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13 common employee complaints & what you can do to stop them

As many employees and employers begin returning to in-person work following more than a year working remotely because of COVID-19, companies are taking a fresh look at their work environment, layout and schedule. That makes now as good a time as ever to address a vexing question: what do employees complain about most? If you’re looking for the answer to this question, you’ve come to the right place. Based on our research, we’ve compiled a list of the chief complaints as well as some advice on what you can do to help solve the most common issues.

The National Business Research Institute, which conducts scientific research for thousands of organizations, including a majority of Fortune 500 companies, shares the following statistic on its website as part of a post entitled, “10 Things Employees Dislike Most About Their Employers: “According to a poll from the Pew Research Center, American workers are working longer hours for less pay and taking on higher levels of stress. The survey, which included 2,003 Americans, revealed that workers, especially older ones, were less satisfied with their jobs today than they were two decades ago.”

The first two complaints on our list come from the NBRI post we mentioned above.

1. Lack of Communication

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The employee survey whitepaper on the NBRI website reads in part, “The biggest problem with any relationship is lack of communication. And that extends beyond personal life into work life. The issue starts when employees avoid speaking forthright to their employers for fear of retribution. A valid feeling in many cases. But there are plenty of things employers can do to open the lines of communication, like making time for employees, giving feedback, listening closely, asking questions and above all else, not hiding in the office and directing traffic solely through emails.”

2. Unfair Pay

According to the NBRI, “It’s hard to find an employee who thinks they make too much money. So the best employers can do is live up to fair-wage standards. Retail giant Wal-Mart has taken heat from all angles for paying unfair wages and benefits to its employees while reaping enormous profits. It’s a formula that raises the ire of politicians, advocates and the public, but is cheered on Wall Street. The bottom line is that complaining about salary, in most cases, won’t increase a worker’s wage. What employees can do to boost their paychecks is emphasize their experience, improve their education, point out positive performance reviews, work less desirable, but higher paying shifts, and exemplify successes.”

The next three common employee complaints on our list come from Forbes Magazine. The article,written by the Forbes Human Resources Council, is entitled “13 Common Human Resources Complains (And How Companies Can Deal With Them).” 

3. Ambiguously-Defined Employee Roles

According to Angela Nguyen, a people and culture consultant with a background in HR,  “Working with startups, I hear a lot of dissatisfaction with the lack of clear, precise roles and responsibilities. Despite efforts to draw clearer boundaries and delineations, startup jobs tend to wear a lot of hats and evolve over time. Hiring managers must honestly communicate this reality to candidates and find ones who embrace ambiguity, are calm during storms, and are creative and adaptable.”

4. Bosses Playing Favorites

Michele Markey, CEO of SkillPath, which provides professionals across the globe with strategic and innovative training solutions, writes, “It’s surprisingly common for an employee to feel their boss is playing favorites. They see someone frequently chatting with the boss, getting choice projects or leaving early, and understandably make assumptions. Stronger communication skills can help alleviate this. If a worker is comfortable speaking up or if a boss makes a point of talking with employees daily, these incidents decrease.”

5. Bullying and Hostile Work Environments

According to Patricia Sharkey of Sharkey HR Advisors, a strategic advisory consulting firm, “One common complaint is, “Jane Doe is a bully and this is a hostile work environment.” Most times, employees do not understand the term “bully” and “hostile” work environment. Conduct team meetings detailing what these terms really mean. Many “bullies” claim they are being “bullied.” Sadly, the “bullied” employee is usually too scared to discuss.”

The next two complaints on our list come from Andreas Slotosch, Chief Growth Officer at Beekeeper, a mobile communication platform for enterprises with non-desktop employees.

6. Not Having Time for Employees

According to Slotosch, “Many companies tout an “open door policy” that welcome employees to reach out to upper management, but very few companies actually follow through. Employees find that when they try to use that open door policy, either with an in-person visit or simply a phone call, they aren’t able to. Instead they get turned away or sent to voicemail. The fix? Be proactive and go to your employees, making yourself available for more personal forms of communication.”

7. Employees Complaining About the Supervisor: Taking Credit for Other’s Ideas

Slotosch writes, “For some employees, the only time they interact with their bosses is when their ideas are stolen. In fact, in that Business Insider article 47% of respondents claimed a superior has taken credit for their idea. The article does point out that bosses don’t always do that intentionally, but the employees don’t know that. The fix? Always find time to give proper credit, so as to avoid employees complaining about the supervisor.”

