admin/ 12 March 2024

Workplace investigations

Over the last year we have noticed an increased demand for workplace investigations. It seems the stresses of all the events and circumstances of recent years has led to more fractious relationships at work. In fact, a recent survey by partner organisation, Synergy Health, found the state of psychological wellbeing amongst Canterbury workers to be the lowest in the country, and in particular, a perceived low level of support by team members. As Chartered Organisational Psychologists we meet the regulatory requirements to carry out external investigations and we are very familiar with the dynamics of human behaviour, employment relations, workplace policies, and structures. Our clients regularly comment that as much as they appreciate our thorough and objective processes, what really sets us apart from many other investigators is our systems level analysis, behavioural insight and pragmatism. For this reason, we are able to explain what is occurring and provide workable recommendations to solving issues that may be exacerbating interpersonal problems. Sadly, we have come across a number of investigations that have been run in such a way that they have unnecessarily exacerbated the anxiety of those involved. We believe allegations need to be addressed quickly and effectively and we are firm advocates of supporting all those involved during and after the investigation. We offer advice on rebuilding relationships and culture at the conclusion of the investigation. Simply put, when it comes to investigations we look forward as well as back. Maybe you aren’t in need of a formal investigation but you have a team experiencing some conflict. A very proactive step is to bring us in to meet with people and assess what is going on, and most importantly, how to fix it. A review of this nature is a less formal approach than an investigation and in many cases this type of early intervention will stave off the need for a later investigation. A key benefit is that unlike an investigation we can interview staff confidentially, so they may speak freely without fear of what they say being revealed to others. Our recommendations often involve systemic or process changes, leadership or interpersonal development. And we often facilitate conversations between individuals (either as part of a review or separately) to shine a light on their behaviour, resolve conflict and agree on specific behavioural expectations for the future. Some recent feedback is shared below: Re. a team leader and senior staff member in conflict “…both [team leader] and [senior staff member] have spoken with [manager] separately to say how grateful they were for the session and they were both pleased and felt positive about where things were at and the future.” From a Chief Executive re. a senior level bullying investigation “…thank you for a thorough investigation and findings. I appreciate your willingness to complete this investigation promptly for all concerned.” From a Senior HR Business Partner to SPG “Thanks for completing the investigation. We like the way you have helped us understand how the organisational structure and goals have contributed to the tensions. It has helped us put some solutions in place which will make the individual plans much more likely to work. Others investigators have just told us whether the person was bullied or not. From a Board member to SPG "Your systems level review of the situation and the individual’s part to play has helped all the parties understand how they go to the situation they were in. Very helpful for working out a way forward.” Re. a team leader and two senior staff in conflict “I understand from [senior manager] and what [team leader] has observed, things are going well for them. [Senior manager] has shared that [Senior 1] and [Senior 2] are really pleased with the sessions and how things are working.” Please contact us on 0508 787 284 if you would like a confidential chat about a potential investigation or review or email us on enquiries@spgroup.nz. Or contact one of us directly on the following: Andrea Gardner, andrea.gardner@spgroup.nz, 027 645 1458 John Eatwell, john.eatwell@spgroup.nz, 027 446 5592 Tara Longley, tara.longley@spgroup.nz, 027 228 9179


strategichr/ 5 July 2022

Engagement and Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

The Health and Safety at Work Act defines health as both mental and physical health. Organisations have a duty of care for people’s mental health while they are at work -  eliminating or minimising risks to it. Worksafe’s position statement goes further than just minimising risk:

Mentally healthy work is where risks to people’s mental health are eliminated or minimised, and their mental wellbeing is prioritised.

What can you do to prioritise people’s mental wellbeing and eliminate or minimise the risks to people’s mental health? The answer has to be more than free fruit Fridays and resilience training. We can apply the hierarchy of controls in the same way we would for other hazards.

We need to eliminate things which are unnecessarily impacting on people’s mental health or recovery time. A lot of companies (and countries) are eliminating emails after hours to give people time to rest and recuperate. The purpose of the Holidays Act is to “… promote balance between work and other aspects of employees’lives and, to that end, to provide employees with minimum entitlements … for rest and recreation”. If people are clearing emails on holiday - have they had a holiday under the Act?

