“If you do not handle employee complaints, you create resentment, low morale, low productivity and increased turnover,” says Houston executive coach Linda Talley.
For a real grievance to occur there must have been a violation of an employee’s rights on the job.
It must also have been the employer or one of his agents like a supervisor or manager, who has violated these rights, directly or indirectly.
If an employee makes a complaint that does not involve the employer in some way, you may still have to deal with it, but it would not be a grievance.
A complaint may be about anything. The chair I am using is too low, the lighting is too bright for me, I get depressed looking at the colour of the wall and my co-workers are rude.
A grievance constitutes a violation of the employee-employer agreement, either as per legislation, collective bargaining agreement, employment offer, job description or policies and procedures.
Basically, a grievance is a formal statement of complaint generally against an authority figure.
Most grievances are “real” in the sense that we are sure the employer has violated someone’s rights, but this does not mean you will always win the case.
You are limited by the contract, by your skills and knowledge or by how much union power you have.
Whatever an employee complains about, it is important to take it seriously. This applies to all complaints or grievances, no matter how trivial they might seem at the time.
Remember that even if you don’t consider a complaint or grievance as important, the employee who complains thinks it is.
Otherwise, he or she wouldn’t have come to you. Your employees need to know that if they do come to you with a problem, you’ll listen to their concerns.
Furthermore, some complaints or grievances could have serious implications. For example, complaints or grievances about discrimination and harassment or complaints or grievances about safety conditions are very serious.
These complaints or grievances must be promptly addressed even if you think they lack merit.
Even if complaints or grievances are based on rumours and misinformation, they must be dealt with promptly, or they could cause a lot of upset, additional complaints or grievances, and serious problems down the road. Ignoring complaints or grievances is dangerous. It could have unexpected and undesirable consequences for you and for the organisation.
Even a minor complaint could escalate into a major problem if ignored. You could also miss a hidden problem if you ignore a complaint.
The complaint might be just the tip of the iceberg. It may give you a clue to a more widespread problem that you have not previously recognised.
Ignoring complaints or grievances can also affect the productivity and morale of the employee who complains.
It can affect that employee’s commitment to you, the department and the organisation as a whole.
Even worse, ignored employees can spread their discontent to co-workers as they look for symphathisers.
Ignoring a complaint might also put a worker in harm’s way. If a complaint about safety conditions is ignored, one of your employees could be injured.
If complaints or grievances about harassment or threats of violence are ignored, someone could be in danger.
If some complaints or grievances are not promptly resolved internally, they can turn into expensive lawsuits against the workplace, or even against you personally.
“Managers need to be trained to hear legal tripwires,” says John Michels, a corporate employment lawyer at McGuireWoods in Chicago.
“When you hear employees mention certain phrases or words, the hair on the back of your neck should go up.”
Do not dismiss employees who point fingers. They could be whistleblowers not troublemakers. On the other side, internal griping can provide helpful feedback.
“Employee complaints are just as valuable as customer complaints,” says Janelle Barlow, a Las Vegas human resources consultant and the author of Complaint is a Gift.
“They definitely should not be dismissed, in the same way that customer complaints must never be dismissed.”
Upon review, you might change course or policies, which could boost sales or improve customer service.
It is therefore critical to have a complaints or grievance handling mechanism all the time.
This should clearly define and explain the steps to be followed when one feels aggrieved.
The degree to which grievances are successfully handled at the first step is largely dependent on the authority granted the supervisor. In some cases the supervisor is only the “messenger” for the management representative in the next step of the grievance procedure.
If this situation exists, few settlements will take place at the first level. It is important to observe the steps in the grievance procedure even if the supervisor has limited authority.
“Leapfrogging” to a higher step may have several undesirable effects. The supervisor may resent this and may be more difficult to deal with the next time, or
management may seek to get the grievance thrown out because the proper steps were not followed.
However, supervisors are strongly warned against delaying handling the complaint or grievance.
They should not try to skirt up issues hoping the complaint will die a natural death or simply procrastinate through extending dates or empty promises.
They should also never use threats such as “go to HR and you will regret . . .” and so on.
The best way to go is to act as soon as possible. The best way to clear the air of complaints is to focus on problems before they fester.
- To be continued
- Taurai Musakaruka is Human Resources Practitioner and for feedback e-mail: tmusakaruka @gmail.com or tauraimusakaruka@ yahoo.com