Dealing with discontent: Managing your company’s grievance procedure

No matter how idyllic your workplace is, no organization is perfect. From minor issues to major conflicts, every company must contend with discord to some degree.

How you handle workplace problems can have a big effect—positive or negative—on your company’s operations and image. So, where do you start? Here are some tips to keep in mind while managing your company’s grievance procedure.

Do you really need it?

An employee grievance is a problem, concern, or complaint that relates to the workplace, including working conditions or a fellow employee. This includes things like harassment, pay, benefits, and workload.

Having a grievance policy in place lets employees and managers know there is a set way for airing and resolving these issues—it cuts out some of the guesswork. It also helps employees feel heard and respected, rather than ignored or insignificant.

As an employer, a set policy allows you to address a problem before it becomes a huge distraction, or worse, a lawsuit. A well-crafted grievance procedure affords you the opportunity to show that you are dedicated to keeping your employees happy and that you’re open to making necessary changes in the workplace in a transparent and consistent way.

Typical steps in the grievance process

A standard grievance procedure lets everyone know the who, what, when, and how. That is, it spells out the hierarchical structure of who handles the complaint; what types of grievances are covered by the process; what the expected timeline looks like; and how employees should initiate and substantiate their complaints. A typical policy will:

  • Explain that the policy applies to everyone, and that all grievances will be taken seriously
  • Encourage an employee to communicate with their direct supervisor to resolve the issue informally (if the issue involves the supervisor, the policy can direct the employee directly to HR)
  • Instruct the employee to fill out a grievance form when informal resolution doesn’t work
  • Mandate an in-person meeting with the employee to thoroughly discuss the issue
  • Inform other parties involved of any formal allegations
  • Require an investigation of the complaint to determine its validity and resolution
  • Pledge to keep the various parties informed of the status of the process
  • Instruct supervisors or HR to communicate formal decisions
  • Include a process for filing an appeal

As Brayden King, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University, says, “I always tell companies that the best tactic for them is to engage and listen [to employees].” He notes that workers may eventually quit if they are dissatisfied with the company’s response. And remember, regardless of the exact steps you include, it’s always wise to keep detailed, accurate records of the entire process.

Grievance procedure best practices

Matt Kelly, editor-in-chief of Compliance Week, a magazine covering corporate governance, risk, and compliance, points to Best Buy as a company that takes employee complaints seriously. A few of their tactics include:

  • Employing an ethics officer who, among other things, maintains a blog educating employees on how to deal with ethical issues
  • Providing employees with multiple avenues for reporting problems, including options that are more attractive to the younger employees

Kelly also points out that the biggest problem smaller companies have is that “they don’t have somebody sufficiently independent to investigate these complaints.” If it’s not possible to hire an independent company to handle employee grievances, he recommends choosing a person with a legal and human resources background who also has the greatest degree of separation from the rest of the staff.

Get the word out and follow through

A well-written grievance procedure does little good if no one knows about it. Make sure new hires are thoroughly briefed on the policy during the onboarding process. Many companies include outlines and descriptions of the complaint process in their employee handbooks, for example. After that, update employees anytime changes are made to the procedure, and send out reminders about the process as needed.

It’s better to expose and resolve problems rather than let them fester and affect productivity and morale. Encourage employees to use the process in an open, honest way and make assurances that there won’t be negative ramifications for coming forward. Lastly, ensure that managers are actually following through and abiding by the procedure—a policy does little good if no one adheres to it and employees can’t trust it.

For example, Google made headlines when more than 20,000 employees walked out of various company offices to protest the tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment complaints and other workplace grievances. Employees feared and alleged retaliation and discrimination. The company now boasts a thorough, transparent grievance process that includes options to report to HR, an anonymous helpline, or management. Failing to abide by an effective grievance policy can turn a manageable problem into a huge issue, not to mention a PR nightmare.

Improve your grievance policy and improve recruiting

Many workers—especially millennials—want to work for companies they believe behave ethically. And companies are searching for candidates who fit in with their culture. A good recruiter helps match these interests. Recruit quality candidates and improve your hiring results today with Monster Hiring Solutions.


Legal Disclaimer: None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.