How to Create a Confidential Grievance Program for Employees

If we want to create a successful grievance program for employees, we need to understand two key components that make up effective programs.

Here we’ll cover the underlying principles used to build an effective successful grievance program and look at a case study from a real company.

The first component to a successful grievance program for employees is knowing why the program is a worthwhile investment. In other words, why are we taking the time and energy to implement it (and what does success look like for us)? Keeping the end in mind guides how we structure the program from start to finish.

The second component is understanding the underlying principles that need to be implemented in each step to make our grievance program successful. We’ve distilled these principles so they can be applied to your program to increase your chance of a successful outcome.

Why is grievance reporting valuable?

The value of a working grievance reporting program for employees varies by company type, but the main principle is the same across all organisations. It’s a way for organisations to gather first-hand feedback that will make their operations more effective. The end goal is to help the organisation get closer to fulfilling its vision.

While a textile company may want to prevent its suppliers from participating in child labour, a small business may want to identify any instances of harassment between employees.

An effective grievance program can help both of these companies in different situations achieve their goals. The end result for both companies is a more equitable workplace which should make employees more stable and therefore yield better results for the company as a whole.

Higher-level management rarely has on-the-ground information about the operations in their company and simply asking for it isn’t always effective. As we’ll see in our case study below, even an internal audit doesn’t tell the full story, and this is especially true with larger organisations.

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Grievance reporting is one way to get valuable data from employees which will help form a more accurate picture of the organisation’s operations. From this, management can make adjustments accordingly to improve conditions for the whole organisation. However, to get the right information, the program must be executed properly.

5 ways to make a grievance program for employees successful

Studying the tactics that make grievance programs work in the most difficult cases can help us see the fundamental principles that will make our programs work better.

When we drill down into why these techniques work, we see the core concepts for all successful grievance programs are the same, with varying application as per organisational needs.

Here are the top 5 principles to consider when forming your grievance program.

Make it confidential by designing it properly

The number one reason employees fail to report grievances is because they have more to lose than to gain. Employees must be assured their job is not at stake. This means their literal job with the monetary benefits that they receive.

It also means the stability of the relationships they have at work. If an employee is ostracised by their co-workers, they have essentially lost the quality job they had and are unlikely to remain working with your organisation for long.

Reduce this risk by helping disconnect their feedback from their identity. Confidentiality is one of the strongest tools available to help employees have confidence that there will not be a negative outcome for them if they report a grievance. Practical ways to create confidentiality include:

  • Anonymising the employee’s identity and guaranteeing this to all employees
  • Using a neutral third party to field grievances
  • Making grievance submissions available after work hours

Make it easy by removing barriers

This is an exercise of increasing employee comfort with submitting grievances by removing barriers. A barrier is any small part of the program that causes friction and makes it easier for an employee to stay quiet rather than submit their grievance.

Since it is generally not natural and uncomfortable for an employee to  submit a grievance, we need to think about the ways we can make it easier for them.

Barriers include having to look the phone number up, calling but not getting an answer, following multiple steps to fill in an official form, and not being able to speak to someone like themselves who they trust will listen.

Think about the steps an employee may take once they have a grievance they are thinking about, then put yourself in their shoes and walk through the steps they may take.

Make it as easy as possible for them to simply submit that grievance as soon as they are ready. Any small barrier within this communication chain will result in a delay or non-submission of the grievance.

Reassure your employees are safe

It is crucial to make sure the employees understand the lengths you have taken to provide them with security during the grievance submission process. Simply making sure that their identity is confidential and making it easy for them to submit feedback does not guarantee a successful grievance program for employees.

Your employees need to know the thought you put into the program to ensure their safety. This means you have to not only design the program properly but also communicate with your employees effectively.

A simple application of this would be a handout that explains how they will be protected if they decide to participate in the program and what to expect. A more complex application would be to have a short training or conference that explains the program and also allows for a question-and-answer session.

How you implement this communication update program will depend on the organisation of your company and your company culture.

The messaging around the program should be that this is a team effort to improve the organisation. If leadership can explain the change they are trying to make and connect that with a better future for everyone in the organisation, employees are more likely to get behind it.

