How do you handle EE complaining?

Like many of you, I'm a one-man(woman)-show. (Well, with some part-time help.) I have been very adamant about being available for employees to ask questions about benefits and policies, to express concerns about practices and safety, to vent, etc. In fact, I tend to drop everything when an employee comes in to my office with a need (maybe that's a personality flaw I need to work on).

The problem I'm running in to is that I now seem to ALWAYS have someone in my office, and many times, it's either not work related (I heard a detailed story this morning about how one employee's dog and cat played with half a rabbit) or it's pure and utter whining or gossip with no intent of finding a solution. Also, many employees are circumventing their supervisors with small complaints or problems and coming directly to me.

Help! Not only am I going crazy because my work day is shot, but I'm also getting frustrated with all the negativity. I thought about establishing "office hours" every day or several days a week where I'm available for nothing but employee concerns and questions. Do any of you do this? Does it work? Anyone have suggestions for an alternative?


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  • When I first started my new job, everyone was in my office. Apparently, my predecessor was not a people-person and did not want to talk to employees. I let it go on for a while to establish some trust with the staff, however, like you, I started going crazy. You will have to put your foot down when it comes to trivial conversation. Next time one stops by and says "do you have a minute?" you can probe to find out what they really need and decide if it can wait or be avoided all together. I will ask EE's if they have discussed the issue with their supvsr. Give them a few pointers on how to broach the subject and send them on their way. (along with the speech that communication is a two-way street) I know you know this, but until you change your behavior, they simply will not go away. I don't have "office hours" per say, but will often ask EE's if it can wait, and then make an appt.
    Hope this helps.
  • Here's what works for me. I go to THEM. Everyday I walk the floor at least 3 times and probably more if someone has "something for me". Like you, I make the employee's request, issue, or problem my #1 priority. It puts their mind at ease so they can concentrate on their jobs and do them safely and it's good for morale.

    When you are in THEIR area, they are still being supervised and will waste less of your time and theirs. Plus you still accomplish your mission of seeing to the needs of the employees, you get in a good couple miles of walking everyday, you are perceived better because you are going to THEM, and you are doing it on YOUR schedule. An added bonus is that you learn so much more about the operation.

    It works.
  • I would ask the question as to why you are taking on all this responsibility when you have front line supervisors that should be shouldering a lot of this?

    I can understand, to a point, you involvement with those issues that are directly related to HR. However, if you going to be the sounding board and "go to person" for everything from health insurance costs to "Judy's dog died today" you will never be a productive HR pro and certainly not a strategic, business-oriented one.

  • And I would answer that the reasons why I have become the "go to person" for so many things is that we have inadequate supervisors and because we are a small company (just under 40 EEs). "Control" and supervision in our organization have been virtually non-existent until the last year or so. I'm new to my position (about 2 years now) and have been trying to implement the "strategic, business-oriented" practices you reference. I think employees come to me so frequently because they know I'll actually DO something.

    We unfortunately have a very unhealthy organization when it comes to management. Our President (who founded the company) has fostered this culture of little accountability because he has a (dangerously) hands-off approach to "leadership." Our employees circumvent or disregard their supervisors frequently, and I am one of the few people who has a problem with this. What we need are supervisors who SUPERVISE and can handle the bulk of the small issues I encounter each day. We need to train the managers to handle these issues and we need to re-train the employees to go to their supervisors first. This is in process, but you all know how slloooow change can be!

    I'm (painfully) aware of the dysfunction of my situation - that's why I'm looking for a solution to this particular side-effect.
  • Excellent! Thanks for the valuable feedback!
  • I also will second that I listen to the employee (in case its a harassment or serious issue), then if its an issue that should go to their Supervisor first, then I ask them if they have done that yet. Most of the time they have not. I tell them to visit to their supervisor about this and if they don't get a response from them to come back. I would say that 90% of the time I don't hear back and that the Supervisor doesn't even know the issue the employee has until they tell them. This has opened up communication amongst employees and staff and has led to less time in my office.

    (I used to do the walking around thing with my last company, but now we are spread across 13 locations so I can't do that anymore.)
  • Hi kdspa

    First, congratulations for gaining the trust of the employees of the organization. It can be really difficult to do in HR as you run the tight rope between management and employee relations. Since you've been with the organization for 2 years, you must be doing something right, i.e. the President and other managers are not gunning for you to leave. That said, maybe you need to discuss your concerns with the President and other management staff. I wouldn't start from the standpoint of lack of accountability - it puts people on the defensive. Instead, try discussing the issues people are bringing to you (the legitimate ones) and ask for ideas on how to handle them from the staff. Another idea is to have an employee survey done by an outside agency. These are terrific and we do them every other year. Finally, with the employees, don't back away from them in any type of radical move - instead, redirect their concerns and complaints to the supervisors. Because it sounds as though you are the one making any changes, employees will continue to come to you & will continue to circumvent their supervisors. The next time someone comes to you, ask them how they should solve the problem - give suggestions, but don't do the work for them. Ask if the supervisor should be brought into the meeting to settle the issue. Simply put, empower your employees to make the best decisions themselves & to solve their problems on their own. Good luck!
  • Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. The whole dynamic has changed over the weekend because our President passed away on Friday afternoon. We are all grieving and in shock. Of course, I plan now to be even more available than before for employees, but sometime in the (hopefully near) future when we heal, I plan to implement your suggestions.

    For those of you who pray, your prayers would be much appreciated.
  • Holy smokes kdspa - talk about moving the cheese!

    Of course, my thoughts and prayers are with you & your colleagues. I am very sorry to hear of your loss.
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