by Giovanni Gallo, Co-CEO of ComplianceLine
In the business world, employee complaints are almost inevitable. While every business owner and HR manager wishes they could prevent issues like harassment or theft, that simply isn’t possible. The only thing professionals CAN control is the way they respond to these incidents — and that response can make or break your business’s reputation with the public AND potential new hires.
Here’s what you need to know about handling employee complaints.
Types of Complaints
Here’s a fact about any business: your employees have a lot to complain about. If you’re lucky your business will avoid significant complaints (like harassment or other illegal activity), but most HR teams should expect to hear many of the following complaints:
Harassment can take many forms. Harassment can include physical actions like violent altercations or sexual advances, or they can be verbal like threats or lewd comments. Any behavior that makes an employee feel unsafe is considered harassment, and this behavior is NEVER acceptable.
Did a manager just promote his or her friend (or current love interest) for a position they aren’t qualified for? Did that promotion mean snubbing a more senior employee with the right skills and experience? If so, you’d better believe that the snubbed employee (or employees) will be in HR complaining about the manager’s blatant preferential treatment.
Conflicts of Interest.
Let’s say that one of your employees just started a “side hustle” freelancing for one of your competitors. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest (and possibly a violation of their contract’s non-compete clause), and the move doesn’t sit right with the rest of their officemates. You might have some people in your office ready to report their colleague’s double-dealings.
Dealing with expenses — or, more accurately, expense REIMBURSEMENT — can be a sore spot for many employees. If your business sends a team to a conference or other business-related event, you can expect expense-related complaints to start crossing your desk in the weeks after.
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever before, which means there are tons of unique voices and perspectives to utilize in your business. However, too often certain voices (primarily minority voices) are overlooked or excluded from major projects or decisions. If your employees feel like they’re not being included at the office, they will be sure to let you know!
If an employee catches a co-worker stealing from the office — whether it’s a major theft like company funds or even something minor like office supplies — they’ll likely feel compelled to let HR know about the incident.
Of course, there are other reasons an employee might complain to HR (they don’t like the office temperature, their boss micromanages them, etc.). But whatever the complaint, it is important that you respond swiftly and appropriately — and the best way to do that is to set up the proper procedure ahead of time.
How to Handle Complaints: Use A Third-Party Compliance Hotline
One of the best ways to handle employee complaints is to set up a third-party compliance hotline. This is an anonymous “tip line” where employees can report misconduct or unfair behavior they’ve witnessed.
An ideal hotline will be accessible anytime (so employees can call when they feel most comfortable), staffed by compliance professionals (remember to research your third-party vendors), and there to help you navigate the process of dealing with these employee tips.
Dealing with Hotline Reports
So, you’ve received an employee complaint via the hotline. What should you do now? Follow these simple steps to manage this incident with grace and aplomb.
First things first: you need to listen to your employee! Keep an open mind and hear their complaint without judgment, as this will help you keep a level head throughout the follow-up process.
If an employee comes to you with a complaint, they are looking for something to change — but they’re also looking for someone to support them. Make sure you let the employee know that you understand their situation and that you are happy they spoke up.
Ask Lots of Questions.
Before you can deal with the incident, you need to know the FULL story. Ask as many questions as you can: when did the incident occur? How many times has it happened? Who else witnessed it? The more information you have, the easier it will be to get to the bottom of the misconduct.
Different complaints require different actions. An issue of inclusivity might require some new diversity training, while harassment will likely result in one employee being fired. Work with your HR team (and your third-party vendor) to find the right solution for handling this complaint, and make sure you take action promptly.
Training Your Team to Report
While third-party hotlines can be influential in helping you handle employee complaints, they don’t do any good if your team doesn’t use them. Therefore, you need to make sure compliance and reporting are at the center of your corporate culture!
Make sure your team knows the value of reporting non-compliance. Post signage with the hotline number around the office. And perhaps, most importantly, tell your employees about the reporting hotline during their initial training!
If you make reporting a normal part of the workplace, your employees will feel empowered to speak up — and everyone will have a happier, more productive working environment.
Giovanni Gallo is the Co-CEO of ComplianceLine, where his team strives to make the world a better workplace with compliance hotline services, sanction, and license monitoring, and workforce eLearning software and services. Growing up as the son of a Cuban refugee in an entrepreneurial family taught Gio how servanthood and deep care for employees can make a thriving business a platform for positive change in the world.