One common thing in today’s corporate landscape, from which even the biggest cheerleaders of positive work culture and market giants are not immune, is the wave of employee grievances.
In recent years several high-profile grievance scandals have grabbed the world’s eyeballs.They ranged from market giants to budding startups. Here are some of the notable examples:
- The Google Walkout (2018) where Googlers across the globe protested the unfair pay gap.
- In 2022, Uber employees started exposing workplace discrimination and a toxic culture on social media.
- Since 2018, several instances have been recorded where Amazon employees rallied against the company alleging unsafe work conditions and unfair wage practices.
No organization is immune to employee grievances. And if left unaddressed, they could bring down even the most powerful and well-established businesses. Before we delve into how grievances should be resolved, first let’s understand their scope and context.
What is a grievance?
Humans are emotional beings. Defining grievances could be subjective and open to different interpretations. For example, the University of Kansas defines it as any formal or informal complaint raised by employees in relation to their work conditions, unfair treatment, or any sort of violation of the code of conduct of the workplace.
Cost of ignoring employee grievances could be colossal
In 2021, 61,331 workplace discrimination charges in the USA alone resulted in a whopping cost of around $34 million in damages from state and local courts will make it more enormous.
Now, add the loss of goodwill, employee experience and its impact on organizational values and culture. The true cost is much bigger than $34 million.
If you imagine your organization to be a pile of dry leaves, unattended grievances are like those seemingly harmless fire sparks which can burn the entire stack in seconds.
Understanding the Impact of Grievances
If you want to build an effective grievance management system, it’s essential to understand the true cost, from a psychological and practical perspective. Let’s explore:
Revenue Impact of Unattended Grievances
- Productivity Plunge
Often, when individuals deal with unresolved issues, they tend to divert their attention, focus and time away from their responsibilities. This results in decreased productivity levels that impact on a business’s operational capabilities.
Employees unsatisfied at the workplace opt for frequent leave, disrupting the scheduled workflows. Regular absenteeism also mentally disengages employees from the workplace, resulting in habitual negligence.
- Top-level Attrition
The top talent might seek opportunities elsewhere if they feel their concerns are unheard, resulting in higher turnover rates and talent drain from the organization. High turnover rates, especially among the top performers, directly influence the delivery capabilities of an organization and impact customer experience.
- Reputation Questions
Grievances result in the negative reputation of the firm in the marketplace. This erodes the brand image, drives away good talent and results in loss of trust from customers.
- Hefty Legal Battles
Organizations often overlook the hidden costs of lengthy legal procedures and financial statements when they ignore issues considering them trivial. However, the prices of legal battles have steadily risen along with stringent penalties or loss of licenses.
Psychological Impact of Unattended Grievances
- Contagious Suffering
Dealing with daily grievances at the workplace can lead to increased stress and anxiety levels. Employees often experience uncertainty, fear of potential outcomes, and harmful procrastination. All these impacts not just the affected employees’ mental health but also become contagious and spread among other workers.
- Collaboration Chaos
Employees go through multiple feelings of anger, resentment, and frustration towards the aggrieved party, who may be the superiors, colleagues, or the top management. Unresolved grievances often lead to employees perceiving every minor inconvenience as partial injustice. These overflowing emotions negatively affect relationships and team dynamics, impacting collaboration. It creates a rift between the employee and the team, affecting communications and damaging the internal value of the employers.
- Wavering Self-Confidence
Some grievances like discrimination or harassment severely impact an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. When employees go through this phase of self-doubt, their sense of self-worth erodes, resulting in decreased performance and stunted career progression.
- Emotional Exhaustion
Constantly witnessing grievances as an affected employee or an HR can mentally exhaust an individual or a team. Employees often spend their time and energy on unproductive thoughts draining them of positive thoughts that hinder their creativity and innovation.
Keeping these points in mind, promptly dealing with grievances as and when they arise is the only way forward for any firm’s long-term success and overall sustainability.
