The do’s and don’ts of a staff grievance system

Thursday 16th May 2019

Every manager will want their business to work smoothly, with staff getting on well with them and each other. Efficient HR systems and policies should help with this and also to make sure the basics of office life run smoothly.

However, the reality is that things do not always work out like that. Staff fall out with each other and managers, have gripes about various aspects of their work, and occasionally have a genuine issue that needs resolving – such as bullying or unfair treatment.

The need for a functional grievance system
For this reason, every company should have a grievance system – but there are plenty of do’s and don’ts involved.

A key part of the system should be the structure. Each staff member should be aware of exactly who they should speak to first about the problem and what potential remedies exist.

Normally, this will be their line manager, but there does need to be scope to escalate the issue higher, either because the manager themselves are the source of the issue, or because the staff member is not satisfied with how their manager has dealt it. Don’t leave this procedure unclear or restrict who someone can speak to, as this could result in problems remaining unresolved and prompt unhappy workers to vote with their feet.

Knowing the rules
Awareness of the rules is another key issue. Every staff member should be given a copy of a handbook or another document governing acceptable and unacceptable conduct relating to everything from dress codes and timekeeping to issues of harassment and discrimination.

However, it is important to be clear about what does and does not constitute a breach of the rules. It is important, for instance, not to encourage people to make frivolous claims of serious misconduct against someone they have merely had a simple disagreement with.

How the system should be used
One important element of making sure the system works properly is to make it clear the grievance system is for genuine and major problems to be aired, not for people to simply complain about the general frustrations of office life.

For this reason, it is important that induction does not just mean people are given written information, but that they also receive training in what the process is for. This can tie in with other HR problems, including how to prevent and report issues of genuine misconduct, bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Alternatives for dealing with smaller complaints
Of course, every so often staff will have their regular appraisals, and this should give them a free chance to air any concerns they have, no matter how small, without recrimination.

That situation offers an opportunity to discuss these smaller issues and potentially explore solutions, ensuring they can be prevented from escalating into something unnecessarily large. That way, the formal grievance procedure can be kept for its proper purpose.

Finally, it is essential the procedure for dealing with grievances is clear and transparent. This means both the complainant and anyone against whom a complaint is being made are given a fair hearing, and that any decisions made are communicated clearly, along with the reasons behind them.

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