Clarify the why behind the what

Clarify the reason why you have provided a grievance program for employees. Your employees will be curious to know why they should be helping this program.

If it is clear to them that the program will help create a better work environment, a stronger more sustainable workplace, and overall more job security for them, then they will be much more likely to participate.

As with other areas of your business, if you include your team in the vision for the future that you want to have, they are more likely to participate. Show your employees that you respect them and the unique knowledge only they have, which has the power to shape the organisation for better.

You need to build a mutual trust between management and employees that everyone is in this together to achieve a better outcome.

Build trust by following through

In the previous steps we primarily covered preparation. Let’s take a look at execution and follow through. It is critical that you maintain trust with your employees by following through with your action plan. You explained to them what you would do and how it would help the organisation.

Now it’s time to follow through with what you said and show them you’re holding up your end of the deal.

If one employee sees that one of their co-workers has been treated differently because they reported a grievance, then that will discourage them from reporting their own grievance. This can cause a cascading effect and jeopardise your entire program.

However if an employee is able to easily and successfully communicate a concern they have, they are more likely to do it again and also encourage their coworkers to do so.

Consider building a follow up mechanism into your program. This may be as simple as a follow up call for anyone who submitted a grievance to let them know what’s being done about it and make sure they aren’t getting any blowback.

It can also be part of a two-tiered audit program where in the first tier interviews are conducted with all employees and in the second tier they receive a follow-up call to capture any additional grievances not previously aired. As we’ll see next in the case study, this is a tactic employed by professional auditing companies.

Case study on grievance program for employees

Image: Pexels

Case study

This case study is from an international toy company in the United States who uses various foreign manufacturers to produce their toys. The goal of their grievance program for employees was to ensure they were working with suppliers who followed their ethical standards for labour practices.

This implementation of a grievance program helps us see how such a program can be successful even in the most difficult situations; throughout a large and disparate supply chain.

They faced challenges of language barriers and a general disconnection between the quality management teams and individual factory workers, but nonetheless were able to get valuable results.


Before implementing an employee grievance program, this toy company had conducted supplier audits, including factory visits and interviews in an attempt to identify suppliers who were not complying with their labour standards.

They knew they were not getting the visibility they needed and sought help from an auditing company with expertise in setting up grievance reporting for companies.

Here are the statistics of the new employee grievance program:

  • 552 factories were audited and a hotline service for grievance reporting was implemented in all of them
  • 244 grievances were reported
  • 44 policy violations were identified
  • 14 complaints of underage labour were reported.

The toy company was able to identify protocol violations that they were unable to see in their standard supplier audits. As a result they adjusted their supplier relationships, strengthened their supply chain, and improved the stability of their entire organisation.


With support from a third party auditor, the toy company established a Callback and Hotline Service program. This included:

  • Cards explaining the program and providing contact information for those who want to report a grievance
  • Ability to text or call at their convenience
  • Support in the language of their choice from a third party receptionist
  • A proactive call to the employees to ask them if they had any grievances to share

Here you can view the full case study explanation from the QIMA professional audit company.

The success of this toy company was a result of their ability to reduce barriers to reporting. They made the program clear, made channels of communication as easy as possible, and followed through. Program implementation in different industries and company sizes will vary considerably, but the core principles remain the same.

In Summary

A successful employee grievance program builds on the principles of security for employees, trust between employees and program implementers, and reduction of communication barriers.

You can significantly increase your chance of having a successful grievance program for your employees by taking care of the details and covering the small but important pieces of the program that support the core success principles.

The most important aspect is to build a grievance program for employees that conveys trust and unity. This is an organisation-wide effort designed to move the entire company toward a better future.

Ideally your program will help employees feel that they are part of the solution not part of the problem. You want to implement strategies that will seem small but together help create a trusting environment.

About The Author

David Evans is a freelance writer covering sustainability challenges and solutions. He writes to help companies and consumers understand the environmental and ethical challenges in products and their supply chains so we can find viable solutions for both. See more of David’s writing at: Plastic.Education or follow on Twitter: @plasticedu


Team 6Q

Team 6Q