Thursday, June 28, 2012

Get Your Hands Untied

How often do Human Resources or managers get accused of ignoring problems, taking sides, or playing favorites?  It seems employees feel that unless a person is fired, or publicly flogged, not enough has been done to remedy a problematic situation.  Complicating matters further, Human Resources (and other authority figures in the workplace) are bound by confidentiality and often cannot reveal how they are handling an issue.

Allowing this conundrum to remain brings some employees to believe that sharing information with management does nothing to help, yet leaves them exposed.  They’ll stop telling you about their concerns even if they continue to be impacted by them.  Morale will drop, workplace relations suffer, and unplanned turnover will increase.  In some cases, an employee will feel violated and, if they happen to be of a protected class, may file a grievance or a lawsuit claiming discrimination.

What can you do?  While the law may leave you feeling your hands are tied, here are five things you can, and should, do when hearing a complaint.

  1. Hear both sides.  It sounds silly, but all too often the crux of such concerns occur when a person of authority takes action or makes a decision based on just one person’s side of a story. 
  2. Take notes.  Not copious notes, just enough to show you’re actually listening and trying to keep track of the situation.  Remember if it matters to them, they need to know it matters to you too.
  3. Help them to resolve it themselves.  Many of the complaints HR and managers hear have to do with interpersonal issues.  They aren’t issues which typically require intervention.  In such cases, encouraging the person to handle it themselves is often the right choice.  To offer support, you may want to role play, provide mentoring, or offer to be present when the concerned party approaches the source of their complaint.  
  4. Keep them informed.  Tell them what you’re going to do (generally), and why.  Perhaps it’s not appropriate to act on a first time concern, but you are taking notes and plan to keep an eye on the situation.  Or maybe the issue does require intervention.  Simply let them know that you will be taking action, but that due to confidentiality you cannot disclose any other details.  In either situation, be honest about your decision-making. 
  5. Tell them to keep you informed.  This may be the most important step as it assures the concerned party that you do want to help and are not ignoring their concerns.  Urge them to come to you if the situation continues or worsens.  Remind them that you cannot be of help if you are not aware of the problem.
By responding to complaints in this manner, you will better control morale, turnover, and issues of conflict in the workplace. 

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