“Complaints, complaints, complaints; that’s all I get around here!”
It’s a common cry of managers in laboratories. Yet, accepted wisely, employees’ complaints can be useful tools a lab manager could use to improve and upgrade his work unit and keep his employees happy.
Complaints are symptoms of dissatisfaction. But if employees believe a manager will react negatively to their complaining, they will refrain from doing so, and will let their dissatisfaction fester, which could cause other, larger problems – such as the loss of a valued employee. And ignoring or minimizing apparently trivial complaints may mean remaining ignorant of major underlying problems.
All complaints should be taken seriously, dug into, and corrective action taken before a little problem becomes a big problem. All managers will receive complaints, but not all managers will receive them the same way. To some, most complaints seem trivial and to come “out of nowhere” or “off the wall.” But since it probably took a great deal of courage for the employee to complain to you, even though it seems petty, it should be taken seriously and treated respectfully. Typically, when complaining, an employee will be upset, unhappy, frustrated, or angry. Your task is to neutralize the employee’s emotional reaction so you can look at the problem objectively.
When an employee expresses dissatisfaction about working conditions or co-workers, it’s normal to feel defensive, but if you take the complaint personally, become argumentative, or lose your temper, you lose respect as a manager.
Sometimes employees are too shy or too scared to state their concerns directly. And sometimes they themselves don’t know exactly what the problem really is. For example, they may not have enough information to know why you wanted a special job done right away and then seemed to not do anything with it. And some complaints will be based on misinformation – malicious or otherwise. Your job is to clarify exactly what the problem really is and correct it.
An effective manager will make clear to all employees that he or she wants to hear their complaints – even from those time-consuming, chronic complainers who are always finding something to complain about. You must make it clear, in word and action, that you want to know employee concerns.
Managers must deal with all complaints fairly. Treating one employee’s complaint as worthy of serious investigation, while another’s is not, will be seen as a judgment about which employee is worth listening to, especially by the employee whose complaint was ignored.