Generally, most workplaces are happy. However, the reality is that from time to time, an employee may be unhappy with another employee or a decision of management. If left unresolved, or not taken seriously, these complaints don’t just disappear. Unresolved complaints can fester and escalate.
The best approach to conflict or workplace grievances is to prepare for them in advance by having a formal grievance or complaint resolution policy. Such a policy doesn’t have to be long, but should inform an employee of their options and responsibilities. This policy should encourage an employee to attempt to resolve the issue as quickly as possible with the person responsible. Where this is not possible, the policy should also specify further steps to resolve the grievance.
However, if you don’t have a formal policy (or even if you do), what should you do?
First, always encourage honest and open communication within your organisation. This could be having an ‘open door’ policy or having time in each team meeting for employees to raise any issues. This could also be by modelling open and honest communication yourself. Take the time to seek feedback from your employees and get to know them individually. This could be by meeting with them one-on-one each week or having lunch together once a month.
Second, and especially if a complaint is about a decision you have made, try to listen and gather information at the start. Ask open-ended questions, take time to reflect on your response and thank the employee for raising the issue. If the complaint is about another employee, encourage the person to try and resolve it themselves.
If unable or uncomfortable to resolve the issue themselves, encourage the employee to put their concerns in writing. This will help to clarify the issue and avoid future confusion. Where the grievance involves another person, having the complaint in writing will enable them to be fully informed and have the opportunity to respond appropriately.
Next, allow the person raising the complaint the opportunity to have a support person present. This support person is not to argue the employee’s case on their behalf but is there to assist the employee in the process. This could be by being a witness, taking notes on the employee’s behalf or by simply just being present.
Keep the issue confidential. For all parties to feel confident to be open and honest, and for the issue to be resolved privately and quickly, all conversations by all parties must be kept confidential. “Loose lips sink ships” (or unguarded talk) can undermine the resolution process and future employment relationships.
Finally, some complaints can be quite complex or deal with serious issues. If this is the case, and you feel unable or unsuitable to resolve this issue, there are external options available. Consider engaging an external investigator or mediator who has specific skills in this area.