How to Manage Workplace Complaints and Disputes – Effectively

No workplace is immune from conflict (unless you work for yourself that is!), however organisations differ markedly in how they manage these situations. It’s unfortunate, but I am most often introduced to new clients when a people-related issue has deteriorated to the point of a formal complaint. With some basic processes, these types of situations can be avoided entirely.

Key HR Policies

I know I bang on about this ad nauseum, but that’s because it is so fundamental to managing people effectively. Regardless of the size of your business, it really is a good idea to have a few key policies in place including, but not limited to, a Code of Conduct, Prevention of Bullying and Harassment Policy, EEO and Prevention of Discrimination Policy as well as Email and IT (Social Media) Policy, or even a Performance Management Policy. The number and type of Policies you wish to implement will tend to vary between businesses, but if you do nothing else, these four or five are a great start. Not only do these policies inform the workforce of the acceptable standards of behaviour within the organisation, they should also provide avenues for addressing issues should they arise ie. clear complaint management procedures. And now to the most underrated procedure of all – Dispute Resolution.

Dispute Resolution Procedure

Given that disputes will inevitably occur in the workplace, it makes sense to develop a procedure for dealing with them right? Of course this seems straight forward, but very few organisations actually have them in place. Again, it need not be complicated – develop a clear process for dealing with a dispute whether it be a disagreement over a performance review, or salary increase or internal recruitment process for example. The same objective process should apply for all disputes, and where issues do arise within the workplace that cannot be resolved quickly, the resolution process should be invoked. Not only does this provide an effective mechanism for the resolution of conflict, it tends to reduce the number of informal and vexatious complaints made within an organisation. Managers will spend less time listening to issues or complaints as they simply refer these matters to the resolution process.


Anyone leading or managing a team should be skilled in dealing with conflict and disputes within the workplace. The vast majority of workplace issues will be dealt with at the coal face – your Managers should be trained in how to have difficult conversations, as well as being able to identify and resolve problems when they arise. A supportive and skilled Manager will be able to address issues quickly and efficiently before they escalate into time-sapping and costly complaints. And of course, the organisation should take always take complaints seriously and deal with them as quickly, sensitively and effectively as possible.

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