5 Fallouts of Poor Employee Grievance Handling
In November last year, at least 20,000 employees of tech giant Google staged a walkout against workplace harassment. Six months later, in April, the company again protested the issue in the IT major’s offices globally. Two employees who reportedly organised the walk-out accused Google of retaliating against them for doing so.
Following these allegations, Google announced (in April this year) a series of steps the company would take to improve transparency and accountability. The improvements, most of which followed the walkout, weren’t just about adding new programmes and procedures, but about creating a “workplace filled with dignity and respect.”
This is just one noteworthy case. But there are many such cases that are coming up more often. This shows the growing incidences of workplace grievances and how there is a pressing need for them to be handled more effectively. It also signals to an employer’s willingness to listen to and resolve issues.
The truth about employee grievances:
Most common conflicts which occur between employees and organisations are regarding employment conditions. Most often it’s about the company not meeting employee expectations or not addressing complaints when they are raised. In fact, several companies don’t even have a formal system to report employee grievances.
The grievance may be genuine or sometimes even perceived by employees. Whatever be the reason, it surely does result in low morale, frustration, discontentment and a sense of injustice among employees.
In most cases, poor grievance redressal reflects more on the company because of how managers deal with it. That’s where the ball drops. I’d like to stress here, that no matter how good a policy or channel to report the grievance; finally it rests on the person who is making the decision.
Therefore the onus lies largely on the managers and their outlook and attitude towards work and their employees. This makes it important more than ever to formulate a good set of rules which managers can follow on how to handle employee complaints. This will encourage managers to keep their personal biases at bay and make an objective decision.
Poor grievance handling will cost a company in more than one way. Let’s look at five fallouts of a poor grievance redressal mechanism:
1. Poor productivity:
In a professional set up, every employee is accountable for their performance and each employer is responsible for smooth functioning of the company. One of the most obvious fallouts of a badly handled employee complaint is poor productivity.
Often, resentment arises out of simple misunderstandings – like not duly acknowledging an employee’s contribution to work, or calling out a mistake in front of a client rather than dealing with it privately or not giving an employee what he or she has been promised when being hired – like a promised promotion, an ensured salary or perk.
Sometimes, it can be as simple as a seating arrangement, or not accommodating any delays in the in-time, despite having a serious or genuine reason for being late. Irrespective of the nature of the grievance it causes discontentment and eventually affects productivity.
If an employee is disgruntled, an employer must take extra effort to bridge the gap for them and ensure their complaints are heard.
2. Absenteeism and attrition:
In most cases, people choose to become apathetic about their jobs after a huge fallout or a big argument where they feel they are not being heard. Sometimes, it could be because of harassment (sexual or otherwise). These are serious red flags and need immediate damage control.
If an employee does not come into more often than his or her assigned leave, the company and work are bound to suffer. This has a cascading effect on the work morale, team performance and also customer service. Customers may become dissatisfied if goods are not produced on schedule or service levels drop due to an inadequate number of staff members.
Absenteeism can be, but not necessarily because of employee dissatisfaction. However, if dissatisfaction is the cause, then the company has to look inward.
Not to mention the effects of absenteeism itself on the company. If the employer replaces the absent employee with a temporary worker or independent contractor, they may have to pay higher rates, while still having to pay the employee for sick leave or vacation pay. Regular workers may have to work more hours to make up the slack caused by the absent employees. This may, in turn, result in other employees leaving for better opportunities and work conditions.
To make things clear it helps to include absenteeism and attrition rules as part of the employee handbook.
3. Workplace negativity:
No one wants their workplace to be negative, and yet, it can creep in at any time. Often workplace negativity stems from one person or one incident. The employee may just be disgruntled and usually about minor things and causes the entire work environment to go bad. The person does not want to leave the company either. So this needs some thought.
Sometimes, the fault can lie with the employees’ attitude itself – for example, if a worker cannot take feedback well and this, in turn, became the reason for negativity. Sometimes, the management and executive team aren’t able to communicate things effectively to the employees. This could make the employees feel disfranchised and negative.
Workplace negativity reduces the productivity of the organisation and also impacts job satisfaction in a big way. Whatever the cause, the negativity, unfortunately, spreads like wildfire but takes a long time to reverse.
Managing workplace negativity begins by actively diagnosing it. It is essential that you curb the negativity at every opportunity you get. Here are 5 tips on how you can do that.
4. Public shaming:
The #MeToo movement is a great example of how public shaming can be used to bring the faulty party to books. Since the #MeToo scandal broke, a growing number of workplace harassment victims have decided to go public. Since this used to be rare, it marks an important shift. Employees have gone public with harassment accusations against top figures in journalism, state politics, the restaurant industry and even the labour movement.
In several cases, while investigating a harassment case, employers make decisions after an internal investigation, and many a time tend to keep high-ranking harassers on the payroll. The increased willingness of victims to go public with their accusations, however, may change the way companies feel about protecting a harasser. Employees often retaliate by organising themselves and protest against unhealthy work practices. Sometimes, they even take to social media.
Last year an employee of Mahindra and Mahindra tweeted publicly about how an HR professional had treated him badly. To this Anand Mahindra, himself tweeted a public apology and promised to look into the matter. Situations like these are completely and easily avoidable by simply communicating well to the employee. Ultimately, public shaming can be a costly affair for companies and directly impacts the employer brand.
5. Financial cost to the company:
Last but not the least; poor grievance redressal can lead to serious financial losses for the company and distressing allied businesses as well. The time, the energy that goes into reversing the effects of all of the above is far more than addressing grievances. It could even lead to the loss of client in extreme circumstances.
In the event of absenteeism and attrition of disgruntled employees, the company will constantly have to invest in new hires. This will definitely inch up the costs gradually, for want of a skilled employee and also involve training costs etc. while this rise in cost may not be apparent but a company will have to keep a close watch so it doesn’t creep up.
In other cases, if an employee feels grossly violated they can very well take a company or its managers to court for poor conduct, and poor grievance handling. This can be long-drawn and will definitely pinch the employer’s pockets, and also drain the resources not to mention poor publicity and eventually affect the reputation.
We cannot stress more on formulating a good grievance redressal policy for employees, and also communicating it to them effectively. A grievance handling system will be an outlet for employee frustrations, discontents. Employees do not have to keep their frustrations bottled up until eventually discontent causes explosion. Whatever the size of your company, it is pretty obvious why following rules are important – all the more, to have it written down. Here are the top 4 points to cover to draft a well-rounded company policy.
The existence of an effective grievance procedure reduces the need for arbitrary action by supervisors because they know that the employees are able to protect such behaviour and make protests to be heard by higher management. The very fact that employees have a right to be heard and are actually heard helps to improve morale.
Finally, what the employee most wants is to be heard and to know that something may be done about my grievance. So closing the loop is as important as having a mechanism to address grievances. At the same time, an organisation is always looking for optimal ways to engage with employees. The power lies with the manager to make things work in their favour.
We at Yellow Spark work closely with companies to develop effective grievance handling processes and train managers to better manage the people side of the business. To know more, please write to us firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.