Responding To Employee Concerns

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

One of the most time consuming aspects of managing employees is the responsibility of correctly responding to employee concerns or complaints.  In my years as a human resources professional, I have witnessed otherwise highly competent managers respond incorrectly to employee issues. The consequences of mishandling employee issues can be disastrous to a manager’s reputation and potentially create unnecessary liability for the company.

Concern or Complaint?

Employee concerns are issues that arise during the normal course of business. An example of a concern could be “Why does Sally get the best projects” (or the best cubicle, or the preferred schedule or any other work condition).

Complaints involve potential violations of federal, state, or local laws. An example of a potential complaint could be “I feel I am being discriminated against based on my religion” (or race, age, sex, or any other protected class). Employee concerns can also become complaints.

In the workplace, concerns and complaints usually are not as straightforward as the examples above. A manager must be trained to observe, listen, and ask the right questions when an employee makes a statement or asks a question regarding their work environment or conditions.

If a manager receives a complaint (a potential violation of federal, state, or local law), The Strategic Solution recommends managers contact the Human Resources Department immediately. Since there is a plethora of complex laws that should be considered when an employee voices a complaint, the rest of this blog offers best practices in responding to employee concerns.

When an employee voices a concern to the manager, action by the manager is required. Always.  The key is correctly determining the appropriate response.

Responding to an Employee Concern

When an employee voices a concern (or puts it in writing), the manager does not have to “solve” or “answer” the concern on the spot. How should the manager respond? Although there are numerous variables to consider when responding to an employee concern, The Strategic Solution recommends following:

  • Thank the employee for bringing the concern to your attention
  • Ask questions, such as, “can you give me an example?”
  • Ask the employee what he or she would like as a resolution
  • Make notes of the words the employee uses
  • Remember not to become defensive or appear dismissive (“that is not true!”; “Are you kidding me?” “Really?” etc.)
  • Watch your body language (rolling eyes, abrupt change in posture, etc.)
  • Tell the employee you would like to set up a meeting in a couple of days to discuss the concern thoroughly and reach a resolution
  • Call your Human Resources Department for guidance
  • Set the meeting
  • Resolve the concern at the employee meeting, if possible
  • If the concern cannot be resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, refer the employee to the Human Resources Department

Common Incorrect Responses to an Employee Concern

Many times managers hope employee concerns will just go away without having to address them.  Here are a few common responses that typically do not work out well for the manager and sometimes the company.

  1. “I thought the complaint was nonsense…” (nonsense could be replaced with “dumb”, “petty”, “not that serious”, etc.)
  2. “I meant to follow up, but I am busy…” (or traveling, at a conference, in meetings, etc.)
  3. “I planned to contact Human Resources, but it seemed like the problem was solved…”
  4. No response

A Good Rule of Thumb

When an employee voices a concern or a complaint use the resources available to you. This may mean utilizing your Employee Handbook for guidance or calling the Human Resources Department.

The Strategic Solution can help you

Our human resources professional, Mary Hjorth, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, can assist your company with setting company policies and procedures.  If you are interested in speaking with Mary, she can be reached at or at 512-656-5952.