Some organisations are substituting or adding to their financial goals with purpose or meaningful goals. Helping people see how their work contributes to the bigger picture or the community improves mental and physical wellbeing and results in higher performance. Am I selling spa pools or am I helping save marriages and families through creating family and relationship time away from devices? Even those achieving stretching financial targets feel more anxious and are more likely to be depressed.

Are their controls in place to ensure people are taking breaks, having leave, and are not working excessive hours? Are we minimising dual reporting lines and other structures that are known to cause stress and conflict. Do we create time and spaces so people can complete high intensity cognitive tasks without interruptions?

Are we measuring and managing the behaviour of people in the organisation and actively looking to reduce incivility/create inclusive cultures, increase leadership support and development of people and addressing of poor performance and behaviour.

Lastly, do we have mechanisms in place to treat the problems if they are not addressed earlier - EAP, massages, free fruit, mental health day leave options, good mechanisms for addressing bullying and harassment - these are expensive and much less effective than preventing the problems in the first place.


Managing the behavioural climate is where we find the tight link between mentally healthy workplaces and engagement (the McLeod report on Engagement provides a great summary) - burnout is at the other end of the scale to engagement. This is where health and safety and organisational development can come together to create organisations that not only perform better but also have less accidents and are mentally healthy. The drivers of engagement and of wellbeing fit into the following four categories:

  • do I feel a sense of community and am I supported by the people I work with. There are number of studies showing that peer support helps moderate stress. Synergy Health’s recent research in NZ found that 46% of people would talk to a trusted colleague about mental health issues (26% to their manager, 24% to EAP and 4% to HR). This also links to Chris Burt’s research on hazard reporting - we are more likely to report hazards where we know and like the people we work with.
  • does the organisation respect my skills, through respecting my opinion and actively helping me develop. Learning and growing seem to be fundamental to our wellbeing and resilience. Gallup research found that 40% of people that were not being developed were disengaged. 22% of people whose manager was working in their weaknesses and only 1% of people who were developing their strengths were disengaged.
  • does my work matter to the organisation and/or my community. Helping people see how their work links to the bigger picture, either through creating a line of sight to team or organisational goals or helping them see how their work impacts positively on their community helps build their sense of purpose and wellbeing.
  • people want to work in a high performance culture, with systems and tools that are effective, were poor performance and behaviour and managed and good performance is recognised. Research shows where there are high performance systems people are more engaged and trust their managers more - these systems also lead to higher levels of organisational performance.

So if that is the behavioural climate we need to create - how do we do it? Research indicates that 80% of engagement is created by a person’s direct line manager - the Team Leader or supervisor who interacts with people on a regular basis. Fifteen percent is created by senior leaders talking about vision and values and what is important to the organisation and 5% is about the organisations brand - are people proud of working for the organisation and the impact it has on their community.

Leadership that creates high performing, engaged and mentally healthy workplaces

There are a number of things you could do to build the leadership capability of your front line leaders. Getting them to focus on the four things above is the key - are they building a team that works well together, do they respect and grow the skills of their people, do they help people see how their work is important and are they creating a high performance environment. How do they do that? Two things that have proven impact on engagement, productivity and mental health at work are:

  • Leaders looking after themselves - getting exercise, sleep, recreation time, and eating properly - and being more positive and energised as a result. Research shows positive and energised leaders have staff who are more satisfied, have higher wellbeing, are more engaged, perform better, are more cohesive as a team, innovate and learn better and have better family lives - this is called the ripple effect where the impact of positivity can be felt at two degrees of separation. If you are engaged at work you are 80% less likely to be involved in domestic violence at home. So - look after your leaders!
  • Leaders coaching their people - coaching people when they come with questions (rather than giving them the answers) builds self esteem and their capability and ultimately reduces the leaders workload and interruptions. The second coaching opportunity is in sitting down with people on a monthly basis to followup on their goals, remind them of what they have achieved and recognise them for that, help them plan what they will do in the next month and agree priorities (not too many otherwise we feel overwhelmed), provide us feedback on progress and help us with over development. Research we have conducted shows the frequency of these meetings is directly linked to engagement and people’s growth mindset, and lower levels of stress. International research also shows coaching positively impacts on individual and organisational performance and actually saves managers a day a month due to reduced time fixing errors, better alignment of efforts, and less interruptions. People who are coached report higher levels of wellbeing - and the people they interact with also report higher levels of wellbeing - the coaching ripple effect.