When do Grievances Arise in the Workplace?
So yes, grievances are costly, and not addressing them in the first instance is quite expensive, then what is the solution? Uprooting the grievance from its roots, the only way to do so is by understanding the root causes of grievances.
A few of the common sources of Grievances are:
- Unfair Treatment
Employees may raise concerns when they are mistreated in terms of race, gender, caste, or discriminated against in any way. Favoritism, biased decision-making process, and unequal opportunities are the main contributing factors that give rise to grievances
- Breakdown of Communication Systems
Improper communication channels, ineffective leadership and lack of transparency lead to grievances. And such situations are further aggravated by unclear expectations, inconsistent feedback, and poor management, as they create a sense of mistrust and dissatisfaction.
- Harassment and Bullying
Verbal, physical, or psychological harassment or mistreatment of employees creates a culture of hostility which leads to negativity and impacts the employee’s well-being. This is one of the most common sources of severe grievance concerns.
- Compensation Woes
When employees feel underpaid or their benefits packages are below the industry standards, they lose the motivation to deliver the best results. Unfair wage rates, inadequate benefits schemes and lack of recognition are a few factors that further fuel these issues.
- Workload Imbalances
At times the relationship between employees and their superiors is strained due to excessive workloads, unrealistic assumptions, and a lack of support from the managers, leading to the employees feeling stressed, overwhelmed and depressed.
- Policy Violations or Lack of Policy Definition
Lack of transparency and a culture of accountability, where employees can get away with violation of company’s code of ethics and conduct. This is the fertile ground for many grievances to nurture as one section of employees relish the freedom while the others constantly question their moral dilemma. Another source that could result in grievances is a lack of properly defined code of conduct and internal policies.
All legal systems around the world take a very strict view over employee grievances. The Indian Legal System has put in place several safeguards and laws to protect employees from unaddressed grievances. Let’s explore the major types of grievances and the legal woes they might attract if left unattended:
- Discrimination Distress
In a country like India which is home to diverse ethnicities and cultures, it is common for subconscious and unconscious biases to stem from various places, so this is one of the most common types of discrimination.
Problems primarily arise when employees are unfairly treated due to their cultural background, moral beliefs, etc. For example, there have been instances of biased hiring, promotions, and work allocation across many organizations.
One of the most noteworthy instances was the case of Air India Limited vs Capt. MP Gupta which arose due to female pilots being shunned for better promotions. The Supreme Court upheld the grievance claims by setting the predicament of strictly handling gender bias in the workplace.
Legal Bindings: The Indian Government passed the following acts to ensure that employee’s rights are upheld:
- The Equal Remuneration Act 1976 ensures equal pay for work irrespective of gender bias.
- The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Act 1989 protects employees from caste discrimination.
- The Dark side of Harassment and Bullying
This type of grievance is one of the most serious kinds and should be handled with care. They can take many forms, like verbal, physical, or psychological mistreatment of employees at the workplace. However, they are primarily aimed at humiliating and offending the victim.
Employees are free to take legal action against the offender if they experience any unwelcome behavior or derogatory comments during working hours whether within the premises or beyond.
One example that highlights this dark side of employee grievance was when Tarun Tejpal, a prominent journalist, was alleged of sexual harassment by one of his female colleagues. Post this incident, many such incidents were brought to light showing the harsh reality behind the doors and the Government has taken strict actions against such allegations.
Similarly, according to India Today, it was reported that 55% Indian employees were bullied at work.
Legal Bindings: As this is a grave offense, the government has introduced some strict laws to curb such instances:
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates every organization to establish an Internal Complaints Committee to address this grievance.
- Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedures also cover various forms of bullying in the workplace.
- Pay Paradox
The worries of unfair pay packages, non-availability or limited benefits packages and non-compliance with requirements like PF and ESI belong to this type of grievance.
