Giving Up ≠ Resolution

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I was talking to my Mother-In-Law last week and she shared a frustrating customer service story. She had ordered something for my Sister-In-Law that never arrived. The company insisted it had, so they wouldn’t continue any further conversation regarding the issue. I asked her how it got resolved and she indicated it hadn’t, she just finally gave up.

This made me quite sad, as I know this feeling, all too well.

As a matter of fact, I had a similar incident at the beginning of this year. I wanted to exchange a Christmas present, so I contacted the company via email. They returned my message promptly, saying they would love to help and asked for additional information, which I immediately sent. Then, no further response from them. Not knowing what more to do, I simply gave up.

But make no mistake, giving up doesn’t actually resolve anything.

This got me thinking about how often (and why) this kind of thing must happen in the workplace and what, if anything can be done about it.

Employees at all levels share frustrations; maybe with colleagues, their managers, or even someone from HR. In some cases, there is acknowledgement that a problem exists, but months later, there’s still no forward movement.

First, let’s look at some potential reasons this can occur:

  1. They aren’t talking to the “right” person. Oftentimes we vent or complain to those in our peer group, but they simply don’t have the authority to correct the problem.
  2. If the person does have authority, they may not see the issue as a problem or worse, they might see the person making the complaint as the problem.
  3. The person receiving the complaint doesn’t know what to do next to affect change.
  4. The person receiving the complaint elevates the issue, but then that person doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t see it as a problem or simply drops the ball.
  5. There is no clear process in place regarding how to address issues.

While these are all on their face, understandable, none are acceptable. Failure to resolve issues causes additional problems. It affects staff morale, loyalty, trust and engagement. Enough of these incidents and you have a problematic culture where people eventually stop sharing their concerns altogether.

So what can be done?

  1. Employers must have proper procedures in place about how complaints are lodged and handled. Let your employees know what that process is and commit to following it.
  2. Take it seriously when someone shares a concern. If you aren’t the person who can solve the issue, tell them who can. If appropriate, go with them so they don’t feel alone.
  3. Ensure things are properly (and as objectively as possible) investigated.
  4. Follow up; let the person sharing the concern know you are on top of it and when they can expect to hear back. Even if you don’t find in their favor, close the loop so they know it was properly handled.
  5. Invite ongoing communication about processes, safety, resources, etc. Remember that no one talks if nobody listens, so let your employees know that you take concerns seriously and attend to them.

There are a lot of problems in organizations that someone said something about long ago, but no one did anything and now it’s an “open secret,” a source of discontent or an impediment to keeping great employees.

In each of the examples I shared, we both gave up, but there was no real resolution. I am certain some people would see that as a resolution, but they are most definitely wrong. When enough of these things happen in the workplace, your highest performing employees will eventually get new jobs and your lowest performing employees will get bitter.

As consumers, we can “vote with our feet.” There’s almost always someplace else we can go to get our needs met. Employees will do the same thing.

A few days ago, I received a marketing email from the company that I am still waiting to hear back from. I thought for a moment about what to do, then hit “unsubscribe.”

And just like that, resolution.