Creating mental healthy workplaces is about applying the same hierarchy of controls to eliminate hazards with a known impact on people, or substituting systems or approaches that will have a better impact and still achieve the same objective. We need to have controls and to create behaviour that reduces harm. Lastly we need to treat the harm that is still created despite our best efforts. The behavioural controls are driven by leadership and are the same as the drivers of engagement. Getting our front line leaders to look after themselves and coach are two key steps to creating a mentally healthy workplace.


strategichr/ 29 July 2021

Chartered Organisational Psychologists can conduct workplace investigations for organisations.

Recent case law has concluded that external workplace investigators should have their activities regulated under an act. People not regulated by another act need to be licenced under the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act 2010. Chartered Organisational Psychologists are regulated and can therefore carry out bullying or harassment, conflict, and disciplinary investigations. Andrea, Tara and John are all Chartered Organisational Psychologists. Our clients comment that our understanding of behaviour at work, organisational structures, leadership and other factors that cause friction between people lead to a deeper understanding of issues and what potential solutions maybe. More information can be found on this link.        


strategichr/ 18 July 2021

How Noticing Emotions at Work Can Build Trust

Recognizing your coworkers' feelings is a way to show that you care.

Alisa Yu first became intrigued with emotional acknowledgment while interviewing nurses working in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. The nurses told her that verbally acknowledging their young patients’ fears and stress created trust, which enabled them to do their jobs more effectively. “From then on, I began to see emotional acknowledgment everywhere,” recalls Yu, a Ph.D. candidate in organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
This realization prompted Yu to team up with Justin Berg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, and Julian Zlatev, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, to conduct a series of studies exploring the effects of emotional acknowledgment in the workplace. Their findings, published in May in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, illuminate a straightforward yet powerful technique leaders can use to build trust with their employees. Emotional acknowledgment is the simple act of noticing a nonverbal emotional cue—like a frown or grin—and mentioning it. This mention can be a question or a statement, such as “You look upset” or “You seem excited.” The authors borrow from costly signaling theory, a concept proposed by evolutionary biologist Amotz Zahavi in the 1970s, to suggest that this small act can have a powerful effect because it is read as a sign of genuine intentions. As an example, Zahavi argued that when peacocks fan out their tails to attract mates, it is an “honest signal” of their reproductive fitness. That’s because the colorful display also attracts predators, a potentially fatal risk for weaker peacocks. Similarly, Yu and her coauthors argue that in a work environment, a supervisor who shows concern for others’ emotional state is signaling a willingness to get involved in a potentially messy situation. “A leader could very easily see someone in distress and choose to ignore it,” Yu says. “But only a leader who truly is benevolent and cares about employees would risk getting involved by voluntarily acknowledging the distressed employee. Thus, employees might take this as a signal that this leader is someone who can be trusted with their well-being.”

More than a feeling

This is exactly what Yu, Berg, and Zlatev discovered in their research across six studies, which included a field study with hospital employees and experiments in which participants were shown videos of two actors demonstrating emotional acknowledgment in a workplace break room. Throughout the studies, participants reported higher levels of trust in people who engaged in emotional acknowledgment than those who did not. “Our effect sizes are pretty robust,” says Yu. “There was a big trust gap between no acknowledgment and acknowledgment when expressers displayed positive emotions, but this gap was even more pronounced when expressers displayed negative emotions.” The latter finding isn’t surprising when viewed through the lens of costly signaling theory: Asking someone who seems unhappy about their emotional state engenders higher levels of trust because it is riskier and involves a greater investment of attention, time, and effort than asking someone who seems happy. One of the studies’ unexpected findings is that acknowledging an employee’s emotional state is more powerful than only acknowledging the situation that produced the emotions. “It turns out that saying something like, ‘You looked upset after that meeting. How are you feeling about it?’ lands better than saying something like, ‘It looked like the meeting went poorly. How are you thinking about it?’” Yu explains:
People trust the person who acknowledges the emotion directly more than the person who acknowledges the situation. There’s just something special and unique about emotions—they are really core to a person’s inner experience and sense of self. So when we acknowledge emotions, we humanize and validate the person being acknowledged.

