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Voicing employee grievances

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Question: Our company has been through four major acquisitions in the past 8 years, most recently a year ago.  All employees have lost faith in the executive team due to corporate flavor of policies and standards being changed constantly with each new acquisition.

Most recently, an employee who is well liked by all tendered her resignation after 28 years of service because she disagreed with her supervisor's review of her. (She thought she should have received "Above Standard" ratings on each item but didn't.)  This started a rumor that the executive team (of which HR is a part) fired her, which was not the truth. She gave the executive team an ultimatum and they did not meet it because the review was a good and fair review.

There was a silent protest with all employees not of the management team wearing a circle with "28" inside on their shoulders. The employees are very vocal in their displeasure,  stating that they will never believe what the executive team says ever again, and there has been quite a lot of gossip and innuendo, with most of the executive team being ostracized.

How do you approach this?  The employees whom HR has spoken to state that there is nothing that HR can do to make this better.  Do we review standards for comportment in the workplace again?  Get in front of them, send out a questionnaire so they can voice their grievances?  (They will not use the suggestion box.)  How would YOU handle this situation?  -- Anonymous


Dear Anonymous, your workplace appears to be in total upheaval! You do not say where you fit into your organization. It would be good to know if you are in a position of influence or authority. Do people value and enjoy their work there? If so, it is worth a considerable effort to work toward resolution. Gossip and collusion will only feed the problems and must be avoided at all costs. HR needs to step up to the plate and work with management to begin a healing process. Mutual respect and trust must be restored or the company will fail. I suggest you bring in outside consultants who are skilled in working through such problems as soon as you possibly can do so. Those consultants will need to work with all levels of the organization. This considerable effort needs to be visible to all and all need to participate. Those who do not want to do their part and give their energy to restoring the health of your organization should move on.

Honestly, I would feel troubled by their response, but I suggest looking past your feelings and stop this staff behavior. It is extremely disrespectful and imature to behave this way when you do not even know the exact truth. I would have a staff meeting where a higher up was present and they should be honest and go over what really happened. Then I would explain to all staff that if their behavior continues it will not refelect positively and they can expect an employee written warning.

Regardless of how long a person has worked there it is between that person and management. Once she has left, the rest should continue to go about their business. Everyone does have a choice in life. You either learn to be truthful in what you do and if you feel the employee who left was "fired" or resigned without due cause, then you have a choice to voice your opinion. In the end it is up to the management to decide all our fate. Some will work with you and others won't. Trying to prove a point by making a stand for issues that doesn't involve anybody else truly is childish and immature. We over indulge our selves in the freedom we have assume that everybody has to think the way we do - and they don't. Management makes the decision - that's their job; we do the work - that's our job - we do get paid for it.

Here are a couple of suggestions (and I have been both an employee and President of a company):

(1) Your HR department should consult their corporate attorney who will probably confirm that no one in management can discuss what has/has not happened to/with this particular employee. This could potentially allow the employee to file a lawsuit on a number of grounds.

(2) Have the head of each department call a meeting, and ask their staff point blank what will fix the situation. Make these employees say exactly what they want without whining or complaining. Don't worry about what they say - just let them say it - and make no promises. Present it as an "info gathering" meeting. At the end of the meeting, have the manager make this statement: "If you're unhappy, don't you owe it to yourself to do something that makes you happy?" This is a general statement that will probably cause some mouths to drop open, yet it's general enough that it does not imply anything (like suggesting people leave). It simply states the obvious: someone deserves to be happy. (I saw a manager do this and the results were amazing. The 2 problem employees found other jobs, and the 8 remaining employees completely changed their attitude!)

(3) Management needs to let the staff know who's in charge - and be prepared and unafraid to make replacements where necessary. People can either (a) accept things as they are, (b) stay and be subject to disciplinary actions; or (c) choose to leave. If someone really wants to keep their job, they'll back down. For those employees who continue to cause problems, treat them as you would any "problem employee." (Last time I looked, wasn't insubordination - e.g., bad-mouthing a superior- a fireable offense?) They'll either change their tone or leave.

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you have questions or would like other suggestions.

I agree with most of the comments above. (1) it's none of the employees' business why the "well-liked" employee left the company, and management can not speak directly about it because of liability issues. (2) what are these policies and procedures which have changed with each new acquitisiton? Are the employees resistant to change, or have these new policies had a negative effect in the workplace? (3) there should be a meeting or meetings for management and staff to discuss what went wrong and how it can be improved. Meeting(s) should be held in a neutral location with outside facilitator (there are many non-profit organizations which provide these services for little or no fee)(4) the employees and executive team should collaborate on methods to improve the situation; if they can't work together then the employees have to make their own personal choices about remaining in what they perceive to be a hostile workplace. (5) the employees owe it to themselves and each other to be totally professional at work; out-loud bad-mouthing is counterproductive, as they will find out at performance review time. (6) don't present your boss with an ultimatum unless you are prepared to leave the company.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Manish January 19, 2010 at 7:06 am

Just a week back a reputed company deputed their person who has got 6 years expertise from India to US and he was terminated on the reason that his laptop is having some objectionable images… Is not there are any discussion or meeting or space for the person to explain it…


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