Dealing With Employee Grievances

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When discipline is based heavily on enforcement, complaints will inevitably arise from too rigid adherence to rules or from excessive penalties for violations. But discipline related problems are not the most frequent sources of grievances. Dissatisfactions leading to grievances can come from almost anywhere.

Complaints about discrimination and favoritism in work assignments, work standards, or physical working conditions are frequent sources of grievances. It is important to remember, though, that anything about which an employee is dissatisfied can lead to a serious grievance. Grievances need not necessarily be based on real problems; they can be the result of misunderstandings.

If a positive climate exists, in which there is considerable trust between employees and manager, dissatisfaction rarely turns into grievances.

Even in the best environment though, the people who work for you will occasionally feel unhappy about something. They may not get paid on time, or may feel that the room is too hot, too cold, drafty or too dark. They may feel that they deserve a merit increase, or you may have hurt their feelings inadvertently. When this happens; good personnel policies require that employees know how they can express their dissatisfaction and obtain some consideration.

A written grievance procedure, known to employees, can be very helpful in creating a positive atmosphere. It informs employees how they can obtain a hearing on their problems and it assures that you, the owner/manager, become aware that the problem exists. When employees know that someone will listen to them, grievances are less serious and hearing a complaint carefully often is half the job of resolving it.

A good grievance procedure begins with the manager making it a point to be actively looking for signs of possible sources of dissatisfaction, and by noticing changes in employee behavior which signal that a problem may exist. This often makes it possible to handle a situation when it is still easy to resolve. Positive and effective grievance prevention requires, besides the positive discipline steps discussed previously in this section, a few steps which will assure that the best possible solution to the problem is found. Such steps could include:

1. Discussion, on a one-to-one basis between the employee and you, or if there is a supervisor, with him or her.

Often misunderstandings are cleared up at this point and that ends the grievance. If more than a misunderstanding is involved, a compromise solution can often be found at this point.

There are a number of steps which you, or your supervisor, should follow to assure the best results from such a discussion:

  • Make sure that the employee is comfortable and that your conversation will not be disturbed. An atmosphere of concern and trust is necessary and these precautions can help to start the discussion on a positive note.
  • Listen to the employee attentively and hear him or her out. This will help you more clearly understand the entire problem, not only the immediate cause of the dissatisfaction. There is often more than one thing which disturbs an employee and contributes to the problem.
  • Explain how you see the situation.
  • When all the facts are known, try to come to some mutual understanding or workable compromise. If that is impossible, suggest that you will think about the situation and that the employee should do the same thing. Set a specific date when you will let the employee know what it is that you can, and will do.
  • Follow up on the situation. Make certain that you carry through on all aspects of your decision. If you promised to review something, or to have something fixed, be sure that these really happen. Otherwise employees will not feel that you are sincere with them when you discuss their complaints and dissatisfactions with them.

2. If disagreement continues, employees should be aware that they can bring the subject up again for further discussion or that they can take it to the owner/manager if their initial discussion was with a supervisor.

3. Some small businesses use the managers of neighboring businesses to serve as mediators in such disputes.

If that is done, the business owners agree to help each other in such situations. The "mediator" talks independently to employee and owner and thus brings an impartial point of view to the situation. A competent mediator can make both sides see the situation clearer, and it is therefore more likely that a mutually satisfactory solution can be found. If a mediator is used, his or her role should be clarified; that function is to explore and seek various possible solutions that might be acceptable to both sides, not to suggest specific solutions.

This guide has presented ways to implement a grievance procedure in a small business. There are several positive results of a good grievance procedure:

  • Providing relief for any negative feelings of employees, before these feelings are released in non-constructive ways - being late, not reporting for work, etc.
  • Restoring employee morale by clearing misunderstandings and improving working conditions.
  • Notifying management of any dissatisfactions at an early stage.