorough and fair as it can be, then they may be prepared to accept the outcome.

3. Patience Is The Key to Good Interviews

Everybody that I interview – everybody, it doesn’t matter who you are – they’re all nervous. On a scale of nervousness, with one being the least, and 10 being the most, usually most people are five and up when I come to interview them because, “Oh no …, now I’m involved in an investigation. Somebody might lose their job. I don’t want to get anybody in trouble.” Getting someone you are interviewing to a point where they feel comfortable to simply begin talking and having a conversation, that’s usually the biggest hurdle to overcome.

In the criminal justice system, people are interrogated, but in the workplace that approach tends not to get anything of value from the person you are trying to interview. You have to have a discussion with them in a way that’s not going to intimidate or make them feel threatened. Usually that’s the biggest hurdle right off the bat and sometimes this takes a while to achieve. Being patient and asking questions in a conversational tone will tend to get you the information you need.

4. People Present The Truth As They Know It

Most people want to tell you the truth as they know it. And by that I mean that people might tell you their version of what happened, and while they’re not lying, it’s very different from what somebody else saw. It’s how they perceive it and how they interpret the situation. They want to tell you that. You’ve got to be patient with them to give them the opportunity to get that out. Sometimes in an investigation, we want it done yesterday. But I’ve always taken the approach that I’m going to do it as quickly as possible, but it’s going to be thorough, and if thorough means taking an extra few days to get the information complete, then that’s what’s going to happen.

The most challenging types of investigations are where the allegations involve a situation that happened in the distant past. When allegations are several months or a year or older, people’s memories get very sketchy. Even though some of us like to think that we have really good memories, when it comes to specific details, we don’t. We tend to have recollections that are influenced with lots of other things that happened in our lives during the time period that is being investigated. Dealing with allegations that are old makes it very difficult to determine the validity of those allegations, and it may seem like the person being interviewed is not being forthcoming. In my experience most people want to be forthcoming but their memories don’t always cooperate.

5. Stay Neutral And Investigate Every Complaint

As an HR or LR practitioner, it’s important to investigate all complaints in the workplace, either formally or informally. The Jian Ghomeshi case really highlights this point. The workplace allegations that involved Ghomeshi were years and years in the making. Some people in the workplace may have minimized it as “Oh well, that’s just him,” or “We don’t believe that.” Then the proverbial volcano erupted. Obviously people who should have looked into those allegations didn’t, and if you have any training in fact-finding, you will know that your first obligation in situations like that is not to say, “Oh well, that’s just him.”

If your organization has HR or LR practitioners who are trained in fact-finding and investigations, they are going to be able to handle most workplace complaints. But there may be instances when you need to bring in an external investigator. If people have the perception that HR is too close to the situation, or isn’t able to handle the complaints, you should consider bringing in an external person that is going to have the perception of objectivity and the necessary skills to do a thorough and fair investigation. That’s crucial here.

As a good employer, you have a duty to investigate any complaints that are made. It doesn’t mean you have to do a great big huge investigation and interview hundreds of people, but you need to check into those allegations to determine what next steps need to be taken. Maybe you will find that this is a matter that can be resolved between two employees, or maybe a more thorough investigation needs to be launched, but you can’t just ignore the allegations.

Exploring Senior Leadership in the Canadian Mental Health Association

Clark MacFarlane, Executive Director, CMHA – Cochrane-Timiskaming BranchClark MacFarlane has over twenty years of experience in the health care sector, and is currently the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Cochrane-Timiskaming Branch, in northern Ontario. CMHA branches provide direct service to people who are experiencing mental illness, and to their families. They are in the process of implementing a new service delivery model, which shifts from traditional treatment methods to a recovery approach.

In this interview with Queen’s IRC, Clark discusses the funding challenges of being an incorporated charitable organization almost completely dependent on government funding, the difficulty in building the talent pipeline in northern Ontario, and the struggles that come with leading an organization with multiple sites. He opens up about the rewards and challenges of managing in a unionized environment, the cultural shift that happened when the union came in, and the lessons learned in the first round of collective bargaining. Clark talks candidly about what they could have done better in change management, and the steps he takes to create a healthy work environment with happy and engaged employees.

