Are Your Employees Complaining About Their Boss? What Can You Do?

M.J. Plebon, Montreal online marketing and lead development specialist speaks with Anne Pertus, co-founder of “The Pillars” a Montreal based organizational development consulting firm on the topic of employees complaining about their bosses.  One of Anne’s specialties is in the area of talent management and conflict resolution.

M.J.:     Anne, in your past experiences, how often does this happen. Is it common place among companies?

Anne:     I believe everyone has complained about their boss at some time during their career, in fact probably more than once. Think back to our own career and various jobs and bosses we had.  We tend to remember the ‘’bad’’ ones don’t we?

A new Gallup study released April 2015 sheds new light on worker-manager relationships, finding that about 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.”

 M.J.:     If this is a common issue, how is it being presently dealt with? What are the results and consequences?

 Anne:     Interestingly, slightly more than half of those surveyed who gave the “highest agreement rating” to the statement “I feel I can approach my manager with any type of question” are considered actively engaged in their work, according to The Wall Street Journal, in a sign that manager openness may be tied to worker productivity. Lauren Weber wrote in an article on April 2, 2015 and I quote, ”

So, what do workers want from their managers? In a word, communication.

Gallup found that workers whose managers hold regular meetings are three times more likely to be engaged—that is, feel involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs. Workers said they want to be in contact with bosses on a daily basis, and not just about sales targets or an upcoming presentation: they want their manager to take an interest in their personal lives, too.

More than half of workers—54%–who give the highest agreement rating to the statement “I feel I can approach my manager with any type of question” are actively engaged, a proportion that plummets to 24% for those who give the next-highest rating. Roughly a quarter of respondents said they did not feel comfortable bringing up personal matters with the boss.”

The Pillars-Organizational-Development-Consultants-Montreal-OttawaThis study confirms what many people think. Hiring and developing leaders will go a long way to retain your people. Encouraging an open dialogue with your people and being engaged in their work should be a top priority for all organizations.

M.J.:     If I am in upper management or an owner of the company and an employee approaches me with a complaint about one of my managers, what steps should I take and what should I definitely avoid?

Anne:   That’s a good question. First you listen to the employee. Don’t judge, don’t be defensive and be open minded. Then once you clarify and validate your understanding of the issue, ask the employee what he/she has done about this. Have they had a conversation with their boss? If yes, then what happened? If not, why not? 

So, what’s the next step? Is the person comfortable in going back to the boss and talking about it? How about having a meeting with all 3 people to clear the air? As the owner, you should be encouraging the employee to deal with his boss directly.

Now, if there is abuse of any form…that’s another matter entirely.

M.J.:     Is it advisable to implement some type of company policy on how to deal with situations like these so the employee feels their issues are taken seriously and that the manager feels respected in this process?

Anne:     Employees get scared, they do not want to lose their jobs or be thought of as a complainer or trouble maker. That’s where leadership culture comes in. What kind of leader are you? Do you encourage speaking up? Do you encourage employees to talk with their bosses on things that upset them or even bring up how things can run better?

I would look at the culture of the company and define what the core values are. Once defined, is this the reality of your company? If not, there is some work to do to move towards that culture.

Just because a policy exists doesn’t mean it is followed. Define the culture you want and work towards that. Communicate that definition and work with your people to make it happen. Take note that this doesn’t happen overnight , but it is an exercise well worth the time.

Imagine having the leadership culture that you want. What does that look like for your company? What do you value? What is important for you? What are the expected behaviours in your culture? These are questions to ponder moving forward.

 M.J.:     Thank you Anne for this sound advice. More information can be found at their website, 

M.J. Plebon

M.J. Plebon has co-authored several technical papers for the upstream oil and gas industry and also contributes to several online media publications. He is a teacher and content specialist at Champlain College in Montreal, specializing in online marketing and business development. He is a trainer and speaker in the areas of marketing, business development and public speaking.