How complaints can affect wellbeing on the frontline
Frustrations with the system and a lack of available advice resources can often manifest in disproportionate complaints about advice services and their staff and volunteers. An empirical investigation into the effects of complaints on public service employees by Dr Chris Gill, Carolyn Hirst, Dr Maria Sapouna and Jane Williams examines the effect this can have on workplaces.
Queen Margaret University and the University of the West of Scotland presented findings on how employees are affected by complaints made against them, specifically those employed within local authorities and housing associations. This report attempted to distinguish between accountability being fundamental within service delivery and how it can be quite damaging on the recipient if poorly managed.
- 71% reported their work practice was negatively affected by a complaint. This included frequently double-checking work, becoming unsure and doubting oneself, avoiding certain tasks and becoming generally more anxious and stressed within the workplace.
- 67.2% reported their health and well-being was affected by a complaint. This included emotional upset, decrease in confidence, increased perception that the complaint was personal and worry surrounding the complaint damaging their professional reputation.
- 61.2% reported their attitude to service users being affected by complaints. This included becoming more cautious when dealing with certain service users and leaving certain service users to be dealt with by colleagues.
- 40.7% reported getting support from their line manager during the complaint process was helpful and more support is needed in this area. Many respondents felt that receiving support from managers was an added reassurance when they began to doubt their professional competency. A more open culture is required regarding discussing complaints and its procedure.
- 88.2% of employees felt that better communication was needed between themselves and their organisation on what was happening during the complaint and the process being carried out to deal with it. Many respondents felt isolated whilst a complaint that held such importance to them was being deliberated. Many respondents also felt that the complaints process was an extremely lengthy procedure and decisions took a long time to be evaluated.
Importantly, it was noted that employee’s with higher levels of experience were better able to handle complaints and had certain coping mechanisms in place when a complaint did
arise. Therefore, this report has raised concerns over entry level employees or students who have limited experience and training on complaint handling and how this may adversely affect them. Poorly managed complaints that affect employees at the beginning of their careers can increase stress and anxiety but also diminish existing relationships between the service user and organisation if the employee is not trained correctly.
This report indicated that it was imperative for organisations to distance themselves from the ‘its just part of the job’ culture in regard to complaints and that support is required for all
levels of staff from newly qualified to experienced when a complaint is issued. The damage poorly managed complaints are having on employee’s health, well-being and professional capacity will have a long term affect if support is not offered and training is not carried out.