How to raise a problem at work
Formal or informal
How do I raise a problem at work? Should I raise it informally or formally? If you find yourself having to deal with a problem at work what should you do next? Problems can vary in size and importance. Some can be minor irritations, like always being last in the queue for coffee. Others can take on a more obstructive role, like harassment. While more can register somewhere in the middle. Whatever the problem, the fact is, it needs to be sorted. We look at when an informal chat is useful, and how to prepare for it. We also consider problems which are best dealt with by way of a formal complaint using all of the procedures available in your workplace and in Irish employment law.
It’s good to talk informally
Normally, if there is a problem at work, it is a good idea to raise it informally with your employer. That gives them an opportunity to deal with it and prevent the problem from becoming worse. Most employers prefer to deal with issues before they get a chance to escalate. If you work in a small business, you may have a good working relationship with the business owner and can mention it informally to them, if you do not have a line manager. In a larger organisation, you should raise it with your line manager. If your line manager is not approachable, then try someone in HR, or another manager etc.
An informal chat can vary in size and shape. It depends on the problem being addressed. If you work colleague is not aware that their behaviour is causing a problem, then a quiet word can be all it takes. If on the other hand the colleague is unwilling to change or the problem is not simple, then the informal chat may need to be in the form of a more structured meeting.
When it’s better to talk formally
As stated already, if the problem is a serious issue like harassment, sexual harassment, whistleblowing, etc, then you need to go down the formal complaint route.
Preparing for the informal meeting
Like almost everything in life, we tend to perform better and have a more successful outcome if we take the time to prepare beforehand. Here are a few tips to help you get ready:
Research the problem and its solution. Check our website and the internet.
Think about how you are going to raise the issue. What words will you use? How will you explain it? A clear message always has a better chance of being heard and acted upon. You come across as confident and helpful.
Give some thought to what you want to achieve. What action do you want your employer to take to resolve the problem?
Can I be accompanied at the meeting?
As it is an informal meeting you will need your employer’s consent to be accompanied at the meeting, unless it is covered in your contract of employment or other procedures manual. You should read these to familiarise yourself with your rights.
Where permission is available to be accompanied it is usually a work colleague or trade union official who attends with you.
The informal meeting
At the meeting you will be given the opportunity to state what the problem is and how you believe it can be solved. Always deal in facts, not opinion. If you give a straightforward account of what the problem is, you increase the chances of solving it. Your employer should let you know what the next step will be in trying to fix the difficulty. If the problem involves a co-worker your employer will have to speak with them also. For most minor work problems, the informal approach usually works.
What if I have to raise the issue formally?
If the matter is of such importance that you have to raise it formally, you should follow your employer’s Disciplinary and Grievance policy. Every employer is obliged legally to provide each employee with a written copy of the procedures to be followed when dealing with grievances and discipline at work . If the matter relates to bullying , sexual harassment , whistleblower or equality at work , you should research your rights and seek professional advice. You can contact us for a free initial consultation, no obligation. It may be the case that you need to make a claim through the Workplace Relations Commission. It is better to find this out before you talk to your employer.
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