It is critical to engagement that an employee feels that he/she belongs to an organization that treats people fairly. Employees need to know that if there is a problem it will be looked into promptly and a decision reached without delay to correct the problem and allow people to get back to their normal work life. The issues may be serious, but the way the organization (usually the supervisor or HR) responds may be more damaging to the relationship, particularly if the response is perceived as offhand and promises are made (to check into something) and are not followed through.
Unfortunately, many organizations are notoriously bad at dealing with issues, sometimes lacking the expertise and sometimes deliberately ignoring or minimizing a problem, hoping it will go away. It can also be corporate arrogance and dislike of complainers, even when they may have a valid complaint. Such corporate indifference to employee complaints (and general unfairness) is a common reason why employees may seek union representation and negotiate, for example, a grievance procedure that ensures more consistent handling of issues.
Many employee issues relate to perceived favoritism, particularly wide variances in pay for people performing similar work, and perceived favoritism in who gets the overtime, who is selected for training and who the boss seems to like spending time with while being too busy for the rest. There are also serious issues with discipline, employees who are allowed to get away with things and others who seem to be picked on for whatever reason. The organization may have sincere programs and initiatives to promote engagement, but without fair processes for handling employee issues, success is likely to be limited.
The supervisor may be frustrated that he/she is unable to achieve employee engagement, but if employees perceive the supervisor to be treating employee issues unfairly that is not surprising. The supervisor may become increasingly negative about the disengaged, poor attitude employees, while the employees feel increasingly helpless and victims of an unfair environment. They do not feel they are listened to, even when they express their concerns in a respectful, professional way and in many cases, such unresolved issues, if sufficiently serious and widespread, may lead more towards unionization rather than engagement.
DISPUTE RESOLUTION INITIATIVES THAT CAN ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT:
- A policy (or equivalent) setting out the company’s commitment to fairness and outlining steps to be followed in handling complaints, with emphasis on deadlines
- A similar policy for investigating employee infractions, including the opportunity for the employee affected to tell his/her side of the story i.e. no pre-judgement
- A proactive approach by the supervisor in dealing with perceived issues before they become formal complaints
- No abdication on matters the supervisor may have no control over (e.g. job classification/evaluation or pay related) and ensuring and taking responsibility for follow up with the appropriate person e.g. in HR
- To the extent possible, the supervisor should interact directly with employees in handling their concerns while, as necessary, getting advice and support from HR. The communication should be as positive as possible, in the circumstances, and focus on building relationships and trust rather than appearing distant and hostile
- If within the same organization, some sections are unionized, be aware of collective agreement provisions (e.g. grievance procedure and discipline) and ensure that company practices for non-union employees are similar in principle – certainly not inferior
It is critical that basic processes and relationships are established and working well before seeking greater engagement. If the contrast between engagement initiatives and reality is too wide, engagement talk may be perceived as hypocrisy and more likely to result in employee backlash. Engagement can be steadily achieved, step-by-step, but if attempted before basic commitments to employees have been met, it is unlikely to succeed. What do you think? How important do you consider the contribution of effective dispute resolution processes to employee engagement?
Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.