On my podcast, The HR Investigations Podcast: Exploring the Issues, Challenges, Strategies, and Solutions, I discussed this topic in Episode 6. However, I thought since I haven’t blogged in a while I would elaborate on this important subject matter, especially because I had a recent conversation with a VP of Employee Relations who was just frustrated with the volume of frivolous employee relations’ cases her team is handling.

If you have just randomly found this post, you may not be familiar with me, so let me introduce myself: I’m Natalie Ivey, an HR Consultant and Private Investigator as well as founder/President and CEO of Results Performance Consulting & Investigations (rpchr.com and HR-investigations.com).  In addition to running my company, I’m also an educator in the HR profession, having taught continuing education programs for 20+ years, and I interact with thousands of HR and Employee Relations’ professionals every year through my various endeavors.

Over the years, and especially recently, I have consulted with organizations on how to implement good employee relations risk management policies and procedures.  I also design and facilitate HR and employee relations internal investigations training programs.  So, from my vantage point there is a lot going on in employee relations today. And, especially on this subject of employees using “buzzwords.” Let me share a little bit of a conversation I recently had with a VP of Employee Relations with one of our larger, U.S. clients.  She shared with me or rather “vented” to me about the increasing trend of employees using the buzzwords of bullying and harassment when complaining to HR.  She was just frustrated and looking for some solutions on how to slow down the volume of frivolous complaints (aka employee relations cases) that her team is handling. She elaborated that nearly 70% of the cases that her team investigates are really manager-employee interpersonal conflict dynamics. In other words, managers are doing what they are supposed to be doing: managing. Employees are being held accountable for absenteeism, tardiness, productivity, quality issues, behavioral/unprofessional conduct issues. However, employees are hyper-sensitive to any sort of criticism, frequently get defensive, don’t listen to a manager’s feedback, and then run to HR (or in her case Employee Relations) to lodge complaints of bullying or harassment.  This continual flow of employee complaints to her team is really beginning to take its toll, as she admitted she’s just lost two more of her seasoned ER team members who just grew weary of working really long hours and handling the heavy caseload.

I shared with her my perspective on this in that it really is a leadership issue combined with a training and procedural issue.  I talked with her about her senior leadership and their view of her ER team. Basically, when “buzzwords” are used, her team is expected to open a case and work it like a formal investigation.  Unfortunately, this has caused what I refer to as weaponization of the internal investigation process.  Why? Well, employees know that if they call in a complaint on a manager that the company will launch an investigation. So, even if they know their manager gave them feedback for good reason, they are nevertheless still ticked off about it, so they “get even” with the manager by turning their world upside down. They call the company’s hotline or lodge a complaint using the Open Door process, knowing full well that HR/Employee Relations will need to investigate it.

Here is what I see very clearly that is also contributing to this problem:

Organizations, especially small to medium-size organizations, do a subpar job when managing promotions into leadership. Often, the individual contributor employees get promoted into supervisor roles without ANY training or development to prepare them. As I shared in my recent HR-investigations podcast, there is a big difference between being a technician who turns a wrench and being a Shop Supervisor who manages a team of other technicians. A very different set of competencies. And, this lousy promotional strategy often backfires, as poorly trained “bad” managers = poor team performance and often creates a lot of expensive turnover.  At the very least bad managers drive a lot of drama and employee complaints into HR and this also creates the risk of EEOC charges or even litigation.

Also, what I see very clearly is the societal trend with employees who struggle with being held accountable.  Instead of absorbing and processing a supervisor’s meaningful feedback they, in turn, decide to lodge complaints against the supervisor.  So, where did this trend start? In my opinion, I feel that it started with parenting, or shall I say a lack of parenting. If parents didn’t set clear boundaries with kids, allowed kids to loudly complain and create a lot of drama and then parents just caved in (“OK, OK! I’ll buy you the Gameboy!”) and were afraid of conflict in holding kids accountable for breaking rules…well, that lack of parenting is at least in part of what created these issues that employers are facing today. Kids, now turned employees, have been used to an environment in which they complained and manipulated their way into getting what they want.

Nevertheless, here we are. So, what are employers to do about it?

Here is a brief list of solutions:

  1. Create or revise your employee handbook/policy manual. Even if you are a smaller organization, you MUST have policies that define expected employee conduct that also model the values of your organization. If you need help in getting good policies in place, just contact us and we can help you with this. We have handbook templates that you can purchase if you want to update the policies yourself. Or, you can have us update your handbook/policy manual for you.
  2. Clearly define performance expectations from Day 1. This means you need to have in place a robust orientation and onboarding program. Teach your new hires from Day 1 what good performance looks like. Talk about managers’ roles and responsibilities and discuss ACCOUNTABLITY! Explain that if you are going to be an employee who comes in late, doesn’t show up, doesn’t listen or take direction and feedback well, shifts the blame, complains about everything, and/or throws temper tantrums…that they aren’t going to last at your business because you will fire them. Then, discuss what behaviors you do want and what good performance looks like. Share specific examples so your new hires clearly understand what you are looking for.
  3. Provide training on bullying, harassment, discrimination, and retaliation from Day 1. In my HR-investigations podcast (Episode 6) I discussed this topic and shared bullet points from a large, global organizations bullying policy. If you want to slow down the number of employee relations’ complaints, then you first need to get clear on the policy and train employees on the policy. AND explain the difference in accountability. A manager simply having a performance discussion about being late, not finishing work by a set deadline, or providing feedback about an employee having used a sharp tone of voice during last week’s staff meeting are absolutely accountability and NOT bullying or harassment.

If you need some help with implementing good management training for your supervisors, just go to our Contact Page and one of our customer service team members will be happy to talk with you about the right program.  Additionally, if you need some training for your HR team, we can help you with that too.

Until next time!


Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, PI
rpchr.com | HR-investigations.com





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