Strategy & Leadership

How to Handle Employee Complaints

Even the best job in the world comes with a few complaints. As soon as you start employing people, you’re going to begin hearing grumblings and grievances.

Here are three steps you need to take in order to handle complaints effectively:

Listen

Whether you institute an open-door policy, hold a formal meeting where you let your employees vent or post an anonymous suggestion box, you need to create a mechanism for employees to share their concerns and complaints. Remember, you actually want to encourage them to air their complaint — otherwise you won’t know something is wrong until it becomes a disaster.

Categorize

Not all complaints are created equal. You need to figure out how to categorize each complaint in order to know how to best deal with it. (You don’t have to mention these categories to your employees.) Categories may include:

  • Safety. This complaint must be dealt with immediately. It gets high priority.
  • Legal. If someone complains about harassment, fraud or anything else that violates the law, you need to deal with it as soon as possible. You must investigate all legal complaints. All of them. Even if you think they are stupid. You have to do your due diligence here.
  • Fixable. Some complaints really are fixable and will make things better. Take suggestions from your employees. When someone complains, you can easily ask them, “How do you think we should fix that?” If they don’t have an idea, ask them to think about it and come back when they do. If fixing the issue would make life better, go for it.
  • Valid but not fixable. We have too much paperwork. This might be true in your business, but it is also probably true that some of that paperwork is mandated by the government, some by your corporate office and some by the manufacturer of the product you’re working on. Sympathy is the way to go here.
  • General whine. Lots of complaints fall into this category: Why did Jim get a better schedule than I did? You can either answer these with facts — We schedule by seniority and he’s been here longer —or you should acknowledge the grievance and ask the employee to please get back to work. You should use the first option the first time the complaint comes up, and the second thereafter.

Fix the Problem

Just because you weren’t aware of an issue doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem. Lots of things can go wrong in a workplace, and the people doing the work are the best ones to spot them. Take their complaints and suggestions seriously.

If you use an anonymous complaint box, be sure to address those complaints publicly every so often, or people will stop letting you know what’s going on. And when that happens, your business will suffer.

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