Inside HR at the Ontario Public Service

Lori AselstineIn April 2014, as Lori Aselstine began her retirement from the Government of Ontario, she sat down with Queen’s IRC to talk about her career, the HR profession and practising HR in an environment that is 85% unionized.

Lori talks candidly about her experience rising through the ranks in the Government of Ontario, as well as the challenges and opportunities that come from working in labour relations for the government, which often plays the role of the employer and legislator. Lori shares which skills and knowledge she wishes she had acquired earlier in her career, and her thoughts on how HR can play an integral role in the development of corporate strategy and performance. Lori notes that in the next decade, we are going to see a push towards alternate work strategies, and this will present a host of challenges and questions, particularly with a unionized workforce.

Lori has over 33 years of experience with the Government of Ontario, most of which was in the human resources field. She has held positions such as director of Ontario Public Service labour relations, director of Broader Public Sector labour relations and director of strategic human resources business.

Exploring the HR Function at Maersk Oil

Stina Bjerg Nielsen is currently the Head of Human Resources for Maersk Oil, part of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, one of Denmark’s largest companies. Since joining in 2009, Stina has been involved in transforming both the Maersk Oil organization and the strategic direction of the human resources function. In this Queen’s IRC interview, Stina candidly talks about her experiences within the human resources profession in Denmark and Europe, and her role at Maersk Oil. She notes that the challenges and opportunities facing Denmark are similar to those facing other countries, and encourages HR professionals to stay connected with the business in which they operate and to develop their own tool kit of competencies and experiences to facilitate success in their roles.

Exploring the HR Profession in Denmark

Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research AssociateIn August 2011, I moved from Kingston, Ontario, to Copenhagen, Denmark. I’ve been fortunate to continue working remotely for the IRC while living in Europe. The past five months have been a learning experience, as I’ve continued to transition and adjust to work and life in a foreign country.

With a background in adult education and an interest in the HR profession, I am especially intrigued by the ways in which the HR profession in Denmark is similar to, or different from, the HR profession in Canada. Throughout 2011, my IRC research focused on describing the state of the HR profession in Canada, including in-depth qualitative interviews with HR professionals and a national survey that quantitatively and qualitatively explored the HR profession, based on the perspectives of practitioners. While living in Europe, I am keen to share my own observations, and those of senior HR professionals around the globe, with the IRC community.

This article is a summary of a conversation that I had with Danish HR professional, Finn Bech Andersen.

What kinds of professional experiences have shaped your views on the HR profession in Denmark?

Finn Bech AndersenI am currently an independent HR consultant engaged in the development and implementation of business strategy, developing executive leadership capabilities to align with organizational strategy, and the transformation of the HR function within organizations and globally. I have almost two decades of international leadership experience in large and complex organizations. Most recently, I was the Head of Organizational Development, Strategy, and Learning at Maersk Line. My work included implementing strategic change management processes, and overseeing global HR processes, such as talent and performance management, learning, and development.

Prior to joining Maersk, I worked for the Danish military for a number of years. After leaving the military, I soon realized that I had developed a strong background in HR because of my education and the work that I did, including, recruitment, branding, and a lot of training, and development. My work wasn’t specifically classified as “HR” at that time; it was seen as part of operations. During my career, it has taken me a while to realise that HR is a profession. I think this is true globally – HR is not always recognized as a true profession.

My perspective on the HR profession in Denmark is shaped by the fact that I have worked with many different companies. I consider myself to be an academic within HR. I enjoy theory, concepts, reading, and participating in discussion seminars. But, I am equally a practitioner, and through my work I have developed an understanding of the evolution of the HR function. Theory and practice now enables me to identify and develop the potential of individuals, teams, and organizations – and to derive results therein.

How would you describe the organizational culture in Danish workplaces?

I think that the Danish way of managing employees is about delegating work to and trusting in the capacity of your team. Workplaces have a collegial environment. Perhaps due to the limitation of natural resources in Denmark, we tend to focus on the human capital. An interesting example of a Danish company is Lego. They emphasize creativity and innovation in their workplace practices.

The way in which the labour market is organized in Denmark is also influencing the organizational culture. Organizations and unions negotiate collective agreements on a regular basis. It is extremely rare that the state intervenes. The social systems and networks provided by the state are very strong. In Denmark, an individual secures many benefits from the state rather than an employer. Fitness, good health, and family are important to Danes. Parental leave, and vacation time, are integral to Danish work. Because of this, Denmark has one of the most flexible workforces, but when you are living here you don’t necessarily see that.

