As your company grows, many things that were previously done informally require formal processes and procedures. Your internal complaint process is no different. If you have employees, even just a few, it is a good idea to have a process in place to address concerns that arise promptly and respectfully while at the same time protecting employees’ privacy.
Why Should You Have an Internal Complaint Process
Establishing a formal internal complaint process may seem like overkill if your small business has not had to deal with employee complaints before. However, you may be legally required to have a procedure in place for employees to report serious workplace harassment and discrimination claims.
But developing a healthy internal complaint process and making it easy for your employees to use can be helpful for far more than satisfying legal requirements. It also provides employees certainty that their voices will be heard, and their interpersonal concerns will be addressed. Adopting an internal complaint process can also foster a healthy approach to disagreements in the office, which in turn will move your employees toward stronger collaboration and improved productivity.
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What Does a Good Internal Complaint Process Look Like?
A good internal complaint process should make it easy for employees to address concerns, while also protecting each worker involved in the investigation. Your internal complaint process should be:
Employees should know who to go to if they have a problem, and how to file a complaint. The process should be equally accessible to everyone, even if that means you need to provide translations of the policy or hire interpreters for the facilitation.
Employees need to know that they are protected when they use the internal complaint process. It should have systems in place to prevent bias and make certain decisionmakers are impartial to the process. This may mean hiring an outside consultant to serve as facilitator to avoid the appearance of favoritism. There should be explicit protections put in place to prevent retaliation against people lodging complaints or assisting in the investigation process.
Small companies often struggle preventing gossip from getting out of control. Your internal complaint process should ensure confidentiality for both the person reporting the concern and anyone involved in the investigation (including the person accused of misconduct) until a decision is reached. Even then, you should be careful how much information you provide to your employees and the public at large, to avoid hurting your employees by exposing sensitive information.
While the content of an internal complaint investigation may need to be confidential, the process itself should be transparent. Your written internal complaint process manual clearly lay out the steps of the investigation. People involved in it, including the employee filing the complaint, should be kept informed when the matter moves through the stages, as well as when the investigation is complete. You may not always be able to disclose the outcome, but your employees should know that the issue has been dealt with.
It is common for employees to feel like their concerns are swept under the rug or put on the back burner. This can foster resentment in the workplace. Your internal complaint process should have timelines and deadlines built in, to ensure that workers’ concerns are addressed without unnecessary delay.
The Consequences to Ignoring Employees’ Complaints
If nothing else, as a business owner or manager, you can’t afford to ignore employee complaints because legally you are required to take reasonable steps to stop harassment and discrimination when they occur. If you don’t you could face an investigation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR).
However, the consequences of ignoring employee complaints go far deeper, and can directly affect workplace culture. If senior decisionmakers are known to look the other way when employees are treated poorly, or their needs are not being met, it can erode employee confidence and lead to organizational dysfunction.
When workers don’t trust their supervisors to look out for them, they may avoid raising complaints, spread dissatisfaction to their coworkers, and ultimately leave the company altogether. If your company gets a reputation for having a toxic workplace, you may find it harder to recruit and retain top talent within your industry.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping companies create internal conflict policies and resolve workplace disputes. Through executive coaching and facilitated conflict resolution, David helps small and medium-sized businesses reduce conflict in their workplaces and relieve interpersonal issues among their employees. Contact us to meet with David to move toward conflict resolution today.