Effective Ways of Handling Employee Grievances

The word employee grievance is often used in a generic form to indicate various forms and stages of an employee’s dissatisfaction while at work. While the dissatisfaction could be defined as anything that disturbs an employee, a complaint is spoken or written dissatisfaction brought to the attention of the manager or to the HR department/team member. Often employees view the HR team as the custodian of employee content/discontent and take up their grievances with the HR team. Grievance could also be voiced by a group of employees; it need not necessarily be a single employee with a complaint.

Handling Employee Grievances

What might happen if an organization does not provide some method by which a employee can voice his complaints and obtain a explanation? The employee will be unhappy, his productivity is impacted, he openly begins to share his discontent with not just his colleagues but also outsider’s, friends, relatives, maybe even customers and vendors. Just as the employee has all the right to voice a grievance, as employer (or the management) owes it to the employee to respond suitably to the grievance. It is but commonsense that the resolution of a problem rests on management. The earliest and clearest opportunity for issue resolution is found at the first stage, before the grievance has left the jurisdiction of the manager. For this reason, many firms have specifically trained their managers on how to handle a grievance or complaint properly. If the dispute or grievance constitutes a managerial problem it can often be resolved by the manager himself with the help of the HR team.

The following steps discuss various ways of handling employee grievances in organizations.

  1. Receiving the grievance: The manner and attitude with which the manager receives the complaint of grievance is important. The basic premise is that the manager should at the outset assume that the employee is fair in presenting his/her opinion/complaint. The complaint should not be prejudged on the basis of past experience with this or other employees. When a employee approaches the manager with a issue the manager needs to make himself available to listen it all out and provide him/her the undivided attention. Research confirms that managers who were more task-oriented, as contrasted with managers who were more people-oriented, tended to experience a significantly higher number of grievances being filed in their units.
  2. Reviewing the grievance: Once a complaint is received all facts supporting the issue needs to be gathered. Proper record keeping such as performance ratings, job ratings, attending records, and suggestions are reviewed. In addition, with the increasingly legal implications of modern labor-management relations, the manager should keep records on each particular grievance. All action taken, discussions with the employee, summary and what is agreed to all of it needs to be recorded.
  3. Analysis and decision: With the problem defined and the facts in hand,the manager must now analyze and evaluate them, and come to some decision. It is important for the manager to involve others in the process to ensure that it is fair and is the best solution. The manager must include the views of his own manager as he might not be aware of all the implications of the problem and its resolution. Involving HR too is a recommended process in all organizations. HR can then seek finance or legal counsel if required, before any decision is taken. All involved in the decision making process need to be aware that the decision may create an undesirable precedence within the department as well as the company.
  4. Response: Often it might not be possible to provide a positive resolution to the problem. If the solution decided is adverse to the employee’s views, attention needs to be given to the method of communication. Employees dislike managers who will take no stand, good or bad. Clearly communicating the message and sharing as much information as possible about the decision making process helps in establishing credibility to the process used to make the decision. The manager can also invite HR or his manager to sit-in on the conversation with the employee. As far as possible this should happen in a face-to-face meeting. In the event an employee wishes to take the appeal beyond to the next stage of the procedure he must be allowed to do so. The manager must have the opportunity to explain his decision to the other members so they can take a well-informed decision.
  5. Follow up: The objective of the grievance procedure is to resolve a disagreement between an employee and the organization. Open communication is important for this process. The purpose of phase is to determine whether the employee feels that the problem has been sufficiently redressed. If follow up reveals that the case has been handled unsatisfactorily, then redefinition of the problem, further fact-finding, analysis, solution and follow up are required. At this stage the manager can step aside and allow someone else in a position of authority like the HR or the manager’s manager to lead the process and close it.