Nearly a third of employers (30%) have seen employee grievances rise over the past two years (as of 2023) according to Brightmine, formerly XpertHR.

Whether it’s tensions around workload, accusations of unfair treatment, or more serious issues like bullying and misconduct, it’s important these concerns are resolved swiftly and efficiently. But when employees do put in a grievance of any kind, how confident can they be that it will be resolved effectively?

In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind the increase in grievances within the world of work and outline necessary steps to ensure their fair resolution.

The rise in grievances

In recent years, the psychological contract between employers and employees has undergone a significant shift. This contract refers to the implicit, intangible agreement that outlines informal commitments, expectations, and mutual understandings which shape the working relationship between employer and employee.

Traditionally, elements of the contract included job security, supportive management, and a willingness to exceed expectations, among others. However, it appears from conversations with clients that employees are now choosing to take a more transactional approach to work, sticking to designated hours and refraining from going ‘above and beyond’, which in turn is contributing towards an increase in grievances.

Then there’s the fact that the landscape of work has changed drastically, with hybrid models becoming increasingly prevalent. This new paradigm involves less time spent physically in the office, and employees relying instead on digital communication channels like email, Teams, or WhatsApp, which can lead to more frequent misunderstandings.

There’s also a growing expectation to ‘climb the ladder’ quickly, particularly among younger generations who’ve had their perception of work warped by popular culture and social media platforms such as TikTok. For example, the rise of ‘manifest culture’, which advocates for speedy results and progress without the corresponding effort. As these newcomers enter the workforce with somewhat misinformed expectations, a gap can emerge between them and more seasoned employees, resulting in an uptick in employee tensions.

Recognising managers’ crucial role in grievance management 

At Right Management, through our work with clients across all sectors, we’ve observed a rise in grievances stemming from lower-level disputes. Many of these issues could be resolved through candid and transparent conversations. However, due to managers not receiving the necessary training to acquire the skills needed to address these grievances, they often escalate prematurely.

Employees are left unhappy with how their grievance has been handled, while managers end up battling heightened stress. In order to prevent claims and situations from escalating, managers need to understand the pinch points and feel confident in their ability to help resolve initial disputes – especially as recent research from Right Management found that three-quarters (74%) of employees want a supportive manager.

And then there’s the role of social media. Regular engagement with social platforms such as TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram may be affecting people’s capacity for critical thinking, which lessens their ability to compromise and consider constructive dialogue; both of which are essential elements in resolving workplace disagreements. Unable to resolve issues themselves, employees are increasingly turning to their manager for answers.

In the workplace, much like in other aspects of life, circumstances and outcomes are not typically black and white. Every situation has more than one perspective, so it’s crucial for managers to engage in comprehensive discussions with all parties involved to pinpoint the root cause of any issue and prevent grievances from escalating further.

What needs to be done

If implemented correctly, societal initiatives could educate younger generations on the intricacies of the working world. For example, integrating coaching sessions into the secondary school curriculum with a focus on effective communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, negotiation for mutual benefit, and critical thinking. By arming young people with these essential tools, they can be better prepared for the demands of the future workforce.

Moreover, businesses must improve their processes for integrating new hires. There’s an opportunity to help employees grasp the company culture through hands-on experiences, to cultivate interpersonal skills, and establish the norms for addressing issues and conflicts in a professional manner. This would minimise escalations and grievances stemming from individual differences.

Companies should also prioritise the cultivation of a corporate culture that fosters continual dialogue between employees and management, emphasising team respect and acknowledging the importance of nurturing long-term relationships. It should go without saying that investing in managerial training is crucial, equipping leaders with the skills to manage disputes proactively and effectively, especially as mediation is becoming increasingly essential within business environments.

In summary

 The dynamics of the workforce are continually evolving, leading to more regular disagreements and divergent viewpoints among workers. Which is why there’s a pressing need for more effective resolution mechanisms.

The shifting landscape of work, characterised by hybrid models and digital communication, coupled with evolving societal expectations and cultural influences, has amplified the complexity of workplace disputes. These disputes, often stemming from lower-level conflicts, underscore the necessity for managers to possess the skills and confidence to address grievances promptly and constructively.

To address these challenges however, both societal and corporate interventions are imperative. Societal initiatives should focus on equipping younger generations with essential workplace skills, while businesses must enhance their onboarding processes and foster a culture that values open dialogue and long-term relationships. Investing in managerial training and promoting mediation as a conflict resolution tool are essential steps toward creating harmonious work environments conducive to productivity and employee wellbeing.

By implementing these strategies, organisations can effectively navigate the complexities of modern workplaces and ensure fair and efficient resolution of grievances.

Lorraine Mills
Principal Consultant at Right Management | Website | + posts

Lorraine is an expert in taking research and business insights and transforming them into powerful people solutions. She is on a mission to help individuals find and thrive in the work they love and organisations to identify and grow the talents they need to achieve their goals. Lorraine is an HR specialist (CFIPD) pursuing further development through qualifying as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Lorraine has held a range of roles both as a leader and as a consultant guiding others through significant challenges.