Thoughts From Our Heads

Thoughts From Our Heads


Raising complaints at work

Thursday 28th January 2016

In 2009 Sargent Bowe Bergdahl left his US army base in Northern Afghanistan into the vast empty desert. His plan was to hike for 24 hours to the next US army base. He was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before being released. There is ongoing case against Bergdahl for desertion from the army. But this email isn't about that. The reasons Bergdahl gave for his actions were that he had concerns over the leadership he had seen in the army. He thought lives were being put at risk by leaders who had little concern for the safety and well being of their troops.

Bergdahl claims that he didn't think anyone would listen to him if he raised these concerns through the normal channels, so he thought by leaving the base and having the army implement procedures for a missing solider he would draw attention to himself so people would have to listen to him. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. If it is true then this is a pretty strong statement. He felt he had to invoke a military emergency just to be listened to. So what can you do if you want to speak up against something you believe to be wrong within your organisation?

What's the issue? The nature and severity of the issue will determine how you handle it. If you have a personal problem with someone - say a clash of personalities or you don't like the way they work, this wouldn't be appropriate to raise with someone else. Talk to the person in question, address the issue in a non-threatening way and remember there are two sides to every story so admit your own mistakes in the poor working relationship.

Pick your battles. Some things are just not worth getting involved with. As someone who is quite outspoken I can testify to this first hand. In my former life when I had a boss I would take it upon myself to voice the concerns of everyone else. You know, the muttered complaints people make under their breath; I would say them out loud, to the boss. Many times this didn't go down well. I should have picked my battles more carefully, and only pressed the really important stuff.

Build alliances. Find out if others feel the same as you. If they do and they will back you up then that will be a big help. If you're the only one then rethink, but don't stop entirely. If something is seriously wrong, like a major ethical issue or mismanagement of money someone needs to speak out and often these people need to work alone. It took years for someone at Enron to speak out and by that time the damage had been done.
Build your case. If you are making claims then they must be substantiated. You need evidence. A manager is bullying staff members? Record it. The finance manager is taking backhanders? Get testimonies to that fact. This will ensure you don't just seem like a whining complainer, you have proof.

Choose your sounding board carefully. You need to decide who you are going to go to with your grievance. If it's a serious issues go through the formal channels - whatever they are. Your company may have a whistleblower policy or for personnel issues HR or your line manager will be the first port of call, depending on the issue.

Protect yourself. Prepare for the possibility that this could go wrong. You could rub the wrong people the wrong way and end up ostracised or job less. So accept the possibility that you may have to move on, but if you do at least your morality and conscious will be in tact.