Danish organizations are also becoming more diverse, with the view that everyone should have equal opportunity. Cultural awareness is important in the workplace. Many Danes speak English fluently, and business can be conducted in English. When there is one non-Dane in a meeting, the general practice is to conduct the conversation in English. There is no choice for Danes; we have to speak English – it’s a universal language.

The number of global operations is increasing in Denmark. Maersk and Novo Nordisk are examples of Danish companies with offices and plant operations all over the world. They both have a strict ethical code. To compete in the global marketplace, Denmark needs to be innovative and progressive, with a focus on strategic leadership, organizational development, and performance management.

How would you describe the state of the HR profession in Denmark?

In my view, for small and medium-sized companies, HR is still very transactional. Larger companies are able to advance their HR function because they can invest in technological advancements and HR professionals that raise the capacity of the HR department. These investments are required for organizations that operate in a global setting. I think that many HR professionals have been focused on the transactional tasks like payroll, recruitment, and so forth. As many business leaders are primarily asking for this service, it seems difficult for smaller HR organizations to move beyond the transactional focus.

Ten years ago, I saw many individuals with the title HR consultant. Now, the trend is to be an HR partner. In Denmark, many organizations are advocating the development of HR business partners, supporting their own learning and growth. Senior management is starting to recognize the critical importance of the HR partner.

Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in many aspects of HR. One of the dilemmas that I see facing the profession is what I call promoting the value chain of HR. That is, what value does – or can – HR provide to the business, the leaders, the organization, and the employees? In what ways can HR professionals provide the decision makers with return on investment? I think that CEOs are increasingly willing to pursue strong HR business cases, if they are presented to them. For me, end-to-end HR process encompasses organizational development, recruitment, employee flow, performance management, learning and development, compensation and benefits, and talent management. Taking an end-to-end HR approach can allow the HR function to deliver business results, adding real value to the direction of the organization. This approach needs to be supported by linking HR metrics to business performance.

Traditionally in Denmark, HR has been very focused on individuals and employees. To a certain extent, that’s why Denmark works: we are concerned about individuals, value, and care for employees. However, this focus is changing. For good reasons, HR is becoming more focused on leadership and the business.

Over the past 10 or 15 years, HR professionals in Denmark, and globally, have struggled to justify our existence. I believe we need to stop considering HR as a function that is separate from the business. We are a part of the business! And if not, then we very quickly need to establish this role within organizations, and our own minds.

My training has focussed on business leadership. This training, combined with several years of HR experience, has enabled me to understand and interact with the business world. However as an HR professional, I feel that my value comes from my HR experience, skills, and knowledge that are required in this role. HR professionals need to have a solid understanding of their HR role, combined with business acumen. A word of caution: I see a tendency to go a bit overboard on emphasizing the need to acquire business acumen. Yes, HR professionals need to know the business, but primarily HR professionals need to be competent in their HR discipline. Otherwise, we wouldn’t bring anything different to the management table.

Accordingly, I think that the HR profession in Denmark needs to become a more robust discipline. For example, to be a recruiter years ago, it was okay if you could make a job ad and put it in the newspaper, do some screening and testing, conduct interviews, and make a hiring recommendation. Today, it’s much more complex. A recruitment specialist needs to be able to build and execute a recruitment strategy using social media, and to clearly communicate to potential candidates what the business is all about: the value proposition. I also see the need to cultivate in-house consultant capability in areas like organizational development in larger companies. These are just two examples of how the level of competency required for the HR profession is advancing.

Based on your experiences, how would you describe the future of the HR profession globally? What are some of the trends that will influence the role of the HR profession?

I can see that the HR profession does differ between countries. I also believe that there are more similarities, than differences. But I am not claiming to have a complete overview of what’s happening globally. I think that HR is being challenged – in part, as a natural consequence of the global financial situation. HR has grown during last couple of decades, in terms of developing an understanding of what its true value is and what it brings to the team, and so forth. I think HR professionals need to move from justifying their existence to proving their capacity. That is, to encourage the business from thinking inside-out to outside-in. Although some critics would like to bury the thinking of great minds like Dave Ulrich, I am still a believer. Based on my experience, Ulrich’s work is relevant and should be adapted and implemented in organizations to the extent possible. However, I think that HR professionals need to realize that a one-sized approach doesn’t fit all, and content is key when designing the HR function.

