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The Value of Workplace Grievances and Investigations

Posted on by Tim Davey

I was talking to a friend recently regarding the merits of workplace grievances.  I was recounting the tale of an employee, let’s call him Peter, who was dismissed from employment on the basis of a mutual loss of trust and confidence resulting from a long history of disputation, complaints and ultimately, inappropriate and unacceptable conduct.

In that case, Peter was aggrieved by certain employment outcomes and also by the organisation’s response to his concerns.  Notwithstanding that there were some system failures found during the investigation which had negatively impacted on Peter (and which were remedied as a result of the grievance), Peter was simply unable to accept the outcome of his grievance.  He wanted vindication where none was available.

As you might imagine, this led to an escalation of issues, and a myriad of further unsubstantiated complaints and allegations, resulting ultimately in Peter’s dismissal – an outcome entirely avoidable had Peter been able to accept that his employer, in fact all employers, are not infallible. Work, like most things in life is, at its core, people interacting and making decisions, on a daily basis, with the goals and performance of the organisation (hopefully) in mind. All this occurs in the context of a rapidly changing, competitive and imperfect world.  I recall commenting to my friend that there are many ‘shades of grey’ in how we assess our workplace interactions.

Reflecting on this case and particularly on the fact that Peter remained dissatisfied despite numerous internal and external reviews and investigations (at a substantial cost to his employer), it was sad to see the deterioration of what must have once been a ‘shiny-new’ and positive employment relationship.  Although this was a number of years ago, I still hear from Peter and it is obvious that the impact of this issue for him remains current and deeply distressing.

This got me thinking about what value should we put on workplace grievances.  That is, what should we expect from them?  Are they the panacea Peter wanted his to be?  From my experience it is rare for anyone to ‘win’ in this process.  It is also rare that anyone (either employer or employee) is entirely satisfied with the result of a grievance process.  Whilst it is the case that we all have a ‘right’ to raise concerns in the workplace (and so we should where we are exposed to unlawful and/or harmful conduct) it strikes me that ultimately, if we don’t like what our job actually is, or where we work, or the people that we work for and/or with, it is far more powerful and satisfying to take responsibility for our own situation and just ‘move on’ – because from my 30 plus years in the workforce I know the organisations certainly do, despite how important and/or ‘right’ we think we are, or how much we think we are ‘owed’ by the organisation.  Although Peter remains distressed by what occurred, it is no longer an issue with any relevance to his past employer. The organisation and most of the people who were there at the time have moved onto other things. It is a shame that the same can not be said for Peter.

A respected friend and mentor once said to me, “No matter our role, whether we are the CE or a new recruit, we are all just temporary custodians of the organisation.”  And ultimately, as we all ride the ‘ups and downs’ and ‘come and go’ from a workplace, I think it is important that we are able to stand back, be objective and don’t get ‘lost in the fight’.

Grievances have their place and they are a very important tool for employees who are experiencing difficulties, but they can not fix broken relationships, personal or professional differences or abate anger.  They are a process of finding fact and facilitating remedial action where appropriate, nothing more, nothing less.

If you would like to know more about handling workplace grievances, please contact a Livingstones consultant on + 617 3833 1200.

Written by Tim Davey

Tim Davey

Tim is a highly experienced human resources and industrial relations practitioner with a track record of achieving successful business outcomes.
He is an exceptional problem solver with strong analytical skills and the ability to pragmatically resolve complex issues within policy, process, service delivery and governance frameworks.

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