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The secret about disciplinary investigations that HR professionals won’t tell you


No names, no job titles, no companies. HR After Dark features totally anonymised opinion pieces from HR professionals, consultants and industry commentators. No holds barred, no censorship, nothing but raw opinions on issues that matter to HR. 

OK so here it is. Are you listening? Are you prepared to (maybe) be a little bit shocked or alternatively be completely unsurprised? The secret about a disciplinary investigation that a HR professional often won’t admit is that deep down, some of us, actually enjoy a good disciplinary process.

We’re not monsters. We don’t enjoy the discomfort that quite often can’t be avoided, and we don’t revel in the consequences. However, there are several aspects to this type of work that’s very interesting.

I enjoy finding evidence, plotting together a sequence of events and building a case.

I enjoy the investigative elements to a good disciplinary process, including getting to the bottom of what has happened. I enjoy finding evidence, plotting together a sequence of events and building a case. A case which might either prove or disprove an allegation against an employee. This logical process is interesting.

I also enjoy righting a wrong. For example, where an employee’s purposeful actions have caused great distress to other people and having the ability to call the employee out on it, identify to them the behavior or conduct that is unacceptable and putting it right.

I have also seen my fellow HR practitioners take satisfaction when having an employee downright lie to them, only for my fellow HR practitioners to put evidence in front of them that then proves that they are being dishonest.

A disciplinary process in a work environment is different but based on the same principles of a criminal investigation.

A disciplinary process in a work environment is different but based on the same principles of a criminal investigation, with a disciplinary hearing not entirely too dissimilar to a trial.

It is an honourable job to be a police officer or legal professional so why does it almost feel a little dirty admitting that many of us HR professionals get a degree of enjoyment from a disciplinary process?

As I said, most of us in HR don’t enjoy the stressful, distressing and upsetting nature of a disciplinary process. We don’t like dismissing people and we aren’t inhumane (on the whole).

However, the harsh reality is that a ‘meaty’ disciplinary case is often just a lot more interesting, exciting and fulfilling than some of the other tasks a generalist might be responsible for and variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

4 Responses

  1. I think this is a good
    I think this is a good article I admit I enjoy investigations often the ones I deal with or support on are complex involving behaviours and unpicking the evidence and the satisfaction of a job well done sometimes dealing with people who believe they are untouchable and facing unions using intimidation of witnesses to protect their members

  2. Interesting blog, thanks. It
    Interesting blog, thanks. It is great that you enjoy your role. Inevitably when people enjoy their roles they perform better in them. However any disciplinary process is unpleasant because ultimately whether anyone is ‘proved’ to be a liar or not, the reality is that disciplinaries indicate something is wrong in the organisation. They indicate that people are not communicating effectively, people are bored (and causing mischief to ‘entertain’ themselves), the wrong people have been recruited into roles or some other substantive reason. Most people come to work to do a job and enjoy their day. Very few people intentionally cause others distress. When they do., they are either experiencing something which has damaged their own thinking patterns and are acting out of character (perhaps bullying is happening or they have depression/stress) or in very rare cases they may have a diagnosable mental health condition. There is always a reason for poor behaviour and performance – and it usually comes down to psychology and behaviour.
    In any case we HR professionals should be spending our time investing in communication skills training for managers and teams, helping them understand themselves and others (emotional intelligence). In my experience, if we set the right culture for the organisation and support people to work together in respectful teams of adults (rather than parent/child relationships so often seen in the workplace) conflict is either avoided altogether or resolved in a way that doesn’t require formal processes.

    1. Completely agree. What the
      Completely agree. What the blog is saying is analogous to a doctor saying “I really enjoy treating sick people”, when what they should be focusing on is stopping people getting sick in the first place. And as the other commentator mentioned, even when things do go wrong, HR should be supporting the line manager, not running the whole investigation.

  3. Aren’t you making a bit too
    Aren’t you making a bit too much of the disciplinary process being so “exciting” for HR folk, as opposed to what should be the ultimate goal of all HR folk being to assist the Manager/Supervisor? Whoever it is that maybe should be disciplined, they in the end belong to someone’s Team, so the process must be run by that Team Leader………..there is no other way.

    My read of this article is that the HR person is the one running the discipline process, and if so then I must disagree………totally disagree.

    Cheers. DonR.

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