15 Tips on Handling Employee Complaints

Updated on August 14, 2017
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David has over 10 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Sometimes this is what supervisors want to do when they receive an employee complaint.
Sometimes this is what supervisors want to do when they receive an employee complaint. | Source

Complaints From Employees

If you are in a position of authority, you will receive complaints from the employees that work under you. The complaints will range from something very minor in nature, to something very serious. It's up to a supervisor to figure out if the complaint is legitimate and how to respond to it.

It's not that easy though. Mishandling a complaint can have future and dire consequences. As a supervisor, there are steps you must take to protect yourself, the employee making the complaint, and those affected by the complaint if it's about another person.

This article will cover what you need to do as a supervisor when you receive a complaint from an employee.

Types of Employee Complaints

Office Tempurature
Office Cleanliness
Work Hours
Job Duties
Policy Changes
Issues With Co-Workers
Lack of Vacation/Sick Leave
These are just some of the issues employees could complain about.
It's very important that a supervisor listens when they receive a complaint from an employee.
It's very important that a supervisor listens when they receive a complaint from an employee. | Source

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

When asking questions about an employee complaint, ensure you cover each of the following to get as many details as possible:

  • Who - Who is this incident about? Who was involved? Who knows about it? Who witnessed it?
  • What - What happened? What were you doing at the time of the incident? What caused the incident? What proof can you provide this incident happened?
  • When - When did the incident take place? When else could this have happened?
  • Where - Where did this incident take place? Where else could this have happened? Where exactly were you at the time of the incident?
  • Why - Why did it happen? Why did you come forward with this complaint? Why did you think the incident happened?
  • How - How are you feeling after this incident? How has this incident affected others? How can I help you?

Receiving Employee Complaints

Receiving an employee complaint is the start of the process, and can be the most critical one as the complaint will dictate how you will react. Do the following when receiving an employee complaint:

  1. Listen to the complaint fully. Even if you know it's a frivolous complaint, listen to the complaint completely. This will allow the employee to feel like their voice is heard. In some cases they don't want any action at all, they just want their voice heard.
  2. Ask lots of questions. During the conversation, ask a lot of questions about the incident. Always remember: "Who, what, when, where, why, and how." You can also rephrase some information given to you and ask if it's correct, to ensure you understand it fully. Questions are a great way to ensure the information is accurate and you don't receive any inconsistent details.
  3. Ask for something in writing. This is a very critical piece of the complaint process. After your conversation, request that the person submit something in an e-mail, memo, etc. outlining the facts of the complaint. If something arises due to the complaint, you have the written documentation as proof as to what was said.
  4. Advise the person to keep the complaint to themselves. Employees love nothing more than to gossip, but when it comes to a complaint, they must keep it to themselves. In turn, as a supervisor, you need to keep the complaint to yourself and on a strictly need to know basis.
  5. Advise the person making the complaint you will look into it. Don't make any further comments, like what you plan to do in regards to their complaint. Just thank the employee for the information and state you will look into the matter.

How NOT to Handle Employee Complaints

It's very important to look into all of the details regarding an employee complaint to ensure nothing is missed.
It's very important to look into all of the details regarding an employee complaint to ensure nothing is missed. | Source

Don't Waste Time in Handling Employee Complaints

Time is of the essence when handling employee complaints. The longer you take to address the complaint, the easier it will be for people to forget details, for another mishap to happening resulting in another complaint, etc. I have seen things go from bad to worse because supervisors did not address complaints right away.

Investigating Employee Complaints

Once you receive a complaint, you have to investigate it accordingly. Depending on the complaint, there could be various ways to investigate it, but it should generally be the same each time.

  1. If there were witnesses to the incident, then talk to all of them. Ask questions along the lines of "who, what, when, where, why, and how". Share as little details with them as possible. This ensures they provide the information in their own words and you won't be accused of leading them.
  2. Obtain all relevant documentation. If there are documents, files, computer information, etc. related to the complaint, gather that information to hold in your care. Any evidence to the incident will help you as you address the complaint.
  3. Look through all of the evidence. While there could be overwhelming evidence that the incident is true, there could be one piece of evidence that turns everything around. Don't just take the person's word for it, look into everything.
  4. Talk to the person who made the original complaint again. Once you receive more information and have reviewed the details, ask follow-up questions to the person making complaint just in case they forgot any details or to receive clarification if there are any discrepancies.
  5. Talk to your supervisor. Most times you will need the advice of your supervisor on how to handle a complaint. Present the evidence and your conclusion, and decide what action you wish to take in regards to the complaint. Alternatively, you could look into your organization's policy to see how complaints are handled. In some cases you may go to your human resources department.

