Four tips to help you address workplace grievances

A workplace grievance is a complaint or concern raised by an employee about a specific issue they’re experiencing at work.

These issues can range from conflicts with colleagues or supervisors to concerns about workplace policies, discrimination, harassment, or even safety.

A total of 85% of employees experience inevitable conflicts at work. This statistic underscores the widespread nature of the issue and emphasizes the importance of knowing how to handle grievances in the workplace effectively.

In this article, you’ll learn four key tips to effectively managing employee grievances, whether formally filed or not. Whether you’re a manager seeking resolution between team members in conflict or an employer looking to prevent a hostile work environment, you’ll discover practical insights to navigate this critical aspect of the modern workplace.

1) Establish a clear grievance policy

A well-defined grievance policy is the foundation of a successful strategy on how to handle grievances in the workplace. A grievance policy serves as a roadmap. It outlines the formal process to follow when raising or handling a complaint.

In establishing your company’s formal grievance policy, you’ll need to clearly define what issues warrant a formal complaint. It will also eliminate uncertainty and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Create a comprehensive policy outlining the procedure for raising, investigating, and resolving such formal grievances. For this, you’ll need to clearly define the steps involved in the formal grievance process. Whom should employees contact, how do they submit a formal complaint? Specify, too, the expected time limit the workplace complaint should have been resolved. 

Ensure employees understand the formal procedures for raising a grievance from the get-go, during onboarding. The policy should still be made accessible to all employees afterward, whether through the company’s intranet, employee handbook, or other means.

2) Encourage open communication

Fostering a culture of open communication within your organization is key to ensuring harmony in the workplace. When employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns, problems can often be resolved at an early stage, preventing them from escalating into formal employee complaints. 

Leading by example is one of the best ways to encourage open communication in the workplace. Start at the top. Leaders, managers, and supervisors should set the tone by openly communicating with their teams. 

When employees see that their superiors value transparency and actively engage in discussions, they are more likely to follow suit.

Understand that trust is also the foundation of open communication. Create an atmosphere where employees trust that their concerns will be taken seriously. Trust is built through consistent actions and genuine care for employees’ well-being.

You could conduct regular employee feedback surveys to gather insights into workplace satisfaction and identify potential issues. Use the results to make improvements and show employees that their input matters. You will experience higher employee retention when your employees feel valued and cared for.

Also, offer various channels for employees to voice their concerns. This could include regular one-on-one meetings with supervisors or suggestion boxes. Different employees may feel more comfortable using different communication avenues. 

Consider providing a mechanism for anonymous reporting of concerns, especially for sensitive issues like harassment or discrimination. Anonymous reporting can help employees feel safe when coming forward with their grievances.

3) Ensure prompt and fair investigation

If a workplace grievance is formally filed, it’s crucial to respond promptly and conduct a fair and thorough investigation. 

Taking immediate action when a grievance is formally reported demonstrates your commitment to promptly addressing concerns. It also prevents the issue from festering. In carrying out formal grievance procedures, impartiality is key. You want to ensure the employees involved receive just and fair treatment.

So, if you’re not the one conducting the probe, make sure the person or team responsible for this is impartial and unbiased. Neutral third-party HR personnel not directly involved in the grievance can help.

If you’re the one conducting the investigation, collect all relevant information and evidence related to the formal grievance. This may include documents, emails, and witness statements. Interview all parties – the complainant, the alleged wrongdoer, and any witnesses separately. Conduct the interviews in a respectful and non-confrontational manner.

Assess the credibility of all parties involved and the evidence provided objectively. Avoid making judgments based on personal bias.

Also, confidentiality must be maintained throughout the investigation process. The complainant and the accused should be assured that their privacy will be protected. 

A prompt and fair investigation ensures that grievances are addressed effectively and maintains trust within the organization. When employees see their concerns are taken seriously and investigated fairly, they are more likely to have confidence in the organization’s commitment to a just and equitable workplace.

4) Implement an appropriate solution

Based on the investigation’s findings, determine the appropriate action to resolve the formal complaint. This may involve disciplinary procedures or measures, policy changes, conflict mediation, or other remedies as needed.

The goal is to address the formal grievance effectively and prevent it from recurring. Here are some tips to follow when implementing solutions to the formal complaint:

  • Tailor solutions to the issue: Solutions should be specific to the nature of the formal complaint. For example, if the grievance involves a conflict between coworkers, mediation or conflict resolution training may be appropriate. Revising or clarifying the policy might be necessary if it’s related to a policy violation.
  • Consistency matters: Ensure the solutions align with company policies and past precedents. Consistency in addressing grievances helps maintain fairness and trust within the organization. 

Let’s assume that two employees from the marketing department of an enterprise SaaS company got into a conflict due to a specific policy, a formal complaint was filed, and the issue was resolved.

If the same complaint is filed but involves different employees or departments, the expectation is that a similar solution will be implemented. If this doesn’t happen, it’ll leave a bad taste in the parties involved and the entire organization. 

  • Monitor progress: After a formal grievance meeting, keep track of the progress made toward implementing solutions. Regular follow-ups and assessments are crucial to ensuring changes are effective and any additional adjustments are made if needed.
  • Training and education: Consider providing training and educational programs to address underlying issues that may have contributed to the formal complaint. For example, diversity training may be necessary to promote a more inclusive workplace.
  • Prevent retaliation: Make it clear that retaliation against the complainant or any party involved in the formal grievance is unacceptable. 

Implement measures to protect those who have formally raised concerns. For instance, you could develop and hold a formal meeting to communicate explicit whistleblower protection policies. These policies should outline the organization’s commitment to preventing retaliation against individuals who report wrongdoing or concerns in good faith.

By implementing appropriate solutions, you not only resolve the current issue but also work towards creating a workplace culture where conflicts are managed effectively, policies are enforced fairly, and employees feel valued and respected.

Addressing workplace grievances is crucial

Addressing workplace grievances – whether formally filed or not – effectively is crucial to maintaining a healthy, productive, and harmonious work environment.

You learned how to handle grievances in the workplace with this post. By following the tips discussed above, you can create an environment where grievances are handled promptly, fairly, and with respect for all parties involved. This not only helps you resolve immediate issues but also ensures a company culture characterized by trust, open communication, and a commitment to justice and fairness.

Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at ZoomShift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising. He likes to share his knowledge with others to help them increase results.

Photo by Annie Spratt