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6 Tips for Resolving Employee Complaints

Employer discussing complaints with employees

6 Tips for Resolving Employee Complaints in an Open, Engaging Manner

Most people come to work with good intentions and try to do a good job for the company. When good employees create problems it’s often because they’re frustrated with their work situation. There can be many reasons:

  • A bad manager is making work life difficult
  • A coworker is creating disruptions, or making mistakes that cause more work
  • The employee feels unrecognized and unappreciated
  • Job instructions or expectations aren’t clear
  • The employee is having problems outside of the workplace
  • The employee lacks necessary skills

You should resolve employee complaints as expeditiously as possible. But how do you find the hours in the day when time is already at a premium? Part of the answer is to use a broader brush.

Try looking for patterns in the problems to see if there might be common, underlying causes.

Some of those causes may lie in your company’s culture.

Handle Employee Complaints Through Clear and Open Communication

Many issues can be prevented, or solved, before they reach the boiling point by clear, safe communication channels between employees, managers, and leadership of establishing culture.

Clear communication starts with the company leadership sharing the mission of the company with the entire team. That puts everyone on the same page. Continue by keeping employees informed about what’s happening. Celebrate the good. When appropriate, present difficulties as opportunities to solve problems together. Have an open-door policy that includes an open mind; listen thoroughly when employees make the effort to talk with you. Lead by example.

The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is especially true in employee relations.


Want to Learn More About Creating Engaged Employee Teams?

Read our Complete Guide to Creating Employee Teams to Manage Employee Issues


How to Handle Employee Complaints: 6 Tips

1. Write Down the List of Issues, Problems and Complaints that Arise

See if you can detect any patterns that lead to underlying causes. Surface issues may be symptoms of deeper concerns. For instance, excessive absenteeism may be a sign of disengagement, bullying or harassment, stress, or inflexibility in your scheduling system. Having private, confidential talks with managers or employees can provide further insights.

2. Make Sure Your Managers – or You – Aren’t Part of the Problem

Managers in small to mid-sized businesses may have risen through the ranks with no leadership or management training. If your manager is micromanaging employees to the point of madness, using inappropriate language, creating a sour atmosphere, or otherwise working counter to your team mission, talk to them. They may need management or interpersonal communications training. Remember, 50% of employees leave a job to get away from their manager. It’s far more cost-effective to train a manager, or let them go if necessary, than lose half your team.

This is a good time to take an honest look in the mirror.

Ask if your attitude or actions are creating a stressful culture, or contributing in any way to problems that you’ve been attributing to employees. You can bring in an HR consultant for tips, or take a management or communications class yourself. Small business owners can sometimes let the stresses of running a business get the better of them; it’s good to have some support.

3. Meet With Your Team to Talk About the Issues

Meet with your managers first and let them know that you intend to hold a general meeting to discuss workplace issues. They may have some valuable insights into employees or procedures that you were unaware of. When you meet with the whole team, keep your comments general, so no one feels singled out. If the issue is scheduling, you might begin with something like, “It’s come to my attention that our current scheduling system isn’t working out for everyone, and I’d like your help coming up with ideas on how to improve it.” Follow the four ground rules for a successful team meeting. Have a volunteer employee write down suggestions and ideas on a white board as they come. NOTE: this should either link to the Guide, the Creating an Employee Team Strategy Article – or past the 4 Steps in here.

4. Create Teams to Address Root Causes of Issues and Conflicts

Co-worker conflicts are one of the trickiest issues in business: managers who get dragged into the middle can spend frustrating hours trying to figure out what the real issue is behind the emotions, and even if they figure it out, they may not know how to solve it.

Simply put, that’s not a manager’s job. Alert your team that, from this moment on, they are all in the business of solving issues using a team approach. From institutional issues, like setting a scheduling process that’s fair and workable, to interpersonal issues, like employee feuds, employee teams will be part of the decision-making process. If you have the time and budget consider bringing in a professional mediator for a team training.

If not, go over 6 rules of team problem-solving.

  1. Define the underlying problem: don’t solve the surface example
  2. Identify the root causes of the problem
  3. Brainstorm possible solutions
  4. Select the best solution(s) and write it out
  5. Present solutions to the entire team, get buy-in
  6. Implement, monitor, evaluate, and improve as necessary

Don’t expect everything to go smoothly from day one. But as employees become more empowered to handle issues, they will look less to management as referees. The enormous times savings will more than pay for the time spent meeting and setting up teams.

5. Make Policy, Not People, the Arbitrator

Once your team has agreed on a solution to a certain problem, make that solution the company policy that applies to everyone. There’s a good reason for this. People can point fingers at managers or coworkers, saying that this or that decision is unfair. But policy is impersonal and impartial – it’s the same set of rules for everyone. An employee who has signed on to a policy presented by their peers has publicly stated that they agree with it. That makes it easier for a coworker or manager to remove the element of personal confrontation in a discussion with a worker who has transgressed a policy. 

Policy does not mean that every rule is set in stone. Sometimes the initial solution shows its flaws in practice, and needs to be revised. When it does, that process, too, needs to be carried out by employee teams.

6. For the Good of Your Team, Let the Bad Employee (or Manager) Go

If most of the problems are coming from one employee or manager, you may have a bad apple. Toxic employees can ruin all your good efforts to create a team-driven company culture. If you are running an open communication, team-driven company, troublesome employees will stand out. Talk to them about the effects of their actions; be professional, clear, concise, and take notes in case you need documentation later. If the employee does not improve, following all proper employment laws, you should consider letting them go. Or risk having one person ruin all your efforts at fostering a great team.

The Best Way to Manage Employee Complaints is to Manage Your Company Culture

Treating the cause, not the symptom is the best way to not get mired in endless, time- and profit-sapping employee issues.

Take an hour a week to foster a company culture that values teamwork, appreciation, and open communication.

You may find that most of those problems either dissolve in the light of day, or become opportunities for improvement that you and your team can take advantage of together.

Solving Problems with Open Communications Can Save Time and Improve Profits

Creating a company culture of honest, clear communications and teamwork problem solving can bring many benefits, including a happier, more engaged team. The primary benefit, however, is that all of the time that used to be wasted on solving workplace problems can now be put back into your company’s main mission.

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