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Keys to Address Employee Dissatisfaction and Activism

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We are in a new age of employee dissatisfaction and activism.  There were critical labor shortages during the pandemic, and increased concerns about employer responses, and workers are increasingly asserting their rights and making demands upon their employers.  Public approval of labor organizations is at a new all-time high, and the public is increasingly siding with workers in disputes with their employers.  Workers are constantly reminded in the media of their rights and about union gains. Labor organizations are preaching that labor "cooperation" should be replaced by labor "confrontation."

While the solutions to these issues are complicated, this writer is quite confident in expressing the following suggestions.  While employees prefer to resolve issues with their immediate supervisors, employees also want to have the right to address their concerns with higher-level managers who have the authority to make decisions.  Further, higher-level management, who is aware of potential morale or dissatisfaction issues in the workplace, is more likely to be able to address and potentially find solutions to the issues without confrontations.  Therefore, employers could start with evaluating their internal systems for resolving employee complaints or concerns and staying informed about conditions in the workplace.

The answer is simply not to say that the employer has an "open-door" policy.  This writer has rarely seen a company that does not claim to have such a policy.  Therefore, this writer always asks the question, and asks for some examples of how the open-door policy has been used in the past.  If the employer does not have an effective open-door policy, the claim of having such a simple solution shows the company's policies lack effectiveness and credibility.  

Perhaps a starting point is to insist that first line supervisors are aware of and follow an expressed company policy of open communications to address employee concerns.  The policy must be expressed to supervisors by higher management as a top if not the top company priority.  Second, employers need an effective means of receiving communications and concerns from employees.  A start is to allow employees to bypass first line supervisors where appropriate, such as when the supervisor is the source of the problem, to communicate concerns or appeals to higher management.  Third, employers should have systems to keep up with what is going on in the workplace to avoid contentious issues before they become confrontational.  

In former times, HR had the responsibility to conduct walk-arounds in which employees on the floor were asked simple questions like: "How are things going," and "Are there ways we can help you do your work better," and questions of that nature.  Such questions were given to evaluate employee morale and open the door to employees expressing concerns.  Unfortunately, this HR practice seems to be in the past.  

Employers therefore have considered other outlets of learning employee concerns, such as question boxes or anonymous platforms to bring issues to management.  This writer has successfully used the practice of employee "get togethers," in which upper management meets with a cross-section of employees in the facility on a monthly, quarterly, or some other periodic basis.  An announcement of the meeting is posted and includes the employees randomly selected to attend.  The meetings are often held over a lunch, with upper management giving an update of happenings at the facility and responding to employee questions and comments.  Surprisingly, a majority of employee comments are often directed towards making the business better, rather than gripes.  In any event, such meetings are simply one way to facilitate open communications between employees and upper management and improve the employer's protection against future workplace disputes and confrontations. 

This article is part of our March 2024 Newsletter. 

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