Employers often overlook these conditions leading to employees being mentally distressed. It is common practice among blue-collar workers to disrupt work to fight against these practices.
The case of Fena (P) Ltd. Vs Suman Dhamija shows a real-life example where the employees filed a lawsuit in the High Court for non-payment of wages, and the employer lost the case, bearing huge consequences. This is just one such instance that showcases the ill products of not addressing employee grievances.
Legal Bindings: Rapid industrialization has forced the Government of India to take some serious legal actions to prevent pay grievances:
- The Payment of Wages Act 1936 and the Minimum Wages Act 1948 ensure timely payment of pre-revised minimum wage rates.
- The Employee’s Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1952 strictly regulates the availability of social security benefits to every employee.
- Workload and Work Condition Woes
Nearly 40% of India’s industrial and service sectors are still in the later stages of development, so they need a defined work schedule and workplace safety norms.
While employees often feel overburdened with the workload in the private sector, they are exposed to harmful safety hazards in the industrial sector. These worries are further triggered by the long working hours, lack of additional resources, and safety risks.
One example is from Tirupur, a small region in Tamil Nadu, garment factory workers raised their concerns about the excessive workload and poor working conditions. This matter slowly gained attention when the labor union demanded improved working conditions and a safer work environment, and the court passed the judgment in their favor after a long struggle. So, addressing grievances on workload and working conditions gained prominence.
Legal Bindings: The Indian Government passed the following acts to safeguard employees from these grievances:
- The Factories Act 1948 and the Shops and Establishment Acts lay strict regulations on work hours, overtime, leaves and safety provisions.
- The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code 2020 provides a comprehensive guide to safe working conditions by combining various labor laws.
- Consequences of Speaking Up
In 2003, Satyendra Dubey, an engineer, exposed the underlying corrupt practices in a project of the National Highways Authority of India. His brave act faced a tragic consequence, and he was killed to stop further disclosures.
Retaliation grievances are one of the primary concerns. Employees face such things when they voice their opinions on misconduct or report their superiors’ wrongdoings. The retaliatory behavior of the management creates a toxic workplace for the employees to fight for their survival in the firm. Every organization needs to build a culture of transparency and accountability to prevent such incidents.
Now that we have explored the sources and types of grievances encountered in the workplace, let’s dive deeper into exploring how to tackle them.
How to Handle Grievances?
It’s a common practice to develop a grievance management framework, and then define clear steps to analyze and resolve each.
However, is this enough?
Let’s consider this scenario.
Raj, the Head HR at VP Acme Corp., is thrilled as he and his team developed a comprehensive grievance management framework that has defined steps to answer every employee’s concerns.
Shia joined the team as a new HR manager, and his first task was to oversee the grievance management framework, but within a few days, he was flooded with many employee concerns. As a result, the company’s reputation started to get affected, and with employee experience at stake, Shia had a crisis at his hands.
Alarmed by the downturn in the situation, Raj approached him. Understanding the drawback, they started on a quest to untangle the complex web of grievances by finding a way to prioritize them for effective resolution.
- Picking up the Pieces: The Grievance Inventory
As the grievances began to pile up, Shia established a single platform to capture every employee’s concerns along with their date and time detail. Finally, the growing list was visible to everyone across the HR team. This was in addition to the existing pile of grievances already raised.
- Unveiling the voices behind: Gaining Employee Feedback
Acme Corp. promotes an open and transparent culture, and Shia strongly advocates this. So, he began to conduct open discussion sessions with the employees to understand the emotional weightage and significance of the concerns raised.
- Weighing the Burden: Evaluating the Impact
Shia now began to understand the grievances raised and started building a pipeline where he gave his first preference to the concerns involving multiple stake holders. However, he also considered its impact on the well-being of the organization and on team dynamics.
- Facing the Legal Waves: Identifying the Compliances
Shia has a deep understanding of the legal obligations and the firm’s code of ethics and conduct so he identifies the grievances with potential legal or policy violations. And addresses these first, as they pose more significant risks.
