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How a good Grievance Handling Policy can Stop Resignations

Research tells us that the number 1 reason people leave jobs is because they don’t feel their contribution is being valued or they don’t feel ‘heard’ and it’s often not until their resignation is on the table that a manager sits up and takes notice. A solid Grievance Handling Policy can prevent this. But what is it and how does it work?

Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner
Office worker expressing his grievances

There are lots of ways we can prevent unnecessary resignations and retain the staff we want and need but so often we think staff motivation and engagement is all about providing benefits and giving them parties and/or little bonuses to show our appreciation.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things – showing appreciation is vitally important. But we shouldn’t do these things at the expense of the thing that really makes the difference – listening and acting when things aren’t as rosy as we’d like them to be. This is the real test for any relationship.

Sadly, avoiding conflict seems to be encoded in our DNA. We would much rather ignore something and hope it goes away than step up and sort it out. All this discomfort and denial often results in important issues going unresolved and festering into something more serious.

One way to send a message to staff that you really care is to have a solid Grievance Handling Policy in place that commits organisations to listening to their employees and acting on the information in a fair and objective way.

What is a Grievance?

A grievance is a formal complaint or concern raised by an employee towards an employer or another employee in their workplace. Grievances can be about a range of issues – contract breaches, pay inconsistencies, workplace bullying, unfair allocation of work, working conditions, to name just a few.

What is a Grievance Handling Policy?

In the same way many of us have a process for managing customer complaints, a Grievance Handling Policy is a way of listening to and managing complaints and concerns our staff may have.

A grievance handling policy is an official document that clearly defines how a company’s employees can report grievances and what steps will be taken to resolve them. Grievance handling is about resolving disputes or complaints in both informal and formal ways.

It doesn’t have to be onerous or complex. In fact, the most effective ones are the simplest.

What should a Grievance Handling Policy say?

In a nutshell, the policy should simply map out:

  • What an employee’s options are should they have a grievance
  • How to make a formal complaint
  • How any complaints will be handled
  • How any investigation will be handled
  • What the possible outcomes are, and
  • What an employee can do if they are dissatisfied with the outcome

What are the options if you have a grievance?

Broadly, there are three options to consider if you have a grievance:

1. Deal with the matter informally.

This is the best place to start if you feel comfortable – a direct approach to the person causing the grievance and a gentle conversation explainign how their behaviour, decision, actions, etc. was unfair, offensive, discriminatory etc., and has made you feel humiliated, under-valued, anxious, etc.

More often than not, the person may have been totally unaware of the effect of their behaviour or decision on you. By telling them you will give them a chance to redress the situation.

2. Speak to your manager or another senior person.

If approaching the person directly is too stressful or confronting, you can confidentially speak to your Manager about it. They will be well placed to talk through your options with you or they may agree to approach the person on your behalf and have an informal chat with them.

If they feel the matter is serious enough, they may decide further action is needed. However, they will generally seek your approval before doing anything, although it sometimes may be a legal necessity to report the behaviour without your consent, if the person’s behaviour is serious enough to pose a risk to the health and safety of you or others.

If your grievance is about your manager, you may wish to speak to another senior person. Alternatively, you may decide to make a formal complaint.

3. Make a formal complaint.

This can be done by putting your complaint in writing and reporting it to your manager (or another senior person). The written complaint should contain a description of the incident(s), decision, behaviour in question, the time and date of the incident(s), the names of any witnesses, your signature and date of the complaint.

If someone makes a formal complaint, how should it be handled?

It is important that the steps for handling complaints are clearly communicated to employees. This will provide them with the comfort and safety they may need to take such a step.

These 6 simple steps are all it takes:

  • Any grievance will be taken seriously, handled impartially, and any steps taken will be in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness.

  • Grievances will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. This means it will not be discussed with others unless the complainant gives permission for the company to do so.

  • Sometimes it will be necessary to discuss the issue more widely in order to resolve the problem. In these situations, the disclosure should be no wider than strictly necessary and the complainant will be aware of the discussions.

  • Employees who raise grievances will be protected from victimisation.

  • Grievances will be dealt with promptly, taking into account all the circumstances.

  • You may have a support person with you at any stage of the process.

How do investigations into complaints work?

If a griveance can’t be resolved informally, or there are conflicting views about the behaviour or actions that led to the grievance being formally reported, the company may decide that a formal investigation is required. In these cases, the matter should be dealt with by an appropriately trained and unbiased person, often someone from outside the company.

How the investigation is to be conducted is at the complete discretion of the Company but the following is fairly standard.

During the investigation, the complainant will generally be interviewed first. After that, any witnesses, the person against whom the complaint is made, and any other relevant people will be independently interviewed. Both the complainant and the person against whom the complaint is made should be allowed to have a support person present when interviews or meetings are conducted.

The investigator will then take appropriate time to objectively consider the evidence and provide a report and some recommendations back to both the complainant and the person against whom the complaint has been made.

What are the possible outcomes of an investigation?

Generally, there are three possible outcomes

1. The complaint is substantiated and appropriate action is required to be taken.

If the investigation reveals that your complaint is valid, a number of actions may be taken, depending on the nature of the complaint. The person against whom the complaint is made may be asked to give you a written apology, he/she may be given a written warning, counselling, transfer, demotion, or may be subjected to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

2. The complaint is unsubstantiated and an explanation why that finding was made is provided.

If the investigation finds that the complaint cannot be proved due to lack of evidence, or the conduct is not sufficiently serious to justify disciplinary action, the matter doesn’t necessarily need to stop there in the hope that everyone will just get on with things as if it never happened. Just because the complaint is unsubstantiated doesn’t mean there’s not an opportunity to provide some training to the relevant staff and it may be that the company decides to more closely monitor the behaviour of staff to minimise the risk of a similar complaint again in the future.

3. The complaint is found to be vexatious or fabricated and appropriate disciplinary action should be taken against the complainant.

In rare cases, a complaint can be completely fabricated or raised vexatiously. In these cases, the company may take appropriate action in accordance with their Disciplinary and Termination Policy. This may include counselling, an official formal warning, transfer, demotion, or disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment, depending on the seriousness of the circumstances.

What if the person doesn’t accept the findings of an investigation?

Handled well, grievances rarely escalate but sometimes the level of dissatisfaction is so profound, employees may wish to take their matter further. if people aren’t happy with the way their grievance was handled, they have the right to raise their complaint with an outside agency, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman, or the relevant State Anti-Discrimination Board, or they may seek advice from a union or lawyer.

Happy staff are proactive, productive and loyal

Proactivity, productivity and loyalty are the cornerstones of a healthy, profitable business. As employers, we have a responsibility to provide an environment in which these qualities can flourish.

The foundations of any successful relationship are respect, trust and a sense of ‘safety’. In business, we can provide these by showing genuine respect for our staff, listening to their ideas and concerns equally, and implementing policies that are well communicated and fairly enacted when required.

Professional recruitment and fair pricing? Yes, it‘s possible!

At Just Right People Recruitment we‘ll give you the flexibility to choose between three different pricing models. And we guarantee each one will deliver a high-quality recruitment outcome tailored to your job, your budget and your specific needs. Now, that’s fair!

Learn more…

Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner

Bernadette Eichner, Cofounder and CEO of Just Right People, is a recruitment industry entrepreneur and thought leader in Australia, totally committed to improving the recruiter experience for clients and candidates alike. Her secret to life is to “just do the next thing that needs to be done”.

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