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Preventing inappropriate workplace behaviour

Employment screening is a hot topic in the labour market. In a digital and hybrid working world, it has become a central part of the recruitment and hiring process. For many companies operating both locally and internationally, it’s a simple way to manage risk and ensure the best people are hired for the right position. Ultimately, you want to attract people with their hearts and minds in the right place. But how can you foresee this and minimise the risk of a miss-hire? And what happens if inappropriate behaviour occurs in the workplace?

Hoffmann and Validata have been at the forefront of screening for many years. Together the firms have over 70 years of experience screening individuals across various industries and sizes. From fraud and integrity investigations to digital credit and identity background checks, the pair provide a 360-degree view of your candidate. Something that – with more and more public incidents concerning companies reporting employee misconduct – has become a basic requirement for clients today. Robbert Remmers, Commercial Director at Validata Group and Johan Klokman, Senior Consultant Fraud and Integrity at Hoffmann shine their light on these topics.


Verifying the reality

‘Initially, laws and regulations encouraged organisations in the financial and business sector, for example, to start screening,’ says Robbert. ‘Over the past years, we have noticed an increasing number of organisations in various sectors seek extra security in their recruitment and onboarding processes. Through objective checks, we can guarantee that the information a (potential) employee shares on their resume or during a job interview matches reality.’

Johan continues, ‘Verifying that reality has indeed become a necessity. Employment screening is about reducing risks: from financial fraud to integrity issues. Just look at the current cases in the media of inappropriate (sexual) behaviour taking place in established organisations. Not only do cases like this cause personal damage to the person(s) involved, but they also cause considerate financial and reputational damage to the organisations concerned.’

Preventing inappropriate behaviour

Preventative rather than reactive management is always more sustainable. Ultimately, you want to avoid scandals like what surfaced about the Voice of Holland. ‘However, screening for inappropriate (sexual) behaviour is not always that easy,’ Johan explains. ‘Certain screening checks – like a VOG (certificate of conduct) or criminal record – can offer some clarity. Unquestionably, if you have been convicted of a sexual offence acquiring a VOG is nearly impossible. That being said, sexual crimes or inappropriate (sexual) behaviour are often not reported. And if they are, it rarely results in a conviction.’

‘With a reference check, you have the option to add certain subjective questions, like ‘Is there reason to doubt the integrity of the candidate?’ or ‘Did the candidate have to leave your organisation due to compelling reasons?’ Robbert adds. ‘Referees can then give an explanation. Should anything come to light that needs more clarity, then having a conversation with the (potential) employee is advisable here too. It’s important to know that Validata remains impartial and never passes judgement on the results of a screening.’

When conducting a screening it is very important that a proper balance is made between the privacy interests of the candidate on the one hand and the client’s interest in controlling integrity risks on the other. The nature, content and depth of a screening should be limited to controlling the integrity risks for which the screening is performed.

Hoffmann uses the Hoffmann Risk Method Screening in its screenings. Part of this method is to determine the risk profile of the function and the look-back period of the screening, determine which risk indicators will be examined and finally determine whether or not these risk indicators have been demonstrated.

Are safe working environments an afterthought?

‘These days, we receive many requests to investigate inappropriate (sexual) behaviour,’ Johan says. ‘It shows that this type of behaviour occurs more often than we might think. Sometimes, it has been going on for so long that it almost seems to be part of the company culture. Therefore, it isn’t recognised as inappropriate behaviour, let alone acknowledged and acted against. It is a good thing that an increasing number of organisations want to approach this topic with more awareness and even change their company culture.’

Robbert adds ‘Companies are becoming more aware and creating safe work environments is no longer an afterthought for many management teams. How can you make employees feel safe and build trust within your teams? It’s a combination of factors and screening has become one of them.’

Preventing inappropriate behaviour at work

Shifting corporate behaviour and culture; it doesn’t stop at screening

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is how can you prevent anything like this from happening to your organisation? Johan shares, ‘by conducting employment screening you encourage a safe working environment. However, to reduce the risk of inappropriate behaviour, it is also crucial to address the following three principles:

  1. Identifying the risks and vulnerabilities in your organisation.
  2. Making inappropriate (sexual) behaviour discussable.
  3. Promoting appropriate and or desired behaviour.’

To create sufficient support, these principles should be implemented top-down. Hoffmann initiates workshops for management teams or the board. They look at correcting and preventing undesirable behavior and fostering a safe organisational culture. Promoting social safety is an effective method for embedding sustainable behavioural and cultural changes in the organisation.

When management teams support this new approach, it is easier to get the entire organisation on board. This is crucial, as inappropriate or undesired behaviour has far-reaching consequences for an organisation: from unhappy employees, increasing absenteeism, resignation to poor results and even sabotage. An obvious example is the scandal that occurred in The Voice of Holland, where several Dutch TV icons possibly abused their position and took advantage of young female contestants and colleagues.

Building trust not breaking it

Screening is not always easy; often employment screening is viewed as an invasion of privacy. This is something that both Validata and Hoffmann must circumvent when screening candidates. Robbert explains ‘Candidates may feel a sudden lack of trust if you want to conduct an investigation or periodic criminal record check. Why would an organisation that you have been working for many years, suddenly want to check your personal information?’.

Johan continues ‘That’s why communication is so important in creating a workplace that is built on mutual trust and transparency. At Hoffmann, when we conduct more thorough investigations into a candidate’s previous behaviour, the investigators specialised in behavioural change need to navigate this research field with caution. It’s not always easy to ask the questions that need to be asked.’ Remmers adds ‘And if a screening report does show any irregularities, an open and honest conversation with the employee can take away most questions. Together, you can also discuss possible solutions which ultimately strengthen your relationship.’

Know who you hire and retain in your organisation

The bottom line is that you need to make sure you know who you are recruiting and retaining in your organisation. ‘A so-called mis-hire or bad hire generally costs two-and-a-half times the annual salary of the employee involved, let alone the financial setback of reputational damage. Professional employment screening can save any organisation valuable time, energy, and costs.’ Johan adds, ‘Employment screening helps increase the quality and integrity of your organisation. And outsourcing to professionals like Hoffmann and Validata not only guarantees a client-friendly process and fast results, but continuous compliance with sector-specific (privacy) laws and regulations as well.’

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