In The Workplace

I’m the newly-hired human resource (HR) manager at a medium-sized corporation. Since my appointment, I have noticed an increasing number of complaints about the management style of team leaders, line supervisors, and managers. The issues involve such matters as the non-approval of leave applications and even a requirement that workers be at their desks 100% of the time. How should I handle these trivial issues? — Golden Girl.

A common question raised by parents with young children during weekends is: “Do we hear too well or our children are just too noisy?” Applying this to your situation, the question becomes: “Is your management team too strict or the employees complaining about nothing?”

Employee issues that you characterize as trivial suggests that you may be biased in favor of your team leaders, line supervisors, and managers. On the other hand, the employees consider these issues important to them, and assign to them an importance similar to requests for salary increases or promotions. So, where do you draw the line?

It’s not only the question of “where,” but it should be that you, as the HR manager, needs to draw the line to reduce, if not eliminate these issues. As the company’s internal police, drawing the line means establishing general rules that are reasonably acceptable to both labor and management.

For decades, “employee issues” have been conflated with the grievance machinery in place at unionized establishments. It doesn’t mean however, that the machinery can’t be applied in non-unionized companies which may opt to refer to them as “grievances,” which may carry a negative connotation that may hinder dispute resolution.

“Non-union grievance procedures,” according to Cornell University conflict resolution professor Alexander Colvin in his research paper Grievance Procedures in Non-Union Firms (2014) “vary widely in their structure from informal open door policies to elaborate peer review and arbitration based procedures.”

However, many non-unionized companies often object to the use of the term “grievance machinery,” including the fear that such wording may invite employees to form a union. Such organizations have become proactive in creating alternative programs to create, enhance, and maintain dynamic policies to bring about organizational justice.

There are many programs that management may initiate through the HR department as a first line of defense. To properly carry out its duties, HR should create and maintain communication programs designed to resolve any issue and prevent them from deteriorating into full-blown industrial conflict:

Open-door policy This literally means that any employee can elevate an issue, idea, or complaint to the next-higher level of management if a team leader, line supervisor, or manager fails to resolve it within a reasonable period. This allows any employee to break the so-called chain of command without any repercussions. Resorting to such measures is not unanimously supported by HR experts.

The key therefore, is to train all line executives how to resolve issues. This may include teaching them the dynamics of effective leadership.

The 24-Hour Rule This policy is related to the open-door policy as it sets the timeline for all line executives for resolving employee issues. After one day without resolution, the case is automatically elevated to the next level. The exception to this is when a line executive is on leave or at a business meeting that will delay addressing the issue.

Some organizations consider the 24-hour rule to be absurd. That’s why they adopt a 48-hour rule instead. Whatever it may be, the timeline for resolving issues must be the soonest possible time.

HR Monitoring System Whatever program is resorted to, HR must monitor all employee issues and their resolution by line executives. This is to ensure that all issues are resolved in accordance with established guidelines and timelines. To make this happen, line executives must send a FYI email to HR for the record.

The whole idea is for HR to compile a database of best practices for resolving issues, particularly common problems that may be rooted in the persistence of obsolete or impractical management policies.

Every step of the way, employees must be allowed to express themselves freely. Many supervisors and managers may not know it, but many issues can be traced to their aloofness to the plight of their employees. At times, bosses may even interrupt workers as the latter are trying to raise their issues.

It is to be expected that some employees will be timid. That’s why line executives must patiently hear out what their workers are saying. This gives management the opportunity to understand the problems being raised. It often boils down to the line executive asking deep-dive questions.

On the other hand, line executives must also avoid dismissing any arguments from employees. HR and line executives must assess the worthiness of all issues raised without prejudging them. It’s the best approach to avoid miscommunication.


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