Better to be wrong than silent

In another unanticipated finding, the research team shows that the trust-building effect of emotional acknowledgment is not always dependent on correctly interpreting emotions, particularly when positive feelings are misread. “I think there is a lay theory that inaccurate interpretation is punished,” Yu explains. “We found that if you are feeling negatively and I say, ‘Hey, you seem happy,’ there is a trust penalty. But if you are feeling positively and I say, ‘Hey, you seem upset,’ there was virtually no penalty. And that’s because even though you didn’t need my support, my willingness to call out a negative emotion signals a readiness for me to provide support to you.” The benefits of emotional acknowledgment at work may stem in part from the fact that it isn’t a common practice among leaders. “Leaders experience a tension between being task oriented and people oriented. They need to get things done. There’s also some research that shows they see emotional support as falling outside of their formal job expectations,” Yu says. “So, there is evidence to suggest that leaders are not acknowledging emotions as much as they could. And even when they are doing it, I suspect that they are celebrating wins and acknowledging and amplifying positive emotions more than they are acknowledging pain or distress because it’s easier.” Yu thinks this is a particularly good time for leaders to adopt emotional acknowledgment as a regular practice. Employees’ emotions may be especially significant right now: Many people are still struggling to manage their work-life balance after more than a year of pandemic-related disruptions. Those who have been working remotely may be uneasily anticipating the call to return to their workplaces and an uncertain future. “The worst thing leaders can do when employees are feeling badly is to do nothing. If leaders want to signal care and build trust, they need to meet people where they are,” Yu says. “Our research suggests one way to do that is by proactively engaging in emotional acknowledgment because it grants employees the space and license to share their emotions.” This piece was originally published by Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Read the original article. About the Author


strategichr/ 8 April 2021

Why Thinking Like a Scientist Is Good for You

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant explains the importance of questioning our knowledge and opinions in the face of new evidence.

