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How to Handle Employee Complaints and Grievances

Every employer hopes that their employees are always happy and satisfied with their work and working conditions. But in spite of your best intentions and preparation, employees may have an occasional concern or complaint that they would like to share with you and the company. As a business owner and manager, it is your job to make sure that everyone can communicate their concerns in a productive manner.

What Justifies a Complaint or Grievance? 

It may seem like an easy question to answer, but there is no single cut-and-dried definition. A complaint or grievance can be a real or imagined feeling of dissatisfaction that an employee experiences in the course of their job. These complaints or grievances must then be communicated to management or the organization at large. 

So what is the best way to handle complaints or grievances? How can you be sure that you are giving each complaint its proper attention and assuring employees that their concerns are being heard?

Let’s examine some of the best ways to address employee complaints and manage their outcomes. 

1. Setting Up a System 

The first thing to do is to create a system for employees to lodge complaints or grievances so they can be addressed. Here are some of the key things you should do when setting up this process: 

  1. Include your policy in your company’s Employee Handbook. Once your policy is established, it should become part of the handbook so employees can easily reference it. If your company makes employees sign an acknowledgement form, this is also a great way to make sure they read it.
  2. Assign one person or department to handle the receipt of complaints. Often, this is the Human Resources department or someone within it. Discretion is key, as employees will want to be assured (and should legitimately expect) that they are submitting their grievances in confidence.
  3. Provide a central location to place complaints. If your method for receiving complaints is a box or other receptacle, make sure it is in a central location that is easily accessible to all employees.
  4. Devise a confidential way for employees to submit complaints. Employees may hesitate to truly speak their minds if they fear retaliation for their concerns. Thus, encouraging employees to email their complaints is problematic, as it is not confidential. In some cases, devising a simple online form or survey that doesn’t collect identifying information might be the best way to gather employee complaints. Or, as antiquated as it may seem, having a hand-written system that uses complaint forms might be your best option to ensure confidentiality.
  5. Establish a schedule to address concerns and complaints. One of the most important aspects of dealing with employee complaints is addressing them efficiently and reliably. Make sure you have a timeframe in place for when and how you will address complaints, and stick to it. Employees will expect a certain level of responsiveness from you and the organization.

2. Categorizing Complaints 

Once you’ve established the best system to receive complaints and have determined how often you will address them, you’ll need to set about categorizing them and determining which issues should be prioritized. There are three key categories you should be able to place each complaint into: 

  1. Working Conditions and Safety. These include any complaint or grievance that directly addresses the employees’ work environment. These can include everything from unsafe conditions to indifferent managers.
  2. Unreasonable Management Policies. If employees feel that a certain policy is unfair or unreasonable, they will want their concerns addressed. Such policies can include those relating to overtime regulation compliance or a gap in production standards.
  3. Violations of Rules and Policies. These can relate to any organizational rules that employees feel are being violated by other workers and/or middle or senior management. 

3. Addressing Complaints 

Once you’ve categorized your complaints, you’ll want to order them based on significance. Any unsafe working conditions or other safety concerns should be addressed immediately, as should violations of rules and policies. When preparing to address a complaint, follow these simple steps: 

  1. Acknowledge: Make it known that the complaint has been received and that it will be addressed by the organization. You do not need to immediately provide a solution, but you want employees to know they are being heard.
  2. Investigate: Gather information regarding the grievance. If the employee listed specific incidences or situations, inquire about those and gather any relevant data.
  3. Decide: Once you’ve gathered all the information and fully examined the situation, formulate and decide on a solution. You may want to vet your idea with other senior members of your organization or even with your employees.
  4. Act: After a decision has been made, act swiftly. Old employee complaints that linger unresolved can negatively impact morale and production. The sooner you can resolve issues, the better off your company will be. 

4. Reviewing Outcomes 

After you’ve acted and implemented a solution, it’s a good idea to review the situation that initially generated the complaint after some time has passed. That way, you can take an objective perspective and make sure your solution solved what it was supposed to solve. If the initial complaint wasn’t confidential, it might be a good idea to check in with the employee who lodged the complaint to see if he or she is satisfied with the outcome. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to make adjustments if necessary.

A legitimate complaint can signal not only discontent in the workplace, but it can also help to shine the light on serious infractions or even criminal conduct at your office. Psychologically, listening to your employees and addressing their concerns can be great for your company culture. It also shows them respect and fosters a sense of pride and accountability in their work. These benefits easily justify the implementation of a useful and effective system for addressing employee complaints. 

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