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February 2, 2009

Strategies to Manage Employee Complaints

Filed under: Communication1:05 pm

The best way to clear the air of complaints is to focus on problems before they fester. These strategies make that easier:

1. Watch your tongue.
The way you react to a complaint immediately sets a tone. Managers often discourage employees from telling them what’s wrong by subtle threats or outright punishment. In that case, “the complaints go underground, surfacing as water cooler conversation and e-mails that reek of Dilbert-esque cynicism,” says Larry Johnson, co-author of “Absolute Honesty.” Don’t trivialize the grievance, even if it’s a noisy protest about the lack of a cappuccino machine in the lunchroom. You don’t have to remedy every complaint, but you should be courteous. “Employees want to be heard, so open by saying, ‘I appreciate, I respect, I understand why you might feel that way,’” says Jay Arthur, author of “Motivate Everyone.”

2. Recognize the individual.

Don’t let complaints slide on slick reassurances or one-size-fits-all platitudes. Respond to the specific employee and his particular beef. “I’ve found that in a large majority of cases, employee complaints can be traced to their temperament,” says Brad Cooper, a motivational coach based in Littleton, Colo. “So when addressing employee issues, it’s critical to tune in to those individual needs, not some generic response.”

3. Direct traffic.
Set up a formal process for submitting grievances that’s communicated to everyone. To avoid legal pitfalls, clearly define the process and ensure that it’s private and moves toward an outcome or resolution. “Supervisors should set a time in which to respond,” says management consultant John Reddish at Advent Management International in Chadds Ford, Pa.

4. Be consistent.
“No employee likes secrets or surprises,” says Tim Dimoff, whose SACS Consulting firm in the Cleveland area counsels companies on such issues as employee drug abuse and workplace violence. The way around accusations of favoritism, pleas of ignorance or similar unrest is by citing the policies of a formal employee handbook or manual. Most small-business owners can’t be bothered to write one. But it’s in their best interest. “Owners can’t remember what they can only cause damage. Start working on that manual.

Source: Joanna L. Krotz, Co-author of the “Microsoft Small Business Kit”

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