In a rapidly changing world, it’s important to be able to adapt and change rather than stubbornly adhering to old ideas and opinions. This was one of the lessons of 2020, a year that forced us to question many of our assumptions about what behaviors are safe, how work and school can be conducted, and how we connect with others.
“In a changing world, you have to be willing and able to change your mind. Otherwise, your expertise can fail, your opinions get out of date, and your ideas fall flat,” says organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of the new book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. In his book, Grant explains why it’s so important for people to be humbler about their knowledge and stay open to learning and changing their minds. The book is filled with fascinating research and guidance on becoming more flexible in our thinking, while helping others to be more open-minded, too. This skill is crucial not only for facing crises like the pandemic, but also for navigating complex social issues, making good business decisions, and more. I spoke to Grant recently about his book and what we can take away from it. Here is an edited version of our conversation. Jill Suttie: Your book focuses on the importance of people questioning what they think they know and being open to changing their mind. Why is it so hard to do that?
Adam Grant, Ph.D.
Adam Grant: It’s hard for a few reasons. One is what psychologists call “cognitive entrenchment,” which is when you have so much knowledge in an area that you start to take for granted assumptions that need to be questioned. There’s evidence, for example, that when you change the rules of the game for expert bridge players, they really struggle, because they don’t realize that the strategies they’ve used for years don’t apply. There’s also evidence that highly experienced accountants are slower to adapt to the new tax laws than novices because they’ve internalized a certain way of doing things. A second barrier is motivation: I don’t want to rethink; I’m comfortable with the way I’ve always done things. It makes me feel and look stupid if I admit that I was wrong. It’s easier to just stick to my guns (or my gun bans, depending on where I stand ideologically). The third reason is social. We don’t form beliefs in a vacuum. We generally end up with opinions that are influenced by and pretty much similar to the people in our social circles. So, there’s a risk that if I let go of some of my views, I might be excluded from my tribe, and I don’t want to take that risk. JS: In your book, you talk about the importance of the “scientific mindset.” What do you mean by a scientific mindset and how does it help us in rethinking? AG: I think too many of us spend too much time thinking like preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. [Phillip] Tetlock made a very compelling case that when we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right; when we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove someone else wrong; and when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of our audience. Each of these mental modes can stand in the way of “thinking again,” because in preacher and prosecutor mode, I’m right and you’re wrong, and I don’t need to change my mind. In politician mode, I might tell you what you want to hear, but I’m probably not changing what I really think; I’m posturing as opposed to rethinking. Thinking like a scientist does not mean you need to own a telescope or a microscope. It just means that you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction. You know what you don’t know, and you’re eager to discover new things. You don’t let your ideas become your identity. You look for reasons why you might be wrong, not just reasons why you must be right. You listen to ideas that make you think hard, not just the ones that make you feel good. And you surround yourself with people who can challenge your process, not just the ones who agree with your conclusion. JS: Why would people ever want to look for reasons to be wrong? AG: One of the reasons you want to is because if you don’t get good at rethinking, then you end up being wrong more often. I think it’s one of the great paradoxes of life: The quicker you are to recognize when you’re wrong, the less wrong you become. There’s an experiment where entrepreneurs were being taught to think like scientists that’s such a good demonstration of something we can all practice. Italian startup founders went through a three- to four-month crash course in how to start and run a business. But half of them were randomly assigned to think like scientists, where they’re told that your strategy is a theory. You can do customer interviews to develop specific hypotheses, and then when you launch your first product or service, think of that as an experiment and test your hypothesis. Those entrepreneurs that we taught to think like scientists brought in more than 40 times the revenue of the control group. The reason for that is they were more than twice as likely to pivot when their first product or service launch didn’t work instead of getting their egos all wrapped up in proving that they were right. To me, that is some of the strongest evidence that being willing to admit you’re wrong can actually accelerate your progress toward being right. JS: But shouldn’t we be able to embrace our expertise rather than always giving every idea equal weight? AG: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have standards. The whole point of rethinking is to change your mind in the face of better logic or stronger evidence—not to just roll the dice and say, I’m going to pick a random new opinion today.
<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1984878107?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1984878107”><em>Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know</em></a> (Viking, 2021, 320 pages)
