Dear Workforce How to Deal with Employee Complaints About Managers

By Staff Report

Oct. 14, 2004

Dear Losing Control:

Complaining about one’s manager is virtually a national pastime. The fact that the employees have made you aware of the problem indicates a healthy degree of confidence in you, and provides you with an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the value of human resources.

Start with one-on-one discussions with a representative handful of employees, coupled with a review of the unit’s most recent employee survey results, if you have them (if you don’t routinely conduct surveys, now would be a good time to start).

Whatever you do, thank people sincerely for bringing the matter to your attention. It’s far better than regrettable turnover, notice of a lawsuit/representation election petition or continued grumbling. If it turns out that the complaints are frivolous or due to readily explainable causes, nip the matter in the bud right then, while still leaving people a responsible “out.” If the complaints pertain to legal, ethical or moral issues, you may wish to get additional help.

If the complaints are being registered by a single work group and don’t seem particularly serious, you might be able to make good progress by having an earnest discussion with the work-group leaders, who ultimately will have to solve it anyway. Alternatively, it’s usually possible to convince one or two employees to take the matter to their manager. Either way, it’s important for the manager to be aware of the problem and know that you will serve as a resource, and that you will follow up.

If the complaints are more serious or systemic, it may be necessary to meet with the management team in the affected area (together with other appropriate corporate resources) to explore what you’ve learned and how best to deal with it. Our suggestion is that you do it soon (the matter probably isn’t going to resolve itself) and approach it in a businesslike manner, with your facts well organized.

The ability to maintain open, honest communication in a work group is a vital skill for anyone in a leadership position, and should be a condition of employment for all managers. If these managers aren’t skilled in this area, they should be provided with training and support, and held accountable for developing the skill. If after the company has done all it can to support this effort, a manager remains unable or unwilling to conduct discussions about important matters–however difficult–that management position should be staffed with a professional who can.

SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cows Give Better Milk,, November 18, 2003.

LEARN MORE:12 Questions to Measure Employee Engagement.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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