Being Complained About - Guidelines

This page summarises the key findings of research into the effects of complaints on employees and provides guidance for organisations to help them mitigate the potential for complaints to negatively affect individual employees and organisational performance. 

The research 

The research shows that being complained about can significantly affect employees’ health, wellbeing, and work practice: 

  • 71% of people complained about report their work practice being affected by a complaint
  • 67.2% of people complained about report their health and well-being being affected
  • 61.2% of people complained about report their attitude to service users being affected 

In most cases, these effects are moderate, but for a significant minority (15%) they can be severe and involve illness, stress, anxiety, and reduced job performance. Negative effects are not confined to individuals but also affect future service provision: 66.7% of people complained about report becoming more cautious in their future dealings with the public. 

The research suggests that the negative effects of complaints can be mitigated through the application of clear processes which both involve and support the person complained about. It is also important for staff to be listened to, be heard, and be able to give their ‘side of the story’. 

The guidance 

Drawing on this research, guidance has been produced – Being Complained About – Good Practice Principles and Guidelines – for organisations to help them avoid the potentially negative effects of complaints and support employees who have been complained about. 

Complaints processes to date have tended to focus on the needs of those complaining. Often, the needs and interests of employees have been overlooked. Being Complained About – Good Practice Principles and Guidelines is a document which aims to address this providing a set of principles and guidelines that can be adapted into organisations’ existing complaints policies and procedures. 

The guidance sets out four principles for dealing with complaints about employees – fairness, confidentiality, transparency, and efficiency – and provides guidelines relating to the provision of support to employees, how they should be involved in the complaint process, and how they should be communicated with. The guidance includes a set of accompanying notes and also summarises the research evidence underpinning the guidelines. 

The original research which informs the guidance was led by Chris Gill (University of Glasgow) and Carolyn Hirst (Hirstworks) in partnership with Jane Williams (Queen Margaret University) and Maria Sapouna (University of West of Scotland). The guidance was developed in consultation with practitioners by Carolyn Hirst and Chris Gill, with funding from the University of Glasgow’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account. 

Key documents

Being Complained About - Good Practice Principles and Guidelines.pdf

Being Complained About - Good Practice Principles and Guidelines.doc

Research Report: How do Complaints Affect Those Complained About? An Empirical Investigation into the Effects of Complaints on Public Service Employees