My own research and thinking has started to consider the next HR paradigm. I’ve participated in conferences and various workshops focused on this topic. I think that very few of us HR professionals are able to identify the new paradigm simply because we are living the current one. Rightfully so – many of us are still struggling to get HR business partnering right, for example, and in several areas where HR can impact the business there is still room for improvement. I think that HR departments will need to be more strategic, and especially proactive in their initiatives and priorities moving forward. Personally, I would really like to see the HR function to be more focused and direct in the support to the business results. Many HR departments that I know struggle with seeding too many projects, too many initiatives, too many demands, and fail to focus. Time management is critical. Too often, we underestimate the time required to complete projects and achieve the desired end state. Project management requires patience and persistence. Thus, HR also needs to be mindful of the operations and be more innovative in process improvements.

Organizations really need to put their employer brand, their value proposition, out there. This brand needs to be based on the reality of the company and supported by senior management. By strengthening the employee value proposition internally, we can improve engagement and thus the bottom line. Having a well-defined employee value proposition makes the employer branding so much easier and relevant. Current employees will become ambassadors. Prospective employees will be able to determine if this is a company that they want to work for. In Europe and North America, there’s a shrinking work force, an aging work force. So the fight for the best employees will intensify. Organizations will increasingly need that employer brand to attract and retain the right talent, and manage employee turnover.

I think HR professionals will need to become more specialized in their work, including investigating areas traditionally less explored by HR professionals, such as organizational development. In my past work experience, I had two PhDs on my team. I was actually looking for more because this level of expertise was needed to be able to support the business strategy.

Offshoring and outsourcing of HR functions is an emerging trend in Denmark. For many organizations, outsourcing of transactional tasks is not new, and this will likely continue to grow. Furthermore, we are starting to see companies that are hiring an external HR manager or HR specialists whose contracts may be for one year or available on an hourly basis. The company brings on this capacity as needed, because it is not required on a day-to-day basis. I think that this trend will prevail. One could argue that the consultant companies are taking this approach towards the service they provide their customers.

What skills and knowledge do you think are necessary for HR professionals to meet future organizational challenges?

I think that business acumen is a building block. If you are a true HR partner, you need to understand the business of HR and be able to communicate with businesses using their terms and language.

I also think it’s important to know when input from HR is required in decision-making. So you need to understand business, you need to think in business terms, but you also need to understand when to deploy the unique capabilities of HR – and be decisive in doing so.

There are many different mixes and blends of formal education and experiences in HR. The path to becoming an HR professional is more varied than in many other disciplines. Here’s an example. If you want to be a lawyer, you know exactly what education you need to pursue. It’s not the same in HR. Post-secondary education, in general, is necessary, but HR-specific education is preferred. HR professionals will need to continue to elevate their level of competence, skill, and knowledge. I would like to see that a masters degree in human resources focuses not only on the high-level HR disciplines, but offers an end-to-end, operational and strategic perspective on HR.

I think as HR professionals, we need to recognize that we are a part of the business. We are not the business, as I have heard some HR departments say, but we are part of the business. HR professionals need to hone their specializations and develop networks. Being connected to a professional network, such as LinkedIn, or the Danish HR Association, is viewed as positive in Denmark. These networks are important for professional guidance and development, but also to elevate the HR profession.

Advancing HR at Encana: A Conversation with Dave Urquhart

Dave UrquhartQueen’s IRC has now successfully delivered several iterations of our Advanced HR programming. During the program, participants are often engaged with the material and the discussions. But, to what extent is this engagement with learning maintained outside of the classroom? To answer this question, IRC Research Associate, Alison Hill, spoke with Dave Urquhart, Team Lead, HR Advisory, Staffing and Development at Encana. Dave has been a participant in the Advanced HR programming, and has sponsored several of his employees to attend as well.

This article provides one senior-level HR professional’s perspective on the value of the IRC’s Advanced HR programming. In particular, the article highlights Dave’s views on the Queen’s IRC advantage, the program content, and the ways in which he and his employees have shifted their thinking about HR as a result of the Advanced HR programming.