- Balancing the Individual and the Team: Bracing for Impact
Shia then distinguishes between the concerns impacting a single individual and the ones that start a ripple effect for the others in the organization. He also tests the impact on team morale, productivity and organizational culture.
- Involving the Bigger Voices: Collaborating with Managers
Shia then collaborates with the team leaders, departmental heads and other important stakeholders to understand their views and insights on the prioritization model. This helps in aligning the understanding of the firm around the challenges at hand.
- Walk the Talk: Communication and Feedback
After designing the model, Shia shares it with everyone in the firm. With this empathetic and transparent communication approach, all the aggrieved employees trust that their voices are heard. But as the landscape evolves, Shia always remains adaptable and constantly reassesses the model to introduce new changes to refine it further.
Raj was pleased with the model designed by Shia as it brought them one step closer to resolving conflicts and concerns while reinforcing the employees’ trust in the organization. Then he got his model to tackle employee challenges into action.
Scientific Model to Tackle Workplace Grievance
Now continuing their journey, Raj implements the GRIP Model to handle grievances.
What is the GRIP Model?
The GRIP model is a structured framework that combines the art and science of understanding conflicts with a robust resolution framework. So, let’s see the journey of Shia and Raj as they embark on this new adventure together.
- Gathering Information
Now that the GRIP model was in place, Shia begins the hunt by actively engaging with employees and gathering information on their concerns, along with reviewing the critical documents associated with the faced grievance. By encouraging open communication with the aggrieved parties, he understands the human aspect, like the emotions and experiences related to the issue.
- Review and Analyze
Armed with all the relevant data and a complete understanding of the grievance, Shia begins critically examining each of the facts and identifying any common theme or pattern underlying the concern, finding the source and the type of the grievance at hand. This will help address the root causes and avoid similar situations.
- Investigate and Intervene
After finding the root cause of the problem, Shia begins thorough fact-finding with an honest approach to support his claims. Conducting interviews with the parties involved and assessing all the evidence objectively, he then concludes all the parties associated with the issue and the root cause of the problem.
- Plan of Action
Shia then communicates the conclusions of his investigation with the concerned parties and brainstorms solutions for both parties. After considering the circumstances, legal compliance and company policies, the concerned parties can accept or further mediate the offer. Finally, after both parties are satisfied, Shia collaborates with team leaders and top management to implement the solution and align it with the organizational values and goals.
Thus, a scientific model like GRIP empowers HRs like Raj and Shia to effectively navigate employee grievances, leading to a healthier work environment, enhanced employee experience, and a powerful brand.
Is it a fairytale ending?
Organizations that already have a perfectly functioning Grievance Management Model might feel their work is done and move on to focus on some other activities. But HR professionals must remember that introducing a model to handle employee conflicts is only a job half done and there are persisting issues.
Grievance Management Framework
A framework helps introduce a layer of clarity and consistency to the model, guiding the process by outlining all the essential elements and steps involved.
Let’s follow Shia and Raj’s journey to understand this better.
Were they able to eliminate the challenges of grievances?
Let’s find out.
Shia and Raj are delighted with their efforts to implement the new model and think that they have solved the challenge.
But Shia encounters a new challenge on the way.
An anonymous complaint of favoritism at the workplace is brought to his notice. He starts investigating this with his new model and finds that this complaint highlighted the concerns of demoralization and inequality in the workplace.
While the firm already had a model in place, he now faces certain difficulties and recognizes the need to bring a new framework alongside the model to make the process more streamlined.
Why do we need a Grievance Management Framework?
A Grievance Management Framework helps to:
Ensure adherence to consistency and standardization in the process of handling grievances.
Facilitate an unbiased evaluation of the complaints based on the pre-established guidelines.
Frame a comprehensive approach for investigation procedures and reporting channels.
Empower employees’ voices and provide assurance to address their complaints fairly.
