Complaints Happen. What’s Your Policy for Handling Them?

You’re a great employer. You offer competitive wages and benefits, remote work options, paid time off, and even have an office dog. What could employees possibly have to complain about?

Maybe nothing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a complaint policy in place just in case.

Dealing with discontent

Even businesses who try to do everything right sometimes end up in situations that cause unease for employees and trouble for the organization.

Employees could be unhappy about a number of things that are affecting their work environment or even their personal lives. Some will suffer in silence, some will simply leave, and others will gather the courage to speak up.

When thinking about these options, it makes sense to ask yourself which scenario is best for your business.

Would you rather have:

  • Disgruntled and disengaged employees?
  • Constant turnover?
  • An opportunity to learn what employees want and how to get them to stay?

You don’t know what you don’t know

Even the best business owners have seen things go awry at work. You could have a rogue supervisor or employee that’s acting inappropriately, a frustrating new technology, or a compensation structure that just isn’t keeping up.

You may think you don’t want to encourage employee complaints, but there is a big downside to a complaint free workplace.

If no one says anything, you’ll keep on trucking along, never knowing the real drivers of employee disengagement and turnover. Worse yet, if there’s some serious behavioral issues, you may be blindly heading toward a public relations nightmare and/or an expensive legal battle.

Create space for complaints

In doing so, you will also create space for growth and improvement.

The key to effective handling of employee complaints is to create a policy that is timely, confidential, and fair.

1.) Don’t wait.

If an employee lodges a complaint and nothing happens, this sends one of a few messages:

  • We don’t care.
  • Your concerns have no merit.
  • Yes, this is happening. And we have no desire to change it.

The longer you sit on these things, the more uncaring (or guilty) you appear. Whether or not that is the case.

Even if you are taking the time to research the issue and carefully respond, you’ve got to let people know. Communicate that the message has been received, tell that person you are looking into it, and provide a rough idea of when they can expect to hear back from you.

2.) Keep it confidential.

There are many reasons employees don’t speak up about sensitive issues.

  • They’re shy, uncomfortable, or embarrassed.
  • They don’t want to make trouble.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation.

A process that protects people during the complaint process is going to allow a more authentic conversation. Not only does it protect the person with the complaint, it protects anyone who might be on the other end of it until the matter can be resolved. The last thing you want is a sensitive complaint making its way around the organization before the facts have been laid out.

A good policy will provide a clear structure for how to go about lodging employee complaints. The nature and severity of issues could vary greatly, so make sure to build in multiple reporting options. Someone who feels harassed by their direct supervisor won’t feel comfortable lodging a complaint with that person. Create opportunities that allow for maximum honesty and fairness. 

3.) Check bias at the door.

You heard the part about fairness, right? With society more divided than ever, remaining impartial is becoming extremely difficult. According to Wikipedia, even Sweden isn’t truly neutral. Whaaaat?

The point is, people are picking sides on all kinds of issues and events based on personal beliefs, experiences, and what they’re seeing in the media. Many times, our “data” sources include incorrect information, rumors, or worse yet— gut feelings. And many of us are sticking to our tightly held biases, no matter what kind of facts and evidence are revealed. This isn’t good.

Life doesn’t happen in black and white. Getting to the bottom of employee complaints includes a lot of gray area. Make sure those who are handling complaints in your company are able to step back, remain objective, and look at the situation with impartial eyes.

It’s important that all complaints, investigations and resulting actions are applied fairly and consistently, each and every time.

It’s also important to recognize the opportunity for growth.

Keeping an open mind means more than just giving each employee the opportunity to speak up. It means being willing to look deep inside your company and see potential problems and other unpleasant things that may be happening, with our without your knowledge.

No complain, no gain

Hearing honest feedback isn’t always fun. It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and even downright painful.

But, if you’re able to reframe employee complaints as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and growth, you could very well be on your way toward better communication, streamlined processes, lower turnover, and happier employees.

 

Photo by STUDIO GRAND OUEST