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Informal grievances - dealing with workplace problems before they escalate

View profile for Ewan Carr
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Naturally, nobody is happy when a grievance is submitted - the employer would rather not have unhappy employees and the employees would rather not be in a position where they feel aggrieved. And, after all, it generally follows that a harmonious workforce is likely to be more productive than if the employees are unhappy and falling out with each other and management.

Sometimes, the nature of the grievance is such that informal resolution cannot be found. However, in many cases, an informal resolution is far more desirable for all parties, as it can prevent problems from escalating to become more serious issues for employers and employees alike.

So, what can be done to resolve an issue informally? Firstly, employers should have a clear grievance policy in place which makes clear that, if possible, an attempt should be made to resolve the grievance informally before it escalates to a formal grievance. Usually, this would be expressed so that employees are encouraged to go to their line manager with any concerns in the first instance or, if the grievance concerns the line manager, a more senior manager if possible.

It is important that employees’ wishes should be respected – some may insist that the matter be dealt with formally and therefore an informal resolution may not be possible or appropriate. That said, and regardless of whether the employee wants to deal with the matter informally, the nature and content of the grievance must be considered before deciding how best to try and resolve it. This is because some matters, such as discrimination claims and grievances which raise legal issues, should always be thoroughly investigated.

When an employee raises an issue, this should be dealt with in a considered, conciliatory and prompt manner.  In order to achieve this, employers should ensure that managers are trained in how to recognise and deal with such situations. Ignoring the concern or dealing with it in an aggressive or uncaring tone is only likely to antagonise the situation and lead to bigger problems further down the line.  

As well as having a clear grievance procedure, employers should make sure that effective anti-bullying, anti-harassment and equal opportunities policies are in place too. Many grievances stem from issues that would likely be covered under such policies, so having them in place before any issues occur will only help employers to achieve as favourable an outcome as possible for all parties concerned. It is also important to ensure that all staff are aware of these and the standards expected in the workplace.

If you are an employer facing issues such as the above, or any employment-law related matter, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of Buckles’ employment team.

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