With respect to taking notice of informal complaints and where they fit in the context of grievance handling procedures –there are three types of manager:
- Those who, when listening to staff, just hear comments but don’t consider them as grievances;
- Those who, when listening to staff, hear a concern and hold further discussions; and
- Those who, when listening to staff, hear repeated whinging, leading to the manager trying to avoid such conversations.
Managers need to be careful they don’t overlook a comment made by a staff member when that comment really was a form of informal grievance. To have a staff member state in a formal grievance that they raised the matter with their manager and it was not addressed does not reflect well on the manager or the organisation. Such an allegation can become part of a formal complaint as the staff member may see such inaction by their manager as a form of bullying, harassment or discrimination. (It may also become part of the grievance within a Workers Compensation claim.)
What should managers do?
Managers who do hear a concern must ensure: they don’t believe the information on face value; they don’t get caught in any emotion; are not biased because of the relationship or previous experiences with either party; do not agree with the content; or take ownership of the issue. Unless the concern is of a serious nature, first attempts to resolve issues of an informal nature should be implemented by the staff member concerned.
Managers who avoid listening to their staff face the very real prospect of conflict escalation, lack of engagement by staff and decreased productivity and team work. It may be that staff start to isolate their manager as they come together to support one another because they are not getting support from the manager. This disconnected work environment can set the scene for a bullying complaint to be lodged.
For managers to be supported in best practice with the management of grievances and complaints, the organisational policy and grievance handling procedure should include how to manage informal complaints. Managers should be offered training which helps them to recognise comments by staff as grievances and how to respond effectively for resolution rather than feeling they are ‘feeding the complaint’ or ‘feeding a victim mentality’.
How to support your managers
Some suggestions to support your managers to better address the raising of an informal complaint include:
- Taking time to stop, listen and talk with the staff member, taking the conversation to a more private location if required;
- Asking the staff member what their actual concern is (sometimes this can get lost in the story they are telling);
- Coaching the staff member about how best to approach the other party to discuss the situation and resolve using self management techniques;
- Suggesting the staff member can refer to policy to think about how their concern falls within policies for which action can be taken to rectify situations;
- After the meeting, enquiring (via email) to ask the staff member if they felt the issue had been addressed satisfactorily or were they looking for the matter to be managed in another fashion;
- Documenting the informal raising of issues or complaints with a file note; and
- Sending a short email to the staff member thanking them for raising the issue and noting the agreed course of action to be taken by both parties.
At Workplace Conflict Resolution, we specialise in grievance investigations and also offer training and coaching for management. We can also review your HR policies to ensure you have the right grievance handling processes in place to deal with complaints. Contact us on 1 300 227 901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how we can help your business.