There’s a great way of capturing what I’m after here, which is something Bob Sutton has written about for years. He defines an attitude of wisdom as acting on the best information you have while doubting what you know. That’s what I’m saying here. You need humility. I think people misunderstand what humility is. When I talk about humility in experts or in leaders, people say, “No, I don’t want to have no self-confidence. I don’t want to have a low opinion of myself.” But, I say, that’s not humility. The Latin root of humility translates to “from the earth.” It’s about being grounded, recognizing that, yes, we have strengths, but we also have weaknesses. You’re fallible. Confident humility is being able to say, “I don’t know and I might be wrong,” or “I haven’t figured it out yet,” which is essentially believing in yourself but doubting your current knowledge or skills. JS: People often seem to not want to rethink, and they’ll use strategies to shut down conversation, like saying, “I’m entitled to my opinion” or “I don’t care what you say, I’m not changing my mind.” How can you encourage somebody to be more open to rethinking if they’re unmotivated? AG: Your options are not always going to work. But one option is to show your own openness and admit that you might be wrong or your knowledge might be incomplete. The reason people shut down is often because they’re afraid of being judged. So, they would rather disengage and avoid that. But if you say, “Hey, you know what? I’m not sure about my opinion here,” there’s a possibility they’ll realize that you’re both here to learn from each other. A second option might be to ask questions that help to consider what would open their mind, which at least encourages them to contemplate situations where they might rethink. If they acknowledged evidence could change their mind, at least it’s a step toward progress. A third possibility is to do something I’ve been doing since I wrote the book: to acknowledge my own stubbornness at the beginning of these kinds of conversations and admit that I have a bad habit of going into “logic bully mode.” I bombard people with facts and data, but that’s not who I want to be. I want to come into conversations with people who disagree with me in the hopes that I can learn something from them. I don’t want to be a prosecutor. So, I invite people to catch me doing that and ask them to please let me know. A couple of things happen when I do that. One is sometimes people will call me out and it helps me. Just last week, I was in a debate by email with a colleague and he said, “You’re going into lawyer mode again.” It was a good prompt for me to think, “Uh oh, I’d better rethink the way that I’m having this fight.” The other thing that happens is when I put my cards on the table, often the other person will say, “Oh my gosh, I do that, too. I don’t want to be like that either.” It sets the terms for the conversation a little bit. JS: At the end of your book, you have 30 practical takeaways for rethinking. Can you mention a few that are particularly important or easier to embrace? AG: One of my favorites is being a “super-forecaster,” which means, when you form an opinion, you make a list of conditions that would change your mind. That keeps you honest, because once you get attached to an opinion, it’s really hard to let go. But if you identify factors that would change your mind up front, you keep yourself flexible. For encouraging other people to think again, you can avoid argument dilution. Most of us try to convince people with as many reasons as possible, because we think that giving people more reasons makes it easier for them to change their mind. But we forget that two things happen. (I’m tempted to give you many more, but I’m going to try to avoid diluting my own argument.) The more reasons we give, the more we trigger the other person’s awareness that we’re trying to persuade them, and they put their guard up. Also, if they’re resistant, giving them more reasons allows them to pick the least compelling reason and throw out the whole argument. The lesson here is, if you have an audience who might be closed to your point of view, sometimes it’s more effective to give two reasons instead of five. Lead with your strongest argument.
“If you can embrace the joy of being wrong, then you get to anchor your identity more in being someone who’s eager to discover new things, than someone who already knows everything”
―Adam Grant, Ph.D.
On the collective side, I love the idea of doing a rethinking checkup. We all go to the doctor for regular checkups, even when nothing is wrong. We should do the same with the important decisions in our lives. I’ve encouraged my students for years to do annual career checkups where they just ask themselves once or twice a year, “Have I reached a learning plateau? Are the interests and values I had when I came in still important to me now?” We can do the same thing with our relationships or pretty much anything that’s important to us. JS: You write that being wrong is tied to a more joyful life. Why is that? AG: I had noticed Danny Kahneman [the Nobel prize–winning behavioral economist] just lights up with joy when he finds out that one of his hypotheses is false. So, I asked him, “Why do you look so excited when you find out that you’re wrong?” And he corrected me. He made clear to me that no one enjoys being wrong, but that he takes real joy in finding out that he was wrong, because that means now he’s less wrong than he was before. All of a sudden, it clicked for me: Being wrong means I’ve learned something. If I find out that I was right, there’s no new knowledge or discovery. In some ways, the joy of being wrong is the freedom to keep learning. If you can embrace the joy of being wrong, then you get to anchor your identity more in being someone who’s eager to discover new things, than someone who already knows everything or is expected to know everything. JS: Do you have any hopes for people engaging in rethinking as a way of bridging our political divide? AG: It depends on who’s doing the talking. So many of us fall into binary bias, and we only focus on the most extreme version of the other side, which is a caricature, where we say they’re either dumb or bad. If you let go of that, there’s a whole complex spectrum and many shades of gray between these two political extremes. Peter Coleman’s research shows that, instead of introducing a complex topic like abortion or guns or climate change as representing two sides of the coin, if you can encourage people to think about it through the many lenses of a prism, they become more nuanced and less polarized, and they’re more likely to find common ground. Any time you see someone creating an “us versus them” dichotomy, you can ask, “What’s the third angle, what’s the fourth lens on that?” That gives people the chance to belong to multiple belief systems and to open their mind to multiple ideas, as opposed to sticking to one. JS: What are your hopes for this book? AG: I hope that it will encourage more people to be more flexible in their own thinking, to say they care more about learning and improving themselves than about proving themselves. Too many of us get trapped in mental prisons of our own making. But if we could be committed to rethinking, we might have a slightly more open-minded society. From Greater Good Science Centre.