March 3, 2022

Listening to employees’ concerns and acting on issues that matter to them is an important responsibility of managers. Training managers how to properly respond to complaints – including what to do if an employee raises a complaint about them – can mean the difference between a positive employee-employer relationship and a problem that could potentially violate the law or organizational policy.

What is a complaint?

A complaint is when an employee indicates to management they have a concern or problem. Complaints can be expressed several ways – verbally, in writing or through a hotline – and can pertain to bullying and harassment, discrimination, work environment, workload, workplace relationships and more. Once a complaint is received by management, an organization is obligated by law to follow up on the complaint with an investigation.

Here are 10 do’s and don’ts to help managers respond more effectively to employee complaints:

DO: Listen carefully and ask questions

Let the employee speak without interrupting, listen carefully to what they are telling you and ask questions to ensure you understand the problem and the players. 

DO: Document what the employee said

Prepare a written summary of the employee’s complaint and have the employee read the summary and sign it. Capture the basic information others will require to investigate the concern, including who, what, when, why and how.

DO: Thank the employee and remain neutral

Thanking an employee who brings an issue to your attention helps them feel their concerns will be taken seriously. Be empathetic to their concern and avoid prejudging the situation as you have only heard one side of the story.

DO: Act promptly on the complaint

Managers should immediately report all complaints to HR or other individuals who conduct investigations. Addressing complaints quickly demonstrates you’re being responsive and allows investigators to learn details from witnesses before they are forgotten.

DO: Encourage confidentiality

Ask the employee with the complaint to keep the matter to themselves while an investigation is being performed. This helps curtail gossip that can influence co-workers’ opinions.

DO: Communicate a resolution

At the investigation’s conclusion, inform involved parties of the results and actions taken so they aren’t left wondering if the problem has been resolved. 

DON’T: Dismiss an employee complaint

Take all complaints seriously. Avoid drawing conclusions as a seemingly minor complaint can signal a bigger conflict. Let the results of an investigation decide how to respond to the employee’s allegations. 

DON’T: Make excuses or promises about the outcome

Refrain from offering quick explanations, justifications or solutions. Instead, promise to respond to the employee’s complaint but resist making promises about specific outcomes. Give your employee a date when you will follow up and keep to that schedule. 

DON’T: Violate worker privacy

Handle complaints discreetly between the employee and HR to avoid rumors, misunderstandings and miscommunication. It makes matters worse if the complaining employee feels like confidentiality has been breached, or if people prejudge an accused individual.

DON’T: Retaliate for any reason

Never punish an employee for raising a complaint or permit other employees to retaliate against co-workers who raised concerns. Retaliation of any kind is illegal. Organizations want and need employees to come forward with concerns.

Traliant Insight

Employee complaints open managers’ eyes to problems within an organization and also reflect those employees trust management to resolve their concerns. Training managers how to properly handle employee concerns helps an organization meet its legal obligation to investigate all complaints and strengthens the employer-employee relationship.