The Value of an Open Door Policy and an Employee Complaint Process

The Value of an Open Door Policy and an Employee Complaint Process

Most employers have experienced the stressful process of having to respond to employee complaints. Whether it is an allegation of discrimination or other unfair treatment, it takes a great deal of time and effort to respond to employee complaints, but it is a necessary exercise.  If the employer fails to respond to a complaint, it paints a negative perception of the itself that portrays an attitude of not caring about employees’ well-being or not taking their concerns seriously.

Employers who take a proactive stance when addressing employee complaints typically fare much better than those who fail to do so.  There are three (3) ways in which an employer can be proactive regarding employee complaints:

  • Have an open door policy – Sometimes employees just need to vent, so taking the time to simply hear them out; offering some recommendations on how to address their concerns; and, letting them know that their concerns are taken seriously; can often make a difference in the next step that the employee takes.
  • Establish an Employee Complaint Process – I recommend that an employer establish a tiered complaint response/review process that encourages open, respectful communications between all parties.  This type of process will determine which organizational level addresses a complaint, based on the severity.  It should also establish a timeline for closing out complaints.  For example:
    1. If an employee’s complaint about not getting along with their manager or a co-worker (personality clashes) should be addressed through their respective chain of command.
    2. If their initial complaint is about the employee’s co-worker, they should take their concerns to their immediate manager or supervisor.  If their initial complaint is about their manager or supervisor, they should be encouraged to try and have a conversation with that person to let them know how their actions make them feel.  If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, they should take their complaint to the next level of their chain of command…their department director.  If these efforts are unsuccessful, it may be time for the department director to inform the organization’s Human Resources Department so that they can implement some conflict resolution strategies including mediation, conciliation, and/or facilitation to try and resolve the issue(s) at hand.
    3. If the employee’s complaint involves any element of bullying, discrimination, harassment, Hostile Work Environment (HWE); retaliation, and/or workplace violence, it should immediately be referred to the organization’s Human Resources Department for proper handling which is imperative.
  • Educate, Inform, and Train – A little communication can make an amazing positive difference.
    1. Employers should educate management on the proper manner to respond to employee complaints.  New managers should attend a required management orientation program.  This training should include descriptions of the different categories of employee complaints  and offer guidance on the proper way to respond to each.  Guidance should also be provided on the appropriate administration of the organization’s progressive corrective action process if/when inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed.
    2. Provide annual updates as well.  These updates could be based on changes to the Laws, statutes, ordinances, etc. which govern how the organization addresses human resources issues.  Updates could also be the result of the need to simply change the process for increased effectiveness and efficiency.
    3. Inform all employees of the existence of the organization’s policies and procedures; let them know where to find them all; and, have them sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
  • Adhere to the process – One of the worst things that an employer can do is to fail to follow its own process. If an employee raises a concern, he or she should feel confident that they can go to someone in their organizational chain of command, or Human Resources, to discuss their concerns, and that their concerns will be addressed.  They may not always get the outcome that they are seeking, but they know that they will be treated in a fair, objective manner.
  • Hold management and Human Resources accountable – In order to maintain credibility and gain employees’ trust, both management and human resources should function with integrity.  That means
    1. Maintain confidentiality – only discuss the matter with those who have a need to know about it;
    2. Do not treat the employee who brings the concern differently in any way than other staff are treated;
    3. Do not develop a preconceived determination based on past incidents, or before having all of the facts;
    4. Keep the Complainant (employee with complaint) reasonably updated regarding the status of their complaint;
    5. Conduct a close-out meeting with both the Complainant and Respondent (the person who the complaint is about); and,
    6. Adhere to your organization’s timeline for bringing the issue to resolution. If true mitigating circumstances arise, inform the Complainant so they know that their issue has not just been casually placed on the back-burner. Even if your organization does not currently have established complaint resolution time lines, acting quickly, with all necessary facts; but not impulsively, is important.

Remember, as an employer, you want your employees to feel confident in utilizing their organization’s internal complaint process.  As much as possible, employers want to avoid having regulatory agencies coming into their organization and conducting on-site investigations.  Taking these steps will definitely be an effort in the right direction.

Author: FirstWeb

Who Is Cynthia B. Okonkwo? I am a wife and a mom who is a people person by heart. I live in metro-Atlanta and work as a Human Resources professional and have over twenty-four years experience in the field. My experience includes Compensation, Training, Recruiting, Employee Relations, Benefits, and Selection Procedure Development; however, Employee Relations is my passion because I enjoy interacting with others and helping them to solve problems. I became interested in Human Resources while on a work-study assignment during my sophomore year in undergraduate school. I chose management as my major because I was not quite certain what I wanted to do after college and I knew that an off-shoot of Business Administration was a safe, general choice that could help me get into a number of career fields. My work-study assignment was as an assistant to the campus Director of Career Services. There, I learned to make cold calls to area businesses to seek out employment opportunities for students and alumni. I also learned how to format vacancy announcements and resumes. Since writing had always been one of my strengths, I enjoyed my assignment so much that I requested to be reassigned to that department for most of the remainder of my undergraduate career. My Director also provided resources on job interview preparation and she allowed me to type resumes for students who did not have one and charge $1 per page to make a few extra bucks. I got a full-time job immediately after graduation, but it wasn’t in Human Resources; however, I had a Vice President who took me under his wings and allowed me to review employment applications for job openings at the Distribution Center where I worked, so this helped to strengthen my resume. It took me about two and a half years to secure my first full-time job in the field of human resources where I became a trained test developer for the State’s Government Merit System. From there my career has continued to grow. My blog was born out of my desire to write a book that provides practical job search tips and advice, from a spiritual, holistic perspective. After having drafted about three chapters, I got busy with grad school and obtained my MBA; got married and started a family. In 2013, I became SPHR (Sr. Professional in Human Resources) certified. I started seeing other people’s blogs, became interested and thought that blogging might be a great alternative, or spring board to completing my book, so here we are today. My sincere hope is that what I write will help someone. Enjoy!

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