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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Here’s how to handle employee complaints to your advantage

Not all employee complaints require equal billing. Some

Not all employee complaints require equal billing. Some are just plain old grousing while others require more serious action. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / olm26250

Not all employee complaints require equal billing.

Some are just plain old grousing while others require more serious action.

But regardless, employers need a system in place that allows employees to voice their concerns, and they should establish protocols to respond to more serious concerns.

“Small businesses tend to handle employee complaints on an ad hoc basis,” says Cornelia Gamlem, president of Herndon, Virginia-based GEMS Group Ltd., a management consultancy, and co-author of “The Big Book of HR” (Career Press; $19.99). “They do a lot of it informally.”

That’s because often they don’t have the staff or systems in place to deal with these issues, she says.

Also in smaller organizations, information might flow a bit more freely because the business is so small, she says.

On the flip side, it can be uncomfortable for an employee to come forward in a small organization because everyone generally knows each other better.

So there should be a way for employees to lodge complaints while keeping their anonymity if they choose.

To be sure, there are ways to gather complaints and technology has helped facilitate the process, says Sayeedul Islam, an assistant professor at Farmingdale State College who specializes in industrial organizational psychology.

For example, a company might set up a dedicated email address to collect complaints or issue electronic surveys where employees could put complaints in the comments section.

Regardless of the vehicle used, it has to be clear to employees that the company will address any legitimate concerns, Islam says.

“Make it clear in the company’s policies and procedures that if a complaint is received it will be investigated,” he says.

Designate an individual or department to help manage complaints and have a policy in place so employees know what recourse to take, Islam says.

Companies should create an environment where communication, feedback and trust are fostered, says John Coverdale, president of the Blue Point-based Center for Workplace Solutions and faculty director of the human resource management program at Stony Brook University.

The person making the complaint must feel comfortable providing specific information, he notes, and trust that it will be taken seriously.

Employees have to know that you’re listening and responding to complaints, he says.

For instance, if you have a complaint box but never check it, that defeats the purpose, Coverdale says. “Communication is critically important.”

Beyond that, it’s important to assure employees that there will be no retribution for them bringing the complaint to management, says Jerry Siegel, president of JASB Management Inc., a Syosset management training and development firm.

He serves as an outside resource to client companies, interviewing their employees to see if there are complaints within the organization. He asks such questions as, “Do you feel your manager listens to you?” and “What can the company do to improve your job?”

“People have a tremendous wealth of information, and when it’s drawn out of them the organization can benefit tremendously,” Siegel says.

Always thank the employee for coming forward, because he or she is providing you with valuable feedback, he says.

And if you’re going to investigate a complaint you need to have enough facts to go in and really find out what’s going on, Gamlem says.

When a person comes forward, ask pointed questions like “What happened? Who was around when it happened? And can you give me some specific examples?” she suggests.

Look for trends, Islam adds.

“Complaints can be indicators of bigger issues that exist in your workforce so they should be taken seriously,” he says.

Employees’ top complaints about their leaders

* Not recognizing employee achievements

* Not giving clear directions

* Not having time to meet with employees

* Refusing to talk to subordinates

* Taking credit for others’ ideas

Source: 2015 Interact/Harris Poll

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