5 Reasons Not to Ignore Employee Complaints and Warning Signs

November 16, 2022・7 mins read
5 Reasons Not to Ignore Employee Complaints and Warning Signs

Human resource managers deal with many issues in the workplace. Most HR managers will tell you that the task that takes up the majority of their time is dealing with employee complaints. Resolving conflicts and handling employee complaints is, in essence, the job description of HR people. Employee complaints can look like many different things, from minor complaints about workload or coworkers to major reports of harassment in the workplace. Human resource managers must understand that each deserves attention, no matter what the complaint is about or how seemingly unimportant it may seem. The phrase "putting out fires" is commonly heard in the business world. The meaning of this phrase applies perfectly to HR's role. Things that are vital to the health of an organization and its people include:

  • Responding to complaints
  • Hearing from employees about their needs and concerns
  • Spotting warning signs

If companies ignore these issues, then small fires quickly build into infernos. So, what happens when employee complaints and warning signs go unheeded? The possibilities are many, and often inaction can lead to more significant problems. Inattention from management and human resources can quickly poison a company's culture. Morale might drop, leading to disengaged and unhappy employees. Or, in the worst-case scenario, disregarded complaints could result in an escalation of discrimination or harassment. These situations often end up in legal repercussions for a company. Keep reading to learn our top five reasons not to ignore employee complaints and warning signs.

The real job of human resources

Human resource managers have a particular position in the hierarchy of a company. HumanResourcesEdu defines human resources as the department responsible for managing all matters related to employees. In addition, they refer to human resources as collectively representing one of the most valuable resources in any business or organization. That's a powerful moniker. Many of the responsibilities of HR may revolve around administrative tasks. However, the most essential function that human resource managers perform is standing as a liaison between employees and everyone else in an organization. The biggest mistake that managers make when dealing with employees is disregarding feedback. And essentially, that's what complaints are. But it's not always as cut and dry. Issues that start small and can grow larger may begin before any official complaint is made.

As for those outside of the human resource department, like managers and supervisors, companies must take extra care in directing them to handle complaints appropriately. They're often the ones closest to employees every day. This means they may recognize warning signs first or receive complaints directly from employees. Managers who handle complaints inappropriately lead to many issues for organizations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that more than half of all complaints made in 2020 were retaliation claims. This means that employees who came forward to file complaints with their employers felt that someone in the organization retaliated against them. There are serious consequences for organizations when HR turns a blind eye to complaints or warning signs. Repercussions could:

  • Affect morale
  • Impact performance
  • Build into a messy lawsuit

Below are five reasons not to ignore complaints and warning signs.

Ignoring complaints escalates minor problems into larger ones

Not every complaint will need drastic action. But understanding that every complaint or situation deserves attention is key to success for human resource managers. Just remember the phrase "putting out fires." What happens when nobody bothers to put out the fire, and it's allowed to keep burning? It likely gets more intense and may even take the entire structure with it. Sometimes, human resource managers may overlook more minor complaints, deeming them unimportant compared to other issues. After all, with so many things to deal with every day, how much weight does the gripe of one employee about a coworker really have? The answer is it doesn't matter how small or insignificant it may seem. If left to fester, it will undoubtedly get worse. More serious complaints demand swift action from organizations. These complaints must receive a decisive and direct response from HR to prevent issues from escalating into complaints against an entire organization.

Ignoring complaints damages team morale

Employees need to feel valued by their organizations. They especially need to feel heard and understood during situations where they believe something is unfair or inappropriate. That's why organizations must have structures in place that employees understand how to access in the event of a complaint. Asking employees for regular feedback helps them feel valued. Because there is a direct correlation between appreciation and morale, organizations should support these things at every level. Organizations must listen, seek to understand, and react fairly if an employee lodges a complaint of any kind.

Ignoring complaints creates a toxic work environment

Company culture is a significant driver for today's labor force. Employees have developed a clear understanding of their value in the workplace. They are no longer afraid to hold organizations accountable for creating adverse working environments. On the contrary, employees who feel like their company is developing a hostile or toxic work environment will quickly relocate to other companies. If employees bring complaints to the attention of human resources or direct managers and receive no action in response, they will quickly grow to see organizations as untrustworthy and unsupportive. This is counterproductive for companies that work so hard to build a positive reputation and create a culture that honors morality and values. Ignoring complaints directly harms the working environment for everyone.

Ignoring complaints stifles improvement instead of promoting it

Every organization needs to work hard to improve. The goal of any business is to get better. Whether it's:

  • Redefining policies
  • Streamlining procedures
  • Working toward improved performance

Many companies use the term "continuous improvement" to outline this goal. In essence, it means that organizations look for ways to improve every aspect of their business daily.

It may be tempting for organizations to see complaints as one-off scenarios. Management handles a complaint, the problem goes away, and everything returns to normal. But what companies are missing is the big picture. Complaints from employees, or warning signs recognized by managers, are clear signs that there is room for improvement somewhere.

Ignoring complaints can have serious legal consequences

The last reason not to ignore complaints is a big one. When employees bring serious grievances of harassment, discrimination, unfair treatment, or similar issues to the attention of managers or human resources, they are exercising their right to protection in the workplace. If organizations fail to react appropriately to these complaints, then employees may have legal recourse to hold organizations accountable for their actions or inactions. Litigation and legal recourse are serious and real possibilities for organizations that fail to respond swiftly to employee complaints or fail to do so in the correct manner.


Handling employee complaints and recognizing warning signs takes practice and skill. Even for the best mediators and problem solvers, it can become a tricky task. Detailed policies that explain how to respond to complaints should be in place. These policies should outline how employees can log complaints, including a way to make reports anonymous. They should also include detailed steps for managers or human resource employees on responding to employee complaints, including when it's necessary to involve upper management executives. The most important thing organizations need to remember is that every complaint deserves attention from companies. When companies respond this way, they protect employees and the organization.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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