How to raise an issue at work

If you have a problem in the workplace, it’s difficult to know the best way to deal with it; you want it to be taken seriously but not damage your relationship with your colleagues.

The issue itself will be stressful for you, but it can be made worse by the uncertainty of what to do next. Just remember it’s likely that your employer has dealt with similar complaints before and nothing is unresolvable.

Common issues at work

Issues could arise from anything but some of the most common causes are:

  • feeling like you’ve been discriminated against
  • being bullied or harassed
  • changes to your job role, workplace or organisation
  • not being given adequate training or information
  • health and safety concerns
  • not being given your agreed benefits or a promotion you think you deserve
  • changes to your terms and conditions of employment
  • a problem with a working relationship with another colleague (or supplier, etc.).

The best time to raise an issue

Take action sooner rather than later. There will always be an excuse why you should wait a bit longer but this is likely to make the problem worse. Try to resolve it at the earliest possible opportunity. HR Consultant, Kirsten Smith at face2faceHR Cambridge says,

“Problems at work, like problems in general, tend to escalate if not dealt with or spoken about early. Therefore I always encourage employees and their managers to have an open communication line to enable issues to be dealt with quickly.”

If your issue needs to be made formal at any point and you end up making a claim to an employment tribunal, then be aware that you’ll need to claim within three months of the last incident.

Preparing what you want to say

It’s important to keep a record of everything that’s occurred to ensure you can relate the facts. When it comes to the point of taking action, consider how your employer has dealt with similar situations in the past in order to prepare yourself.

Also think about what you would like the outcome to be; are you prepared to leave this job if needed?

Gather all the evidence related to your work issue and record what you are unhappy about, including the dates and times of any incidents. Refer to your employment contract and staff handbook where necessary (request a copy if you don’t have one) and print off any emails that back up what your problem is.

“Particularly with bad bosses you might sometimes be actually just what the HR team needed in order to start doing something about it,” advises Jo Martin, an employment law specialist and associate at Womble, Bond, Dickinson.

Resolving an issue informally

It’s best if you can try to solve your issue informally if possible, however, this will depend on a number of things including the severity of the issue (for example, something like harassment or discrimination should be dealt with formally from the outset).

When it comes to actually talking to the other person involved, you could ask to bring a friend, colleague or union rep along for support.

Take your notes and evidence in with you and explain what has happened, how it’s impacted you and what you would like the outcome to be. Make sure to record what’s said in the meeting, or if you have someone with you ask them to do it in case the issue isn’t resolved at that time.

Mediation is an option

If an informal talk or meeting doesn’t resolve the issue or you don’t agree with the outcome your employer has offered, mediation could be an option.

This is where an impartial third party discusses the problem with you and your employer and tries to find a solution. Another potential next step could be to write an informal or appeal letter to your employer or raise a formal written grievance. HR Consultant, Kirsten Smith advises,

“When writing to your employer, employees should try to stick to the facts and give clear examples, showing the impact of an issue where possible – this is likely to ensure the complaint is taken seriously and resolved effectively.

If an informal talk or letter doesn’t resolve the issue quickly or the issue is too serious, I advise employees to consult their staff handbook or grievance policy (employers are obliged by law to have a grievance policy) for details of how to raise a grievance.”

Raising a formal grievance

To raise a formal grievance, ACAS, who works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems, offers a Code of Practice for you to follow. They advise you use this alongside consulting your organisation’s grievance policy to find out the formal procedures involved.

Make sure you keep notes of everything that happens during the process.

Ideally, the issue will get resolved, but Jon Gregory, editor of and an advisor on employability skills warns, “You can end up raising an issue, making the right noises, but nothing will be done. That’s why it is absolutely essential to personally take charge of your own destiny mentally.”

In summary

  1. Raise your issue as soon as possible.
  2. Gather evidence and prepare what you’d like to say in writing.
  3. Try to resolve the issue informally at first, if possible, or with mediation.
  4. If this isn’t possible or you are not satisfied, then you can raise a formal grievance complaint in writing.
  5. Your employer should legally have a written grievance procedure that you can follow.
  6. Stick to the facts, give clear examples and demonstrate the impact it’s having on you.

For more on dealing with problems at work:

Sophie Cross is a freelance writer and marketer specialising in business and travel. She is the editor for London Revealed magazine and her clients include Group and Merlin Entertainments.

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