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The Art of the Workplace Review



There are occasions in workplaces when things just don’t seem right.  Staff morale is down, absenteeism is increasing. There have been rumours of conflict and some verbal complaints but they lack detail and the individuals have said they don’t want to formalise any issues as they are concerned about retribution.  A recent exit interview from a well-credentialed staff member who unexpectedly resigned after only six months in the job has made comments about the ‘poor culture’ and her managers being unsupportive.

There isn’t a lot of firm information to reach any conclusions and certainly not enough to take any formal action against any person.  However, the status quo is not sustainable.

The employer needs to understand what the issues are and how they can be fixed.

Information Gathering

The best way to find out what the issues are and how to improve the workplace is to talk to those directly affected – the employees and supervisors in the area.

Surveys can be a good tool to gauge general issues and trends and can also reach a lot of people – and they are anonymous.  However, they can sometimes be too general and don’t allow an individual to drill down on a specific issue.

To really explore the issues, one on one conversations with employees can be the most effective tool.  Employees will need a safe environment in order to open up.

For a review to be effective employees must be satisfied they can provide information and remain anonymous.  This means explaining clearly that the information they provide may be used but the source of the information will not be revealed.  Confidentiality is a two way street, so the interviewee needs to understand this to ensure the integrity of the review process.

However, if the information they provide constitutes serious misconduct, the interviewee must understand that the guarantee of anonymity may not be realistic, depending on the nature of the issue raised. At this point, a more formal statement should be taken and the interviewee asked to sign or otherwise confirm the statement.

The one on one interviews are best semi-structured – this means it is not a pre-determined Q and A type interview but rather a flexible set of questions that are exploratory, not just looking for “what’s wrong” and set around a number of themes which can be identified from previous material or surveys.  If there is not sufficient material to guide the themes, the themes can reflect important issues that guide workplace culture.

General themes that can be explored at interview are:

  • Challenges in the workplace
  • Leadership and visible strategic direction
  • Team interaction and relationships
  • Workplace conduct
  • Communication
  • Managing performance
  • Decision making
  • Systems & structure
  • Solutions.

Always explore the themes using open questions to encourage interviewees to talk in depth. Follow up on key responses to gain a greater depth of knowledge. Always include the opportunity for the interviewee to present any issues outside of the general themes.  When making notes, make sure the interviewee understands the notes are only to assist the reviewer with report writing, are not statements and will not be divulged.

Where the number of interviewees makes interviewing everyone logistically difficult, focus groups can be used.  The reviewer must be mindful that some participants may not be speaking up in focus groups so assertions made at focus groups should be challenged and tested with the group.

If the staff are unionised it would be reasonable to offer the relevant official an opportunity to participate in the review.  That way they are part of the process and may offer valuable insight. Further, stakeholders from outside the work unit may also provide a fresh perspective.

The Report

The reviewer will often be confronted with an overwhelming amount of information.  It is important to be methodical with how you record important information so that it is easy to find and understand.  A spreadsheet which outlines the key point of each interviewee is a good start.  This is a good way to group common themes and issues in order to base the report.  Clear themes can also be explored within a multi-disciplined team to enable diverse experience and insight to strengthen the impact of findings and recommendations.

A good report needs to be clear and able to be easily understood by the decision-maker.  The report needs to deliver the following to the decision-maker:

  • The key issues at the workplace
  • A detailed description of each issue and the effect on the workplace
  • An analysis of each of the issues including the root causes behind each issue
  • Recommendations to address the issues
  • An executive summary with a view to it being distributed to employees and stakeholders

Key documents to support your findings can be referenced and attached to the report. However, the notes taken at interview should not be provided with the report as it was gathered with a commitment to a confidential process.

If, during the course of the review process, serious misconduct is identified, the decision-maker should be notified as soon as possible and the specific nature should not be included in the review report. A separate summary of the serious misconduct issues could be prepared separately for the decision-maker so that an appropriate course of action can be determined outside of the review process.

Considerations for the Decision-Maker

The decision-maker may wish to test and further explore aspects of the report with the reviewer.  This is an important part of the review process as the decision-maker is most likely to be more familiar with the workplace than the reviewer and will also be held accountable for the impact on the workplace.  This means the decision-maker needs to be satisfied with the findings and familiar with the detail.

As review reports usually contain a number of recommendations, a plan to implement the accepted recommendations needs to be developed.  Depending on the size of the workplace and/or the complexity of the recommendations, it may be worth considering project management methodology to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations. Failure to implement the recommendations as accepted may result in further cultural decline, an erosion of trust of senior management and possibly expose the business to legal repercussions.

Decision-makers must remember that if they wish to make a decision that could be adverse to any person, the principles of natural justice still apply.  That will mean providing the person with allegations and/or relevant sections of the report and offering an opportunity to respond. Their response must be genuinely considered prior to making a decision that may be detrimental to the person.

Post Implementation

Following the implementation of the review, it is important to assess whether the changes made have been positive.  This can be done via an all staff survey, small focus groups or targeted interviews.  Comparing absentee statistics pre and post review may give a good insight.  Further, regular check-ins with staff of the unit, their supervisors and even union officials may give an accurate indication of the success of the review.

Learn more

Mapien’s Workplace Strategists are experts with providing bespoke solutions to people issues at the workplace.  We undertake these types of reviews on a regular basis for all types of clients from small businesses to large public sector units.

If you would like to know more about workplace reviews, please contact us or you can contact a Mapien Workplace Strategist directly.



Mark Brady
Bringing over 25 years of employment and industrial relations experience to the table, Mark is known for providing creative and practical answers to complex workplace issues.