The Queen’s IRC Advantage

According to Dave, “The Advanced HR programming offered by Queen’s IRC is one-of-a kind. Though my organization is located in Alberta, I cannot find a comparable program offered by any of the academic institutions in the West. The IRC targets a niche market, with a program that is particularly geared towards HR generalists.”

Program Content

The IRC’s Advanced HR programming relies on the work of Ulrich, Brockbank, Johnson, Sandholtz, and Younger (2008). Their text, HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business, is the program’s primary resource. The competency model developed by Ulrich and presented during the Advanced HR programming was a key takeaway for Dave. As an HR professional, Dave was already familiar with Ulrich’s work prior to his IRC experience. The Advanced HR program, however, provided a more in-depth exploration of Ulrich’s work. For Dave, this exploration broadened and deepened his awareness and understanding of HR’s functions and true capacities. “I’m encouraging every HR Advisor to get involved in the business,” said Dave. “The Ulrich model is a good way to understand this. What is our strategy? What skills are needed to implement this strategy? How can leadership endeavour to support the strategy across the organization? The Advanced HR program gives its participants the credibility to work within the business.”

Reframing Thinking

Gaining a holistic perspective on HR was another key learning for Dave and his employees. The content presented throughout the program encouraged Dave and his colleagues to consider approaching HR with a systems view, and to a more clearly articulate how interconnected HR is to other departments within the organization. At Encana, HR Advisors need to be acutely aware of how individual business units operate, and to cultivate partnerships across these units so that the organization can minimize production costs and maximize efficiency.

The discussion on organizational structure resonated with and was beneficial to Dave. The IRC’s program enabled Dave to reflect on and critically think about how and why Encana is structured and how this structure relates to processes, people, and reward systems. Working to mitigate stress caused by organizational change, and to answer questions associated with organizational change, Dave’s HR Advisors have a better understanding of their role and how it aligns within the organization by following the IRC’s Advanced HR programming.

Advancing HR at Encana

Since participating in the Advanced HR program, Dave, in particular, and Encana, more broadly, have continued to adapt and utilize the Ulrich model to develop HR Advisors professionally and understand how to strive for the next level of partnership with the business.  Dave has embedded HR activists within the individual business units at Encana. Taking a team approach, HR Advisors attend management meetings, and are integral members of the senior leadership teams. HR Advisors, it seems, are recognizing the value of their role, and are gradually elevating their skills to become Credible Activists. Dave emphasizes that understanding the business, not only the internal operations, but that of the competitors is imperative. This understanding provides Encana with a competitive edge.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, Dave summarized why he advocates the value of the IRC’s Advanced HR programming by saying: “I highly recommend the IRC’s Advanced HR programming to those in a generalist role, those who currently sit at the leadership table, or should be sitting at the table. For my employees, the programming helped to reiterate why they are at the table. They aren’t there just to provide updates on HR functions, but rather to be part of the leadership team and provide strategic direction on decisions and crucial organizational issues and matters. The Advanced HR programming enables a more holistic understanding of HR, including strategy, structure, performance, and leadership development. It gives participants an understanding of how to be a player at the table and the ability to question decisions, ask “Why,” and to think critically about matters related to HR.”

IRC Director, Paul Juniper, applauds Dave for being a forward-thinking HR leader. Paul is pleased that the learning acquired in the IRC’s Advanced HR program has practical applications for organizations, such as Encana, and that the programming is perceived as valuable by its participants.

Please visit the IRC’s website to learn more about our Advanced HR program.

A Western Canadian Perspective on the HR Profession in Canada

Todd den Engelsen is currently the Director of Organizational Development with Canyon Technical Services limited. He is Chair of the Human Resource Institute of Alberta (HRIA). Queen’s IRC Research Associate, Alison Hill, spoke with Todd to hear his perspectives on the role of the HR profession, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Todd believes that the future of HR is filled with opportunity and possibility, especially as corporations continue to operate within increasingly complex working environments, on a global scale. To meet these challenges, Todd encourages HR professionals to be continuous learners, to seek out and engage in professional development opportunities, and to cultivate a culture of learning within their organizations.

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