Dealing with Employee Grievances in the Workplace

Key Causes

Nearly a third of employers have seen employee grievances rise over this last year, and the main causes of employee grievances relate to bullying or harassment, relationships with managers or relationships with colleagues. How do you deal with it? And at what point is good management considered bullying or harassment?

In theory, if you foster a culture of respect and open communication within the workplace, have implemented clear policies, conducted training on respectful behaviours and encourage employees to report any concerns, any issues should be sorted prior to raising any grievance.  In reality, people are generally nervous to speak up for fear of some kind of repercussion and usually wait until they feel the situation has become untenable and resort to the formal process.

Dealing with the cause

Taking bullying and harassment as an example and to differentiate between good management and bullying or harassment, it is essential to assess the intent behind actions and behaviours. Good management involves providing constructive feedback, support, and guidance to help employees grow. On the other hand, bullying and harassment entail harmful intent, repeated mistreatment, and creating a hostile work environment. It’s vital to differentiate between them, address complaints seriously, and promote a culture of respect and understanding.

Distinguishing Genuine Employee Grievance from Discontent with Performance Management”

In my experience, it’s not uncommon for employees to raise a grievance when their performance falls below the company’s expectations. Having supported numerous cases stemming from poor appraisals or unsatisfactory performance, I’ve witnessed instances, where, despite managers having acted in a highly professional and supportive manner, some employees tend to become indignant, shifting blame elsewhere and labelling the situation as bullying and harassment without substantial cause.

Addressing such situations requires a delicate balance of understanding and firmness. Managers must ensure they provide clear performance expectations and transparent communication throughout the process. When faced with a genuine underperformance issue, it is  essential to establish a structured Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This plan outlines specific goals, support mechanisms, and a reasonable timeframe for improvement. By doing so, employees are given a fair opportunity to address their shortcomings and contribute positively to the team.

However, it’s equally important for managers to discern between genuine grievances and attempts to deflect responsibility. Open communication channels and empathetic listening can help in understanding employees’ concerns better. If a grievance is raised, it should be investigated impartially and objectively, ensuring all parties involved are heard. 

Managing Genuine Employee Grievance and Discontent with Performance Management

In managing both genuine grievances and discontent from performance management, adaptability and a tailored approach are key. Every situation is unique, and by leveraging my experience, I have learned the importance of flexibility in management strategies. 

Managing a genuine employee grievance in relation to unacceptable behaviours elicited from a Line Manager in terms of underperformance requires immediate action, an impartial investigation, and proactive support.

Managing a situation where it’s established that the line manager’s behaviours align with company policies and processes requires a different approach. Employees need to fully understand that being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is aimed at supporting their growth, not setting them up to fail. Clarity, empathy, and ongoing support are essential in this process. Employees should be educated to understand that managers are fulfilling their roles, and it’s unfair to unjustly accuse them of bullying and harassment when addressing underperformance. Differentiating between constructive feedback and malicious intent is essential for fostering a respectful and productive work environment.


Bullying and harassment is a prominent reason for raising a grievance as it is quite a headline and warrants immediate attention. However, as discussed in the body of this blog, it’s really important to discern whether in fact it is bullying and harassment or, in fact, good management. Transparent communication and mutual agreement on target setting are fundamental to avoiding any misunderstanding on expectations. Addressing underperformance should involve a thorough understanding of the reasons behind it and providing adequate support. A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with clear, achievable goals and additional assistance can facilitate improvement without indicating bullying or harassment.

Moreover, if a manager’s behaviour is found to be unreasonable and contrary to company values, swift action is necessary. Providing training to help managers understand how to manage their teams effectively, extract the best from employees, and adhere to acceptable behaviour standards, is crucial for maintaining a respectful workplace atmosphere.

By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of open communication and mutual respect, companies can navigate this contentious issue more effectively with the aim of reducing the number of this type of complaint. 

Stay tuned for more insights into effective workplace management strategies in my future posts.