Employee Complaints: Properly Listening to Team Members

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Employee complaints can sometimes be a common occurrence in the workplace. However, the way you approach resolving a conflict or complaint can determine how effectively and professionally the problem is handled. You might consider the information in this guide to help you properly address employee complaints.


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Where to begin with handling employee complaints

Employee complaints can oftentimes be a normal aspect of managing a business. However, what you do to handle employee complaints can be critical to maintaining professionalism and adhering to employment and human resource laws. When an employee submits a complaint, it is the manager’s job to acknowledge it and follow the appropriate process for resolving the issue. You might consider the following approaches for handling employee complaints:


1. Ask for more clarification

If you think your employees are having issues or you feel there may be conflict within your team, it’s important to address the issue. Asking for clarification about complaints can provide you with insight into the dynamics of employee behavior, conduct and performance. Additionally, asking for more clarification about a conflict can also help you determine the best way to handle the situation.


2. Follow the appropriate protocol

It’s also important that employees and supervisors follow the appropriate protocol or company policy for submitting complaints and resolving workplace issues. For instance, you might reiterate that complaints should always be submitted in writing to HR or require a specific form for employees to fill out when they have a complaint.


3. Seek legal counsel when necessary

Sometimes an employee may make a complaint that you may not have the answer for. For example, in the event an employee complains about a salary increase, you might get in contact with an employment attorney to review standard income regulations and find answers to your questions. Legal counsel can also be necessary when addressing allegations of misconduct.


Read more: Employee Satisfaction Surveys: What They Are and Why They’re Important for Your Business


Best practices for a manager

Depending on the nature of the complaint, there are several best practices for managers to keep in mind when following company policy to handle complaints.


  • Practice open communication
  • Ensure management teams are well-trained
  • Document serious infractions
  • Establish policies for submitting complaints
  • Take each employee complaint seriously
  • Maintain employee confidentiality


Practice open communication

Maintaining open communication and listening to your employees is important when addressing grievances. First, it shows your compassion as well as your desire to hear your employees and listen to their issues, and second, open communication can ensure that staff and managers alike are aware of all processes within the company. For instance, keeping an ‘open door’ policy where employees are encouraged to communicate with their managers can increase employee morale and satisfaction because it can foster a safe and comfortable work environment.


Ensure management teams are well-trained

Another best practice is to ensure all management and supervising staff are properly trained and knowledgeable about company policies and appropriate conduct when addressing employee complaints. For instance, it can be beneficial to your organization to require professional training for managers and supervisors that cover how to handle complaints, including serious charges like discrimination or harassment.


Document serious infractions

While most employee complaints are documented and addressed formally, it is critical that supervisors and managers have a plan for documenting and investigating serious infractions such as harassment allegations. Because of the laws surrounding discrimination, harassment and other illegal conduct, it’s highly important that serious employee complaints are accounted for and addressed immediately.


Establish policies for submitting complaints

Along with documenting serious issues, your organization should have a set policy in place for employees to submit complaints. For instance, you might initiate a policy that requires employees to first communicate with the Human Resources department and submit a formal complaint in writing. Having a policy in place such as this can encourage employees to come forward with problems that you may have previously been unaware of.


Take each employee complaint seriously

Whether a complaint seems valid or seems superficial, it is still important to take each employee complaint seriously. Showing your employees that you value and respect the policies in place no matter how small the complaint can increase the trust employees have in you as their manager.


Maintain employee confidentiality

It is also a best practice to maintain the confidentiality of each employee complaint. No matter how small the complaint is, keeping the matter private between the employee, their manager and HR can help avoid rumors, misunderstandings and miscommunication. It can also be illegal to discuss complaints or allegations with individuals who are not part of the conflict resolution process, so keeping issues private maintains professionalism and keeps the organization within its legal parameters.


What you should know about employee complaints

Sometimes, employees complain when they really just want to express their frustrations, but it is still important to listen to your employees and find the cause of the complaint. With the exception of serious complaints like discriminatory behavior, most employee complaints can be resolved by following HR policies.


Related: How to Reduce Employee Turnover


Employment complaints FAQs

The following frequently asked questions about employment complaints can provide additional insight.


What are some of the most common employee complaints?

Employee complaints can sometimes include complaints about salary and benefits such as salary raises, salary equality between employees and questions or concerns about company benefits. Complaints about management like controlling behavior, micromanagement or perceived wrongs caused by supervisors are several common complaints, and complaints about equal employee treatment or favoritism can also be quite common in the workplace.


What’s the best way to handle false allegations?

It’s never easy to deal with serious allegations in the workplace, but when someone is falsely accused of something, it’s important to handle the situation immediately. One of the first steps, in this case, is to document the complaint and perform an investigation with the assistance of HR. Additionally, it can be extremely important to document each step of the investigation process as well as provide evidence that proves the allegations are false. In extreme cases, it can be a good idea (and necessary) to contact legal services.


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