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How to handle employee complaints in HR?

Employee complaints run the spectrum between serious allegations that require official action and perceived wrongs with little or no substance. They often stem from employee perceptions and are relatively easy to resolve.

As a human resources professional, you may sometimes wonder how to respond to employee complaints, especially if you get one or two every day. Depending on the gravity of the situation, you may be able to address the complaint then and there, or you may find it necessary to get others involved.

It's critical that you don't become too hardened to employee complaints, because your most important job is to help the business. If you ignore a complaint that a manager is yelling and it turns out that the manager truly is yelling, turnover may increase or customers might overhear and that's damaging to the business.

Be careful about telling people that they always have to go through the chain of command before complaining. For example, a sexually harassed female may not feel comfortable going to her male supervisor's boss to complain about the harassment. In this case, the policy of always following the chain may result in continued harassment and legal liability for the company.

There are many approaches to handling employee complaints, but six general strategies form the basis for investigating possibly subjective complaints.

Get To Know Your Management Team.

You need to know that who is prone to yell, who is the nicest guy ever but allows his staff to walk all over him, and who doesn't have a clue what goes on with the staff. You can't get this information just by talking one-on-one with the management staff. You need to pop in and out. This isn't because you're managing these people, it's because you need to know what's actually happening.

Find Out What's Really Going On.

When an employee says, “My manager is always watching me,” figure out what that means. Ask, “What do you mean when you say that your manager is always watching you?” and “Why is this a problem for you?” You may find out that the employee is just whining. Then again, you may find out that the supervisor is hovering inappropriately over a particular employee or that the employee hasn't been properly trained. You won't know until you ask.

Are They Venting or in Need?

Sometimes people just want to vent. But sometimes they really want help with a problem. It's important to differentiate between the two situations, but critical if you want to effectively respond to employee complaints.

Keep Your Door Open

It's a great policy to encourage employees to solve most of their problems themselves. An HR manager is not a therapist or parent. But if you turn people away, you'll miss valuable or even critical information. An open-door policy is always recommended.

Notify the Supervisor or Manager

You may not need to notify an employee's manager. If you do, you should let the employee know that you are going to. If you don't, they will feel betrayed. Sometimes the employee may ask that you not tell a supervisor. In this case, you'll have to decide whether it's necessary.

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