GRIEVANCE MECHANISMS: What Every Manager Should Know

Mia Corpus gives her perspective on why a low number of cases filed before grievance mechanisms, particularly those in government, may not necessarily be a good sign.

The CoRe Group was in a meeting with the legislative branch recently where the topic of grievance mechanisms was raised. As with other government agencies, we asked how many complaints they receive through their grievance machinery. As with other government agencies, they respond with uncertainty on the number with most responding “a few” or “hindi madami.” This ‘few’ would normally range from 2 to 10 a year… yes, a year! In normal circumstances, we would be happy for the manager for such a low number but experience has taught us that everything deserves a deeper understanding.

The small number of complaints filed before the grievance mechanism is not necessarily an indication of a healthy organization. For leaders of organizations, I can imagine how easy it is to just refer to the data and conclude that ‘all is well in my office!’ However, when this data is combined with evidences of stress, tension and lack of compassion in the workplace, perhaps managers must begin to look deeper into the reason behind such a small number of complaints.

Here are some of the reasons why employees do not file cases before the grievance mechanism as observed by our team through the years:

1. Limited confidentiality – When the complaint has been filed, nothing protects the parties from the details of the case from getting out, especially if you are a government organization and you still follow the 2001 Civil Service Commission grievance policy. Employees still worry about information being part of office gossip. Luckily, more and more government agencies have recently been adopting a conciliation / mediation process within their grievance machinery where confidentiality is paramount.

2. Fear of retaliation – Experience has taught us that decisions made by parties themselves are more durable and less susceptible to future re-filing of cases. However, many follow the older grievance policies that prescribe a third-party panel (the grievance committee) to make a decision over the case. In such situations, what do you think happens when one party does not agree with the decision? A counter-case is filed. In other cases, some act of revenge is done. The case becomes bigger and will involve more people as parties tend to surround themselves with allies. This is referred to as the Retaliatory Cycle (Dana, 2001). One way to disrupt the cycle is through a process allows all parties to actively participate in the resolution of their conflict.

3. Lack of information – Others simply do not know where and how to begin filing a case because of limited information in the process. The administrative order or department circular may have been written and approved but that does not mean that employees automatically know what is in the document. In other instances, the policy is in place but the grievance machinery is not functioning or has not been formally convened.

4. Lack of trust in the process – When employees are aggrieved by a person or a system, he/she will be normally be drawn to things that he/she can rely on. If the organization’s grievance machinery is one such entity that they can trust, then the likelihood of referring problems to it will be high. However, without this trust, they will look for other avenues to react in either a ‘flight or fight’ response (Cannon, 1932).

The CoRe Group has worked with several organizations to enhance (never replace) existing grievance mechanisms. To learn more, contact us or log on to our website under Projects.

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