What is a framework?
A Grievance Management Framework can be defined as a systematic and structured approach adopted by organizations to make their grievance-handling procedure efficient. It helps identify, address and resolve workplace concerns with ease and in a timely manner.
The critical elements of the model:
Moving forward with the adventure of Shia, when he approached the complaint of favoritism with the Grievance Management Framework, he proceeded in the following way,
Policy Development: Establishing the Resolution Stage
Shia works closely with his team to develop a comprehensive grievance management policy outlining the reporting process, investigating procedures, mediation options, and escalating steps. Then he communicates the policy across the organization to maintain transparency and fairness.
Reporting Grievance: Creating a Safe and Confidential Channel
Shia then moves forward with the policy and introduces an anonymous online portal for employees to report complaints. He communicated the availability of the channel regularly and encouraged employees to come forward with their issues to make the work culture more transparent and supportive. An anonymous reporting channel rids employees of the fear of retaliation while raising their concerns.
In response to the ‘favoritism’ concern raised, Shia conducts thorough research with the framework and model in place. The model leads him to multiple touchpoints within the team. He is able to identify several instances that could be termed as favoritism. The investigation validates the concern with testimonials and concrete evidence.
Mediation and Resolution: Fostering Dialogue and Understanding
Armed with documents and evidence, Shia arranges a mediating session between the parties involved, i.e., the employee and the team leader. However, the employee is not sure if they can face the team lead and talk about their concerns. As an alternative, Shia takes all the details from them and connects with the team lead.
During the process, the team leader explains his side of the story, stating that what was perceived as favoritism was actually not intentional. He also acknowledges the undesired impact of his actions and voices the need for a fair and inclusive workplace. Through this session. Shia records all the necessary actions to prevent any such concern from escalating.
Thus, the structured framework helped Shia ensure that grievances are addressed promptly, fairly, and confidentially. It also allows for positive conflict resolution and sets a norm for continuous improvement in the process.
Throughout this process, Shia’s team member who is his junior Sam was copiously taking notes and understanding the process. Within weeks, Sam was able to single-handedly take up grievance redressals, all by herself, thanks to the framework.
How to assess the effectiveness of the Grievance Management Model?
An HR professional might feel their work is limited to designing a Grievance Priority System and a Grievance Management Model. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the main challenges are ahead.
The main challenge ahead is understanding where your organization’s Grievance Management Framework stands in the Fleming’s Maturity Model.
Fleming’s Grievance Maturity Model states the following five stages:
A company where employees live under the shadows of the management and are too afraid to voice their concerns. The administration needs to be more knowledgeable about all their issues and takes strict action against the ones who raise their concerns.
This describes the first stage, where formal grievance-handling process is absent. Unfortunately, the management does not prioritize this, and the issues are rarely resolved. As a result, employees are plagued by the feeling of injustice and reduced morale.
Absence of Standardized Procedures
Unavailability of formal documentation
Doesn’t treat the root cause of the issue
Inconsistent and erratic resolution of grievances
Companies in this stage have a formal grievance system but need a systematic implementation process. They need a standard communication channel to raise their concerns, and the HRs must be adequately trained to handle grievances effectively.
In this stage, there is a structured resolution process to address grievances in a stipulated time frame, but some residual inconsistencies lie in the system.
Systematic and well-communicated policies
Structure Resolution Process
Concerns are addressed in defined timeframes
Inconsistency may exist
The organizations in this stage view their existing grievance model to refine their policies and strategies. Employees are encouraged to speak openly about their problems, and the management uses the information to understand the root cause. As a result, they promote a culture of open communication and transparency, and the employees feel supported and develop a sense of trust in the employers.
Promotes a culture of transparency and open communication
Specialized training in conflict resolutions
The voice and opinions of employees are heard
Addresses the root causes of problems and take preventive measures
In this stage, the organizations have a defined grievance management system and seek continuous employee feedback and incorporate suggestions to make the system more efficient.
