A foolproof formula for handling employee complaints

by on May 4, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Make your company appear responsive to employee complaints

How should HR handle employee complaints? You don’t want to be perceived as unresponsive. After all, many employee complaints are valid and require your attention.
But you don’t want to be seen as an easy mark who jumps every time an unhappy employee stops by your office to gripe.
Is there a strategy to manage this age-old problem? Can you create the perception that your company listens to its employees and responds to employee complaints, even when the economics of running a business prevent you from responding favorably most of the time?
Yes. Here is a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Minimize employee complaints by managing expectations
  2. The more complaints your company gets from employees, the more often you’ll have to say no, and the more unresponsive your company will appear.
    So minimizing complaints is a major strategy, and the key is managing expectations. The new employee who gripes that her cubicle is too small has a boss who didn’t explain during the job interview that all employees start in cubicles and earn their way to larger digs.
    The employee who whines about a mere 4% raise is an employee whose manager didn’t conduct ongoing performance evaluation and inform the person he hadn’t yet earned star status.
    People complain when reality doesn’t meet expectations. If you and your company’s line managers communicate well up front about benefits, work shifts, overtime, security, noise levels, heating/cooling, promotions, raises and all the other issues that create tension in the workplace, you’ll get fewer complaints.
    This yields two important benefits:

    • Fewer unfulfilled employees who spread dissent and hurt company morale
    • More opportunities to say yes.
  3. Make sure people know they’ve been heard
  4. A single insight should drive your thinking about handling employee complaints.
    What employees care most about is that you understood their complaint. If they feel you heard them, they’re much more likely to accept no as an answer.
    Military “brief backs” can be effective. Simply repeat back to the complainer what you heard him say. For example: “Charles, I’m hearing you say the quality of your work is suffering because of the poor lighting in your work area. And you get headaches every day. Is that correct?”
    You still need to determine whether the problem is real or imagined. We strongly recommend formal or informal surveys. In the Charles example, a quick-and-dirty survey might show that no one else perceives a lighting problem but they all feel Charles is a slacker who makes excuses for bad performance.
    Or it might reveal that several others feel the same way as Charles.
    Action plan: Show people you understand their complaint, then say no if you must, or resolve the complaint quickly and decisively.

  5. Create the perception you’re responsive to employee complaints
  6. One way to achieve this is to look for high-impact, low-cost solutions to legitimate complaints and to celebrate those solutions publicly.
    At one company a formal survey showed employees were unhappy about high benefits costs and inflexible work shifts, two problems the company had no economical solution for. But employees also complained about poor lighting in the company parking lot, icy sidewalks and inadequate seating in employee kitchens.
    So HR took the initiative and persuaded top management to correct the latter problems at a minimal cost. But HR didn’t stop there. It launched a communications effort trumpeting the company’s swift, decisive action in response to employee feedback.
    A company-wide e-mail read: “Thanks to the employee input, we’ve installed lights at the back of the parking lot to improve security. We’ve purchased 100 bags of salt that Maintenance will spread on sidewalks to help avoid slips and falls. Finally, we’re adding two new tables with six chairs each in all employee kitchens. Your safety and well-being are important to management. Thank you for your valuable feedback.”

HR 3.9

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