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Hidden Grievances

How do you tackle daily issues that do not get reported?

Meet Jenny. She is the Assistant Cloud Engineer at a tech start-up in the UK. When she started working, she felt at home, surrounded by talented people who aspire to grow their business and themselves. It's a year down the line and Jenny has witnessed remarkable progress in business operations. Unfortunately, she has also witnessed the dynamics among some colleagues, which have led to severe disciplinary situations. Jenny's motto had always been to stay composed and avoid the chaos, but what happens when the chaos finds you based solely on your appearance? 

Due to her Asian heritage, she is used to being asked, "But where are you really from?" Even during casual chats about hometowns and childhoods, her colleagues cannot resist asking her what life was like "back home" , despite being born and raised three hours outside London. Jenny tells herself that in the grand scheme of things, these particular stereotypes are probably trivial, but wonders why it is making her feel excluded and questioned? She's not being harassed or bullied, so tells herself she must be overreacting...

She should just continue to avoid the chaos, right???

It is natural that employees will spend some of their working time having non-work-related conversations in a typical workday. Even workplaces that encourage relaxed cultures, greater freedom of expression and informal interactions among employees have the potential to lead touchy, controversial, misinformed or mocking conversations. While high-profile cases of misconduct and serious grievances make it to the official records, everyday mishaps can often go unreported.

A hand holding a pencil with a signpost at the top, one way pointing to wrong and one way pointing to right

Grievances and disciplinary issues that "don't make the cut"

There is no single answer to what an unreported grievance can look like. Ignoring or downplaying them, even when individuals haven’t raised the issue, can still negatively impact workplace morale, productivity, and the organisation's overall health. It's worth noting that in all the below situations, the emphasis is on how seemingly minor they appear.

  1. Microaggressions are subtle, unintended or condescending comments targeting someone based on race, gender, appearance, or other characteristics. They seem harmless because they're not explicit or loud, but they can create a toxic work environment. For example, "Must be nice! Getting another day off for your prenatal doctor's appointment. I wish the rest of us could just ask for holidays."

  2. Workload imbalance is more common than you think. We can all think of a time that we came across clear cases of nepotism and favouritism. But sometimes it's less obvious. Some employees have more work because their bosses trust them more, have been in the department for the longest or just because no one else is doing it. While it is all in good faith, those who consistently shoulder more can reach a point of resentment and frustration. For example, "I know you said you're tied up, but there's no one I trust more with the new deal. Continue with your current commitments, but please get on this."

  3. Mental health stigma is the negative attitudes or stereotypes individuals hold towards people who experience mental health challenges. Not receiving sincere support can discourage employees from seeking help when needed, potentially leading to burnout. For example, "When I finally disclosed my depression to my boss, instead of sympathy, he removed me from all key projects and decision making, saying I'm the one who asked for a lesser workload."

  4. Communication problems can lead to conflicts and decreased productivity. These can be increased banter, lack of boundaries and extreme openness. Feeling comfortable with employees should not inherently equate to inappropriate conversations. For example, "You must have a permanent seat at the buffet!"

Handle with care

Two females in discussion

Everyday grievances and disciplinary issues require a proactive and empathetic approach. These are not the kinds that are easily spotted, so it's essential to identify them and implement strategies to create a more healthy and supportive work environment.

  1. Establish clear and confidential channels for employees to report concerns. Yes, these may already exist for high-level grievances, but ensure employees can report even minor issues without fear of retaliation.

  2. Provide diversity and inclusion training to help employees recognise and address microaggressions and biases. Promote awareness of mental health issues, provide resources for support and accommodate options for varying work-life balance. Encourage employees to be confident in setting boundaries with their peers.

  3. Check in regularly with employees to understand their concerns and needs. Encourage open and honest communication. Most importantly, make them feel safe confiding in you privately, even if they do not publicly file a report.

  4. Check your leaders. Often, oppressive behaviour at work comes from the top, and employees do not feel able to counter it. Promote diversity at all levels of the organisation and include leaders in training.

  5. Set clear communication guidelines to foster transparent communication within the organisation. If touchy or controversial conversations become problematic or offensive, promptly address them in the guidelines update to prevent issues from escalating. Share updates on changes, policies, and initiatives to keep employees informed and engaged.

  6. Involve individuals in the changes. There isn't always a clear answer or single approach that works across the board - mental health is a great example of this - what is right for one individual, won't be right for someone else. It is therefore important to include the individual in designing the right way forward.

From the outside, minor comments issues or mishaps are small occurrences that do not seem as grave as harassment or abuse. However, these are the issues that encourage bigger problems and cause resignations. Ultimately, you can increase productivity and create a more harmonious environment by creating a workplace where employees feel respected, supported, and included.


Further Resources

There are some fantastic organisations that can help you with the different areas that this blog references: - are also HR & People space and are experts in making sure you have everything in place to support the right culture in the workplace. - are mediation specialists who try and prevent the issues we mentioned from ever reaching the grievance stage.

And of course....

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Mast People Support can help you with the end-to-end management of your grievance process. Whether you want help writing a policy, training for your teams or someone to investigate and hear a grievance, we can provide you with the support you need - please get in contact.


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