Trained HR professionals who quickly identify and resolve grievances and stress on a positive culture where employees feel valued. Therefore, employees are satisfied and there is a visible reduction in employee attrition.
- Continuous Employee Feedback Mechanism
- Constantly reviewing the system
- Highly skilled HR professionals
- Stress on positive work culture
Understanding the model helps HR professionals assess their organization’s grievance management model, make necessary changes to transition into the strategic stage, and create a workplace where employees are happy to work every day.
Now that there is a clear understanding of the scientific model to resolve grievances and a framework to enhance the process, let’s explore other strategies to make the system more efficient.
Enhancing the Grievance Management Framework
Employee Grievances are part and parcel of routine organizational lives. Whether it is an individual concern or involves the entire group of employees, whether it’s among colleagues or against the supervisors and top management, they need to be handled carefully. Effective grievance resolution is crucial to a harmonious work environment.
While every HR department always has a grievance management system, it’s important to continuously refine and enhance it to make it relevant to the changing business demographics.
Here are a few strategies to elevate the framework:
Conduct a Comprehensive Review
Assess the effectiveness of the current framework’s policies, procedures, and communication channels. Additionally, gain insights from employees and other HR professionals to identify potential limitations or challenges in the system.
Develop Clear and Updated Policies
Constantly review and update the policies to align with the current legal requirements and company code. Communicate the reporting process, investigating procedures and confidentiality measures with employees to maintain transparency.
Foster a Positive Work Environment
A positive work environment is created when employees can freely express their concerns without fear of retaliation. Open communication, mutual trust and respect, and training programs on diversity and inclusion assist in the nurturing process.
Strengthen Communication Channels
Establishing multiple channels for reporting like anonymous online portals, dedicated email addresses, or confidential helplines and ensuring that they are easily accessible, secured, and well-publicized. Staying connected with the employees throughout the resolution process and encouraging them to suggest new changes. Keka HRMS platform provides the solution to this with its Helpdesk feature, where it’s easy to raise tickets and get them resolved promptly.
Continuous Improvement and Evaluation
Regularly evaluate the system’s effectiveness by analyzing the grievance trends, resolution times, and employee satisfaction levels. Promptly identify the recurring issues and take corrective measures to address them. Use employee feedback systems to make necessary changes.
Implement a centralized digital platform for reporting and tracking complaints and documentation. Use data analytics to leverage this further by easy retrieval of information, securely storing sensitive data, identifying common patterns, and assisting in making data-driven decisions.
Providing Training and Support
Implement training sessions to periodically train the HR professionals on the latest conflict resolution practices. Equip the newly recruited HR professionals with the necessary skills to address grievances empathetically and impartially and offer them constant guidance to sail through the process effortlessly.
Promote Accountability and Follow-through
Establish a transparent escalation process if the complaints remain unresolved in the stipulated timeframe. Communicate the consequences of the issue to all the employees to build transparency and trust in the employees’ minds for the system.
Continuous evaluation and improvement ensure the framework remains aligned with the evolving needs of the firm and the workforce while promoting a culture of fairness, respect, and employee satisfaction.
HRs are Grievance Resolution Champions
HR leaders play the role of Grievance Resolution Champions by implementing a robust grievance handling system that helps organizations gain employees’ trust, build a culture of accountability, and maintain a positive brand image.
All these steps further help them in attracting and retaining a talented workforce and enhance business productivity.
A comprehensive HRMS tool is the superpower for every Grievance Resolution Superheroe i.e., HRs. An HRMS tool acts as an efficient system to raise tickets for issues and streamline the mundane HR activities, so they can devote their time and energy to refine their Grievance Management Systems further. Keka HR provides an all-in-one platform to report, track, and resolve grievances promptly, in addition to streamlining all the mundane activities.
Signup to witness the future of Grievance Management System with Keka demo!