Dealing with workplace grievances can quickly become an expensive expenditure, particularly when employers fail to resolve them satisfactorily – in the UK alone, the annual time cost of managing formal grievance procedures is approximately $430 million.

Whilst this figure may be concerning, the existence of workplace grievances isn’t necessarily a sign of inadequacy. Through them, employers have the opportunity to learn about serious potential concerns in the organisation, build greater rapport with their employees and gain greater insight into the issues impacting the business’s operations. In this manner, any time, money or resources expended in relation to a workplace grievance serves as an investment towards the betterment of the organisation as a whole and the development of a strong employer-employee bond.

In order to find the balance between workplace grievances serving as a growth opportunity or instead costing them significantly (and not only financially), all employers should understand how grievances arise, their impact and how to navigate them towards the best possible outcome.

Workplace grievance vs complaint

The formality with which they are handled distinguishes complaints and grievances from one another. A complaint, usually referred to as an informal grievance, is when an employee expresses a problem but chooses not to pursue the issue further through a formal enquiry method. A complaint can be any claim or allegation made in the workplace, regardless of who made it, how serious it is, and whether it was made orally or in writing. A grievance on the other hand, is a formal complaint lodged by an employee towards their employer. The company is not required to look into or respond to employee complaints (unless they are sufficiently concerning) whilst formal grievances cannot be ignored and must be addressed accordingly.

As an employer, when employees bring forward a complaint regarding a work-related issue, it is important to advise the employee of all the options available to them and the steps they can take if they wish to pursue the matter. It’s also important to ensure they understand the potential limitations an organisation faces in its ability to assist with a complaint unless the employee wants to take formal action.

Types of Workplace Grievances

Grievances can be categorised under three main headings each of which is described below. Note that despite the many different types of grievances that can arise, they are all typically handled in the same way; through the initiation of the formal grievance procedure

  • Interpersonal factors- This kind of complaint relates to interpersonal dynamics at work and any problems that are people related.
  • Management related- Employees may also file grievances in relation to management or corporate policies that they find objectionable.
  • Working conditions- Complaints in this category deal with the routine procedures and conditions at work that affect employees. A safe and healthy workplace is something that employers are obligated to provide to their staff.

Examples of each of these types of grievances include:

Interpersonal factorsManagement relatedWorking conditions
– Harassment, bullying or discrimination
– Lack of role clarity
– Unrealistic expectations about the role or company
– Autocratic leadership style
– Conflicts with colleagues
– Stunted career growth development
– Salary packages
– Employment benefits
– Overtime payment
– Inadequate support for the role
– Amount of responsibilities
– Unmet safety standards
– Excessive pressure on employees
– Poor physical conditions
– Lack of correct tools or machinery
– Unclean or unhygienic equipment

Leading Causes of Workplace Grievances

As seen above, there are countless reasons why an employee might choose to file a workplace grievance. However, there are a few that are more common than others and make up the bulk of the grievances an organisation deals with on a regular basis. Knowing what these are and understanding how to prevent them can help employees ensure that their workplace caters to the needs of employees and deals with fewer complaints.

1. Discrimination and harassment

Despite the major increase in funds and resources dedicated by companies to anti-discrimination and harassment programs in recent years, the issue remains one of the biggest causes of workplace grievances. If the problem is not satisfactorily resolved, there is a risk that this cause of complaint will result in lawsuits. As a result, it’s crucial that all grievances relating to potential discrimination and or harassment are addressed properly through a thorough workplace investigation to ensure that the matter is resolved adequately. 

2. Working environment

Undesirable or unsatisfactory conditions of work commonly result in workplace grievances when employee complaints or feedback relating to the issue are not taken seriously. The physical space in which employees work can have a major impact on their well-being and ability to get tasks done making it important for them to be adequately equipped. If an employee mentions issues relating to space, heat, light, defective tools and equipment or poor quality of materials, the employer has a responsibility to make sure they look into it and make any necessary changes. Failing to do so can not only cause workplace grievances but also lead to legal consequences, lowered productivity and morale as well as a strained relationship with employees.

Workplace grievance

3. Employee compensation and benefits

Another cause of workplace grievances is when workers believe they are earning an unfair wage or are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled according to their position. As a result, they may ask for changes to their salary package, particularly if they feel they are paid less in comparison to co-workers who have similar roles and experience. If the company refuses to or is unable to meet the requests made, a workplace grievance can arise due to the worker feeling unfairly treated or targeted. Additionally, if they feel they are due for a promotion or should be entitled to certain opportunities, they are more likely to feel aggrieved and pursue formal action.

To prevent these types of grievances from adversely affecting the business, employers should make sure that all salary and benefit-related information is specified in the employment contract in a clear and understandable manner. Furthermore, if an employee approaches you with regard to their salary or benefits, rather than simply accepting or rejecting any requests, it’s helpful to let them in on your reasoning, consider a compromise and provide advice on what they need to do to gain the changes they want.

4. Organisational changes

Grievances may arise from any modification to the organization’s policies and practices. For example, the introduction of new requirements for employees to meet or changes to the manner in which an existing process is undertaken can create a divide amongst employees between those who accept the changes and those who don’t. As an employer, any workplace decision you make should be done so with the company’s best interests in mind and that may mean disrupting the current way your employees work.

Whilst you cannot prevent complaints when this happens, it’s helpful to make sure that employees are given due notice and an explanation behind the changes and their purpose. Doing so signifies an employer’s respect for the employees and also provides an opportunity for any confusion and misunderstandings to be clarified.

To conclude, dealing with workplace grievances is an unavoidable and perhaps even necessary aspect of an employer’s duties. Polonious’s management tools can help you navigate the grievances that arise in your workplace and help guide them towards the best possible outcome for all involved parties. Having the right support to manage workplace grievances will help your organisation continue growing and evolving in the long term.