Number 8 on our complaint list comes from an article posted on Insights for Professionals, a company that helps busy people find credible thought leadership & business resources on all things IT, HR, Marketing, Finance & Management.

8. Work/Life Balance Concerns

Tiffany Rowe, Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, writes,“Employee burnout is an organization’s downfall, so it is very much within HR’s remit to stop burnout when it can. The goal should be to build a corporate culture with an emphasis on healthy work/life balance, which will reduce the number of burnout complaints to HR. Unless HR can replace all employees with robots, there will always be employee complaints. Fortunately, recognizing which complaints require additional action and which can be channeled somewhere else can reduce HR’s workload and let them focus on the issues that matter.”

Complaints 9, 10 and 11 on our list come from HR Daily Advisor, a website that provides human resource tips.

9. Unrealistic expectations regarding workload

Bridget Miller, a Contributing Editor with HR Daily Advisor, writes, “Asking employees to occasionally go above and beyond for a critical task is one thing. But asking this every day or having an unrealistic view of how much an employee should get done in a given week will quickly lead to employee burnout—and then to employee turnover.”

10. Cultivating Any Type of Hostile Work Environment 

According to Miller, “This often comes in the form of subtle harassment, but it can also come in much smaller, insidious actions that add up over time. For example:

  • Bosses who don’t seem to value the employee’s time and routinely come to employees with “critical” or “emergency” tasks—that really aren’t—10 minutes before the workday was due to end.
  • Bosses who seem to care too much about things that don’t seem to be important in the big picture, such as who among their employees worked 5 minutes longer than everyone else or who was the earliest to arrive each day.
  • Bosses who purposefully embarrass employees in front of others.
  • Bosses who seem uncaring about employees’ personal lives. For example, having no inclination to help an employee meet a deadline when he or she has to be out of the office for bereavement.”

11. Micromanagement

Regarding micromanagement, Miller writes, “This is a tough one, because some bosses hate to give up control. But to an employee, when a boss manages too many of the details, it signals a lack of trust, which quickly erodes the employee’s satisfaction.”

The final two complaints  on our list come from Mike Gingerich, who has a background in marketing, business development and web design sales. He is co-founder of TabSite, a promotion and contest app platform, President of Digital Hill Multimedia, has his own speaking and consulting business and writes a blog that focuses on web marketing strategies, social media for business leads, business/org startup and growth fitness, nutrition, running/triathlon training and mission & living with a purpose.

12. No Opportunity for Advancement

Gingerich writes, “Most people want to know that they have a chance of getting further in their career if they stay working in their current company. You need to therefore ensure that you are providing all of your employees with the opportunities they need to grow in this way, and you should make it clear that if you work hard, you are more likely to be able to get ahead. If there are no opportunities for advancement in your business, then you are going to find that people are much less likely to put as much effort into their work day by day. This is actually one of the most important things of all. You can’t constantly be promoting people, of course, as that would require that you have endless high-up positions to promote people to, but you can ensure that those who do well are the first to be approached when such a position opens up.

Over time, people will see that this really is the kind of company where hard work pays off. That will suit you down to the ground too, as it means that you are going to have a much more dedicated workforce, and that you are going to get a lot more done. You will also have a happier, more motivated employee base, which makes everyone a lot happier in their job day by day.”

13. Interpersonal Challenges

According to Gingerich, “The nature of a workplace is that there are always going to be a range of personality types all working together, and inevitably that means you are going to find some upset when it comes to the relationships between people. No matter what you do, this is something that is going to crop up every now and then, and you just have to try and be prepared for it as well as you can. The best thing you can do is to ensure you have a decent HR team on board, including a counsellor or mediator, or at least someone who is capable of taking on that role as fully as possible when the need arises. That way, these interpersonal challenges are always going to be met in the right way, and you can ensure that you are keeping your employees happy in each other’s presence.”

Smartway2 is a workplace scheduling system that helps enable peak performance from employees. Using Smartway2 is easy and can help to pave the way towards a “culture of innovation.”

Stefania Vatidis

Stefania Vatidis

Last updated June 9, 2021
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