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Effectively Handling Employee Complaints

Effectively Handling Employee Complaints

It is a truism that not all people can be pleased, at least not easily or without some backlash in reply. This situation could not be even truer in the employer-employee relationship. Even the most smoothly-running workplace experiences situations where employees are dissatisfied with certain aspects of how their employer operates. When employees make complaints and issue grievances, the methods and types of replies given to these statements by the employer or their representatives are tantamount to turn a negative situation. Sometimes, performing an investigation is necessary, and other times they are not. Regardless of needing an investigation, all complaints should be taken seriously and considered with sincerity. Here are some steps to consider taking to reach this goal.

Step One: The Initial Conversation

More often than not, there really is not an ideal time for an employee to ask for a serious conversation about a complaint to take place. The initial response to this request to speak with the employer can either lead to a positive resolution or a negative one. First and foremost, the best step to take is being friendly and remaining open-minded to talking in the first place. Employers who operate on an open-door policy are more likely to start a complaint conversation on the right foot. This open-mindedness is essential, too, as it negates being defensive right off the bat. It also indicates that all complaints are taken seriously.

Also, if the conversation initiates at a rather inconvenient time, then the best policy is to politely arrange another time to meet with the employee to make sure they are aware that this situation does matter and it will be paid the proper attention it deserves. As a rule, these conversations should take place within 24-hours of being initiated.

Step Two: Finding the Right Person to Handle the Complaint

Once the conversation begins, and the employee’s complaint becomes apparent, the next step in the process is to figure out who is best equipped to handle processing the situation. Sometimes, the situation might be able to be handled by an immediate supervisor or someone in the human resources department. The details of the situation will reveal which person to direct the complaint to, so they need to be paid special attention.

However, do not let the employee continue their complaint if the person they have initially approached cannot handle the situation further. To do so would waste time and energy on the employee’s part, which could irritate the situation all the more. Arranging a meeting with this person in a timely manner is also extremely important, just as it was with setting up the initial conversation. If need be, you can offer to be part of that conversation, too, which would show that you are interested in taking care of the situation promptly instead of just passing the buck onto the next person.

It is also extremely crucial to remember that being a confidant in this situation could lead to a downfall. At the same time, you need to remember that you are an extension and representative of the company, so you do have a support system behind you as well. On the other hand, this statement indicates that you should be an authority on what goes on in the company, and the employee sees you as such. Otherwise, they would not have approached you in the first place. You are, therefore, expected to handle the situation accordingly. All parties involved expect the complaint to be handled professionally, so it cannot simply be kept secret and swept under the rug with some futile attempts to appease the employee. An obligation to keep all parties involved informed of the situation is a necessity.

Step Three: Playing Both the Roles of Listener and Responder

One of the essential parts to making a positive situation out of an employee complaint is to play the role of an active listener as much as possible. The facts need to be gathered, including who, what, when, where, and why. The worst thing to do is to assume where a conversation might go and try to steer it in that direction. Instead, let the employee provide the initial roadmap to be followed. Minimizing distractions is tantamount to helping this situation go in the right direction, so do not put the cart before the horse and think about a solution before all of the facts are present. Avoiding this tactic will also avoid making assumptions, which can be deadly.

At the same time, it is important to remember that humans’ memory is not perfect, so notes should be taken throughout the conversation about those details. Writing them down also allows the chance to examine them clearly to see if any questions can be asked for the sake of clarification. Once all of the details are gathered, and the employee cannot provide any more clarification or facts to add to the situation, it becomes essential to close the conversation in the proper way. There are a few steps to this process.

Step Four: Wrapping Up the Initial Conversation Properly

When closing the conversation, be sure to impart sincerity in that the company takes all complaints from employees seriously, so action in regard to the matter will be completed promptly. Indicating an agreement at this time might not be possible, so it is important also to remain neutral until an agreement can be made. Furthermore, the employee needs to be reassured that the situation remains confidential to the persons who absolutely need to be involved. This step will make certain that rumors do not begin to defame the employee who made the complaint or other employees that might be involved in the complaint.

There is one, final step to this process. Be sure to ask that the employee provides a signed and dated explanation of the complaint in their own words and writing, if possible. This time is also where pieces of evidence that the employee might have already gathered can be collected for further review. If the employee hesitates to do so, it is important to remind them that the written word is stronger than a verbal exchange. Therefore, the written statement is absolutely necessary for the same of documentation, which can provide protection for the complainant, too.


When it comes to handling employees’ complaints, there is a level of professionalism that must be met. Being an active listener and placing the employee making the complaint at a priority is essential, especially if it means starting the process of handling the complaint out on the right foot. These steps will help with that process, so they should be adhered to closely.