Many people are never happier than when they get the opportunity to complain, while others are deeply unhappy with how things are but just accept the fact. Complaint occurs when we refuse to accept that things are wrong and we do something about it, even if that something is simply articulating our unease.

— Julian Baggini
It's very important to communicate with the employee that made the complaint so they know their complaint was heard and resolved.
It's very important to communicate with the employee that made the complaint so they know their complaint was heard and resolved. | Source

Biggest Complaint From an Employee?

What is the biggest complaint you have received from an employee?

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Responding to Employee Complaints

There are various steps that must be taken when you are finally get to the point of addressing an employee complaint, such as:

  1. Take the appropriate action regarding the complaint. If someone needs to be written up, then write them up. If a policy change needs to be implemented, then implement it. The action should be done as quickly as possible so there won't be any future complaints about that issue.
  2. Advise the person making the complaint that the issue was resolved. If the complaint was against another person, then don't go into any details, just state it was resolved. If it was a procedural issue, or other issue not involving someone directly, you can advise how it was resolved.
  3. If the complaint was unfounded, then advise the person making the complaint of that. This will allow the employee to know what to do in the future if similar situations arise. Don't make them feel bad about the complaint, try to turn it into a learning experience.
  4. Move on. Once the complaint has been handled and the issue addressed, move on. Don't dwell on the issue, that could just make things worse in the long run. However...
  5. Keep the complaint in the back of your mind. You'll want to be able to refer to the complaint just in case another situation happens in the future. If you see a pattern of the same complaint or the same person making another complaint, you may see another issue that needs to be addressed.

So what do you do to address employee complaints? Let me know in the comments below.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 David Livermore


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      • davidlivermore profile image

        David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

        Happy to hear it!

      • theBAT profile image

        theBAT 4 years ago

        Thanks for this hub. I agree that once the complaint has been properly addressed, it is time to move on. Learn from the experience and keep a record of the complaint for future reference. I learned a lot reading your hub.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        David.....You have presented an excellent step-by-step instructional hub that very nicely covers nearly all points for dealing with complaints from employees.

        Although this may qualify as a Supervisor's least favorite duty, as you have stated, it is vital that it is taken care of swiftly, fairly and according to Company Policy.

        The responses to your question are quite telling. The highest percentages show that most complaints involve interaction/relationships with "fellow-employees." Isn't this a common problem in practically every work environment everywhere?

        Throughout my career, I had to deal with very little of this sort of complaint. However, due the nature of the job, I had a great deal of employee frustration, burn-out and requests for ADVICE. Employees who worked directly under me, came to me in a steady stream to complain about "clients," in terms how to handle them, their issues and their behavior! LOL

        No need to mention the fact that the client, being the bread & butter.....continual training, seminars, In-services and resolutions were of primary concern. (not to mention granting time-off for employee R&R) :)

        Your hub gives a wonderful format to base resolutions of any sort, resulting in an acceptable and beneficial solution.

        This is a must read. Thank you.....UP++ tweeted & pinned.

      • ShravanKAcharya profile image

        ShravanKAcharya 4 years ago

        Splendid piece of note! Just loved your writing. Keep going. Cheers :)

      • jainismus profile image

        Mahaveer Sanglikar 4 years ago from Pune, India

        Well explained and useful hub, thank you for sharing the insights...

      • Hackslap profile image

        Harry 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        During my time in full-time work and even managing people I've discovered the biggest gripes from employees are usually over 'favouritism', pays and internal harrasment/bullying .. this is a very informative article as it sums up all your options as an HR person or manager when dealing with a situation like htis ..

        You might want to read my hub about 'dealing with difficult workmates'. .and let me know how it is

      • CraftytotheCore profile image

        CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

        This hits on so many points. Well-written and great information!

      • abhijeet4800 profile image

        Abhijeet Ganguly 4 years ago from Pune, India

        Great Article !!!!

        Handling and investigating employee complaints form an integral part of HR role. I being an HR understand the nitty- gritty behind the complaint feedback mechanism.

        Keep up the good work and check out some of my hubs if you feel !!!