Handling employee complaints and grievances effectively

by Miriam Bell11 Oct 2012

Handling employee complaints and grievances effectivelyHandling an employee complaint or grievance can be one of the most challenging duties an HR pro will have to undertake.

Leadership Management Australasia has just released the following best practice list of techniques to help HR pros effectively handle complaints and grievances:

  • Be a good listener: Never interrupt when an employee is talking, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed. Complaints often dissolve and resolve themselves when people simply have a chance to talk about them.
  • Ask questions: Your questions should indicate interest and a desire for more information. When you ask open ended questions like “Why do you think that happened?” you might uncover underlying causes or related problems. When you ask good questions you communicate that you are not unfairly pre-judging people or situations.
  • Do not argue: Present any information you have in a persuasive manner rather than an argumentative one. Arguing builds resistance and can make employees more determined to have their way regardless of the facts. Asking questions can be an effective tool for disarming a potential argument. Your point of view is more persuasive when you refuse to be drawn into an argument.
  • Make sure you understand: Some people have difficulty expressing themselves – and can have even more problems if they are stressed or emotional. Use all of your questioning and listening skills to make sure that you fully understand their position. Restate, summarise and ask additional questions to make sure you understand their point of view.
  • Treat all employees with respect: Ridicule or comments that minimise an employee’s concerns can be devastating – and have no place in today’s management and leadership style. If you attempt to make an employee feel foolish, you will destroy the lines of communication and trust. Let others save face and retreat gracefully. Criticising and belittling employees in front of others should also be avoided as this also destroys communication, trust and respect.
  • Let the employee know when to expect a response from you: Often a problem can be settled on the spot. However, if a problem will take time to resolve, establish and communicate a time-frame for your action and response.
  • Gather the facts: If you are unable to make a decision during the meeting, investigate what the team member has said, check the situation, refer to employment agreements or other relevant documents and, where appropriate, consult with higher management before making a final decision.
  • Make a decision: Once you make a decision (even if it is unpopular), stick to it firmly unless new evidence that deserves consideration is presented.
  • Explain your decision: If your decision is distasteful to the employee in question, take the time to explain it and answer any questions. Employees might not agree and might appeal your decision, but they will respect you for your stand.
  • Thank the employee: Express your appreciation for the employee’s willingness to communicate openly about problems. This will encourages more open communication in the future.


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  • by Felicity Law - Workplace Improvement Specialist 11/10/2012 1:38:21 PM

    Great points, however, I would strongly recommend you add to that.

    - Take effective notes: This allows you to review points raised from any previous discussions so you have a clear understanding. It also shows the employee that you were listening. Effective note taking may also reduce risk down the track.

    Felicity Law
    Workplace Improvement Specialist
    1300 413 221

  • by Nidhi Shah 26/08/2015 11:39:00 PM

    Great post! It is a tough task to balance employees' needs and company's policy. Here's some inspiration. These companies solved the problems of their employees in the most creative manner. http://arkenea.com/blog/19-creative-problem-solving-ideas/
    For smaller businesses or startups, even if you don’t have funds, derive inspiration from these and work out your very own creative solution that isn’t expensive. All the best!

  • by Jack 28/08/2015 6:25:01 PM

    Test reply

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