Employee Grievances – Handling Employee Complaints and Grievances Effectively

An employee grievance means any discontentment or dissatisfaction in an employee arising out of anything related to the enterprise where he is working. It may not be expressed and even may not be valid. It arises when an employee feels that something has happened or is going to happen which is unfair, unjust or inequitable. Thus, a grievance represents a situation in which an employee feels that something unfavorable to him has happened or is going to happen. In an industrial enterprise, an employee may have grievance because of long hours of work, non-fulfillment of terms of service by the management, unfair treatment in promotion, poor working facilities, etc

According to Michael Jucius, “A grievance can be any discontent or dissatisfaction, whether expressed or not, whether valid or not, and arising out of anything connected with the company that an employee thinks, believes, or even feels as unfair, unjust, or inequitable.”

Employee Grievances

Identification of Employee Grievances

It is so beautifully described that good management redresses employee grievances as they arise; excellent management anticipates and prevents them from arising. An effective manager thus has to be proactive. A manager can know about the problems even before they turn into actual grievances through several means such as:

  1. Exit interview: Employees usually quit organizations due to dissatisfaction or better prospects elsewhere. Exit interviews, if conducted carefully, can provide important information about employee grievances. This can help the management to gather feedback and to genuinely incorporate feedback. The management should carefully act upon the information drawn from such employees. It should be careful that the discontentment is reduced so that no more employees quit the organization because of similar reasons.
  2. Gripe Boxes: These are boxes in which the employees can drop their anonymous complaints. They are different from the suggestion boxes in which employees drop their named suggestion with an intention to receive rewards It is normally said that if you want to progress in life, you should be close to critics. These gripe boxes can perform the role of critics for the organisation. The management should carefully act upon the information thus gathered. Now I don’t want to sound repetitive by saying that the internal customers of an organisation should be satisfied if the external customers are to be kept happy.
  3. Opinion Survey: The management can be proactive by conducting group meetings, periodical interviews with employees, collective bargaining sessions etc. through which one can get information about employees’ dissatisfaction before it turns into a grievance.
  4. Open-door Policy: Some organisation extend a general invitation to their employees to informally drop in the manager’s room any time and talk over their grievances. This can be very effective because it ca n nip the evil in the bud. That is it can take care of the problem before it gets out of hand. In fact the management should hold formal and informal get together with the employees. The management should also remember that the employees might just need a patient hearing at times. They need blow off the steam as we hear it more commonly.

Employee Grievances  Handling System

Prompt redressal of employee grievances is a must for creating good labor-management relations and promoting efficiency at the organization  level. Grievances must not be allowed to accumulate because grievances breed grievances. Piling up of grievances may create a sense of frustration, disloyalty and non-cooperation among workers who may lose interest in work and thus may affect the quality and quantity of out put. This may also lead to indiscipline taking the form of increased absenteeism, go slow, work to rule, demonstrations, gherao, violence and strikes. Proper disposal of grievance needs a serious consideration for harmonious industrial relations and maintenance of industrial peace.

Employees sometimes do not know precisely what is making them dissatisfied. Their own feeling may set up mental blocks that prevent them from interpreting correctly what is happening. They may not have sufficient knowledge of human nature or of the many social forces impinging on them. Not knowing their actual grievances but still feeling dissatisfied they tends to file grievances about something else.

A grievance rate is usually stated in terms of, number of written grievances presented for 100 employees in one year. A typical grievance rate is 10 to 20 and any rate above or below that range might indicate a labor relations situation meriting further investigation. Method of handling grievances will affect the rate of grievance.

Employees of all types and at all levels develop grievances. Grievances are not some headache, brought about by unions but may complicate the situation and cause more grievances either temporarily or permanently. Other factors affecting grievance rate are management job conditions, government’s rules, general social conditions and the home environment.

