I am an HR manager. I have employees who come to me with complaints about their supervisors and these supervisors are also my confidants as managers on the management team I am on. Do I keep their complaints to myself or share with the manager that I think will fix the issue with no problem?
Employees whine. Managers whine. Evil HR Lady whines incessantly because she has a bad cold and cannot breathe properly. (No, it is not Swine Flu, or any flu. It is a cold, but if you want to feel sorry for me and make me dinner, please do. I really, really really dislike squash and mayonnaise. And don’t tell me that the reason I don’t like squash is because I’ve never tried YOUR recipe for squash delight, I won’t like it. I will, politely accept it, thank you, and then try to force my family to eat it while declaring, “Squash is good for you!” Then we’ll all have spaghetti.)
Anyway, a little digression. You need to figure out what your job is. I’ll help. Your job is to help the business.
Think about that for a minute.
Your job is to help the business. You need to do what will help the business.
First, erase from your mind the idea that you are a therapist who is here to “help” people. You help people because it’s good for the business. You have an EAP (I hope) to provide help with people’s psyches. (Again, why? Because it’s good for the business.) When someone comes to you with a complaint about their manager, feel free to say, “And what would you like me to do with that bit of information?”
Sometimes it is just venting. If it’s not a real problem, fine, you’re done. They’ve vented and feel better and you can move on to other things.
If it’s a real problem, then you need to decide where the problem lies–with the complainer or the complainee. And then you need to figure out how it’s best for the business to fix it. If that means going to the manager, go to the manager. If that means working the employee, work with the employee. If that means developing a company wide memo on how picking your nose and examining the finds during meetings is inappropriate, go for it.
You aren’t required to keep confidences like a lawyer is. You do, however, want people to trust you so that you can help. That’s why I find the “and what do you want me to do about this?” question so helpful. (Said sincerely, not snottily, of course.)
The solutions vary based on the problem. Some solutions are to coach the complainer on how to approach the complainee. Another time, it’s best to pull the manager aside and tell him/her what is going on. Sometimes, you do nothing but listen. Sometimes you launch a formal investigation. Things that are illegal cannot be ignored. Things that are annoying can be.
If you truly think the manager will “fix the problem,” let the complainer know, and then go ahead and tell. I don’t like blindsiding people. (Now, if it’s something that can be fixed without telling someone who the complainer is, you can do it that way.)
You need to be absolutely trustworthy. This is why you tell people what you are going to do with their information. You don’t need to be everybody’s friend. You also need to figure out what you can and cannot fix. Things that you cannot fix, you can leave alone.
Fixes do not always involve other people. Often the best fixes come from coaching the complainer to deal with their own problems.