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Letting employees vent

Give your employees an avenue to air grievances, but make sure to set some ground rules
By Entrepreneur Staff |
Letting employees vent

When the pressure builds up, it might be a good idea to let off some steam; let it vent.

"Employees who are productive and efficient are highly motivated, and have little or no grievances," says Ernest Belamide who has over 25 years experience in organization and management development from the United States and the Philippines. In contrast are those employees who have suppressed complaints that restrain their efficiency and productivity.

It is common for business managers to get bogged down over production costs, deadlines, inventory, debt repayment, and a pile of other worries that it seems natural, even instinctive, for them to consider complaints as counterproductive. But conflicts and differences of opinion arise in any organization; they're as much a part of daily business activity as coffee breaks.

"Conflicts and disputes are manifestations of basic human diversity, which is essential to life," according to Professor Annabelle T. Abaya, president of The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Inc. (The Core Group)-a non-profit organization, which advocates mediation as a primary means of resolving disputes. "The tendency," she says, "is to react with AIDS: the Avoid, Ignore, and Deny Syndrome." This gives no results and creates ambiguity in the organization. On the overwhelming majority of lawsuits, which could have been avoided with proper intervention, she is emphatic that "we seem to have lost our ability to talk things over."

The resolution of disputes, more often than not, requires the parties to work amicably together. When a solution is reached through mutual efforts, the parties grow, learn, and move forward as a group equipped with a better understanding of one another's circumstances.

While each organization is unique and may require different approaches, The Core Group recommends a few basic steps to address employee concerns.

Formulate a policy

An established grievance policy in itself adds to employee morale by giving employees that all-important voice in the organization. Ideally, the policy should adequately spell out how employee grievances will be addressed and resolved by management.

Employee participation should be encouraged in formulating the grievance policy. And, once it's in place, it should be explained to all new employees as part of their orientation. Professor Abaya adds that management should take a further step by including a mediation clause in all employment contracts in order to ease the inclination to litigate.

Map out conflicts in the company

Managers should be aware of potential conflict situations within the company. The use of anonymous survey forms can be useful. Consultations can also be conducted. Belamide observes, however, that employees are usually less candid in the presence of authority figures. One way to go about it, he says, is to seek the aid of informal leaders from the rank and file-those who are well respected.

Belamide recommends that senior company officers have lunch with a few employees once a month to foster healthy interaction within the company. He notes that this had proved effective in one instance where this activity was called "Lunch with the President."

Determine the costs of conflict

In any grievance or conflict situation, there will be, in all likelihood, a loss of efficiency and productivity. Based on research conducted by The Core Group, conflicts in the workplace account for the following estimated costs:

  • 70 percent loss of employee productivity
  • 65 percent of performance problems
  • 78 percent of employees suffer from stress
  • 90 percent of involuntary departures
  • 50 percent of voluntary departures
  • 150 percent of employee's annual salary to replace
  • 30 percent of manager's time handling conflict
  • 42 percent of manager's time negotiating
  • 30 percent of absenteeism
  • 10 percent of theft and sabotage
  • 50 percent of health bills

Install an integrated dispute resolution system

An integrated dispute resolution system, as the name suggests, should provide a comprehensive process-within the organization-that is available to all employees. As a first step, for example, the employee may be directed to approach a specific person, say, a grievance advisor. If the advisor is unable to resolve the issue, then the next step would be to elevate the matter to the division head, and so forth until the case reaches the highest tier of the system, such as a grievance committee. The system, however, should allow for several options if a certain step is not available or feasible, as when the complaint is against the division head. The emphasis is on giving employees several ways of airing their concerns, leaving litigation as a far and last resort.

Train managers in conflict resolution

Managers occupy the front lines when it comes to employee grievances and so it is important for them to have skills in problem solving and resolution. Seminars and training sessions can help in this respect. This way, small problems won't bloat into big problems.

Seek a professional

Companies can seek assistance from firms like The Core Group, which specializes in mediation, training and the conduct of seminars, to organization and management development consultants, like Belamide, who are skilled in group facilitation, teambuilding, and executive coaching. Either way, it is advisable to seek advice from those who know better.

Given that employees are expected to be efficient and productive, their concerns should be addressed and recognized in a manner that gives importance to their individuality and their value to the organization.




Ernest Belamide
Amygdala Development Consultancy Services
Tel. No.: 0919-552-8009

Annabelle T. Abaya
President, The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Inc.
Unit 303, Prestige Tower, Emerald Avenue
Ortigas Center, Pasig City 1605
Tel. No.: (632) 632-9356
Telefax: (632) 635-9982

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