As owners, managers, and team leaders, it is your responsibility to ensure your employees have a productive way to communicate concerns, complaints, and grievances. This not only ensures the continued happiness and productivity of employees but protects your business from possible legal and other issues that could lead to something like litigation.
Identifying Grievances or Complaints
This isn’t as easy as it may seem. There is no clear-cut single definition to what constitutes an employee complaint. For example, a grievance could be a feeling, real or imagined, of dissatisfaction with the job. Clearly identifying such grievances is an important first step in dealing with them properly.
The bottom line is that you need a system to identify, evaluate, and address complaints and grievances. One that ensures all concerns from all employees are being heard in a constructive manner and given due consideration. To do this, a system must be established.
Setup a System
Before doing anything else, there must be a way for all employees to file their concerns and complaints. Here are key pointers to keep in mind as you set this up:
· Make sure to include a section in your employee handbook that covers how to file complaints and grievances. This should cover what they need to know completely and be available to all employees upon hiring. Beyond this, ask all employees to sign an acknowledgement form about your grievance policy. This is a very effective way to ensure existing and new employees read your grievance policy.
· There needs to be a central person in charge of receiving complaints and grievances. A wise choice is someone in the HR department who is discrete and discerning. Assuring all employees that their grievances will remain private, and then actually keeping them private, is priority for the system to work as intended.
· There also needs to be a centralized location where grievances should be filed. For example, a locked box in an area all employees visit or use. This high visibility keeps the system fresh in employees’ minds which encourages them to file a complaint when they have one rather than do nothing until a more serious problem develops.
· A big issue many people have with filing a grievance is they do not think their email will remain private. Fearing consequences is a number one reason that employees have been hesitant to report grievances via online portals and emails. It may seem counterintuitive, but handwritten systems with a locked box often work best to encourage employees to speak honestly about their concerns.
· Setup a timetable or schedule for when employee concerns are handled. If you do nothing about complaints when they are filed, or fail to address them in a timely manner, you are simply sabotaging your efforts. Set a deadline for responding to grievances and stick to it.
Organize Complaints into Categories
Once your system is in place and employees know how to file complaints and grievances, some work will need to be done on the backend in order to help organize and prioritize responses to those grievances. For example, if you receive a complaint that someone is stealing creamers from the break room, this isn’t as high priority as a grievance about a faulty stairwell which should be address immediately. To help you prioritize, organize complaints into the following categories:
1. Safety and Working Condition Issues.
These are top priority as they have the most dramatic impact on employee performance and working conditions. Anything having to do with any unsafe conditions or supervisors who are either indifferent or misrepresenting the company would fall under this category and take top priority.
2. Policy Complaints
These are also important concerns to address. However, they don’t pose any actual immediate threat to the company’s profitability or the safety of its staff so they are of secondary importance. Typically complaints of this nature concern things like overtime pay or issues with company standards. Clearly these are important as they could lead to litigation or other serious issues, so they must be dealt with in a timely manner.
3. Reporting of Violations
The third, and least pressing, type of complaint is where one employee reports a violation they’ve witnessed. These violations are typically by other employees or managers. These issues should be investigated and dealt with as well, but clearly they are of secondary importance to safety and wage issues.
Address Each Complaint
It would be a mistake to take every grievance at face value. Often times an employee means well and is able to identify an issue, but they lack a full understanding of what’s going on and articulate the wrong problem in their complaint. At other times, complaints may be filed for the wrong reason, or maliciously, but investigating them is still important to determine what the real issue at hand is. Having a system to assess and address complaints is key.
1. Acknowledge the grievance
The first step is to acknowledge to the employee in question that the complaint has been received. This is not the same as fixing the grievance. That comes later, but before that, it’s important to let your employees know you hear them and are looking into their concerns.
2. Investigate the situation
Next, look into the claims of the grievance. Ask the employee questions, look at equipment in question, and ask others about any specific incidents. Gather all the information you can about the situation from the appropriate sources.
3. Choose a plan of action
Once you’ve assembled all the information you need to know how to rectify the situation, it’s time to decide on the right course of action. Before implementing said plan, it’s always wise to discuss it with other management and senior members of your business or organization to get a second opinion.
4. Implement that plan
All that’s left to do now is put your plan into action. Once you know what must be done, do not delay. Act quickly and with resolve. Don’t let things linger as this will only create a negative impact on employee morale. Always resolve things as quickly as possible to ensure the best results for your staff and business.
Once you’ve implemented a solution, don’t just forget the whole thing. Instead, take some time and then come back to the original problem that led to the complaint. It should be easy to assess the issue and your response objectively at this point. Did the implemented solution work? How are issues that originally led to the problem? Is the employee happy now (if they weren’t before)?
Beyond just getting information about the effectiveness of your response, be willing to tweak it. Maybe it’s clear that a slightly better solution would provide an even more advantageous working situation, so go ahead and make that additional change. Not only does this improve the performance of your business, but it communicates to your employees that you care about their happiness on the job, that you listen to their concerns, and that you genuinely want to make sure address them.
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