There are lots of reasons to be unhappy at work, and at some point or another you may find yourself with a complaint that just won’t go away. Pushing the issue to one side and trying to forget about it isn’t a long term solution and may affect your mental and physical health. But how do you go about complaining, without causing problems for yourself at work in the long run?
Generally it’s best to approach your manager informally to begin with, unless the matter is very serious. Examples of serious matters that would be unsuitable for an informal complain include whistleblowing, sexual harassment or bullying where the manager is the one causing the problem.
Assuming the matter is suitable for an informal discussion, you might wonder what to say, how to say it, and how will it come across. In this article we look at a few ways you can complain effectively for the best chance of a positive outcome.
Consider whether you can resolve the problem yourself
A friendly discussion with colleagues may be the best way to resolve minor disagreements.
You might find that there is a simple solution that you can implement yourself without having to speak with your manager. If you feel confident that you can resolve the issue either by yourself or by speaking with other colleagues, then this might just be the best way.
How big is the issue? Try not to take trivial problems to your manager or even your colleagues if it’s something which you know could be solved by yourself. Small day-to-day problems are often expected to be resolved by an employee as part of their job role. Think carefully about whether it is something you could fix or simply put up with, before you take your complaint further.
Create a solution to the problem
For every problem, there is usually at least one solution! Although you may think it’s your managers job to come up with one, it can really help to have one or two handy to present along with your complaint. Your solutions should always be in the Company’s best interests where possible.
Finding solutions to your problem help your managers who will no doubt have plenty of other matters to deal with. It also demonstrates a very wide range of soft skills, including negotiation, clear communication, creativity, dependability, leadership, and comprehensive analysis. In this respect, rather than hurting your prospects at the firm going forward, it can actually help your career.
Arrange a time to speak to your manager
It is very difficult to be an effective manager if employees simply waltz in the door and bombard you with problems at any time of the day. This type of approach can catch managers ‘off guard’ and lead to a less effective resolution.
A more professional approach is to arrange a convenient time to discuss the matter with your manager and give them a very brief ‘heads up’ about what to expect.
‘Laura, please could we put aside five minutes to discuss some issues I’m having in managing my workload? I have a couple of ideas that might improve things.’
‘Steve, could we speak for five minutes when you’re free about how the Marketing team are using Hive? It’s causing some problems for me but I have an idea or two about how we could solve this.’
In both examples, the manager is given some idea what to expect. They may already be aware that problems exist and the suggestion that you have solutions will be welcome.
Here’s a great video from UNC Charlotte on complaining to your boss constructively (with an example of how not to complain!):
Consider taking further action if necessary
It may be that your manager may not be able to help you with your complaint, and in some cases may refuse to do so for whatever reason. At this point you will have to take some time to think what you can do next. Do you pursue the matter further, or is not serious enough that you can live with it and move on?
If you feel your manager hasn’t done enough to address your complaint, you should consider using your Company’s formal grievance procedure. A grievance procedure looks something like this. It will usually require that you raise the complaint informally to begin with. After that, typically it will state that a meeting will be held with your manager to discuss the grievance. It will then set out when you will receive a decision, and what rights you have to appeal.
Can you be fired for complaining about your job?
In the UK, you should not be fired (dismissed) for raising a genuine complaint (grievance) about one of your statutory employment rights, using your employer's formal grievance procedure. However, it's usually better to raise the grievance informally first. ACAS have a helpful guide to the process here.
Consider whether you’re in the right role
If you have a more serious and long term complaint which centres around the actual tasks and job you perform on a daily basis, you will need to decide if you’re in the right role at all! There is really no point complaining about matters that are so central to the role, they simply cannot be changed. If these issues are bothering you to such a great extent that you dread coming to work on a Monday morning, then you need to think carefully about whether or not you should move on (see: Should I quit my job?). This could be within another department or with a different company altogether.
It’s worth taking into account that many redundancies are being made at the moment, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s Brexit talks are also providing a further measure of uncertainty and failure to reach a deal could mean more businesses are struggling financially going forward. Whilst your job may be making you miserable, consider whether you could stay in your role for a little longer until the economic climate is more stable – particularly if you have already built up employment rights.
The possibility of staying in your current job even though you dislike it needs to be balanced carefully against the need to look after your mental and physical health. If you are experiencing significant health issues as a result of a toxic job, your physical and mental health need to take priority.
“No amount of pay or inconvenience is worth staying at a job you hate, because the effect of going to that dreadful job every day is killing you. Literally.”
Have a look at this article by Monica Torres on what a toxic job can do to your body, and be honest with yourself – is this you? If so, it’s time to go.
If you decide you absolutely must look for another job, it may be worth having a frank discussion with your manager first to see if there is a different role with your current employer. Alternatively, consider whether changing your working patterns – for example, going part time – might help improve how you feel
Moving on? Make sure you use a CV template
If you decide to look for another job, use a CV template to ensure yours stands out from the competition. If you haven’t updated your CV in a long time then now’s the chance to start from scratch and give it a complete makeover.
Choosing a CV template is easy when there are hundreds to select from. There are CV templates for all types of careers, allowing you to focus on what you want to write rather than having to waste time on margins and spacing. If you’re not sure how to word your CV, get some inspiration by checking out some CV examples.
Originally published 26th July 2018.