When is the right time to raise a grievance? Three lessons inside.

Lately I have come across a spate of individuals who have been too scared to discuss the truth about their feelings, simply because they “don’t like confrontation” or “don’t want to rock the boat”. Fair enough, we all want a harmonious culture and for everybody to cooperate and get along. But these decisions to withhold the truth actually result in major detriment. In other words, saying nothing but expecting change is totally the wrong thing to do.

In one case it transpired that this particular person (let’s call them A) was feeling anxious and stressed about the way a colleague (let’s call them B) was treating them. It involved B having a negative tone of voice, failure to exhibit basic manners and frequent displays of general moodiness, that A felt they had been subjected to for about 18 months. The situation escalated to a point where A started to have increased levels of absenteeism and eventually took stress leave. When the truth was finally uncovered about the source of A’s absences, and that B was the root cause of them, it was found that nothing had ever been brought to B’s attention by A via any means. An additional problem was that B had absolutely no self-awareness and was completely oblivious to the way they were behaving and consequently being perceived, so of course the issue couldn’t be resolved at the organisational level because A didn’t raise it. Why couldn’t A raise these issues with anybody at work and well in advance of the issue escalating?

Lesson 1: People can’t change or improve if they don’t know they need to. Most people are receptive to feedback. Those that aren’t don’t listen and will not grow.

In another case, a person (let’s call them C) was going through a disciplinary process due to a serious breach of health and safety, which constituted serious misconduct. After the fact-finding process and during the disciplinary meeting, C for the first time raised that she felt her line manager (let’s call them D) had a personal vendetta against C, and that D was saving little bits and pieces of deficiencies up to terminate C’s employment at the first opportunity. It was during the disciplinary meeting that C first shared their true thoughts and feelings about D. I explored these allegations against D and nothing could be substantiated. Furthermore, there was no link between D’s alleged treatment of C, and C’s decision to breach health and safety protocol. C’s grievances dated back 13 months and had never been brought up, until this point that her job was at risk and termination was a probable outcome due to serious misconduct. I asked C why she chose that particular moment to raise her grievances. Her answer? She didn’t want to rock the boat.

Or there was this one time where a bunch of call centre staff called in sick and went to Vegas. When we conducted the investigatory interviews, they tried to blame their department manager on his ‘bullying’ tactics for their decision. Unfortunately no corroboration could be made. Once again, why couldn’t these concerns be brought to the surface when they felt that way?

Lesson 2: Don’t use your grievance as a defence tool. You must be proactive, rather than reactive, in managing situations that bother you.

Just as businesses usually (read: usually) execute and communicate a decision upon making one, so should you make the decision to communicate your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way, once you decide that it is a problem of significance that you can’t tolerate. Not sharing your true feelings about certain things that bother you can manifest and is only detrimental to your mental health.

I get it – it is incredibly fearful to bring up sensitive issues, especially when you don’t know how or your fearful of how the person affected is going to react. But, do not wait until you are under scrutiny to bring it up. We always feel better after a good heart to heart – do yourself and your mental health a favour and have the confidence to discuss the things that are really and deeply bothering you.

Lesson 3: It’s okay to be confrontational if it is done positively and constructively.

Do you need help with a grievance, as an employee or employer? Contact me here.

I discuss constructive confrontation in my book 101 HR Hot Tips: Handy Secrets for Success in the Workplace, specifically HR Hot Tips #52 and #81. Purchase it here.

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