Business Management

Get Your Head Out of the Sand

Even if you don’t think they are valid, you must pay attention to employee complaints. Here are some tips on handling the gamut of grousing, from whining to worrisome.

Let’s tell it like it is: Few salon and spa owners want to hear from employees who complain.

Small-business owners are among the least likely to want to hear negative feedback. Entrepreneurs who put everything on the line and work all hours of the day and night scarcely have enough time to eat, much less listen to an employee who has a beef about something. And the truth is, the majority of companies, big and small, tend to discourage employees from airing grievances, experts say. But it’s an extremely short-sighted policy.

How you address staff protests directly influences the company climate. And that weather report — fair or foul — is endlessly broadcasted to customers, and anyone else who will listen. If you don’t handle employee complaints, you create resentment, low morale, low productivity, and increased turnover. Ignoring worker concerns or objections could further land you in deep trouble, legal and otherwise. The best way to clear the air of complaints is to focus on problems before they fester. These five strategies make that easier:

1. Watch your tongue. The way you react to a complaint immediately sets a tone. Managers often discourage employees from telling them what’s wrong by subtle threats or outright punishment. In that case, the complaints go underground, surfacing as breakroom conversation.

Don’t trivialize the grievance, even if it’s a noisy protest about the lack of a coffee machine in the breakroom. You don’t have to remedy every complaint, but you should be courteous.

2. Recognize the individual. Don’t let complaints slide on slick reassurances or one-size-fits-all platitudes. Respond to the specific employee and her particular beef. So when addressing employee issues, it’s critical to tune in to those individual needs, not some generic response.

3. Direct traffic. Set up a formal process for submitting grievances that’s communicated to everyone. To avoid legal pitfalls, clearly define the process and ensure that it’s private and moves toward an outcome or resolution. Owners or managers should set a time in which to respond. Explain your company policy. After that, don’t forget to update any appropriate managers.

4. Be consistent. No employee likes surprises. The way around accusations of favoritism, pleas of ignorance, or similar unrest is by citing the policies of your formal employee handbook or manual. It’s in your best interest to have one.

5. Send the right message. To truly create an atmosphere that rewards employees for coming forward, you need to make it comfortable. Lip service won’t do. There are dozens of ways to achieve that, of course. In a salon or spa, it’s easy to get everyone in a room and get employee buy-in.

At the next staff meeting, the owner might talk about business trends, worries she has, the impact the new salon down the street is having on the business — basically, a casual “state of the company” address. In the course of the meeting, she might ask, “What else would you like us to address?” She might also invite employees to talk to her later, privately, if something’s on their minds.

With almost 10 years experience in new business start-ups and transformations, Ana Loiselle-Donahue is a specialist in finding new sources of revenue and growth for companies of all sizes. She founded theSECRET in 2004 to help businesses flourish through creative — and powerful — new solutions, including brand development, strategic financial planning, and employee training. Loiselle-Donahue can be reached at (866) 288-7353 or at

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