12/1/2000 | 6 MINUTE READ

On The Management Side

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Dealing With GripesMany employee complaints seem so trivial that the normal reaction is to disregard them.


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Dealing With Gripes

Many employee complaints seem so trivial that the normal reaction is to disregard them. But what seems trivial to you may be deeply disturbing to the complainer.

First, there is a human tendency to exaggerate a complaint if nothing is done about it. The complainer does this unconsciously to justify his or her position.

Second, one complainer tends to activate another. One employee complains about a cold draft. Soon another says his chair is uncomfortable. In no time, everyone is unhappy about something.

Remember, too, that the things people gripe about may not actually be the things that upset them.

In one company, the women in a large clerical crew complained about being asked to work overtime. They said it was interfering with their social and family lives. Investigation disclosed, however, that they were really afraid to walk home in the dark through the undesirable neighborhood where their plant was located.

Employees of another company griped about the lack of parking lot spaces. Management quickly discovered, however, that there were ample spaces. The real cause of complaint was that some employees often had to park too far from the plant entrance. The company explained why nothing could be done about this, but did offer preferential parking to car pools. The complaints stopped.

On the other hand, if employees are too quiet, something may be wrong. Take time to analyze the situation.

Do things seem quiet because you have walled yourself away from your people? You may no longer have time to mingle with all the people reporting to you and listen to what’s on their minds. But if that’s the case, it might be a good idea to take periodic attitude surveys of your people, even if only on an informal basis.

Have you become too easygoing? This may make for a happy organization, but not for an efficient one. People perform best when they are under some stress (e.g., a deadline) and stress tends to encourage griping.

Or have you gone in the opposite direction and created a climate that discourages griping? This can be especially dangerous. For one thing, you don’t get the useful ideas that often stem from complaints. For another, you may be sowing the seeds of poor morale, which is almost invariably followed by poor performance.

Problem People: What To Do About Them

Most of the people with whom we come into contact on the job are a pleasure to work with. But there are some other kinds, too. How should they be handled? Some types—and suggestions on getting along with them.

  1. People who think you’re telling them how to do their jobs and resent it. They may feel they know their jobs better than anyone else. Get them to feel that their experience can be valuable to others; that the purpose of talking to them is to exchange ideas and pool experience.
  2. People who carry personal grudges. Avoid discussions about their pet peeves. If necessary, explain that you are not interested in their personal prejudices, but in running a smoothly operated department.
  3. People who are wrong but won’t admit it. Avoid direct criticism, sarcasm or ridicule. Use indirect methods. For example, analyze a “similar case” without any reference to them. Above all, talk to them in private.
  4. Argumentative people who quibble over the most trivial details and love to get other people’s goats. The first rule: keep cool. Draw them out with questions. Whenever possible, cite hard facts and figures that refute their position.
  5. Talkative people. Try to seize the initiative in your conversation. In some cases, it is acceptable to (a) have your secretary or a colleague “interrupt” you after 10 or 15 minutes; (b) plead another appointment; (c) even reach for your hat and coat.

Achievement Checklist

Accomplishment starts with proper attitudes and good habits. Think failure and you will almost certainly fail. Lack discipline and organization and you will fall hopelessly behind in your work. This little quiz is designed to help you determine whether you are the chief bottleneck in your life.

  1. Do you approach every job confident that you can do it?
  2. Are you too easily satisfied with your own performance?
  3. Can you predict with a fair degree of accuracy what you will be doing next Monday? Next week? Next month?
  4. Are you habitually guilty of finding “little things” to do before tackling a project?
  5. Do you welcome—even encourage—interruptions on the job?
  6. Do little setbacks throw you for a loss?
  7. Do you keep your telephone conversations brief and businesslike, or allow them to lure you into time-killing bull sessions.
  8. Does criticism of any kind upset you to such a degree that you cannot get back to work?
  9. Do you approach problems as challenges to your skills and ingenuity or as frustrating blocks to further achievement?
  10. Do you learn from your mistakes, or tend to repeat them?
If you have been candid with yourself, you have probably identified one or more habits or attitudes that can stand improvement. A word to the wise...

Management Tip from Ike

General Eisenhower used to demonstrate the art of leadership with a simple piece of string. He’d put it on a table and say: “Pull it and it’ll follow wherever you wish. Push it and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just that way when it comes to leading people.”

The Importance of Consistency

Few things are more frustrating than working for someone whose standards continually change. When an employee knows he is being judged by a single, fair standard, he has a target to aim for. He can modify his performance accordingly and try to meet that standard.

To be consistent to the point of inflexibility, however, is poor management, too. When you must modify your standards, communicate this in advance so that your people can be prepared and flexible.

Trim the Fat From Your Workday

If you could somehow cut down on the idle chatter, pointless phone calls, unproductive personal visits and so on that fill your working hours, you might be amazed to learn how many minutes you literally throw away on the job.

Nobody is totally innocent; we all waste time. But we have an ace in the hole. We can learn to do better. Here are some quick time-savers you can implement immediately.

Keep standing. When visitors drop by unannounced simply to chat, be pleasant but get on your feet and stay on them. Once you both sit down, you may be in for some time killing that sabotages your entire schedule.

Keep phone talk short. When you initiate the call, tell your story in a few words, always pleasantly, with an opportunity for the other party to reply quickly.

Limit meetings to 30 minutes. You can usually accomplish much more in a 30 minute discussion, with a carefully planned agenda, than in an unstructured meeting lasting an hour or more.

Write shorter letters. Tell your reader in the opening sentences exactly what he wants to know. Avoid winding up, like a pitcher delivering a ball, with a whole paragraph acknowledging receipt of the inquiry. Jump right into the information that your reader wants.

Six Ways to Improve Morale

  • Treat your people as individuals. Never deal with them as impersonal variables in a working unit.
  • Accept the fact that others may not always see things as you do.
  • So far as possible, explain your decisions.
  • Express appreciation publicly for jobs well done.
  • Make reasonable efforts to make jobs interesting—by occasionally adding new responsibilities, new challenges, new authority.
  • Offer criticism privately in the form of constructive suggestions for improvement.