The principal object of any grievance system is to encourage human problems to be brought to the surface. Management can learn about them and may try corrective action. The social organization of a plant is very much like a complicated machine. Both need constant attention and frequent adjustments. Grievances, which are expressed, whether they are presented formally or informally, are symptoms, which should be carefully studied by management to determine the real causes of this “human machine” breakdown.

Almost everyone agrees that it is better to prevent fire than trying to stop them after that have started and the same philosophy applies to grievances. Grievance system helps to solve problems before they become serious. If problems are allowed to accumulate unsolved, their quantity may get so great that they may have adequate pressure “to blow off the lid of the whole section or department.” A good grievance system can prevent the developments of unwanted system and keep social pressures within bounds. A grievance system like counseling, which is a process of employees emotional release of their dissatisfaction. It provides a means by which a frustrated and aggrieved employee can become aggressive and strike back at the various controls, which any group imposes, on him. Emotional release often plays an important role in individual grievance cases. Grievance procedures help to establish and maintain a work culture or way of life. Each group has its own particular way of living together, and the grievance procedure helps to develop this group culture.

A manager tends to give more care to the human aspects of his job when he knows that some of these actions are subject to challenge and review in a grievance system. He is encouraged to develop effective compromises and working relationship with his group. However that the pendulum can swing too far, a supervisor may become so aware of the grievance system that he is afraid to make decisions and hesitates to direct and discipline his men.

Employee Grievances  Handling Procedure

Grievances are human problems and are to be handled in a human way. Every worker has the right to present his grievances to his employer and obtain their redressal. The management has to see that grievances are so received and settled that the worker gets the necessary sense of satisfaction. The following are the important steps that should be taken in handling grievances.

  1. Define, express and describe the nature of grievance at the heart of the employee’s complaint as early as possible, so that the wrong complaint may not be handled and the real grievance may not turn up again to plague the management.
  2. After locating the real issue, the next step is to gather all relevant facts, about the issue, i.e. how and where it took place and the circumstances under which it transpired. Such fact gathering requires interviewing and listening to employees. This will, however, convince the employees that the management was sincere in seeing that justice is done.
  3. After getting the real picture of the grievance the management must make a list of alternate solutions. If possible the suitability of this decision may be checked before taking and announcing the final decision.
  4. Gather additional information for checking tentative solutions for finding out the best possible one. For this, or the past experience of the executive in similar cases maybe helpful. Company’s own record of grievances, if maintained can also be helpful in this respect.
  5. The decision having finally being reached should then be passed in clear unequivocal terms to the employees concerned. The ultimate decision is the tool of action.
  6. Follow up the case so that it is handled satisfactorily and the trouble eliminated. It is essential to see the attitude of the Secondly, he should feel that the employees are fair in presenting their grievances, unless it is proved otherwise. Thirdly, in handling grievances, management should display a sincere interest in the problems of employees and a constructive willingness to be of help. All executives must have confidence in themselves and should be fully aware of their responsibilities and be willing to carry these burdens. Such a positive attitude must be apparent to employees in order to gain their respect and cooperation.

The manager should consider the grievance seriously and should not show a casual attitude. Grievances should be handled in terms of their total effects upon the organization and not merely their immediate or individual effects.

Organizational responsibility for handling grievances should be divided and shared by all levels of management and representatives of labor unions. As a good practice or procedure the employees should be required to present their grievances to their immediate superior, even if the final decision matter rests with the higher authority. This will save the supervisor from losing his importance and respect with his subordinates. After examining and investigating the matter at his level he can pass it on to the higher level with his findings and recommendation. Similarly, action can be taken by the executives at the middle level, if the matter is beyond their jurisdiction. The top-level management has the responsibility to decide cases which are having company wide implication. In this they may be even assisted by personnel or labor officers with their advice and the information collected and maintained. The top-level management must establish the broad policies and rules, which may form the basis for handling grievances. In some companies labor unions assume the responsibility of getting the grievances redressed, particularly at the middle and top-level management.

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