Dealing with Employee Problems in the Workplace

It’s impossible for managers to please everyone, and employees won’t always get on with each other. As such conflicts are bound to arise in a workplace and resolving them is key to a harmonious workplace. Therefore, this blog post gives some suggestions concerning how to handle such conflicts.

Published Categorised as Employee Relations, HR Best Practice Tagged
Dealing with Employee Problems - LighterHR
Dealing with Employee Problems - LighterHR

Dealing with employee problems in the workplace can be one of the most difficult areas for businesses.  No matter how hard you try you can never please all of the people all of the time.

Here’s the scenario: it’s Monday morning and your employee has had lots of thinking time over the weekend.  They’ve decided that this problem they’ve been thinking about for weeks needs to be addressed.  They’ve spent time over the weekend planning exactly what they are going to say. They arrive at your desk on a mission. 

The thing is, you haven’t had the same opportunity to think about their problem!  You’re faced with an employee who wants you to solve the problem right now.  What steps should you take when dealing with problems in the workplace?

Whilst we want to avoid stating the obvious we thought it would be useful to just set out some basic dos and don’ts for when faced with employee problems.

Time to read out post: 3 minutes

In this post, whilst we want to avoid stating the obvious we thought it would be useful to just set out some basic dos and don’ts for when faced with employee problems.

  1. What to Do When an Employee Raises a Problem

  2. What to Avoid When an Employee Raises a Problem

1. What to Do When an Employee Raises a Problem


When an employee starts to raise a problem it can be very tempting to start debating the situation there and then.  The challenge is that the employee is probably more prepared than you are and may also be feeling fairly emotional.  It can be beneficial to allow the employee just to talk. Then let them know that you need time to think about what’s been said and that you’ll meet them later to discuss things in more detail.

Stay Calm

The employee may say all sorts of things that you don’t agree with but reacting isn’t helpful.  You need to remain calm no matter what is said otherwise the validity of any points you make may get lost because of how you deliver them.

Encourage Informal Resolution

This should be set out as the first step of your grievance process. You should try and encourage employees to resolve their problems informally rather than moving straight to a formal process.

Use Your Grievance Process, If Necessary

If an informal approach can’t resolve the issue then the formal grievance process will need to be used. 

It is important that you remind any aggrieved employee that they can use the formal grievance process if you’ve tried to resolve their issue informally without success.

The grievance process is something that you have in your employee handbook but failing that, you should adopt the Acas guide.

Remember That Some Things Can’t Be Ignored

Employees and managers need to remember that there are some things which, once they are said, can’t be unsaid!  A company has a legal responsibility to protect employees.  Therefore, if a serious allegation is raised, the company is obliged to take action even if the employee is happy to let the matter go. 

Consider this.  An employee tells you that they have been sexually harassed by a team member. They go on to say that they don’t want to do anything further about it.  You let the matter go.  The accused employee goes on to sexually harass another team member. That team member discovers that the employee has behaved this way before and no action was taken.  You failed to meet your legal obligation to protect your employees. You are therefore in a very difficult position should the second harassed employee decide to take legal action.  So, be careful if an employee says they want to talk to you in confidence or off the record.

2. What to Avoid When an Employee Raises a Problem

Make Promises You Can’t Keep

It can be very very tempting to give an employee some sort of assurance that they will get what they want just to make them go away.  All you’re doing is putting off dealing with the employee problem and probably making it worse. 

The truth may be unpalatable to the employee but they will need to hear it at some point. Often the sooner they are told the truth the better.

Add Drama

If an employee is upset and emotional they need you to be a calming presence. Don’t add fuel to the fire.  The employee’s story may sound credible and desperately unfair but remember that your role is to provide balance. 

You need to be the voice of reason.

Express Opinions Without All The Facts

You need to help the employee to understand that there may well be a series of factors that they haven’t considered.

As tempting as it may be to express your opinion, as a minimum, you want to ensure you have all of the facts before you comment.

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